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Festival celebrates women in the arts

April 1, 2019

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) — Empowering. Awesome. Wonderful. Off-beat.

Those were just some of the words to describe the 11th Annual SWAN Day Festival at Trinity-on-Main on Saturday.

SWAN stands for Support Women Artists Now, and artists of all kinds were present at the festive event.

Painters, illustrators and photographers sold their artwork at booths. Singers and female-led bands took the stage to share their music. Some artists did live paintings on canvas while one did a live painting on a female model.

There was even a burlesque show.

“You’re surrounded by positive energy,” said Lee Gee, an artist for 25 years who was doing a live painting. “It’s awesome. It’s definitely empowering.”

SWAN Day is a movement designed to empower women in the arts. It is facilitated by WomenArts, a nonprofit that provides female artists with resources and offers them networking, fundraising and advocacy services. In the past decade, WomenArts has raised $4 million.

“This event is to amplify and empower women in the arts,” said Jennifer Hill, who planned the event and also performed in it. “I started this 12 years ago to get women heard.”

Hill has been coordinating SWAN Day in Connecticut since 2007. Hill, a recording artist, is the front woman of Murderous Chanteuse and Jennifer Hill and Co. and also performs as simply Jennifer Hill. In 2018, Hill’s song “Women Unite” won a second-place woman’s advocacy award from WomenArts.

“There’s a whole bunch of events happening all over the world right now,” said Hill. She said that though it’s been difficult for women artists in the past, she believes things are finally improving.

“It’s finally come to the peak with the women’s movement and MeToo,” she said.

New Britain’s SWAN Day is especially important.

The event in New Britain was named a “Super Swan” by WomenArts founder Martha Richards. Out of the hundreds of events across the globe, only seven are named “Super Swans.” New Britain received grant money with the title that will go to putting on the show.

Vendors, visitors and performers alike found the event to be just that — super.

“I’ve been coming to SWAN Day for several years. I think this is a great community event,” said Mary Lynn, ambassador for BiCi Co. “It’s really wonderful for the female community.”

BiCi Co., located in Hartford, helps women learn about bikes and bike repair as well as giving them a community space to connect with other riders.

Lynn also added that Hill works hard to make sure each performer gets paid. A lot of community events, Lynn said, don’t pay their artists. However, since SWAN Day is all about lifting women up and giving them recognition, Hill makes sure they’re paid for their time.

“I love what they do and all they do for their artists,” said Jenn Mundell, of Bring the Hoopla, which teaches kids across the start how to hula hoop.

“Each hula hoop is handmade,” Mundell added. “We hope to spread the love of hula hooping.”

Artists were thrilled to be around other female artists dedicated to their craft and to the empowerment of women.

“I feel like my biggest pull for this event is the whole women helping women,” said Melissa Willette, who makes horror and religious themed art. She has been creating art for 10 years and was attending the event for the second time.

“It’s cool that Connecticut has an event for women that’s a little off-beat,” said artist Kelly Nason, who creates horror-styled art.

“I’m really lucky to be here and be surrounded by artistic women. And Connecticut is lucky to have this event,” said Jo Lopez. She said her artwork is “handmade with love” in addition to being feminist-inspired and created with sustainable materials.

“We’re here today to support women in the arts,” said Mary Rush, who attended along with her daughter-in-law Stormi. The duo sold baked goods and jam from Virgil Farms Preserves.

“The talent here today is unbelievable,” Rush added. “It’s time to realize how much women contribute to society and the arts.”

“This is a wonderful event. And it’s just wonderful that it’s been going on for so long. I can’t thank Jen Hill enough,” said Lisa Lawrence. Lawrence is a singer and songwriter who has been performing solo and with bands for over a decade.

There have been 700 SWAN Day events across 18 countries and five continents since the movement began. The holiday is officially recognized by several mayors, including those of New York, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Award-winning novelist Isabel Allende, actress Famke Janssen, of the X-Men movies, and TV star Sandra Oh, of “ER,” have participated in SWAN Day.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2YGYsyr

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Information from: New Britain Herald, http://www.newbritainherald.com

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