Category: Leading Lady

Leading Lady : Stephanie Kong

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the final next Leading Lady for March 2017: Stephanie Kong

Stephanie Kong, Program Director for WonderRoot

Where do you work and what do you do?
As the WonderRoot Programs Director, I am responsible and accountable for the design and management of educational, artistic, and public programs which fulfill the mission and vision of WonderRoot. As a senior member of staff, I champion strategic plan initiatives focused on the systematic integration of arts and activism into programs, the evaluation of the social and financial impact of programs, and the management of program staff. I develop indicators of success and program assessment plans, recommend new programs, and oversee the fulfillment of grant commitments. I graduated from the Arts Leaders of Metro Atlanta in 2016 and participated on the review committee for the 2017 cohort. I currently participate in the Georgia Council for Nonprofits’ Momentum Program and the Blank Foundation’s inaugural Audience Building Roundtable cohort. I also oversee a fiscally-sponsored project, the Humble Telescopes, with my partner.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I have always been interested in arts. My mother invited her brother from Seoul to live with us in America, start a new life, and to help her raise me and my sister. He is a calligrapher and painter, and he filled our tiny apartments with his illustrations and paintings. My mother was a photographer, but she focused on it as a hobby rather than a craft. Her profession as a pharmacist created greater opportunities for her in this country.

Fugus, 2012, Photograph by Stephanie Kong

Art always has a home in my life. I write short stories and obsessively take photos. I use art as a means of expression and release, and it has been a very private practice. I use photography as a way to document present histories. Being a child of an immigrant from a war-torn country, we do not hold many records that recount who is in our family. I am an emotional hoarder, and I use photos as a means of archiving my life and the context and complexities of the world that continue to shape me.

I have been in arts nonprofit work for almost two years, but I have always had art integrated into my professional life. I hold a Bachelors in Social Work and pursued Art Therapy. I graduated during the recession so I turned to progressive educational pedagogy and integrated arts as the bloodline of that approach.

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?
I (still) want to be a cartoon voice actor, photographer for National Geographics, and a movie director. I thought I’d be the next Steven Spielberg after I watched Jurassic Park.

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
I’d rather have a potluck or dinner party like Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, and everyone has a plus 1 including Nina Simone, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Asata Shakur, Rebecca Solnit, Yayoi Kasuma, Camilla Paglia, Pussy Riot, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and Patti Smith. We’d talk about what I talk about with my friends- our relationships with ourselves, our bodies, our lovers, nature, the state of politics, travelling, food, and cats.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
Obviously my mom has had the most direct influence on my life. Perhaps Confucius. Apparently I come from his lineage, and the Korean culture is heavily influenced by his philosophy. There are aspects that I do and do not agree with, and I do not prescribe myself to the constraints of some of the values, however, I also view some of them as utterly beautiful.

How is art a passion for you?
Art is a form of storytelling. It is a mean of archiving emotions and events.

Shroud of Jeju, 2001, Photograph by Stephanie Kong

What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
The rise of women is the rise of the nation.

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
The artists and their passions. I love being with artists when they are fully present and cooking or creating or walking and intentional about each action they take. I love doing that.

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
Empathy

Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?
www.wonderroot.org
https://c4atlanta.org/project/humble-telescopes/

Leading Lady : Mary Ruth Ralston

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the next Leading Lady for March 2017: Mary Ruth Ralston

Mary Ruth Ralston is a local Atlanta actor, education artist, fight choreographer, director, and lighting designer.

Where do you work and what do you do?
I work at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company where I am an actor and education artist, as well as sometime fight choreographer, director, and lighting designer.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I grew up in Athens, GA with great exposure to the arts and started dancing at about age 4. I really got into acting and theater my freshman year of high school.

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a dancer, marine biologist, and/or Jedi knight.

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
Ooh, tough one. Right now I think I’d like to sit down and chat with Virginia Wolfe about art, time, culture, and gender. I just read her incredible novel “Orlando”, and I’d like very much to talk with her about it.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My parents. They both worked very hard to encourage my imagination and to instill in me the desire to work hard, improve myself professionally and personally, and do my best to maintain a strong sense of empathy, humor, and ethics.

Mary Ruth Ralston in Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry VI.

How is art a passion for you?
It is honestly very difficult for me to imagine not being a performing artist. I feel very strongly that it is what I need to be doing, and it is a career that, although often difficult, is uniquely challenging and rewarding.

