Arts and Music Highlights – August 2016

Hi, everyone! Welcome to our roundup of some arts and music highlights taking place across the country this early fall.

Lighthouse on Coast of Maine

If you are in South East Maine picking blueberries from their bumper crop this late summer, you may want to get out of the sun and visit the Portland Museum of Art’s exhibit of “O’Keeffe, Stettheimer, Torr, Zorach: Women Modernists in New York.”  From the PMA’s website: this exhibit “examines the art and careers of four pioneering artists and their contributions to American modernism in parallel for the first time. Through this exhibition, the PMA invites visitors to explore works by some of the most significant women modernists in American art history. The presenting works by these artists together connect their careers in New York City. This exhibition offers valuable perspectives on the meaning of modernism, the life of a working artist in New York in the early 20th century, and the shared and differing experiences of being women at a crucial moment in first-wave feminism.”

If you are sweltering in the Washington DC heat, you can visit a couple music exhibits at the Library of Congress. First, try the “#Opera Before Instagram: Portraits, 1890 – 1955” exhibit. This exhibit “will showcase photographs of early opera stars from a collection assembled by the late authority on opera Charles Jahant, in a format that will explore how Jahant might have used an Instagram account had he lived today.”‘

From there, visit the ongoing music Library exhibit “Here to Stay: The Legacy of George and Ira Gershwin.” Visitors can “experience the glamour and sophistication of the 1920s and 1930s in this permanent tribute to the brothers who helped provide a musical background to the period. The exhibition contains a wealth of materials that provide insight into their careers and personalities, including manuscript and printed music, lyric sheets and librettos, personal and business correspondence, photographs, paintings, and drawings, all from the Gershwin Collection in the Music Division of the Library of Congress, the world’s preeminent resource for materials about the Gershwins.”  If you don’t choose to get there right now, keep the exhibit for another time; it is fabulous – for adults, foreign visitors, and children.

If you’d rather have a relaxing day at home, you can check out the streaming audio from the Library of Congress in partnership with Q2 Music. More than 20 of the Library’s commissioned contemporary classical-music works are available to listeners for free on Q2 Music’s streaming service. More of these commissioned works will be made available on Q2 Music over the coming months. Check out the stream at!/programs/concerts-library-congress.

“Get That Distraction Off the Podium!”

Sp02llcldo, you don’t think gender bias is still rife in classical music? Let’s talk conducting. In the summer of 2013, Marin Alsop, Baltimore’s admired and respected conductor, became the first woman to conduct at the BBC’s Last Night Proms since the Prom’s founding in 1895. Imagine, no women conductors on the Prom’s most important night for 118 years. Over that time period, women won the right to vote, discrimination based on gender was outlawed, and women went into space! However, more than likely during this period, women who strove to be conductors were relegated to living out their dreams at home, expressing themselves artistically through a child’s rattle while men expressed themselves with baton in hand.

The Guardian’s James Rhodes, reflecting on conductors at the 2013 London event, stated that sexism was rife in the world of conducting. For example, Vasily Petrenko, a talented and award-winning Russian conductor, went on record at the Proms saying that women conductors were a sexual distraction for an orchestra.

Readers, let me know if things have radically changed. Especially you young musicians working in music and who are surrounded by other musicians, composers, conductors. Can you provide some persuasive examples of revolutionized, or even substantially improved, attitudes and circumstances for women around the podium three years later?

– Sandra Blake


Culture Watch from the National Museum of Women in the Arts

In case you haven’t already heard, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is a wonderful museum located in downtown D.C. According to their website, the “NMWA is the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to recognizing women’s creative contributions.”

In addition to their temporary exhibitions and massive art collection, they also curate the newsletter Culture Watch. Culture Watch highlights selections of national and international museum exhibitions featuring works by women artists.

If you support the promotion of women in the arts, you owe it to yourself to visit Culture Watch from the NMWA and sign up for their emails.

My Experience at the 2016 Kennedy Center Arts Summit

Written by Sandra Blake

In April, I attended the Kennedy Center Arts Summit, hosted by the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. The Arts Summit bills itself as an event “designed to bring thought leaders from the arts and related fields together for conversation and connection… The 2016 edition of the Summit will focus on Citizen Artistry, the idea of using the arts to influence positive change in people’s lives. Together, we will examine this idea, and its application in today’s society…”

Did the Arts Forum live up to this ideal, especially through the lens of addressing gender bias in the arts?

What is the Arts Forum?

The Forum itself was a beautiful, even opulent, event. Event-branded hot drink thermoses, delicious foods, and relaxing interior meeting rooms gave the event a feeling of importance.  The attendees included celebrities from all fields of the arts, heightening the event’s legitimacy.

The co-hosts were the world-loved Renee Fleming, known principally as a classical singer of opera, and Yo-Yo Ma, the household name and international cellist, founder of the Silk Road Ensemble.  The Ensemble performed live to everyone’s delight and seemed to be composed of as many women as men.

The morning plenary session was made up of presenters and panelists, including established performing artists and leaders in other fields. Alice Waters, popular chef, author, and food activist located in California, and Dr. Corinna Lathan, founder of a biomedical engineering research and development company were just a couple of these panelists.

