Thursday, February 01, 2007

Art and Activism: Olivia Greer and Women Center Stage

" I think there is a really powerful understanding that I came to, that we in movements, and not just the women's movement, we have a tendency to fight for the space that we have, rather than fight to expand it.
From the perspective of our work, it really means that the more we amplify different voices, the more we are doing our job. It's not enough for us to tell the stories that we connect to, or that we believe in, or that we think are the most important ones, but that we really need to be seeking out people who challenge our opinions, and who have different views, and to be telling those stories as well."

--Olivia Greer, Producing Director, Women Center Stage, about her experience at the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi.

Just over a year ago, musician, Olivia Greer, was commissioned by Culture Project, a New York City theater company, to write a song for the Women Center Stage Festival. Now she is the Producing Director of Women Center Stage.

Culture Project's mission is to present work that is socially relevant and that calls attention to issues of human rights and social justice around the world.
"Women in an ongoing way have not had the opportunity to have their work seen as it should be," says Greer, "Women Center Stage was conceived as a place to celebrate women's work and to be a launching pad for it in other arenas. Women exist in a unique position of being both mainstream, as half of the population, and also consistently marginalized wherever they are in the world. That tenuous position gives them a very unique view from which to call attention to issues of human rights, not just 'women's issues', but any issue."
Women Center Stage has launched women artists' work like Iris Bahr, who wrote and performed "Dai" at the festival, and is now performing her piece on Culture Project's main stage, and Staceyann Chin, who did a workshop of, "Border/Clash" as part of the Women Center Stage festival, and went on to produce fuller productions of the piece.

Working with Women Center Stage has helped Greer to connect her interests in art and social justice activism as well. Growing up in a family of activists, she struggled with how to bridge her art and activism. In addition to her work as a musician, Greer and her boyfriend, Aaron Rudenstine, produced the book, Actions Speak Louder Than Bumper Stickers, a collection of progressive, often hilarious, bumper stickers. She was also included in the list of The Real Hot 100: See How Hot Smart Can Be.

This year's Women Center Stage festival will run from mid-June to the end of July. Performances will include the play, "St. Joan of the Stockyards", by Bertolt Brecht, directed by Lear DeBessonet, the founder and Artistic Director of Stillpoint Productions. Greer says that it has been reconceived as an, "updated, country, bluegrass, really short, concise, and very insightful piece about modern day economic realities."

The play "Terrible Virtue" by Jessica Litwak, which looks at the history of reproductive rights and the legal system in the United States, will also show at the festival.

Additional programming will include, Women Make Movies, a film series featuring documentary films made by women filmmakers; performances and workshops by the young women of We Got Issues; and the Emancipate Concert, which will bring together women musicians from around the world who are using their work as a platform for social justice activism in their communities.

The festival's programming will embrace a, "culture of conversation."
"It's one thing to hear about art and change; it is another thing to really see it happen," says Greer, "We're really invested in helping folks to take away some real tangible action from the work that we present. When you come and see a show, you will have an opportunity to see a panel afterwards, or to engage in sort of a town hall type of conversation. There will be some way for you to plug-in in a deeper way, and to explore issues together. "
Greer recently returned from the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi. You can read some of her reflections on the Women at the World Social Forum blog.
"I went mostly for my work at Culture Project," she explains, "If our mandate is to be doing work that is relevant, we need to be part of, and trying to understand, movements for change that are happening all over the world. I really went to listen.

I was incredibly heartened to bear witness to the fact that there is extraordinary work happening all over the world, and that people are really engaged in meaningful work constantly. That is not a story that gets told all that often. We get very stuck in what's problematic and what we're fighting against, but to be able to take some time to celebrate what's really happening was a really powerful thing."
If you are an artist who is interested in participating in Women Center Stage's programming, or if you are interested in helping to bring Women Center Stage's work to other locations across the country, you can contact Olivia at oliviajanegreer (AT) earthlink (DOT) net.

To join the Culture Project mailing list, click here.

Photo Credit: Photo of Olivia Greer and Women Center Stage logo via Olivia Greer.


  1. Great informative post Britt, as always. I liked the line you said we have a tendency to fight for the space that we have, rather than fight to expand it.

    Very True. :)

  2. Hi Matt, I'm glad you liked the interview. I really enjoyed talking with Olivia and thought she had a lot of wise things to say, like the line you quoted. I think you'll be seeing her name in the years to come.


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