What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
I think it’s moving in a great direction. We’re still in a lot of places facing the old problems of lack of complex female characters in plays and lack of female leadership in the arts in general, but I’m seeing more and more women breaking the mold of outdated gender stereotypes and taking charge as directors, writers, and leaders of arts organizations. I know so many amazing women who are becoming cornerstones of the Atlanta arts scene working incredibly hard to push for diversity and intersectionality. Also, being someone whose passion is classical theater, which can be terribly restrictive for women, I’m benefiting a lot personally from the Shakespeare Tavern and other theaters being willing to cast outside the traditional gender binary.

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
I’ve experienced some really moving displays of cooperative and supportive spirit among Atlanta’s artists. I’ve seen so many of my friends and colleagues encourage, uplift, and celebrate each other’s work. I think we have an amazing community of artists who support each other and enable growth, creativity, and collaboration in our city.

Mary Ruth Ralston (pictured right) shows off her skills in the the famous Hamlet vs. Laertes fight from Fern Theatre’s all female production of Hamlet.

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
I’m hoping that I get to continue playing parts that are traditionally played by men and encourage out-of-the-box casting in that regard, but I think the most important thing I can do is to keep encouraging students to embrace empathy, passion, and open-mindedness and impart the idea that a career in the arts is not just possible but important and useful.

Leading Lady : Yun Bai

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the next Leading Lady for March 2017: Yun Bai

Yun Bai is an Atlanta based artist who creates flower collage paintings using porn magazines as an expression of human rights.

Where do you work and what do you do?
It’s been an adventure, being a visual artist. I create flower collage paintings using porn magazines as an expression of human rights to inspire hope and healing. Sharing my art, life experiences, and perspectives have allowed me to engage in speaking, panel discussions, consulting, various collaborations, leadership opportunities, etc. I’m passionate about diversity and women’s rights, especially when it pertains to our willingness in having those difficult, vulnerable, uncomfortable conversations.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I remember embracing art as a small child, but didn’t realize my connection to it until I was fourteen during a high school art class. We were instructed to do self-portraits, and our teacher introduced us to Prismacolor color pencils. I remember being so happy in those art classes. Ever since then, it’s been a necessary part of my life. Professionally I started in 2003, after studying art in college.

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist. There isn’t anything else I’d rather be. I was set on it even though my parents wanted me to be a lawyer, doctor, or accountant. When I was younger I thought about being a fashion designer, though part of me thinks being a florist would be fun too.

“Gentle Awakening” 8″ x 8″ Porn magazines, acrylic on wood 2016 Artist: Yun Bai

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
The Chinese empress Wu Zetian, from the Tang Dynasty. She was the only woman to officially lead China. I would ask her how she was able to access her leadership, what regrets she had, what she would do differently. I would ask how she influenced men to be more supportive and respectful of women during her time, and what insights she would give women of the world today. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_Zetian

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
There’s so many people that inspire me, but I would have to say my high school art teacher Debi Barrett-Hayes (Florida State University School, Tallahassee, FL). I learned of my love for art through her. It was her belief and investment in me doing well as a student that paved a career commitment to art. She is an amazing teacher who really impact her students.

How is art a passion for you?
Art has become a necessity for joy. Making it, being around it, expressing ourselves through it, being inspired by others’ expressions, all joyful things. Art has many roles – documentarian, speaker, healer, muse. Art is a voice, a observer of the times, comforting inspiration. Sometimes it really is the colorful air I need to breathe.

Yun Bai advocates for continuation of funding for the arts.

What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
We need more of it (in other industries as well). It’s important to make sure women have platforms where perspectives are heard and respected, so our contributions can flourish. Women bring ideas, connections, resources, labor to endeavors yet often are not given the platform to fully speak, nor participate. We also need more women to sit on the boards of organizations.

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
How passionate, committed, and knowledgeable our community is. How fast we are growing. How our city government listens and supports us.

“Expansive Flow” 8″ x 8″ Porn magazines, acrylic on wood 2016 Artist: Yun Bai

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
I am passionate about cultivating art collectors and patrons, and hope to collaborate with other members of our community to welcome new collectors into our city’s vibrant art eco-system. Recently I shared an idea with the community that has received positive feedback on how we can go about it, https://youtu.be/dMM4DIbr6aE. It’s always exciting to welcome those unfamiliar with art into our fascinating art world – it would be cool to co-create something as a community that can celebrate each of our perspectives.

