Over the past 13 years, Orange County Library System has helped support women in the arts by hosting the annual Women in the Arts Awards. This year, the event has shifted to an expo. We were able to catch up with the founder and executive director of Women in the Arts Inc., Maria Guerrero, to understand more about this new event.
What made you decide to shift this event from the Women in the Arts Awards & Exhibition to the Women in the Arts Expo?
The mission of Women in the Arts (WITA) is “celebrating the genius of women” and the Women in the Arts Expo is an evolution of that mission. Sometimes, it is important to understand when a goal has been achieved and tackle what is next. With the upcoming expo at Orlando Public Library’s Melrose Center on March 30, we are thrilled to bring together artists, industry leaders and the public for a conversation and to create new opportunities for all.
For many years, we elevated and recognized the work of professional women artists through our Women in the Arts Awards event. In 2010, we held the first Women in the Arts Exhibition at Southwest Branch, which quickly grew and moved to Orlando Public Library. The event became our signature juried competition, with the exhibition and awards taking place during Women’s History Month. Over time, it recognized not only the work of Central Florida women artists but of artists from across the United States and around the world. Shortly after the 10th exhibition, WITA and OCLS achieved a major milestone with their inclusion on Google Arts & Culture.
The exhibition formed its own identity, voicing women’s artistic expression, experiences, concerns and the female gaze, often bringing awareness to current social issues. This voice was massively expanded by the “Me Too” movement, which gained tremendous strength and raised awareness of women standing in solidarity on a global scale.
What resources will be available at the expo?
The most important resource at the event is people. Attendees will meet other artists and representatives from Orlando art and culture venues, get answers to their questions and learn about all of the resources available at the Melrose Center, where the event will take place. It is the perfect setting for artists and creatives to network. All are welcome to bring networking materials and program information they’d like to feature and offer during the networking session.
Tell me a little about the keynote speakers and what they will focus on during their address.
The keynote address will be a conversation between Katherine Page, Curator of Art and Education at the Mennello Museum of American Art, and moderator Natalia Guerrero. This dialogue and Q&A will explore how to navigate practical and systemic barriers that prevent women from advancing in the arts. It will also assist with gaining knowledge on how to build a sustainable career in the arts that can endure life changes.
What do you hope this event does for artists within the Orlando community?
I hope to stir up and catalyze connections between artists and people in our community who can give the artists opportunities and support to advance in their careers. I also think it is very important that artists see that they are not alone. Artists work best in community – supporting each other, engaging with the community they live in and connecting to venues that appreciate and respect their work.
What is unique about being a woman in the arts?
There is growing attention being drawn to how women artists are invisible in the general public’s perception of who gets to be an artist or what an artist looks like. There are a lot of downsides, honestly. The odds – and history – are stacked against us. Women are generally expected to contribute more of their time to family, childcare and housework, and are paid less than men for the same labor in the workforce. Through the competition process, I observed how much effort each artist put into all that was required of them, often juggling many other tasks or jobs at the same time. Each artist has her own story of resilience and determination to be faithful to her artistic practice.
I think we have a responsibility as women in the arts to respect and uplift each other’s work and hold art institutions accountable for the equitable treatment of women artists. This is the responsibility of everyone, not just women artists. Advocating for ourselves creates momentum to pull in a broader network of support.