Celebrating Atlanta’s Leading Women

As you may know, March is National Women’s History Month, and the National Women’s History Project has announced this year’s theme: “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives”.

C4 Atlanta is excited to be a part of this project! We will be highlighting women’s stories on our blog and on our social media throughout the month of March and into April. We want to take this opportunity to honor many of the strong and hardworking female arts administrators across Atlanta. Sharing women’s triumphs challenges stereotypes within today’s society and overturns social assumptions about who women are and what women can accomplish.

With that being said, we’d love to introduce our first leading lady, Shannon M. Turner.

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Where/who do you work for and what is your role?
I just started as Managing Director at CORE, the organizational home of CORE Performance Company at the beginning of March. CORE is located both in Decatur and Houston, and it’s turning 35 next season!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An actress or an OB/GYN

Who was your favorite artist/writer/performer growing up?
Michael Jackson and The Beatles

Who has been/has had the biggest influence on your life? What did they teach you?
Life is full of so many great people who can be teachers, even if they don’t set themselves up that way.
I think about my former boss at the YMCA who really took an interest in me and my professional development. She gave very thorough and honest personnel reviews, sent me to every training she thought I should take, and even passed along job postings when she felt like they would be good opportunities for me to grow (though those always started with, “Would hate to lose you, but…”) I always appreciated the value she placed on being a good supervisor, including her dedication to my personal development. We’ve become great friends since we left our positions, and she’s often the second person (after my mom) that I call when something important happens.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I lived in pretty rural communities for most of my younger years, so there weren’t a lot cultural activities like we have here in Atlanta. I loved taking dance classes, though, when I was growing up. I was cast as the narrator of my school play when I was in 4th grade, and I instantly fell in love with the stage.

I changed careers in 2004 when I left my job at the YMCA and went back to school to get my MFA in Arts Administration and Public Dialogue. I’ve worked in the arts ever since.

How is art a passion for you?
Art’s just embedded into the fabric of my life now. I see it everywhere, even in the way my grandmother’s crooked, gnarled fingers would curve into the corner of a mayonnaise jar to get the last out. So graceful and determined, not unlike a dance. I do wish that more people had access to art-making — both as a consumer and as a participant. But, at the end of the day, art is where you see it, where you make it, and how you live it.

What are your thoughts on equality and representation of women in the arts?shannon2
We know we have a long way to go in this respect. Study after study shows that women lag behind in terms of pay scales, having their plays produced, having their books published, and being in senior leadership. It’s a global problem that has its own ways of manifesting in our field. I think that arts nonprofits stand a better chance of modeling what we want, though, as they tend to be populated more by women. The problem is, though, that because the arts tend to be undervalued and underfunded, women continue to work for less than they’re worth and sometimes even keep other artists and arts administrators from making an equitable wage. We have to pay attention to the systems and patterns we’re replicating.

What in your profession has given you the greatest satisfaction or fulfillment? Looking back, what would you have done differently? What would you do again?
I once got an organization I was working for a $10,000 grant simply because I mentioned the need for our youth programs to be more funded to the right person at the right time. That was pretty cool.

The one thing I’d do differently (if I have to pick just one thing) is I would believe in myself and my capacity more from the beginning. It’s taken me a long time to give myself permission, to fully embrace that I have a role in the arts because there are so many talented, tireless, mission-driven people doing this work. I wasn’t always sure I belonged here; I still struggle with that actually.

What I would do again is I would definitely go to work for Alternate ROOTS, the organization I just left after 5.5 years on staff. It was not only one of the best career moves I could have possibly made, it gave me the opportunity to see work that is both aesthetically excellent but also driving conversations about racism, social justice, and the environment. Those folks have really got it going on.

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
We’re in such an interesting, galvanizing time for arts in Atlanta. We made it through the economic downturn of 2008, but we lost a lot of great organizations and some artists as a result of that struggle. Still, there’s so much resilience and leadership here. I see things like Art on the BeltLine, WonderRoot taking over that giant high school, the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, Dance Truck, Dad’s Garage, Moving in the Spirit, Synchronicity, WRITE CLUB and Carapace, and I know that we’ve got interwoven communities that embrace art as a way of life.

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community?
I hope I can contribute to the ongoing dialogue about unintentional separation, maybe even segregation, in our arts communities. Some might say that there’s a lack of diversity, but I’m not sure I agree. I think there are multiple arts communities, and they’re simply not intersecting enough, nor is the non-white community’s work being recognized or funded enough. It goes back to what I said about us not replicating the patterns we don’t want.

I’m also hoping that all artists in Atlanta will begin to find it easier to make a living through their art as a result of our collective efforts as a field.

Where can we go to find out more?

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