The afternoon was organized into breakout sessions of the stated Kennedy ideals:  service, gratitude, innovation, creativity, exploration, freedom, courage, and justice (more on this below).

The evening was capped off by a reception in the atrium. The guests, bite-sized munchies in hand, were treated to the piece de resistance: Renee Fleming on the raised stage singing jazz numbers while accompanied by Yo-Yo Ma.

There is no arguing that, as an event, the second Kennedy Center Arts Forum was first rate and magnificently executed.

How was the content?

While the event was lavish and well-executed, I am afraid that the content fell short, especially when viewed through the lens of addressing gender bias in the arts.

The morning events started by addressing the topic of “Activating Citizen Artists.” This topic became somewhat muddled in my mind.  Forum speakers asked questions like, “What is a Citizen Artist?”  “How can we collectively mobilize Citizen Artists to change the world?” “What can we do individually to live our lives as Citizen Artists?” “How can the Kennedy Center support Citizen Artists?”  I wasn’t always sure whether we were absorbing the concept of artists as citizens, or of citizens as artists.  While the topic was thoughtful, the speakers, for me, did not sufficiently offer answers to the questions they raised or suggest adequate actions for implementing the concept into our own lives.

The ratio of male to female speakers in the A.M. sessions was also discouraging. The program pages revealed that of “Featured Participants,” 19 were male and only 8 were female, a ratio of more than 2-to-1.

As I mentioned above, the afternoon was organized into breakout sessions of the stated Kennedy ideals:

1.      Service – How can we encourage more artists to act as social entrepreneurs?

2.      Gratitude – How do the arts transform healing?

3.      Innovation – What are arts-driven pathways to invention and exploration?

4.      Creativity – What are the preconditions for creativity?

5.      Exploration – What are new frontiers for the arts in technology and business?

6.      Freedom – What is the playbook for putting the arts at the core of education?

7.      Courage – How can the arts help us to address our biggest social challenges?

8.      Moonshots – What should cultural institutions look like in 2050?

I chose the ideal of “Courage,” thinking that the topic was most likely to touch on the issue of gender bias and equality. While I was hoping for discussion, the breakout session turned out to be a solo presentation. The topic exclusively addressed the experience of people with disabilities in the theater. While people with disabilities certainly do experience discrimination and bias in the theater, they are certainly not the only group to do so. Women artists and creators are still greatly underrepresented in the arts, and representations of women in theater often carry a negative bias.

I would have liked for the topic of “Courage,” especially in the context of addressing our social challenges, to be inclusive of many issues that face our society, including the challenges that women in the arts, including theater, encounter on a daily basis.

The issue of gender bias was not addressed at any point in the Arts Forum, which is a major loss for both the Arts Forum and for women in all aspects of the arts.  We are only going be able to overcome the gender bias that exists within the arts by acknowledging and attacking the issue.

What is the Take Away?

The Kennedy Center Arts Summit is a wonderful event with lofty goals, but there is certainly room for improvement, starting with the inclusion of gender issues and representation in at least some of the discussions. It also remains to be seen whether the event is just a forum for discussion and think-pieces, or if people will be spurred to actually take action and create change.

During the reception, each participant was photographed with a written reminder of their goals within the arts. As you can see from my photo below, I will continue to fight for awareness of gender bias in the arts, and that includes have the topic addressed at next year’s Arts Summit.

Sandra - Arts Summit - 042016

Welcome to the blog of Awareness of Gender Bias in the Arts (AGBA)

Are you weary of the same old biases in the arts?
Are you ready to examine art past and present through a fresh lens?
Are you eager to act and engage in a way that will accomplish an unbiased environment for future generations?
Are you a director, curator, or other arts administrator who understands the inequalities but has yet to find a partner organization touting sensitivity, passion, and fresh perspective?
Are you an educator eager to dispel demeaning and outdated gender stereotypes?
Are you an arts goer who is as yet unaware of pervasive inequality and wants to learn more?

Sandra headshot for Bio.Welcome to this brand new web site, launched in April 2016.  We are glad for the opportunity to introduce the Director, Sandra Blake, to you all.  If the above items stimulate your mind and get your blood running, we are glad you are here! Explore our website, keep up with our blog, and spread the word about AGBA to others.

AGBA’s mission is to build awareness of gender bias in the arts, promote change within the arts, and eventually eliminate bias for future generations. To get further acquainted, let us help you explore AGBA’s background. Our founder, Sandra Blake, was tired of experiencing the same old unfair biases at many arts events she attended. The bias stuck out most boldly at plays where the playwrights, directors, and cast are solely male and reflect a male point of view, at operas where female characters are gratuitously abused or shown being killed, and at art museums where the nude paintings and sculptures are seductively posed, reclining, and female.

Sandra has seen how biases are inflicted on children early on with lifelong effect.  One of AGBA’s objectives is to ensure that such biases are not perpetuated.

We invite you to express your concerns and help spread awareness of your personal examples of gender bias in the arts. We welcome your comments and hope you will actively champion the cause of greater equality. We look forward to hearing from you.