Feeling Grateful – Martha Richards’ Birthday Blog

Martha Richards passes SWAN Day to Melinda Pfundstein, StateraArts

Martha Richards passes leadership of SWAN Day to Melinda Pfundstein, Executive Director, StateraArts

Since this is my birthday week, I have been taking some time to reflect on my past.  As usual, I feel blessed that I have been able to work with so many talented women artists over the years.  Thanks to all of you!  You make me happy on my birthday and every day.

I have created the list below of a few other things that I am especially grateful for this year.

The Next Generation of Women Leaders
Since I am definitely a senior citizen at this point, I am feeling very grateful that a new generation of feminist activists is coming into power.  It was wonderful to see so many women candidates winning elections last month, and here at WomenArts, I am very excited that the women of StateraArts are taking over the leadership of Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day 2019. They are thoughtful and energetic, and I am confident that they will do a terrific job and take SWAN Day to new heights.

My Mentors
I went into the arts because I was inspired by incredibly visionary women who went before me. There was Hallie Flanagan, the leader of the Federal Theatre Project that employed thousands of artists during the Great Depression of the 1930s; Zelda Fichandler, the founder of Arena Stage in Washington, DC; Nina Vance, the founder of the Alley Theatre in Houston, and Nancy Hanks, who led the National Endowment for the Arts in the 1970s during its greatest period of growth.

Martha Richards with her mentor, Tonen O'Connor

Martha Richards with her mentor, Tonen O’Connor in Milwaukee, October 2018

I am especially grateful to Tonen O’Connor, the legendary Managing Director of Milwaukee Repertory Theater, who has been my personal role model and mentor since the early days of my arts management career.   

The most important thing that I learned from these women was their value system.  They worked hard because they believed that the arts were an essential part of life and that everyone should have access to them.  They built substantial organizations so that they could produce works that would inspire audiences while providing decent-paying jobs for artists. They recognized that their job was to preserve the nation’s heart, and they took their work as seriously as any surgeon.  I have tried to honor their values in my work, and I hope I can pass them along to others.  

The Amazing Super SWANS
In October 2018, WomenArts and StateraArts hosted a gathering in Milwaukee of the “Super SWANS”  – women who have been organizing festival-style Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN events in their communities for at least three years.  Some of the Super SWANs have been with us since 2008 when Jan Lisa Huttner and I announced the very first SWAN Day.  It was so exciting to see how much they have accomplished from their persistent, long-term efforts.

Super SWANs Since 2008 - Deborah Magdalena, Sophie Dowllar, Jennifer Hill, and Lydiah Dola

Super SWANs Since 2008 – Deborah Magdalena, Sophie Ogutu, Jennifer Hill, and Lydiah Dola

For instance, Jennifer Hill reported that SWAN Day Connecticut has changed long-standing attitudes towards women in the music community in her region.  When she started out, men won almost all the state-wide music awards, and now women are winning a substantial percentage of them. Sophie Ogutu reported that SWAN Day Kenya has been so successful that it has inspired women in other African countries to create their own SWAN events.

We are seeing these substantial impacts after eleven years of SWAN events, and I predict that after twenty or thirty years, we will see powerful networks of women artists with SWAN connections all over the world.  I think we will all be amazed at what we can accomplish when SWAN sisters from every corner of the globe start cheering each other on.

The Joy of Creation
Finally, I am grateful that I still experience the sheer joy of creation after all these years. Whether I am helping others create, working on my own projects, or simply watching something beautiful, I experience a profound joy from engaging with the arts.

I am so glad I have been able to work in this field for the past forty years, and I want to thank women artists everywhere for your talents, your dedication, your curiosity, your high spirits, and your honesty.  I love your spunk and your persistence, and I hope you have a great holiday season and abundant creative opportunities in the coming year.

With a heart full of SWAN love,
Martha Richards
Executive Director, WomenArts