When I was writing my book Women of Note I was surprised to discover that 25% of Australian composers are women. This is more than almost any other country - our best kept secret! However despite the statistics it became clear from my interviews and research that many women still struggle with visibility issues. The majority of commissions by far go to male composers, who also hold most of the positions in institutions and on boards.
|Logo for the Women in the Creative Arts Conference|
That is beginning to change. In August the Australian National University is holding a Women in the Creative Arts Conference. The key note speakers are Liza Lim and Cat Hope and the conference has already attracted over 100 delegates across a range of art forms.
Conference director Natalie Williams hopes the conference will "provide an opportunity for research professionals to gather, present their methodologies, discuss the unique issues surrounding the creative arena, and propose strategies to enhance and enrich their working lives as strong members of an international cultural and artistic voice. The gathering will feature a rich exchange of research ideas, including round-table discussions and panels that develop and enhance practices for women in the creative fields."
The WICA conference is riding the crest of activist revival addressing the visibility issue for women composers. Other developments include Musica Viva's Hildegard Project established last year, the first national program designed to encourage and commission women composers. The appointments of Cat Hope as Head of Music at Monash University and Liza Lim at the University of Sydney are also significant. Lim will be involved with the National Women Composers' Development Program, another recent development tackling the issue of mentoring emerging women composers. Hope has been part of a research team collecting data on the working life of arts practitioners.
Some of these ideas are quite innovative and it is significant they are all happening at once - four years ago when I wrote Women of Note there was nothing like this occurring.
I am particularly excited about the ANU conference; I have been invited to present a paper on Women of Note and I am looking forward to catching up with east coast networks. I don't know of any other Australian conference like this for composers. The last women composers' conference was in the nineties when there were gatherings around Australia that were significant for galvanizing support for women in composition and contributing to an increase in the numbers of women composers. I have high expectations for this one. Especially given the current proactive climate around women in the arts. Could women composers be leading Australia's fourth wave feminist revival??