133 North Allegheny Street Bellefonte, Pa 16823
By Serge Bielanko
Each month brings a special new exhibit to Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County, sometimes even two or three at once. Yet the newest exhibit for 2020 will likely be remembered for being kind of extra special.
Celebrating Our Women of Achievement is the name of the main stage show and it's one we should all probably check out. Here's the gist behind it: 24 local women who are making important contributions to the quality of life in our community will be honored with an original artwork depicting them created by a local female artist. So that's 48 pretty awesome ladies in one fell swoop. And by pairing them together, the forces at work might just manage to inspire each person who comes to see it in all kinds of ways.
The art itself is wonderful, the best that Centre County has to offer in the way of portraits. But we also get a closer look into the lives of the subjects of the works as well. And that's something unusual when it comes to paintings on the wall, so to speak. More often than not we are left to our own creative devices when it comes to gazing upon most portraits. We have to glare into their countenances and try and feel them out. We have to piece together the puzzle of who they are...or were...and what they might have been like.
I love that about art. The mystery is part of the attraction, honestly.
At the same time though, on certain occasions we are given some background on a subject, background that can offer up a fresh way of seeing things. That's the special case here with Celebrating Our Women of Achievement. We'll be a bit informed going into this; each of these women is a neighbor, someone we very well might pass by in the grocery store or at the park. Yet, they are also each- in their own way- leaders and creators and dreamers that have helped shape not only this county we all share, but also the larger world beyond. Their names might not be familiar to us yet, but once we walk out of the museum we will likely be thinking about at least a few of them that stood out to us.
Which is exactly the idea here. And which is also the reasoning behind a brilliantly conjured-up conjoining exhibit called, Celebrating Your Women of Achievement. Continuing along the lines of celebrating the women who live among us, right here in our own community, this exhibit will feature photos of women contributed by folks like you and me. By anyone who wants to celebrate their own mom or daughter or teacher or friend.
"Celebrating Your Women of Achievement will be a growing exhibition to accompany the main collection of portraits," the museum press release reads. "Personal photos of women celebrated by our members and visitors will be added to a wall at the entrance to the exhibition. Visitors are encouraged to bring a photo of a woman they would like to celebrate, write their name on the photo and we will add the photo to our wall of honorees. Please know we cannot return the photos."
So donate a photo of a woman you love and respect and who deserves to be part of this. We all know one. Heck, we all know a dozen at least.
There's a historical angle to all of this as well.
"The idea for the exhibit comes from several sources," says Patricia House, Executive Director of the museum. "We are celebrating this year since it’s the centennial of ratification of suffrage amendment. I had done a similar show many years ago to call attention to the need for work on women’s issues."
With a tip of my cap to 100 years of women's suffrage, I reached out to a local woman who has been dedicated to making the world a better place for a long time now. Shih-In Ma is her name and she is one of the 24 Centre County women being highlighted in the main exhibit.
According to a Penn State Human Library post, Shih-In Ma has had an extraordinary life so far:
Shih-In Ma has had pain and grace in her life, time in the Peace Corps and with IBM. In 1993, she had a spiritual insight which propelled her out of her corporate life. Since then, her life has been decidedly untraditional, studying with teachers in numerous spiritual traditions and spending four years in India with Amma, the Hugging Saint.
So I thought it might be a good idea to ask her some questions about Celebrating Our Women of Achievement, and about being a woman in the 21st Century.
I loved her responses.
I hope you do too.
Bellefonte.com: You're one of 24 women featured in this exhibit. How do you feel about being a part of it?
Shih-In Ma: I feel honored and humbled to be included among such a group of outstanding women leaders and women artists. Highlighting and honoring women to a general audience feels like an important, but novel idea, probably because it doesn't happen that often. It wasn't until I read Pat House's press release that I realized that women artists are so under-represented in major museums. Thinking about it now, it seems obvious. (duh!)
Most of this society has been/is geared around honoring men --- white, rich, abled, educated, straight, Christian men mostly. Think about it --- how many buildings, streets, highways, institutions and the like have you seen which are named in honor of women, people of color, people who aren't Christians, LGBTQ people, economically underprivileged people...?
'Celebrating Our Women of Achievement' honors twenty-four local women who are making important contributions to the quality of life in our community. as well as twenty-four incredibly accomplished local female artists. Do you think that our community here in Centre County allows girls and women to thrive, participate, and move things forward?
I would really like to say a resounding 'yes', but I can't. It's clear that many women are moving a lot of good things forward in Centre County. Yet if we all don't become aware of and decondition our implicit biases (projectimplicit.net), our decisions and actions are still influenced by unconscious foundations of patriarchy, racism, homophobia, etc.
Who is the artist who is painting/sketching you? Are you happy she is the one paired with you?
My artist is Roxy Nadan. I'm thrilled she's paired with me --- I met Roxy several years ago at an Art Alliance workshop, loved her work and we have become friends. I'm curious and excited to see what her impression of me is... LOL!
I have a daughter, Violet, who is 11, and like any Dad I love her more than all the galaxies and stars swirled together. What would you say to a young lady like her, just starting down that path towards All Possibility?
To her, I would say, "go for it!" Find All Possibility within yourself. It IS there, though sometimes you may not be aware of it. Make sure to learn to how to put on psycho-spiritual shoes so you don't lose track of it, because we can't cover the world (or even Centre County) with leather to protect us from all the thorns.
To you, I would say, if you haven't already, please take the implicit bias tests at Projectimplicit.net so that you don't adversely affect her with your unconscious attitudes and beliefs. You love your daughter more than the galaxies and stars, but I imagine you still have areas of unconsciousness. For example, I found out I have an implicit bias against the independent, child-free life I have led.
It's just conditioning, made-up beliefs, and it helps me to be aware of that bias when the little voices of self-criticism start down that particular road.
Celebrating Our Women of Achievement and Celebrating Your Women of Achievement
Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County
133 North Allegheny Street
March 1 through April 26, 2020, Fri-Sun 12:00-4:30
Special Exhibition Gallery Opening reception, Sunday, March 1 from 12:00 to 4:30 pm
While at your visit to BAM, head up to the 3rd floor to witness Underground Railroad: A Journey to Freedom exhibit. That permanent feature highlights the escaped slaves who sought safe passage to freedom in the north via a secret network of people who wanted to help abolish slavery altogether.
*This exhibition is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency fund-ed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
The Bellefonte Art Museum is supported by the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau. Learn more about the HVAB by visiting happyvalley.com.
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