Athena Project knows that it all starts with the stories of the artists to fully understand the challenges they face.
“It’s one thing to let people know that women are underrepresented,” said Angela Astle, executive producer and founder of Athena Project, “and another to talk about it with data and personal stories.”
Athena Project is a local nonprofit organization that “empowers women through the arts and creates a world with gender equity where women’s voices are amplified,” states a news release.
To hear those personal stories, Athena Project is putting on the Artists Sound Off Series, which will create a space where women in the arts can connect and openly share their experiences.
The overarching goal is to “identify the barriers and create a plan of action to ensure that women artists can effectively advocate for themselves in the future,” Astle said.
The series will empower “participants to identify, discuss and champion existing barriers to success in various and multifaceted disciplines in the arts,” states a news release. It coincides with Athena Project’s “continuing effort to better understand and support women in the arts.”
Each session part of the Artists Sound Off Series will be structured as a town hall-style Zoom meeting. They will take place from 7-9 p.m. every other Tuesday from March 9 to June 29. Each session will feature a different discipline, including photography, fashion design, comedy and choreography, for just a few examples.
All the conversations will focus on the challenges that women face, which can include sexual harassment, ethnic biases, unequal pay “and some issues still yet to be discovered,” Astle said.
“We know these stories exist,” she said. “This is a brave space to join with a community of peers, to be heard, to share ideas and frustrations, and to elevate one another on a shared journey towards gender and racial equity.”
Anybody, including men as long “they understand the conversation is about the challenges women face,” Astle said, is welcome to join the conversations. LGBTQ+ voices are especially welcome. A news release states that “at Athena Project, we believe that `women’ means many things and can be a complicated term. We recognize that the term `women’ does not automatically include all aspects of the gender spectrum. We want to create a safer space for the expression and growth for all women, trans and gender nonconforming individuals.”
Courtney Cauthon has been involved with Athena Project for about seven years and serves as its special project coordinator. She will be facilitating a couple of the sessions in the Artists Sound Off Series. Because she has a background in theater, Cauthon is especially looking forward to hearing the stories that come from the other disciplines, she said.
It will be interesting to learn, “how are they similar, and how are they different?” Cauthon said. “And, how can we form allies and partnerships between the different disciplines so we can work together and move forward?”
Cauthon believes anybody can benefit from the conversations. Artists will be able to share experiences they may have never before shared, she said. And the conversations will help community members or patrons of the arts be aware of what’s going on, somewhat behind-the-scenes, “with the art you love,” Cauthon said.
Rohini Gupta is a clinical psychologist who has been involved with Athena Project for about a year and a half. She will be facilitating a couple of the sessions, and is particularly thinking about the healing, she said.
Bearing witness as a group will create community, Gupta added.
The Artists Sound Off Series will “give voice to things we tend to not want to talk about,” Gupta said. But, they will “increase connection and tap into the power of women.”