In 2002, gender studies and literature faculty member with Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, launched the first of what was to become a series of annual conferences at the college in observance of International Women’s Day. Co-sponsored by Berkshire Women for Women Worldwide, of which Browdy de Hernandez was a founding board member and vice president for programs for several years, the conferences seek to raise awareness about women’s issues locally, nationally and globally, and to support the work of UNIFEM, the development fund for women at the United Nations.
“International Women’s Day is celebrated throughout the world, but has not achieved a very high level of recognition here in the United States. I think it’s important that we take the time to celebrate women’s achievements, as well as to assess persistent challenges women face throughout the world,” Browdy de Herandez said. “American women need to stand shoulder to shoulder with women worldwide to insist on equality of education, access, and social status for women and girls everywhere. Our conferences at Simon’s Rock are one way women and men in Berkshire County can stand up and be counted.”
In past years, conference themes have explored women’s experiences and leadership in such areas as education, spirituality, health, and politics. In 2009, the eighth annual International Women’s Day Conference titled “The Power of Women in the Arts” will feature a diverse array of women artists, arts activists, and arts scholars exploring how women worldwide have struggled throughout history to have their creative expression recognized and nurtured and how their art makes a difference in their societies and in the world.
Speakers include director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts Susan Fisher Sterling, author and Simon’s Rock alumna Veronica Chambers, psychologist and author Carol Gilligan, actor and fiber artist Karen Allen, poet and human rights activist Marjorie Agosin, visual artist Kristin Jones, social entrepreneur Amber Chand, and art activist and philanthropist Martha Richards.
A special performance featuring Simon’s Rock alumna Heather Fisch and other actors will be directed by Irina Brook. Simon’s Rock arts faculty Joan DelPlato and Aimee Michel will moderate the two panel discussions, and a special invitational showcase of craftswomen and artists will feature work by Karen Allen, Maureen Banner, Nancy Bronstein, Sue Browdy, Mary Anne Davis, Pauline Dongala, Valerie Fanarjian, Ellen Grenadier, Wendy Jensen, Mary Kate Jordan, Anna Kronick, Cheryl Mirer, Theresa May O’Brien, Wendy Rabinowitz, Natasha Wosniak, and more.
This year’s conference is affiliated with the first annual Berkshire Festival of Women in the Arts, a month-long, multi-venue extravaganza featuring more than 60 events in more than 30 cultural venues in Berkshire County, all highlighting the work of women in the arts. The brainchild of conference founder and director Browdy de Hernandez, the Festival is being sponsored by The Women’s Times, under the direction of publisher Eugenie Sills.
“We have such an incredible wealth of talented women in the arts right here in Berkshire County, who I felt ought to be recognized and celebrated for the powerhouse force they are,” Browdy de Herandez said. “It’s too much to do in a single day; so I got the idea of putting on a month-long Festival during the month of March.”
She says that Berkshire cultural organizations enthusiastically responded to the prospect of an International Women’s Day conference and says the Berkshires will provide an ideal backdrop for what will become an annual conference event.