As you may know, March is National Women’s History Month, and yesterday was International Women’s Day. Last year, C4 Atlanta shared the stories of women arts administrators in our city as part of a project with the National Women’s History Project called “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives”.
C4 Atlanta is excited to curate this blog series for the second year in a row! We will be highlighting women’s stories on our blog and on our social media throughout the month of March and into April. This year we have expanded the project to include the stories of more women and to share a diverse range of experiences, including women nationally as well as locally. 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, Catherine Pfitzer.
Where do you work and what do you do?
I’m the Executive Director of Voices of Note, Inc, the non-profit that produces the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus and the Atlanta Women’s Chorus.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I grew up in southern California, and attended the Orange County School for the Arts, where was trained as a singer and actress. I studied film and media in college and knew I’d be staying in the performing arts.
Who was your favorite artist/writer/performer growing up?
Idina Menzel was my idol in high school.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
Two people have influenced my character to the greatest degree, and they couldn’t be more opposite in nature from each other. My father is an analytical mechanical engineer, and President of a thriving business he founded 25 years ago. He is often the smartest person in the room, and he taught to apply logic to every situation. He also taught me how to win at Texas Hold ‘em… unless he is at the table, in which case my best defense is to avoid sitting to his right. This, along with being the only girl amongst my three brothers, taught me – above all – to be resilient, and never accept defeat.
Secondly, my mother is an artist of many disciplines; she is highly creative and intuitive. She is loving, affectionate, sensitive, and at times, emotional. It wasn’t until I was over 30 that I realized she had taught me the meaning of unconditional love. Not in an identifiable, specific lesson, per se, but by setting a daily example of being sensitive, welcoming and graceful, without giving up one iota of her strong warrior spirit. She is one of the most amazing women I have ever known.
When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I moved from Southern California to the south to finish college, and I quickly experienced culture shock when I discovered (comparatively) how few opportunities there were for performing artists and filmmakers. As a performer myself, I wanted an outlet for my own artistic expression, and I decided to be proactive about creating such opportunities. While still in college in Birmingham, AL, I started an improvisational comedy troupe, the first of its kind in the city. While casting collaborators, I quickly discovered the vast untapped talent pool that existed there. There were artists desperately thirsting for outlets and opportunities, in what I would call a cultural desert. After college, I started working at the Sidewalk Film Festival as its program manager, and it was then that I was hooked on arts administration. That is, providing previously nonexistent opportunities for artists to express, present, and hone their talents felt so intrinsically good that I felt I had found my calling. I went on to become the Executive Director of that organization, and later moved to Atlanta to continue my journey.
How is art a passion for you?
My love of performance aside, there are two primary reasons that I’m passionate about art:
1) Because it inspires us to change.
2) Because we need it to survive.
I believe that art in all its forms is one of the most direct influences on social change. When individuals are made to truly feel, or are swept up by a powerful experience, it has the capability to inspire them to self-reflection that sometimes causes them to see life more openly than they previously had.
It’s been said that art – especially music – does not function in society as mere luxury or entertainment. Throughout history, example after example can be cited of works of music and art created in the most unimaginable environments —amidst famine, oppression, genocide. In historical circumstances where these victims were without food or shelter — without money, without hope, without recreation, without basic respect — they were not without art. Leading us to the obvious conclusion that art is as necessary as any other survival tool.
This sentiment is resonates in Voices of Note’s upcoming work, the first ever joint concert between its two choruses, the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus and the Atlanta Women’s Chorus. And Justice For All runs March 18-19th.
What are your thoughts on equality and representation of women in the arts?
It is fitting that I’m answering these questions on International Women’s Day! I could write novels about how this permeates the arts. In short, I believe that the national trends (a glass ceiling of 78%) we see in the workplace carry over into the arts and its equality.
Women are underrepresented in the working world as musicians and in top administrative leadership positions. But further, when they are in these roles, comparatively speaking, women are encouraged to present their ideas with an unparalleled amount of grace and diplomacy, not just so that these ideas are heard, but simply in order to thrive in the workplace. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big believer of grace and diplomacy, and these are tools I’ve deliberately worked at developing and will continue to as long as I live. But I’m also a big believer in efficiency. It is true for any person – male or female — that the most effective way to deliver a message is not always the most efficient. In sum, the same message or idea coming from a male leader may be received one way, but a female leader delivering the same message in the same manner often is not responded to as favorably.
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?
As stated previously, providing opportunities for artists to present their art and for audiences to witness it gives me the most satisfaction. What would I have done differently? I would have learned earlier in my career that knowing the right solution is not the most important factor, ever. Building consensus is.
What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
The multitude of opportunities there are to experience it! That and the very supportive, collaborative nature the arts organizations have as a whole.
What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community?
As I said, I love the fact that every day my job – in the macro sense – is to create opportunities for artists. Whether it is stabilizing revenue sources, redesigning a staff structure, or writing a strategic plan: all of these contribute to the ultimate goal above.
Where can I learn more about your organizations and work (websites, social media, etc.)?
Voices of Note’s upcoming work is the first ever joint concert between its two choruses, the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus and the Atlanta Women’s Chorus. And Justice For All runs March 18-19th.
Catherine Pfitzer, Executive Director, joined the Voices
of Note family in early 2014. Catherine’s passion for musical
performance began at a young age and grew through training
at the Orange County School of Arts. She served as the Executive
Director of the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, founding
many of the organization’s affiliated programs, including the
Birmingham SHOUT LGBT+Film Festival (co-founder). She moved
to Atlanta in 2009 to work with 7 Stages Theatre as its Director