Event: NAWA Celebrates 130 Years

by Ellie Melissa Wolfond

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Written by Ellie Melissa Wolfond for THE ARTISTS FORUM MAGAZINE
Edited by
Ellie Melissa Wolfond

5 out of 5 stars


NEW YORK, NY (February 1, 2019)  Last night, the National Association of Women Artists (NAWA) celebrated their 130th anniversary in a packed exhibition space in the Garment District//Midtown. The crowd was brimming with experienced women artists, members of the organization, friends, supporters, and even Faith Ringgold, who was recently named one of NAWA’s honorary vice presidents was in attendance despite the cold. The party was complete with a fictional reenactment of the same winter night 130 years ago when 5 women artists founded the organization.

Executive Director Susan G. Hammond (2nd to left) poses with other NAWA members in period costumes in celebration of the organization's 130th Anniversary
Executive Director Susan G. Hammond (2nd to left) poses with other NAWA members in period costumes in celebration of the organization’s 130th Anniversary

When considering the future of NAWA, Executive Director Susan G. Hammond reminded us that, “The organization has rejuvenated twice; once in the 30’s and once in the 50’s and we’re still going strong… as long as women have an issue with exhibiting their work in museums and galleries, we’ll be viable and we’ll be important.”  As the past has shown us, unequal representation at all levels of exhibition, along with other issues facing women artists are continually evolving. NAWA and its community will likely evolve over time to combat these dynamic issues just as they have done in the past.

As past NAWA President Penny Dell put it during her toast, “The love is spreading.” This sentiment is apt considering NAWA’s goals to empower, support, and promote all women artists and its steady growth with new chapters nationwide. The organization provides its members with the chance to exhibit all over the country and hosts events for members, pushing them to be their best selves by practicing speaking about themselves and their work with like-minded individuals. “Do we want to exist for 130 more years? Or would we like to just cherish our friendship for 130 more years?” Exhibition Chair Natalia Koren Kropf joked during the event, highlighting the strong friendships within the NAWA community.

This seems to be something that is slightly lost on the younger generation of artists. Hammond speculated that “… because they’re all on the internet, they feel they don’t need the mentoring or the socialization… so it’s sad because they’re missing out on a lot.” Which is why in recent years NAWA has opened a free one year membership program for BA/BFA and MA/MFA students along with an associate membership for emerging artists. This bid along with their involvement with high school arts programs has helped NAWA recruit younger members of the arts community, but not enough.

“All women artists want to exhibit their work, bottom line – the membership is an investment in your career, don’t think that it’s wasted money because we’re doing the work that you would have to do [to get yourself out there].”  Hammond noted.

Artist Sonia Stark (center w/ glasses) enjoys the 130th Anniversary festivities along side other NAWA members
Artist Sonia Stark (center w/ glasses) enjoys the 130th Anniversary festivities along side other NAWA members

While social media provides extensive networking opportunities and a diverse community, there is a lot to be said for the rise of artists who have attained fame through Instagram. It is often overlooked that insta-fame is not something that will be granted to all and, in many cases, effort to build a personal brand and following is met with comparatively little reward. Of course the power of social media must be embraced by young and old artists alike, but it should not replace entirely the analog interaction that comes with building a network or community.

In short, it is the general consensus that the future holds more. More representation, more exhibitions, and hopefully more young NAWA members. It is a tight knit community with members traveling from around the country to celebrate the 130th anniversary. Speaking with some of the women involved on Thursday evening, I was overcome by the kindness and passion of the crowd and while I felt young, I did not feel out of place. As Koren Kropf put it… “I want to encourage all young women to continue showing who they are, and that’s what we’re doing here as a group. The more we show who we are, the more we’re showing collectively, the more exposure we have – the narratives become a social narrative.”

For more information about NAWA, visit: thenawa.org

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