A Room of One's Own: Adding Women's Voices to the Arts

BlogHer Original Post

This election season, we are hearing a lot about women's advancement (or lack thereof) in the political sphere. While there is still a lot of work to be done to get more elected female representation, the opportunity gaps in the creative world are just as stark. According to A Room of Her Own (AROHO), a nonprofit organization that offers opportunities "for women and men to help women artists in various fields of art express their own voice and vision," the "often fatal gap between a woman's economic reality and her artistic creation" keeps women's voices out of the creative marketplace. For example, AROHO reports that:

  • Women writers won 63 percent of the awards but less than 30 percent of the money in awards and grants reported by Poets & Writers. (January/February 2003 issue)
  • 51 percent of all visual artists are female and women hold 53 percent of art degrees, but 80 percent of art faculty members are male.
  • 68 percent of total art income in the U.S. goes to men and 73 percent of all grants and fellowships in the arts go to men.

There are more depressing statistics at AROHO's stats page. Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One's Own that "creative women had a problem: Not enough money and not enough locked rooms in which to work." As Kim Ponders, the director of the biennial retreat (and former BlogHer CE) explained, "There are so many women throughout history that have so much to say and such a creative voice, and no way to say it because they are trying to raise children and work to earn money." AROHO wants to alleviate this problem by providing both funding and a supportive environment (way better than a locked room, in my opinion) to help women nurture their voices and be heard. They do this through the Gift of Freedom grant program and the biennal retreat.

The Gift of Freedom is serious money: $50,000 to support a woman writer is offered every two years. This year, AROHO is seeking applicants working in the genres of Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, and Playwriting. The application deadline is rapidly approaching, so waste no time. Applications are due October 31. Don't delay!

The biennial retreat takes place at the inspirational Ghost Ranch, which was Georgia O'Keefe's ranch in New Mexico. Any woman can apply to attend the retreat, which will take place next year from August 10-16. (Applications should be available by the end of September 2008.) Applicants should be committed to the craft of fiction, nonfiction, playwriting, or poetry. Women come from all over the country, and in some cases, the world, and have many professional backgrounds: lawyers, loggers, forest fire smoke jumpers. Ponders notes that there is something special about bringing women together to reinforce the validity of each other's dreams. In addition, the all-female faculty have very strong voices (although not all have a feminist agenda). For example, Ellen McGlauphlin re-wrote Greek plays from a woman's perspective. Another seminar will offer information on how to write for NPR. It sounds like an amazing experience for women writers. While this is all exciting, the extra dollop of good news is that many different types of scholarships are available.

For those women who want their voices heard, but can't make it to Ghost Ranch or are not nonfiction writers, the AROHO website offers support and encouragement. I am a big fan of their Pull the Lever. "Pull the Lever" is a poem that one of the retreatants wrote about just getting up and doing it - don't listen to the negative voices. It is not a therapy poem; it is a rant against the people who would try and keep you from your goals. Like everything else AROHO does, it is awesome.

Other support for women's creative voices can be found at sites like Women & Hollywood and Women on Writing (hat tip: Adele Nieves).

Suzanne uses her voice on her blog, Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants, and in her book, Off the Beaten (Subway) Track. She encourages everyone to exercise their voices, too, and submit a story about her experience with menstruation at Congratulations, You're a Woman Now!.


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