Experimentation and taking risks are important to me, both artistically and business-wise. Creating something that never existed before and trying out new ways of doings, it all fascinates me. It’s also part of evolving. I look forward to sharing these ideas and experiments with the community, as we continue to inspire one another through innovation and servitude.

Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?
Website: www.yunbai.com

Instagram: @yunbaiart
Twitter: @yunbaiart
Facebook: www.facebook.com/YUNBAIart.design

Leading Lady : Constance Echo Palmer

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the next Leading Lady for March 2017: Constance Echo Palmer

Constance Echo Palmer, local Atlanta aerial and dance artist. 

Where do you work and what do you do?
I manage and teach at The Space: A Movement Arts Studio in Atlanta. We offer aerial, dance, and yoga classes as well as host events and performances.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I began dancing as a child, mostly focusing on ballet. This evolved to aerial arts in my adult life and I haven’t looked back. I opened The Space in the spring of 2014!

 

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?

Constance shows off her aerial skills on silks.

I was planning to be a doctor, I have a B.S. in Biology from Oglethorpe University. I still love science but I also love creating so I decided to take a year off after graduating to see where the arts would take me and here I am.

 

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
There is not just one, but I would love to have coffee with any of the woman of circuses golden age, like Lillian Leitzel, and ask them what it was like to travel the world and perform daring acts under the big top. Now days we have such amazing safety standards and professionals that continue to build state of the art apparatus and safety equipment, but back then these ladies were quite literally putting their lives on the line paving the way for us!

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
Definitely my parents. My Mom is always up to chat when I’m alone cleaning the studio at 1 in the morning. I remember calling my Dad before opening the space and asking if he thought I was being foolish for putting everything on the line and taking out a lone to start the studio. He said to me “If you never swing, you’ll never hit anything.”

How is art a passion for you?
When something is the first thing you think about when you wake up, or keeps you up at night because you have ideas and want to work through them, you know its what you should be doing with your life.

Constance preps for a Corde Lisse act which involves acrobatics on a vertically hanging rope.

What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
I am fortunate to be in an industry that has, at least on the performance side of things, a very strong female presence and representation. Behind the scenes in tech and rigging its definitely the opposite and you have to work hard to earn the respect of peers.

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
The Atlanta arts scene is so diverse with such a broad spectrum. There is so much visual and performance art here that there is always something to do, see, and be a part of. Its also super exciting that we have a huge number of female show producers in Atlanta, such as Sadie Hawkins who produces regular burlesque and variety shows in order to give performers an outlet!

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
The Space was designed to be a place to create, a place to educate, and a place to sustain circus. By providing hours of open studio time every day of the week I hope to have an environment for professional artists to come and practice as well as create works. We host events and shows at The Space that are open to the community to show Atlanta that circus is accessible and that everyone can be a part of it. We offer recreational classes for adults so that anyone can try circus and aerial arts! We also have training opportunities for youth and teens in order to help them develop into professionals.

Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?
Our website is www.TheSpaceATL.com and we are on all social media sites (facebook, twitter, tumblr, instagram, snapchat) as @TheSpaceATL – check it out because we have some shows coming up including our next Open Grip on April 15th which is a sort of open mic night for movement artists.

Leading Lady : SHANEQUA GAY

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the next Leading Lady for March 2017: Shanequa Gay

Shanequa Gay — Atlanta based painter, artivist, designer, and poet in residence with the Creatives Project. Image: Ode to Dantavious Chatham / 36 x 48 / Oil, Flashe and Acrylic / Wood Panel / 2016

Where do you work and what do you do?
I am currently an artist in residence through the Creatives Project. My studio is at The Goat Farm Building 8 Studio UMR – 6 (please stop by). I am a magician and or a painter and or a poet and or a designer and or an artivist.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I have had an interest in the arts all of my life. I was a creative being at an early age, as a kid on into teenagerdom I drew, danced, played the violin and the like. I have been a working professional artist (with on and off moments) for the past 12 years.

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a Pediatrician and an Artist. Which sort of balanced out, I am a Mother and an artist therefore I play the role of a Pediatrician (albeit unlicensed), I have played the role never the less.

