On and on, and on and on (race, gender and the arts revisited)

In the last printed issue of Bourgeon, I commissioned a young woman (Heather Risley) to write an article on gender in dance. The article was based on a study that DanceUSA produced in 2003, which found that 86 percent of the countrys 43 ballet companies with budgets of $2 million or more are run by men. In a world so dominated by women, this seemed data worth investigating. Heather contacted a number of local artistic directors, and got a few responses. Here is an excerpt from Heathers piece:

“Gender disparity in leadership is noticed by female artistic directors working in the D.C. area. Gesel Mason, Artistic Director of Gesel Mason Performance Projects, observed the intensity of male-female inequity in the dance world. Ms. Mason stated that in a female dominated industry the existence of a small minority having significant power over the majority resembles “a kind of apartheid.”

Another female artistic director (who asked to remain anonymous) said she has regularly faced challenges because of her gender. She believes that men get preferential treatment when it comes to bookings, grants, and publicity. “I think female directors have to work much harder and be much better than a man to achieve the same respect and admiration,” she wrote.”

Simply considering the data, it’s clear that however it is explained the phenomena experienced by those two artistic directors is real. This business is wickedly tough. And tougher for women.

This has been on my mind – again – because of several articles I read recently. I am a fan of a UK dance magazine named Article 19. They are independently funded, and produce really great work. Love em. I got an update on facebook from them regarding an article on a UK-based funder, which is clearly giving opportunities to women over men. This from the article:

During the week we, here in TheLabâ„¢, received a brochure from Dance East listing their up and coming programmes one of which stemmed from the Rural Retreats project. The grandiosely titled “International Placements for Artistic Leaders of the Future” places seven dance makers with dance companies/organisations around the world so they can learn about running an organisation.

Of those seven placements just one, Tamara Rojo, is a woman, the rest, predictably, are all men. When asked why there was such a disparity in the numbers considering women outnumber men in dance by a considerable percentage (80% estimated by DanceUK) Assis Carreiro, Dance East’s Artistic Director/CEO told us;

“Because only two women applied for the placements, so we took one of those two women. We couldn’t take both because we had to go on the strength of the applications and we had concerns too but we can’t, for the retreats we had seventy five people apply and very few were women from around the globe to attend the retreat and for the placements only two of the twenty seven who took part in the retreat applied so we took one of them.”

According to Dance East’s own report of the 2008 retreat, which took place in January this year, just 8 of the participants were women compared to 19 men. Applications to the retreats are not open, you have to be invited to apply by the NDA.

When asked why Dance East could not open the leadership programme to more people Ms Carreiro responded;

“… that was the criteria for which we put it out and we had the funding for it. We can’t just open it up to everyone and these are the people we thought would be appropriate because they attended the retreat and there was quite a rigorous selection process to attend the retreat so it wouldn’t be appropriate to open it up around the world. The people who attended the retreat and we thought had the potential to go on so from them we selected the ones going on [to the leadership programme].”

When Article19 stated that the retreats were heavily focused on Ballet (nearly all ballet companies are run by male directors), Ms Carreiro responded bluntly;

“No they are not!”

Clearly that program director is lying. The only question is whether or not she knows it.

I was just reading on ArtsJournal (another personal favorite) and saw this recent piece from the New York Times, by Patricia Cohen, about women in theater. Here is an excerpt:

Frustrated by what they describe as difficulty in getting their work produced, enough female playwrights to make a standing-room-only crowd are planning to attend a town hall meeting on Monday night to air their grievances with representatives of New Yorks leading Off Broadway and nonprofit theaters……

Its harder for women playwrights and directors,” said Oskar Eustis, artistic director at the nonprofit Public Theater, because “its harder for professional women in the United States.”

This season the Public is putting on six new plays by men and one by a woman. Since Mr. Eustis arrived in 2005, the count of new plays has been 19 plays by men and 9 by women (with one by a male/female team). It is a record that Mr. Eustis labeled as “pretty good but not great.”

“The issue is best dealt with by consistent consciousness-raising rather than a specific program,” he added, saying the same approach applies to minority playwrights.

Now, Im a guy, but not a jerk. So I don’t want unfair advantages. I believe in open competition. Perhaps thats cause Im arrogant. Perhaps its something nobler. But for whatever reason, I know it’s just not cricket to pick leaders from only a certain sect of people.

Interesting how our society – how we, how I – change our minds about these things over time. I grew up with Affirmative Action, which is now looking more and more dubious. Is it? When I was growing up I was totally convinced that because of all the unfair practices today and in the past, if we are really interested in fairness for people of all colors, we need to do extra things to ‘encourage’ their success (which was affirmative action.)

I reallllly need support. For making dances, and for editing/writing (Bourgeon.) Bourgeon stopped being printed for lack of funding, and I’m wondering how long I’ll be able to keep investing in it online. Anyway — I want the support, and I’m a guy. So why bring this stuff up? My experience is only a tiny sliver of the experience had by thousands across this country. I believe that process (in art and politics) is as important as product.

I hope that we’re about to elect a black president. Somehow that didn’t hit me as a big thing until someone pointed it out to me recently – how important examples are. I really appreciate what Mr. Eustis said in the Times piece. That the issue is best dealt with by consistent consciousness-raising rather than a specific program.” Whether it’s support of a ‘leadership program’, funding, awards, fellowships, contracts, or jobs, these issues are so complex, and so personal that the only good way to deal with them may be as individuals. Which is what the whole fight is about anyway.

And by the way – if you like this kind of thing being available: do feel free to hop on over to the day eight website and donate. It would be deeply appreciated.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.