StateraArts Continues the Fight for Gender Parity
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Simeilia Hodge Dallaway giving her touchstone speech at the Statera Conference. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill (MDH Photography).
For Simeilia Hodge Dallaway, traveling from London to Milwaukee for the third annual Statera National Conference felt like a no-brainer.
“It’s a great opportunity to say hey, this is what is happening across the pond,” Hodge Dallaway shares. “We need more of the thinking and information sharing that is happening in this space to understand our similarities, but also understand our differences. That’s the power of this conference.”
StateraArts, previously called Statera Foundation, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing women into full and equal participation in the arts. StateraArts uses an inclusive definition of women, involving transgender and gender non-conforming people in the movement as well.
Founded in 2014 by Melinda Pfundstein and Shelly Gaza, Statera derives its name from the Latin word for balance. StateraArts works to expand employment options, improve salary, and remove barriers to growth and achievement through mentorship, research, engagement, education, networking and support.
Shelly Gaza (far right) with breakout session leaders Kevin Kantor and Andrea Moon. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill (MDH Photography).
Pfundstein and Gaza met while working as actors for Utah Shakespeare Festival. The idea to start Statera came from discussing the male-dominance often experienced in the classical theatre environment. The name change to StateraArts is meant to show support for women in all areas of the arts, not just theatre.
“We thought it was just us in our little Shakespeare corner of the world, and as it turns out, of course, it wasn’t,” Gaza says. “We started developing a plan for the organization that would help women not just in Shakespeare companies, but in all of the arts. We found real joy in reaching out and making connections with these other women, and thus Statera was born.”
Renaissance Theaterworks (RTW), a Milwaukee company dedicated to gender parity, hosted this year’s conference, a match made in heaven for StateraArts. The festivities kicked off on Thursday with a pre-conference WomenArts and SWAN Day gathering at the Broadway Theater Center, RTW’s performing home.
Back in June, WomenArts, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the visibility of women artists in all art forms, passed on the torch to StateraArts as the new organizers of SWAN Day 2019. SWAN stands for Support Women Artists Now.
Martha Richards, who created WomenArts in 1994, facilitated a discussion with leading SWAN organizers from California, Connecticut, Florida, Wisconsin, Kenya and Prague, among others. The 12th annual SWAN Day is set for March 30, 2019, however SWAN events like women-led art exhibits, concerts, and slam poetry sessions are encouraged to happen throughout March and April.
Martha Richards passing on the symbolic swan to StateraArts executive director Melinda Pfundstein. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill (MDH Photography).
“At Statera we have been organizing conferences and building our mentorship program because we believe in the power of women artists supporting other women artists,” Pfundstein says. “Those are the core values of SWAN Day as well. We are so grateful for Martha Richards’ vision and for the support of WomenArts. We are thrilled to be the new organizers of SWAN Day.”
For the next three days of the conference, nearly 200 enthusiastic artists gathered at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus for an October weekend chock-full of breakout sessions, touchstone speakers, performances and proactive discussions centered around the challenges women face working in the creative field.
While addressing the crowd before the Friday session, RTW artistic director Suzan Fete reflected on her life-changing experience at the 2016 Statera Conference in Denver. Feeling inspired and recharged to get back to work at RTW, Fete approached Statera leaders about hosting the next gathering in Milwaukee.
In fact, Fete admits she felt so excited; she made the ambitious offer without consulting her team back in Milwaukee. This resulted in the 2018 Statera Conference, with the largest number of attendees and breakout sessions to date.
Renaissance Theaterworks and StateraArts leadership. Pictured from left to right: Sarah Greenman, Izetta Rees, Lisa Rasmussen, Melinda Pfundstein, Suzan Fete, Vanessa Ballam, Bailey Wegner and Shelly Gaza. Photo by Malloree Delayne Hill (MDH Photography).
“The energy in the room was something I’ve never experienced at a conference before,” Fete says. “I truly felt connected to these women. I had a sense of peace and empowerment knowing there was a network of people passionate about gender equality in the arts, just like me.”
Breakout session topics included body awareness and emotional intelligence, creating a safe space for women in comedy, writing outside of romantic desire, gender-flipping Shakespeare, male allyship in the gender parity movement, breaking into academic publishing, and how to responsibly serve trans and non-binary artists, among others.
Hodge Dallaway served as one of the touchstone speakers, sharing on her many initiatives including Artistic Directors of the Future, a nonprofit dedicated to building diversity at the leadership level. Other touchstone speakers included Gail Barringer, producer of episodic TV including Law & Order, Special Victims Unit; Nataki Garrett, nationally recognized director and former associate artistic director of the Denver Center Theatre Company; and Hana S. Sharif, associate artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage and newly named artistic director of St. Louis Repertory Theatre.
“I’m obsessed with justice,” Hodge Dallaway says. “It unsettles me to think that one person won’t have opportunities given to them because of their gender or ethnicity. I always say all the initiatives I do is me talking to my younger self. When you see that the institutions haven’t changed, that’s what stirs you to make the changes that need to happen in the industry. If we don’t do it, who will?”
Dates and information for the fourth annual Statera National Conference are still to be announced. Please visit stateraarts.org to learn more about the organization.