Martha Richards Reflects on SWAN Day 2021

Martha Richards, President, WomenArts

Today is Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day 2021, and I want to wish all of you a happy SWAN Day. However, I also want to acknowledge how hard this past year has been. I know that it may not be possible to feel “happy” if you are dealing with the loss of loved ones, the loss of work, violent attacks on people of color, natural disasters, and our ongoing political struggles over voting rights, reproductive rights, income inequality, and other social justice issues.

In this tumultuous year some of us may need to focus more on having a “hopeful” SWAN Day. I have been reflecting on the power of women artists, and I think there are solid reasons to feel hopeful for the future.

Women Artists Have Essential Skills

First of all, I truly believe that artists, especially women artists have many skills that are essential to the world’s recovery. We have a deep understanding of sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination, because we have been struggling with them our entire lives, and we have many useful insights to offer. Furthermore, our arts give us the tools to help our communities articulate their dreams, and that is the essential first step in making those dreams come true. Many of you are already making art that is inspiring people to action.

Women Artists Are Champions of Nuance

Second, women artists are champions of nuance. We live in a time when many people are trying to reduce complicated socio-economic issues into Tweet-size sound bites. When people are limited to these stunted conversations, their political differences can seem insurmountable. But as artists, we know how to shine a spotlight on complexity. We know how to find the words or music or images that will help people see a multi-faceted diamond instead of a rock, and we know how to touch people at the deep emotional levels where real change happens. That means we have a crucial role to play in rebuilding the empathy that is so desperately needed these days.

Glimmers of Hope

Chloé Zhao, Director, Nomadland

Finally, we can take heart in the fact that even in these dark times, there are glimmers of hope. In the same year that hate crimes against Asian-Americans have sky-rocketed, the Chinese director Chloé Zhao became the first-ever woman of color nominated for an Oscar for Best Director. And she was nominated for Nomadland, a film that shows the humanity and dignity of older working class women – women whose stories are almost never told in mainstream media.

Emerald Fennell was nominated in the same category for Promising Young Woman, which is also about women’s experiences. Only five women have previously been nominated for best director in the 93-year history of the Oscars, and this is the first time that two women have been nominated for Best Director in the same year. The only woman to win was Kathryn Bigelow, who won for The Hurt Locker, a film about men at war. If either Chao or Fennell win, it will be the first time that a woman director has won for telling a woman-centered story. That will be a huge step forward for the field.

Over the years I have seen so many women artists create whole worlds on a bare stage or a blank piece of paper. I am always inspired by that miraculous ability to create something beautiful where nothing existed before. The road ahead may be rocky, but no matter what happens, I have confidence in the power of our imaginations. I hope you do too.

Have a happy, hopeful SWAN Day and remember to contact your favorite women artists today and tell them how much you appreciate them! Together we will create the world we want to live in.

Sending you love and big SWAN hugs from Berkeley, California,
Martha Richards
Martha Richards, Executive Director, WomenArts