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
Maya. I would have lunch with Maya on the shores of the Cote d’ivoire. We would talk about how her life story marries so beautifully and unfortunately with mine. I would ask her a million questions about her life’s journey. How did she smile and dance and speak her way out of her pain and deliver so many others along with her? I would sit at her knee eating pineapples and strawberries (because they are my favorite) and ask for her wisdom. She would pull the coil of my hair and say, “Nah, girl listen…” assuring me the Creator has giving me everything that I need. And I would say, “but Maya how do I give birth to nations through my work, too?” I would have lunch with Maya Angelou of course.

(Diptych image)
Dual Citizen / 48 x 48 / Mixed Media / Wood Panel / 2016

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My Mothers. My birth Mother has hands down been the most impactful person in my life, I love her so. However, I would be amiss if I did not speak of the many women who have loved, chastised, supported, blessed, looked out, and prayed for me on this path of mine. There is a gathering of wise, knowledgeable, no nonsense women that are always accessible to me. I am so grateful.

How is art a passion for you?
I live, I breathe, I am my art. It is like a relationship when it is good it is wonderful. We talk all the time, meet up at specific times, talk about our past and plans for our future, make love through the medium, we break up, give each other some breathing room for a day or some years and then hop back to it like we never missed a beat. Me and my art… we are in love.

What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
It is still lacking and that gets old. The fact that race and gender are still on the table of things we need to talk about equalizing is just an antiquated conversation. How can we claim to be a progressive nation when we still operate in 18th century ideals? Make room. Make room for women and diversity, and this does not mean one standing in place for the other. How long will we be content with museums and creative institutions passing around the same canon of the “great white hope” of male artists when there are ridiculously dope females and ethnic groups that can add flavor and spice to the white rice? How long are we going to be content with only eating white rice with a male only sign ingrained on our napkins, plates, and forks?

What If the Ancestors? / 18 x 24 / Oil, Flashe and Acrylic / Wood Panel / 2016 (An elder dragging a hybrid is depicted) 

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
Atlanta is vibrant! Atlanta is the capital for cultural change. The civil rights movement and OutKast come from this place, does it get any better? I should say not. The Atlanta art community is creating new movements, its own dialogue. Mayor Kasim Reed is “making room” with the 1/10 penny sales tax to fund arts programming; thriving organizations, galleries, and magazines have continued to blossom and rally support for Atlanta artists, the film and production industry is thriving giving the opportunity for the music, theater, and visual arts worlds to collide to create innovative hybrid art forms. I am very excited about the arts in the ATL, something fresh is brewing I intend to be apart of it.

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
Through “street mythologies,” video installations, performance and the like, I want to tell the stories of marginalized people here in Atlanta and abroad. I hope to spark a conversation with my work, to create a shift in how we think about humanity, who we assign and unassign humanity to, to question why people need to feel validated by an other, a lesser than. Why does it make people feel good to have another group under them if they are truly secure? This tradition, a sort of ritual of sacrificing people to prisons and systemic poverty because of ethnicity. I want to uproot and shine light on what separates us in order to mend, heal, and make room.

Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?
site — http://www.shanequagay.com/

Insta — https://www.instagram.com/shanequagay/

twitter — https://twitter.com/shanequagay

Leading Lady : Aviva Kessler

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the next Leading Lady for March 2017: Aviva Kessler

Atlanta musician and activist, Aviva Kessler.

Where do you work and what do you do?
I am a full time musician – activist
I have a band called Aviva and the Flying Penguins and a youtube channel “Avivasingsout” where I have a weekly show “Sunday Songwriting” and write and perform a new song every week often about current events, activism and local art. I also teach exercise classes at the YMCA as well as music lessons.
I founded the Georgia Hemp Economic Revival Organization in 2013 and work tirelessly speaking about how hemp can help our environment, as well as meeting with our legislators and traveling.
I also teach communities how to build with hemp hurd and earthen, sustainable materials as well as upcycling.
I built a little earthen playhouse at Atlanta’s Wylde Center with and for children who now have a real life example of a house they can build with there own hands that is from and kind to the earth. I regularly teach workshops on how to mix this earthen concrete and create as a team.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
My whole life. I always cared about the earth. In fourth grade I asked my teacher if I could go study in the library instead of stay for social studies, found a book on recycling and got totally absorbed. She had to send another student to get me because I stayed there fascinated reading for so long. I had never heard of recycling until then, the machine pictured was so big it took up a whole big warehouse room. That book became more important than so much in that moment. I felt its power. Since that day I saved my paper which finally began getting recycling in our town five years later. Music began even earlier, as young as I can remember. I won a national contest when I was 8 and performed for so many people, maybe thousands. It was one of the scariest things I ever remember doing. It was an instrumental song on piano called “Purple Blue” about the mountains. As a multi-intrumentalist and triple thread performer I studied music, dance and acting all of my life.

