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Conference Draws Attention To Female Artists

Alice Guy-Blaché
Courtesy of Cinema St. Louis

As women strive to gain equal ground in the workplace, they’re also working to establish the same ground in the arts. The Women in the Arts Conference at the University of Missouri–St. Louis will feature lectures, demonstrations, papers, performances and workshops from 27 speakers on Nov. 6-8.

“Everyone thinks the playing field is level,” said Barbara Harbach, a composer and director of the Women in the Arts Conference. “It’s not quite as level as you might think.”

In 2013, only one percent of the pieces performed by U.S. orchestras were composed by women, Harbach said. In museums, only about 25 percent of the art is by female artists. And only five women have received the Pulitzer Prize in music — all within the last 20 years.

Organizers hope the conference will even that playing field a bit more by highlighting female artists from several genres.

“It’s really important that we don’t marginalize women’s art, and that we don’t expect a certain kind of art,” said Kathleen Nigro, an associate professor of English at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. “I think that it’s really important that we don’t say ‘Well, it’s by women so it must be appealing to women.’ ”

When asked about the greatest obstacle facing women in art today, Harbach stopped at public relations.

“It’s just PR,” she said. “We need more women in administration. We need more women who write the history books. We need more women in there and more people who will promote women’s works.

“It should be an equal world. It doesn’t matter what the art is, it should be chosen on its particular merits.”

Adding Sound To Silence 

Part of the St. Louis International Film Festival will feature a 1906 silent film by French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché, “The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ.”

“It’s a 35-minute silent film,” Harbach said. “If you go back to 1906, most reels were a minute or two. This is probably the first narrative (told in film) of the birth, life and death of Christ. The film itself is a feminist perspective. Almost every one of the 25 scenes has a woman in it. It’s focused on the women who helped Christ through his life.”

Harbach has written a score, which will be played live with the film at the festival.

“It’s a big score,” she said. “A lot of notes go by, but it’s a very exciting adventure.”

Voices From The Holocaust 

'Voices From the Holocaust: Music Makes You Free'
'Voices From the Holocaust: Music Makes You Free'

Harbach and Nigro also have collaborated on a Holocaust remembrance project, which will premiere on Nov. 23.

“This was not an easy project for us to work on,” Nigro said. “Over the gates of at least two of the (concentration) camps, Auschwitz and Dachau, (were) the words in German that say ‘work makes you free’ and that is the gate through which all of the imprisoned people passed. So the title of our production is ‘Voices From the Holocaust,’ because we do want to make it clear that those people had stories, but the subtitle is ‘Music Makes You Free.’ ”

Harbach composed a song cycle to accompany the program, and was inspired by five poems.

“I chose five children’s poems from Theresienstadt, which was a concentration camp,” she said. “Something like 15,000 children went through that camp, and less than 100 survived. You’d think the poetry would be very down, but it’s beautiful poetry.”

Related Events

Women in the Arts Conference

  • When: Nov. 6-8, 2014
  • Where: J.C. Penney Conference Center, University of Missouri–St. Louis, 1 University Drive, St. Louis
  • More information

A Tribute to Alice Guy-Blaché

  • When: 2:30 p.m. Nov. 16, 2014
  • Where: Saint Louis Art Museum auditorium, 1 Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park, St. Louis
  • More information

Voices From the Holocaust: Music Makes You Free

  • When: 3 p.m. Nov. 23, 2014
  • Where: Central Reform Congregation, 5020 Waterman Ave., St. Louis