By Khaleel Herbert
DENVER–With the arrival of March, what do people normally look forward to? Maybe it’s the first day of spring, St. Patrick’s Day or finally breaking out the garden tools. March is also a time to celebrate the arts. Specifically, women in the arts.
Angela Astle’s Athena Project, an organization dedicated to empowering women in the arts, hosts sixth annual month-long arts festival in March.
Astle described how she started Athena Project and the arts festival in 2012 after reading a study of female playwrights being underrepresented in the theater community.
“The study was done in 2005 and the statistics showed the needle hadn’t moved that much,” Astle explained. “And this was 2011. Where were the stories written by women? It was depressing. But I like to say, rather than gripe about what we aren’t getting, let’s do something about it. So I did.”
Astle gathered a group of female playwrights and pitched the idea to create a woman-focused arts festival for all art forms. Some past partnerships with Athena include the Aurora Fox Arts Center, the Dazzle Jazz Club and Colorado Ballet.
Since March is dubbed Women’s History Month and has International Women’s Day (March 8) and World Theatre Day (March 27), it wasn’t hard to designate March as the month to host this annual festival of special art events throughout Denver. Some featured events for this year’s festival are the Girls Create Summer Camp Showcase at Auraria Campus’ King Center and a Weekend of Music at Swallow Hill Music off Yale Avenue in Denver. The Weekend of Music included an open mic and a new event, Cross Pollinations March 8-10.
In Cross Pollinations, artists of different mediums got in teams of two and had 12 hours to collaborate and create a work of art. The artworks were later showcased to the public on March 9. Some of the artists who participated were Musician/Songwriter Megan Burtt, Dancer Rowan Salem, Poet Jen Harris, Playwright Rebecca Gorman O’Neill and Singer/Songwriter SuCh.
O’Neill and SuCh were paired together. O’Neill has worked with Athena since 2015 when one of her plays, “The Ghosts of Us,” was selected and produced in Athena’s Plays in Progress series. She is a member of Athena’s Board of the Directors. SuCh has worked with Athena since 2013 and became a board member in fall 2017. Both women expressed their feelings about participating in the event.
“Angela inspires everything. She called me one day and asked if I wanted to participate. I was hesitant,” O’Neill said. “A whole day in collaboration with a performed product at the end. This was way out of my comfort zone. But Angela has a gift for bringing people together and inspiring confidence in those around her.”
“I was intrigued and terrified at the idea of creating a piece with another person from a different art form without prior preparation and only 12 hours of creation the day of the performance,” SuCh said. “It seemed fascinating and invigorating. I was curious to see how everything like that could come together.”
O’Neill and SuCh also expressed what it was like to collaborate with each other.
“As a writer, I tend to keep to myself. It’s unusual for me to open up to someone else. But SuCh was such a totally kind and generous person,” O’Neill said. “She sang for me, which was stunning. I wrote verses and she wrote the chorus and all the rest and she came up with the music right there. One of the best things about SuCh was that I could say to her, ‘I’m scared’ and she would say, ‘Me too.’ Then I would feel less scared.”
“I was paired with Rebecca Gorman O’Neill, an incredible playwright. To be able to collaborate with her was such an amazing learning experience that caused me to grow in ways I couldn’t have begun to imagine,” SuCh said. “It shed light on my creative process and was a reminder that as an artist, it does the heart good to let go and just create without second-guessing one’s self. It was truly a unique experience that I will cherish and hold dear for a long time to come.”
Astle explained the positive impact Athena Project has had on the female artists of Denver.
“It’s super fun to have an artist whom I’m meeting for the first time share that she’s heard of us or is reaching out to us because she’s heard great things about our work,” Astle explains. “We make sure to create ongoing relationships with our artists wherever possible and as we gain presence and additional partnership opportunities, we make sure to reach out to artists we have worked with in the past to share those opportunities with them.”
Athena Project also hosts summer camps for young girls with a passion in the arts.
“We are big believers in offering mentoring and support for the next generation of female artists. We have created week-long summer intensives for young ladies going into sixth to 10th grade,” Astle said. “This year’s camp offerings are in playwriting, fashion, visual art and, new this year, an improv camp and a storytelling camp for the deaf and hard of hearing community.”
Astle also mentioned all camps will feature a teaching artist who is a professional in the field and the girls are paired with mentors for additional support. The Girls Create Summer Camp Showcase kicked off the festival March 3 at the King Center on Auraria Campus. This showcase was a chance for middle school girls to see their art brought to life from plays performed by actors to fashion and other visual arts displayed in a gallery-style at the King Center.
“It’s always so inspiring to see the work of these young ladies come to life on stage,” Astle said. “It’s even more inspiring to see the looks of pride and accomplishment on their faces. That’s empowerment at its finest and I’m so proud we offer this opportunity.”
For more information on upcoming events for Athena Project’s Art Festival and summer camps, visit: http://www.athenaprojectarts.org/events/