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?

Aviva leads a re-plastering of Ox the Earthen Playhouse which was built at the Wylde Center. The earthen plaster is made out of lime, sand, and hemp.

I wanted to be a singer but just one day a week. I always saw the importance of staying connected to community. I wanted to be a different thing every day of the week. As a child I remember choosing 6 occupations for each day of the week with one day off- it was Doctor, Farmer, Singer, Dancer, Mommy, Chef.

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
I am not as keen on just talking as much as doing an activity together, like dancing or singing or mountain hiking or playing trivia, painting, or cooking a meal together. Just eating and talking isn’t as much of an experience. I would want an experience with Sarah Vaughan. (Though I would want Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday to be there too) The talent, depth of soul and truth in their voices melts me. I would just want to learn their life, their favorite recipes, things to do, etc. I would want to sing with them :). I would want to know their dreams and songs they never could sing within the limits of the industry.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
God. I learned who God was when I traveled to Israel by myself at 12 years old. I learned how to overcome fear with love because of God’s presence. I felt God with me and I recognized this support in ways I cannot explain. It gave me courage, a sense of self, humility, and so much compassion in my heart. Struggle with ego is daily and it takes effort, kind of like scheduling lunch dates, doctor’s appointments, etc., and it takes a series of tools even, to sit still and connect with God and this is what directs me every day. God holds my hand, or maybe sends angels to, as I write about my past, get through obstacles from my past effecting my present situations, write music, practice, take risks, whatever it is I feel I am not alone.. I feel guided and accompanied and I know it’s not all about me. I have met so many people along the way who have taught me so many tools and inspired me- and ultimately what I got most from all of these inspirations was coming home to God, to come home to me.

How is art a passion for you?
Art is as important as food and fresh air for me. It allows me to get outside of myself and grow. It gives me space for emotional processing and jumping into the mysteries of life. It gives me a platform to express what I cannot express in any other way. It gives me peace. It frees me from the illusion of mental prisons. It allows me to challenge societal norms. It also give me tools to train my body mind and soul into a joyful avatar, as it were, of poignant messages. It makes me a better person and hopefully inspires other to feel better about their lives as well.

Aviva portrays a lemon for “500 Songs For Kids” with her band Aviva and the Flying Penguins.

What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
I think good intentions are there, however there is a lot of ingrained male dominance. I appreciate anyone, man or woman who has the skills to contribute to a project, I think a lot can be bettered for communication skills between men and women. I think this has posed limitations in the music business especially. I don’t like generalizing, but it makes a whole lot of sense that Women as a whole, I believe, are still finding our voices, still finding that permission to take up a lot of space, still have different sensitivities than our male counterparts. I enjoy working in solitude a LOT, because of the connection I feel to spirit in this peace, but also perhaps because it’s easier and “safer”. Growth in collaboration takes a lot of communication, persistence, overcoming painful triggers, and compassion. Learning to trust our own guidance is key. Music can require long late hours in all of its aspects and that makes family life challenging, but you can say that for a lot of professions, like doctors and reporters. I think having a support team is key.

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
I love the tangibility of the music industry. So many great musical artists have cultured here… the indigo girls, India Arie, Janelle Monae, Blind Willie, Outkast, the list is endless really. I love that any night of the week I can find a jam or performance with someone from the horn section, percussionist, drummer, violinist, etc. that works with well-known artists. I love that I’ve gotten to work with such talent. I love the studios and engineers here. Some of the best! I also love the many artists here. There really is a constant state of creation in Atlanta almost anywhere you look for it and quite a bit of activism too. I love all the urban gardens and organic farmers markets that have their own art status and accumulate local artists for their events. There are so many movers and shakers here and its a privilege to rub elbows with them.

