Having an idea is one thing. Getting it off the ground and turning it into a functioning project is an entirely different thing. Over the course of the past year, I identified a problem (lack of programs for women in the arts on Virginia Tech campus as well as the Town of Blacksburg) and wanted to do something about it: but what?
To help me determine my “what,” I participated in a variety of forums including: conferences, informal discussions, and presentations followed by a moderated question and answer sessions. My ultimate aim was to use my experiences with these gatherings to initiate conversation surrounding the topic of “women in the arts.”
At the end of May, I began the process of developing the idea into a full-fledged project, and all I knew was I wanted to celebrate women in the arts. At this point, I was not able to fully articulate the shape of the project (what I wanted it to look like); what I wanted speakers to present on;or even how issues could be talked about through a positive and celebratory lens.
I needed help. I used my experience working in programming and engagement at the Moss Arts Center to begin reaching out to people in the community to start discussions. This was probably the most beneficial part of the process for me. With every person, or group I spoke with, I was able to slowly but surely define the parameters of my project and give it focus and shape.
I met with members of the Blacksburg Regional Art Association, Virginia Tech faculty members, Rhonda Morgan, Executive Director of the Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation, Sue Farrar, Executive Director of Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center, friends, and family. With each new person I spoke with I was able to gain insight into the project, define the parameters, and focus the intent. These individuals provided helpful feedback, asked questions to get me to think about the core of the program, and provided a list of artists and leaders in the field to contact.
Thanks to everyone who volunteered their time to discuss this idea, I created a project which highlights some of the best attributes of the events I have attended as well as a well defined intention. The speaker series portion of the project incorporates the “break out” sessions seen at most conferences where participants can go listen to a presentation by key members in the field surrounding the theme of the event (celebrating females in the arts) as well as a moderated and informal question and answer portion. Each speaker(s) presents on a topic she feels is important to women in the field, around the theme of “celebration.” After each presentation the host, (i.e me), opens a question and answer period with the audience and the format transitions into a less formal discussion with audience led questions.
The website portion of project, namely the blog, integrates the informal discussion aspect as well. I have had the opportunity of meeting and being introduced to very interesting and talented women in the field right here in the Blacksburg, Virginia area. Unable to incorporate each of them into the the speaker series, I will be meeting with them and then featuring their stories and talents in a post.
As with every planned event, there are challenges. The way I see it, you have two choices: you can face hurdles head on allowing them to help you overcome the challenges which in my experience makes the your event grow even stronger, or you can allow them to stop you dead in your tracks. I do not typically like to accept defeat and decided to persevere with this project. I am glad I chose this route, because I feel as though the following challenges only helped me grow as an artist, arts leader, woman, and have helped this project become what it is today.
Due to the fact I started my process in May with the anticipated start date being September 1, I was faced with the challenge of connecting with potential speakers during vacation season. If I were to do it all over again, I would have started earlier in the year and come up with a schedule/calendar of tasks to be done as well as a detailed time frame in which to accomplish them. As with all strategic planning and project management, this is an essential first step when working on any venture.
As with most arts initiatives, funding is a crucial component, but also one of the hardest to obtain. As a graduate student, my personal finances are quite limited and I was unable to finance the project out of my own pocket. So, first I identified project needs and then worked to determine “where” I could find partners and support. I needed a space to host the speaker series, food and snacks for the post-event mixer, and marketing materials .I was able to use the skills and knowledge gained from my studies in development (fundraising) to partner with both the Virginia Tech Women’s Center and School of Performing Arts to provide support for these elements.
Reality vs. Hopes and Dreams
As an artist, my dreams can be lofty at times. During the development process I came up with so many ideas and expectations. One in particular was having five women to present in the series. However, due to the time frame I had, I was only able to confirm four. I am not upset by this number at all, in fact, I’m quite proud of what I was able to accomplish. I believe it important to set high goals for yourself, but at the same time be willing to accept and compromise when those goals are not reached.