A new speaker series, Women Influencing the Arts, will celebrate the accomplishments of women in the field and open discussions surrounding the challenges women face in the arts.

For the past two years, Donna Thompson of Blacksburg, Virginia, an M.F.A. arts leadership student in the School of Performing Arts at Virginia Tech, has been researching issues surrounding women in the arts, including the lack of influence in leadership roles and underrepresentation both on and off stage. Throughout her research she noticed many organizations —  including universities — creating programs centered on the issues faced by women in the arts.

“Within the local area as well as on Virginia Tech’s campus, there are multiple programs and opportunities for women within leadership, science, engineering, and other disciplines,” Thompson says. “I wanted to create the same opportunity for women in the arts.”

With more emphasis being placed on the arts with the Arts@Virginia Tech initiative, Thompson believes this is the perfect time to create the series. “The New River Valley has such a rich abundance of female artists and arts leaders to pull from who could provide wonderful insight,” she said.

A presentation by the artist or arts leader will be followed by a question-and-answer session and will end with an informal networking opportunity over refreshments. 

  • Thursday, Sept. 1 — Celebrating Success: Inspirations, Creations and Explorations. Maria Maloney and Kimberly Faith Hickman, cofounders of the Bechdel Project, will share their unique perspectives and lead the audience through their journey of creating a life in the arts.
  • Thursday, Sept. 29 — Girls Rock Roanoke: Inclusivity & Transformation in Nonprofit Arts Education. LeeRay Costa will discuss the joys and challenges of transformative nonprofit arts education through her experience leading Girls Rock Roanoke, an empowerment program for girls and gender-nonconforming youth in Southwest Virginia.
  • Thursday, Oct. 13 — Women Supporting Women: Examining the Importance of Having a Network. Heather Leeper, owner and creator of Little Leapers, examines the importance of having a supportive network. She will discuss her own struggles with negativity and how it inspired her to create Be Kind, Blacksburg.
  • Thursday, Oct. 27 — Emerging into the Professional Landscape: Exploring Balance, Generating Income, Rejection, and Community Support. Jackie Harder, mixed media visual artist, will discuss the challenges of being an “alternative” artist in a small town. She will speak of her struggles to find support for young emerging artists in a community with few resources, both artistic and financial.

Each event will start at 5:30 p.m. and be hosted in the basement of the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech, located at 206 Washington St.

Parking is available in the Squires parking lot, Architecture Annex lot, Kent Square parking garage, and on the street.

All events are free and open to the public. Seating is limited and offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. Free reservations are required and available online. Learn more on the Women Influencing the Arts website.

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