Drawing Attention to Women in the Arts

by Kristan McKinsey
Pictured: Cheryl Dean, Under the Big Tent

The seven-week Citywide Celebration focuses attention on the creative energy of women.

More often than not, the composer of works performed by an orchestra, the playwright of a theatrical piece, or the artist who created a painting we see is male. Quite simply, women traditionally were excluded from professional training and not allowed to work professionally in the arts; their accepted realm was in craft activities and making art for their own amusement.

Of course, women have far more access and acceptance in the art world today. And yet, there remains little effort to make sure women composers, playwrights, authors and artists receive equal attention on annual performance schedules or in exhibitions.

Road to Monuments
Freida High W. Tesfagiorgis
Road to Monuments, 1983


Glass blowing demonstration by Jeremie Draper


Nikole Cooney Forest Muse
Photo: Don Rosser

A Statewide Collaboration
The late Channy Lyons—who curated several fine art exhibitions and authored numerous publications on works by historic artists in Peoria—spent the last decade drawing attention to women artists under the auspices of the Illinois Women Artists Project, which she founded. She focused her efforts on researching and documenting the experiences of creative women across the state, especially those who were forgotten by time, primarily through three activities: a website, occasional museum and gallery exhibitions, and a symposium hosted at Bradley University. She collaborated with a range of organizations and individuals to foster and further showcase the artistic talents and activities of women in central Illinois—especially when the events that resulted would enhance the public’s interest and participation. One such collaboration that developed out of Lyons’ efforts in 2013 has become a biennial offering of diverse programming featuring contemporary women artists. Now an initiative of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois, the Citywide Celebration of Women in the Arts (CCWA) focuses attention on the creative energy of women for seven weeks from October 1st to November 19, 2017, overlapping with National Arts and Humanities Month.

The CCWA offers opportunities to be an observer at fine art exhibits, musical and theatrical performances, an international dance demonstration, a historic impersonation and various lectures—as well as the chance to be an active participant by blowing glass pumpkins or taking part in open mic nights. Complete details and a map of venues are available at artspartners.net/ccwa.

Women Artists, Year-Round
We can experience the creative power of women artists in our region throughout the year, so the CCWA should be considered just an appetizer on the local arts menu. Looking first at the fine arts: numerous women artists run businesses, such as Dana Baldwin’s Sheared Edge and Cyndi Merrill’s Dog and Pony Gallery, both located within Studios on Sheridan. The art departments at Bradley University, ICC and other local institutions include a number of professional women artists who exhibit work locally and beyond on a regular basis.

In addition, a few dozen local women work in private studios that are not typically open to the public, so their artwork must be seen in exhibitions or on their websites, including Cathie Crawford (printmaking), Trish Williams (fiber art), Barb Hoffman (photography), Patricia Whelan Keck (sculpture) and Ann Conver (photography).

Peoria is blessed with dozens more professional women musicians—many of whom are known nationally for their teaching and performances, such as Kyle Dzapo, Marcia Henry Liebenow and Lisette Kielson. The creativity does not stop there, but extends to writers and poets, quilters, dancers and many other types of performers. Book clubs explore the works of female authors, while exhibits and programs throughout the year include both male and female artists, musicians and performers. For example, the Emergence exhibition—on view at the Peoria Riverfront Museum through January 14, 2018—includes work by 26 women and 31 men living in central Illinois.

Organizers expect the Citywide Celebration of Women in the Arts will continue to expand in 2019 to include even more types of events and encompass a wider portion of the community. It is an excellent demonstration of how creative marketing and collaboration can draw greater statewide attention to the arts in central Illinois—and enhance the local audience as residents learn more about the many arts events going on at any given time. a&s

Kristan H. McKinsey is director of the Illinois Women Artists Project and board president of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois. For more information on the Citywide Celebration or the Midwest Women Artists Symposium, visit artspartners.net/ccwa or iwa.bradley.edu/symposium, email kmckinsey@fsmail.bradley.edu, or call (309) 677-2860.


 

Christine Rojek Life Symbol
Christine Rojek Life Symbol

2017 Midwest Women Artists Symposium
“Transforming Midwest Culture and Society: Women Artists, 1960s to 1980s” is organized by the Bradley University Art Department with the Illinois Women Artists Project, and supported by the Intellectual and Cultural Activities Committee. The event takes place at Bradley University on November 2-3, 2017. 

This interdisciplinary symposium will explore the little-studied experience of Midwestern women artists at a time when the women’s movement, anti-war sentiment and race relations were defining society. Specific topics include their impact on their communities, social issues addressed in their work, their choice of subject matter and media, and how their work was received by critics and the public. 

The Midwest Women Artists Symposium is part of Art Design Chicago, an exploration of Chicago’s art and design legacy, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art with presenting partner, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. This program has been made possible by a grant from the Eugene & Harriett Swager Fund for Public Art and the Taylor & Corrine French Fund/Fine Arts. 

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