Women’s Work – a reflection

So, the inaugural Women’s Work festival has just passed by…

In case you missed it, it was a weekend of events centred on International Women’s Day, with a vision to “highlight, celebrate and showcase women in music, as well as facilitate discussion with industry and artists on the issues surrounding the debate”. The brainchild of Charlotte Dryden and the production of a small army of like-minded individuals (male and female I might add), Women’s Work was an undoubted success.

final-artwork-brand-assets-09I was so thrilled to be involved in the planning committee of this festival. Even if I very much was “carrying the watermelon”, I was still there, still part of a group of individuals creating something bigger than themselves. That’s not a feeling that pops along every day…that comes once every few years if you’re lucky.

What an honour.

What started out as a wee meeting with a few people, talking about putting on a couple of gigs, some panels, discussions and visual installations and it spiralled into 25 events, 50 artists/performers over the guts of a week. Shows what a good meeting can do. It’s a bit of an urban myth that the folks over at Pixar discussed most of their historic canon of work in one great meeting and I have been sceptical of that – until Women’s Work.

Look at the state of this here, and it’s not even EVERY single thing…

festival-sch-pic1

(By the way….do you like my spreadsheet? Took me flipping ages that did!)

Charlotte herself is a quiet, caring, strong individual, who many admire, and who I have not worked with before. Her strength of vision for this project, and the overwhelming sense of positivity and celebration, whilst addressing the ‘difficult’ questions is undeniable. That confidence and strength of conviction exuded into all of us a little bit I think. The whole weekend was filled with smiles, contemplative nods, difficult and challenging conversations, laughter, hugs, solidarity, commitment and confidence. That came from Charlotte, and was echoed and multiplied by the whole Women’s Work team, and everyone who attended.

jessicahopper

Jessica Hopper gave the Keynote Speech on Sunday 6th March

Kicked off by an incredible interview and rave from Annie Nightingale (with DJs Venus, Sage and Marion Hawkes), Women’s Work masterfully segued into an entire afternoon dedicated to the ‘craft’:  studio sessions from M(h)aol and Sister Ghost, workshops from Go Girl, performances from “women of the world”, a family-friendly Acoustic Picnic, and a showing of MAVIS! at the QFT. Gig-time Saturday night with 3for3 (ahem…), showcasing Mandy Bingham, Susie-Blue, Gemma Bradley and Kaz Hawkins – great vibes, appreciation of music, and a lot of dancing feet!

Sunday was very much ‘discussion’ day, with through-provoking and challenging panels including Jenny Wren, Tanya Sweeney, Charlene Hegarty and Niall Byrne, Una Monaghan, Chris Corrigan, Mired O’reilly, Julie McLarnon, headed by the incredible Keynote from Jessica Hopper. Another gentle sway into what was by all accounts an incredible night with AE Makk, Rachel Boyd, Naoise Roo and Goldie Fawn.

Monday was Over The Hill’s focus on older women (and men!) in the industry, with visual installations from Deirdre Robb and Lesley Cherry, and panel discussion. Tuesday showcased the ‘business end’, with a panel from PRSF, Creative and cultural skills, and the Arts Council of NI. Tuesday evening was a highlight – placed on International Women’s Day, the Oh Yeah Centre filled itself with admirers of current ‘on-the-rise’ musicians Katherine Phillipa, Jealous of the Birds and Saint Sister.

Phew.

That’s a whole heck of a lot. I can’t even tag them all….

What shocked me the most from the entire weekend wasn’t just the immense feeling of pride and positivity and celebration…but the thoughts rattling around in my head that won’t go away. I have never thought of myself as a ‘pusher of women’s rights’, or ‘feminist’ , and I’m not sure I do even now. HOWEVER…it got me really thinking.

Are the little instances that maybe I don’t notice causing harm for the greater populace?  That sound engineer who said “Oh right! You’re singing AND playing guitar!? Good on ya, love!”  and I nodded, and got on with the job. Are the little comments, looks, quiet unspoken judgements that I let pass by, that I allow to happen because I genuinely am not that affected…are they affecting others? Is my tolerance of it all, and stoic “I’m just getting on with getting on here” attitude leaving a rift that other people have to try and negotiate?

I don’t know is the answer. But I tell you something…I’m bloody curious now, and if we all leave Women’s Work a little more extrinsically minded, a little more curious, a little more questioning of intolerance and judgement….surely that’s a legacy to be proud of.

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