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
So many dreams here.
I would love to see an earthen artist sustainable village created here.
(More affordable housing for artists in general would be ideal)
I would love to see music stay and thrive in our educational systems here.
I would love to see a bigger hub for artist-activists – perhaps even an artist-activist “coffeehouse”
I would love to see more agents and local venues cultivating local talent by pairing them with well-known touring acts and music-business mentorships.
I hope to keep providing inspirational ear-candy with my musical contributions and collaborations.

Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?

www.avivaandtheflyingpenguins.com
www.youtube.com/avivasingsout
www.instagram.com/aviva_flyingpenguins
www.facebook.com/avivaandtheflyingpenguins
Facebook Groups: mudbuildersofatlanta and georgiahempeconomicrevivalorganization

Leading Lady : Lennie Gray Mowris

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the next Leading Lady for March 2017: Lennie Gray Mowris

Lennie poses with one of her letterpress machines, Fly. — Photo credit: Nate Dorn Images

Where do you work and what do you do?
I work for myself through my own design and printmaking studio, lenspeace. Through this space I create letterpress art that is focused on our relationships to ourselves and others, empathy and community building.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I have always been interested in the art, but they were never supported as a viable path to follow, so I became more involved in science early in life. My aptitude was always between science and humanities, so it makes sense that the arts I fell into are all very machine-based, letterpress printing and photography primarily.

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an ethnobotanist and travel through rain forests to discover natural cures for diseases. Instead, I became obsessed with learning about self-care, which led me to study the social systems and environmental systems we rely on for care and how we can innovate them for healthier communities. I enjoy using graphic art and design thinking as means of engaging ideas of healthy lives and relationships.

Lennie Gray Morwis — Social impact design strategist, letterpress & printmaker.

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
She’s actually still alive, Angela Davis. I would want to talk about what we can realistically do right now to engage in truly impactful change within our society, and how the threats of today compare to the threats she faced during the original civil rights movement.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My biggest influence has been my partner Kevin. When I met him I was 17 and a bit broken inside. He made me a promise he’s never broken, that he would take care of me and help me grow into the potential he saw within me, as long as I would do the work of personal growth. I said yes, and it was the best decision I ever made. I owe everything I have to his support, and the support of his family. They taught me what it means to love and be loved, and to build community with heart.

How is art a passion for you?
I do it even when it’s hard, it hurts, and I want to give it up… because the moment I break through that space of pain, something amazing always opens up on the other side for me.

What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
I believe it’s improving, but we have a long way to go before we fully accept women’s leadership and overcome systemic sexism. I experience sexism all too often to believe that we’re truly evolved or embrace women as equals. We aren’t treated equally, and often aren’t taken seriously, but in some ways that makes us more powerful if we can use that awareness and leverage equality and to help leverage what power we do have to elevate others. It gives us an opportunity to bring light to inequality among all marginalized people in the creative workforce.

Lennie is hard at work in lenspeace studio. — Image Credit: Nick Burchell

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
The collaboration, generosity, and community-mindedness. There’s so much support, care, and nurturing of one another as we collectively grow, and it’s inspiring. To have that on a mass-scale in an urban area is beautiful. I feel like I have family in this town everywhere I go.

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
A space where those without a voice can find one, those with an open heart can find a home for it, and those who want to work together to create change can find a family of collaborators to do it with.

Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?
lenspeace.com
@lenspeace
@lenniegraymowris
aiga.org

Leading Lady : Laura Cole

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the next Leading Lady for March 2017: Laura Cole

Laura Cole, Director of Education and Training for the Atlanta Shakespeare Company at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse.

Where do you work and what do you do?
I am an actor, director and Director of Education and Training for the Atlanta Shakespeare Company at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I started making up plays when I was 8 or 9, and joined a really strong children’s theatre program when I was in middle school, which was also when I decided to be a professional actor, singer and dancer. I got an acting degree from a strong college program, along with choreography experience and moved to Atlanta to begin my acting career. I have been in Atlanta ever since with a few out of town gigs, most notably an off-Broadway appearance in 2012.

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?
Once I realized being a crow, a bronc-buster or a starship science officer were less than realistic career goals I settled on actor. I expanded that definition to include modern dance choreographer and eventually added teacher, director and mentor to the list.

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
Adrienne Herndon of Atlanta would be a great place to start, but I would also really like to visit with Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim (early female playwright and nun) and find out what her life was like.

