My life has been inundated with music performance, since I was four years old. By 27, I had borne and raised two children and was on my second divorce. I had the opportunity to finish my Bachelor’s Degree in Music and Communications, in Philadelphia, where I also embarked on my professional career as a vocalist and composer. That was in 1977. By 1990, I owned a small business that placed legal secretaries in law firms. I was doing well but an opportunity arose for me to go to Europe. My children were engrossed in their own families and I was free to go on the road. I began touring in Europe, where I moved in 1994, after completing my Master’s Degree in Communications, in Florida. For eight years, I lived a charmed life touring from country to country, singing Jazz and Blues. In 1996, I moved back to Florida, where I knew I would be challenged to earn the living I earned in Europe. I developed a program to teach K-12 students about women in Jazz. Through grants, I was able to deliver 10 to 20 presentations a year with piano accompaniment. The presentation evolved into a book entitled Amazing Musicwomen.
In 2007, I realized that since 1977, I had worked predominantly with male musicians. I was the bandleader and had only worked with a handful of female musicians in the U.S. and only two women in Europe. I decided to lean in and focus on identifying women musicians whom I could hire. There were few in Florida. I incorporated a non-profit organization Women in Jazz South Florida, Inc.
as a 501(c)(3) that supports women musicians, globally. In seven years, the membership grew to 271 with 144 musicians and 51 men. I wrote several grant proposals and many of them were awarded to WIJSF for musical presentations. Many friends suggested that I should concentrate on my own career rather than spend time promoting other women in music. I disagreed. It was my passion to connect as many women instrumentalists and composers as I could.
In July 2014, my members and friends donated $3,645 for me to travel to Fiuggi, Italy for the WIMUST Conference, Women in Music Using Strategies for Talent, presented by Fondazione Adkins-Chiti: Donne in Musica. I was the ONLY composer from the U.S.A. and the only woman of color to participate in this conference of 40 women composers from the European Union. Since 2010, we have produced four compilation CDs of the original music of 34 women composers and the last one just won the first award for Best Compilation CD produced by a Black Woman. I have been vigilant about making people aware of the importance of consciously including women musicians in their programming.
The statistics are eye-opening, since women pay 53% of the taxes on the planet but benefit from less than 10% of public funding for the arts. Paintings of nude women by men hang on the walls of noted art museums but only 5% of the artwork on the walls is by women. Women writers, architects, painters, and musicians are terribly marginalized in the billion-dollar art world and few people even realize this disparity, particularly women. My goal is to continue to speak out about the marginalization of women in the arts primarily because a nation is only as strong as its cultural producers and the messages in women’s art is paramount to the enlightenment of all people.
I have called for a Symposium on Women in Arts at The White House in July 2015, and started a petition on Change.org, which 269 people have signed since April. The purpose of the Symposium is to bring together women from all artistic disciplines to strategize about increasing the profile and earning capacity of women in the arts. I will continue to lean in on this platform until people awaken to the importance of valuing the messages in women’s art to society-at-large. The messages people receive are predominately male – aggression, competition, violence, fear, and dominance will preponderate, until people awaken to the messages in women’s art. Likewise, the earning power of women in music, art, literature, architecture, filmmaking, and other arts must increase for the betterment of society. Women hold up more than half of the sky but down here on the ground women continue to be devalued as second class citizens specifically because the messages in their artistic production are not getting through to adults and children. This paradigm must shift.
Joan Cartwright, M.A.