Presenting The First Annual Berkshire Festival of Women in the Arts
For the past eight years, Bard College at Simon’s Rock has quietly hosted an Annual International Women’s Day conference. This year, Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, the director, believed the theme, The Power of Women in the Arts, had sufficient strength to exceed the bounds of the Great Barrington campus, so she tentatively spread the word to other cultural institutions in Berkshire County. Their response was literally overwhelming; nearly everyone came up with a way to participate. So Browdy de Hernandez did the sensible thing: she lobbed her hot potato to Eugenie Sills, founder and publisher of The Women’s Times. In a blink, the hodgepodge of vague ideas had been coordinated into a schedule (with all of those previously MIA present and accounted for), and the event had a name, a snappy logo, a website, a glossy brochure, and an awards component (what’s a festival without awards? meet The Moxies).
The First Annual Festival of Women in the Arts promises to dominate the cultural life of the county for the entire month of March and well beyond. Moreoever, its organizers hope that it will become an annual event. Rural Intelligence talked to Eugenie Sills about the festival’s goals.
Rural Intelligence: Why women in the arts now? Haven’t we pretty thoroughly hashed that one out without coming to any clear conclusions?
Eugenie Sills: For some who attend, gender may not be the relevant issue; it’s just an arts festival, an opportunity to hear a fabulous musician or a storyteller or an author or to see a dancer or some great artwork. Our goal is to shine a spotlight on accomplished women in the arts.
Rural Intelligence: So this isn’t about sexism in the arts and the art world?
Sills: As publisher of The Women’s Times, naturally I’m aware that for every Tina Packer [artistic director of Shakespeare & Company], there are a half dozen companies whose entire season is directed exclusively by men. When was the last time you saw a woman conducting at Tanglewood? But that’s just my take.
Rural Intelligence: The schedule is exhaustive. I counted 67 events throughout March and beyond, well into May. Can you share a few highlights?
Sills: Each venue brings its own approach to the festival. The Clark chose to do Women’s Work, a show of prints, drawings, and photographs by such artists as Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Berenice Abbott. Leslie Ferrin [owner of the eponymous gallery in Pittsfield] has done a group show that includes works by both male and female artists, all of whom have chosen women as their subject. The show is hung without labels. Leslie will be doing a couple of salons to encourage discussion: “Does gender matter?” And, of course, this all began with “The Power of Women in the Arts,” at Simon’s Rock, which is this weekend and includes a staged reading of a dramatization of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter by Carol Gilligan, the eminent feminist psychologist and author of In a Different Voice (Harvard University Press, 1982), which has been called “the little book that started a revolution.”