Laura Cole as Mephistopheles in the Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s production of Christopher Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus”.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
Besides my mother, who was one of the strongest feminists I’ve ever met, my teacher-mentors made such a difference in my life and career. Early on Mrs. Betsy Lubs and Mrs. Ruth Longman, both high school teachers, taught me how to be an artist and a scholar. My choreography and modern dance teacher at Northwestern, Lynne Anne Blom, was the most influential and impactful person on the artist/teacher I am today. She saw something in me that no one else did, she encouraged it and nurtured it, she mentored me through four years of college and quietly taught me how to be a teacher. Her example is the single most important influence on my art since then.

How is art a passion for you?
There isn’t anything else I can or want to do.

What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
In theatre there are still more women in the education side of the business than men, and the artistic and management positions are more often filled by men than women. I personally don’t want to be an artistic or managing director BUT the education director of any professional theater in America should be equally valued, recognized and compensated for their work- I imagine they aren’t because education is undervalued in American society and women are often undervalued……

Laura shows off her Suzi Bass Award for best Sound Design in the New American Shakespeare Company’s production of the Tempest.

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
There is SO much!!!! I started here a long time ago and the growth, even after 9/11 and the Recession in the mid-2000’s, has been amazing. There are so many young artists staying here after school and practicing their craft, which 30 years ago was almost unheard-of. We keep growing even though arts and entertainment and the arts-in-education are not yet fully valued and adequately financially supported by state and local governments the way the movie/TV industry has been encouraged with tax breaks, etc. When THAT happens I will be over the MOON!

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
I didn’t plan it but the growth of full-fledged Education departments at area theaters and the growth of Teaching Artistry as a career option is a contribution I can look at and feel satisfaction.

If I could do one thing (beside professional acting) I would focus on mentoring and teaching others how to be a strong mentor both in the arts industry and in other mainstream industries in Atlanta.

Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?
www.shakespearetavern.com
we’re on FB and Twitter, too.

Leading Lady : Kemi Bennings

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the final next Leading Lady for March 2017: Kemi Bennings

Kemi Bennings, freelance entrepreneur & life designer

Where do you work and what do you do?

I am a freelance entrepreneur, artistic “world – bridger” and life designer. I have a background in producing shows and cultural event programming, as well as the health and wellness industry. I bring my creativity, knowledge and experience to both worlds in an effort to impact and inspire change. As an artistic “world – bridger”, I combine multimedia, theatrics, music and independent artistry to create innovative productions and cultural events that move, touch and inspire people…
In the health and wellness industry, I am a health educator and life coach.  My primary focus is holistic transformative healing, where I empower clients to do the necessary work to create the lives they desire.  
 
When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I became interested in the arts through poetry; I found my way into Atlanta’s artistic vortex in 1995 by way of an invitation to a local poetry reading held at Patti Hut Café on Thursday nights. The place was called Rio Mall; it was once located on the corner of Piedmont and North Avenue. Walking in Patti Hut Café was like going down the proverbial rabbit-hole, because there were a matrix of pathways that led to an experience of the Atlanta vibe in all of its glory and genre. From the West End to Midtown, Decatur to Downtown Atlanta, living rooms were turned into literary safe houses; there were people who had magic in their dream coats, stars in their eyes, a poem freshly penned and flyers in their pockets which led to other dimensions of artistic and live music hot spots – places where like-minded artists and those serious about their craft dwelled. From that moment, my life would change…I began producing shows in 2002 beginning with the premiere Southeast female showcase, Soul Sista’s Juke Joint, and I have been at it and expanding my scope since then.
 
What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?

I kinda I knew that I would become a nurse as I gravitated to the Red Cross around the age of 13, becoming a youth candy striper at a local hospital.  It was also in my genes – my grandmother was a nurse.  But I was also fascinated with culinary arts, watching all of the Saturday morning cooking shows and practicing in the kitchen.  Aside from being a nurse, I have created the opportunity to flex my gourmet vegan/vegetarian and personal chef skills in the film industry!

photo credit: Sue Ross; Kemi Bennings is shown on set for the 10th Anniversary shoot of A Great Day In Atlanta.

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?

There are several women I admire, most of which I’d ask the same questions (did you want to list any of those questions?), but lunch!  Hands down, I’d have to have lunch with Harriet Tubman.  Not only from the perspective of her powerful contribution to African American(s) and American History, but what got her there – in mind, in consciousness. Therefore, I’d focus my conversation on my interest in human symbiotic relationships, in particular the relationship between human, life force (Source), and life purpose, relating it to the role of artists.
 
