SWAN Day was born in 2007 during a conversation between film critic and FF2 Media founder Jan Lisa Huttner and WomenArts Executive Director Martha Richards (read more about the history of SWAN DAY here) and 11 years later it has grown to be an international movement, a powerhouse for women in arts who not only support one another but learn from and grow with one another. An historic gathering of key SWAN organizers was held on October 4 and 5 in Milwaukee, WI, at the StateraArts Conference.
For the first time, the SWAN torch was passed on to StateraArts who will continue the movement under their umbrella. Many of the original SWAN organizers were there to witness this historical event - Christine Young from University of San Francisco, Sophie Dowllar from Kenya, Jennifer Hill from Connecticut, Vanessa Gendron from Prague, and many others.
“We are thrilled to support the work Jan and Martha had done,” Sarah Greenman, co-founder of StateraArts, said. “We will help them in any way we can. SWAN Day fits perfectly with our mission. StateraArts happily accepted SWAN and is excited to enter the next SWAN chapter.”
Addressing the crowd gathered in the Broadway Theater Center on October 4, International SWAN Day co-founder Richards said, “I have been looking for someone to take over SWAN Day for the past three years and I picked StateraArts because they are based in various locations, they are committed to the same values I am. We treat each other with respect, they are a great team and they are well connected with artists all over the world. The important thing is they will carry the spirit of SWAN Day forward.” Richards also spoke about the importance of SWAN Day, how it first came to be and asked participants to share their dreams, visions and goals for SWAN Day with the StateraArts founders.
This historic gathering of SWAN Day organizers from around the world not only allowed the SWAN women to connect, see each other in person after years of friendships but also to witness the historic passing of the SWAN to its new parent - the StateraArts. New friendships were made and old ones were rekindled.
“We want to amplify the voices of SWAN Day now that they have taken it and carry work forward for the next 11 years,” said StateraArts co-founder and Executive Director, Melinda Pfundstein.
Some of the goals discussed at the conference were to make SWAN Day more manageable, on different dates of the month, and possibly to become something like Mother's Day. The goal was to get the SWAN Day organizers together and brainstorm.
Participants shared many of their SWAN dreams, challenges, personal stories of struggle and how SWAN Day brought all women artists together and made them feel supported. Some participants suggested to make a documentary of SWAN Day, featuring the co-founders, and following the events that SWAN Day had created around the world. “Artists in rural America have a hard time and SWAN Day gives them a chance to be together,” said one of the participants. “We need a documentary to showcase the work that SWAN Day has done around the world.” Another dream many of the participants shared is for SWAN Day to be more than once a year.
Deborah Magdalena from SWAN Day Miami shared how SWAN Day inspired the Miami Spoken Soul Festival. “My intention for SWAN Day was such a selfish intention at first,” she shared. “But I realized it is so much bigger than me. It aligned with my life’s purpose to inspire women and youth. I am a spoken word artists and people don’t support spoken word art as much as they should. With that struggle and knowing that is not enough, SWAN Day helped me make a change. I included all sorts of artists for the festival and it is once a year. I have been doing it for 12 years now.”
The meeting also included two SWAN organizers from Kenya, including Sophie Dowllar: “It all started with a political movement in Kenya in 2007 during the elections. It gets really bad during that time. I wanted to have support for women artists so I was looking for a place to do so. I found the Women Arts organization and looked on their website and saw SWAN Day. I thought that this could be a great thing for women artists in Kenya. Kenya was the first one to respond to the SWAN Day calling. We bought local women and local celebrities. We had all women artists. We have been doing it for 11 years and we are still going strong .. We should have United States of Africa Swan Day (she laughed).”
On October 5, the Statera Conference continued with a SWAN panel at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where Richards spoke along with Jennifer Hill, Sophie Dowlen and Jamie Bilgo Bruchman who are all SWAN Day event organizers and who shared the first time they created their SWAN Day events and the history behind them. Also included was Lydiah Dola, the other SWAN Day organizer from Kenya who had won first place for the first SWAN Day song contest. “I am really happy to be here,” she said. “I love music and I am an artist and I am happy to represent for SWAN Day. This is my first time in America and it is a dream come true!”
Each year, the StareraArts will honor women leaders in the arts who advancing, amplifying and create pathways for others with the Martha Richards Visionary Women in Leadership Award. “I am so pleased for the award. It was so unexpected. Thank you!” Richards said.
SWAN Day is not just any day. It is a magical day that brings strong, powerful and intelligent women artists together where they share the voice of empowerment and sisterhood to help them carry on their artistic adventure and visions.
If you are interested in planning your own International SWAN Day event, visit the StateraArts website.
© Nikoleta Morales (10/06/18) FF2 Media
Photo Credits: Statera Arts, FF2 Media Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky and Contributing Editor Nikoleta Morales