I’d sit and listen. I’d ask questions based upon my belief that we are a race of artists; a unique family of independent artists – underground, like the days of the Harriet Tubman, in the trenches working to empower peace, unity, equality and social change.
 
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?

There are many people who have had tremendous influence in my life.  My parents have been two of my greatest influences, as they taught me values, compassion and love for humankind.   But, artists have been a unique influence in my life.  The role we play in society – imagine a world without art or music.  I’m continually inspired by the music we make, the pictures we paint, the poems we pen and the creating of artistic lanes unseen.

photo credit: Maurice Thompson

How is art a passion for you?
I am passionate about art and music being powerful mediums for social change: how we utilize them to inspire, entertain and educate.  I’ve been experimenting with life: this “notion” that we, a diverse and global community of artists, are guided by and have a unique relationship with a higher source.  It is my contention that within that source is where creativity emerges, where artist and spirit meet, where art and art form are born, where we become “alive” and where we have the potential to make great contributions and create change in the world. 

 
What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
When we speak about the equality and representation of women in the creative workforce, what we are really talking about is honoring the value that women bring to society as a whole – the qualities that are innate to us as women, our respective stories, in addition to our unique and diverse perspectives of creativity.
 
I feel that overall gender inequality is still prevalent.  We saw it recently, when the presiding chair interrupted Sen. Elizabeth Warren while reading Coretta Scott’s letter, and Bernie Sanders (I like Bernie, but the fact is that he is male) was allowed to read the letter.  We must be diligent and courageous in making sure women’s voices are heard and acknowledged (and those voices influence and drive change), and we must come together in a way that we ourselves have not seen in our lifetime.
 
What excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
What excites me most about the  Atlanta arts/music scene is that just beneath the surface, there is always a melting pot of new artists who are willing to push the envelope.  I’m excited about the artists that live in the south, as well as, the artists that are attracted to Atlanta (The South).  I love the diverse perspectives and how they sometimes become mixed with Southern hospitality and what I feel exists as an undertone for those that dig deeper; the inherent responsibility to build community, create awareness and impact social change.  Also, I appreciate that there still exists a lineage of artists, trailblazers and creatives from the late 80’s, early 90’s that are still here to support the ever-evolving Atlanta arts scene.  
 
What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
Continue to produce fresh, thought-provoking and innovative programming. Continue identifying, supporting and collaborating with creatives of all genres.
Where can we find you on Social Media?
FB: Kemi Bennings
Twitter: Kemi Bennings
IG: Kemi Bennings

Leading Lady : Violette L Meier

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the next Leading Lady of March 2017: Violette L. Meier

Violette shows off the many stories she has written and published.

Where do you work and what do you do?
I am a writer and co-Founder of Viori Publishing and co-Founder of Digidence Social Media Marketing.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?

I have always been interested in the arts, especially writing. I have bee writing since I was 12 years old and I have been published for about 10 years.

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a fashion designer and an astronaut. I am still very much in love with fashion and space, but my true gift is writing.

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
There are so many women I would love to meet. If I had to pick one it would probably be Maya Angelou. I would ask her how did she learn to be so strong and comfortable in her skin. I find her confidence and inner beauty incredibly powerful.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
My mother. She is the epitome of strength; always pushing forward no matter the circumstance. I want to be extremely successful so that I can give her everything her heart desires.

“Ruah the Immortal” written by Violette L. Meier is a story of love, betrayal, and preternatural power penetrating one to the very soul. It is a tale of two sisters who wiggle through never-ending obstacles, wrestle with the sacred and the profane, and ultimately face death in hopes of finding life.

How is art a passion for you?
All I need is the air that I breathe and to write. Writing is my art and my purpose.

What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
Equality is the only way. It is illogical to consider it any other way. Equal work deserves equal pay.

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?

Atlanta is my home and it is exciting to see it evolve and grow artistically. I want to help propel this movement into something that can influence the world in a positive way.

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
I want to contribute a different and valuable perspective on speculative fiction. I want my work to entertain and enlighten.

Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?
www.VioletteMeier.com
Facebook: Violette L. Meier
Instagram: violettemeier
Twitter: violettemeier