The Pen and Brush, Inc. is an organization that has been dedicated to women in the arts since 1894. They have recently acquired a new space in the Flatiron District that will be opening later this year, which also happens to be the 120th anniversary of the organization. With all of these great new changes, we thought we would check in with Executive Director, Janice Sands, to give us an update.
Untapped: You’ve been the Executive Director of Pen and Brush for more than 15 years. Can you tell us about some fun facts about Pen and Brush, and where you see the organization going?
JS: As an organization, we’ve had some really monumental milestones – for example, we became an established corporation 80 years before women were legally granted the right to vote – and 2014 promises to be another huge turning point. Pen and Brush has always been an organization for female artists and writers, and in celebration of the new space and our 120th year, we want to raise the bar in what we do to support these women in meaningful ways.
With a renewed emphasis and concentration on advocacy and mentoring, we aim to represent emerging and mid-career female artists and writers of all generations in ways that will significantly impact their careers by creating a platform to the marketplace. In addition to moving physical locations, we have restructured our programming as well: by adopting best practices from curatorial and publishing models, we have created a vetting system that offers reviewers the opportunity to select work each believes has merit and is deserving of exposure. Through our new location and programming, we hope to provide publishers, agents, curators, collectors, gallery owners and the general public with a renewing supply of quality work that just happens to be created by women.
YC: What’s your vision for the new space in the Flatiron?
JS: Although the new space is currently under construction, this location will offer an accessible 5,500 square foot state-of-the-art facility that will accommodate any form an artist chooses for her work. The open floor plan is extremely flexible and can be adapted and re-configured according to the art, exhibitions and/or programs. We will have the ability to section off the space in a variety of ways in order to run multiple exhibits or accommodate an endless array of installation and media-based works, and incorporate the use of technology as needed.
Despite the flexibility, it is far from an industrial space, and will have more of a contemporary, cultural institution “feel” – with open, light-filled spaces integrated with wood, steel and glass. The possibilities of how the space will be used really are endless. Coupled with the new visual arts programming and the establishment of our publishing platform, we hope to offer a significant cultural experience to New York, and in turn aim to advance the overall status of women in the arts.
YC: What are the qualifications for membership and how does one go about applying?
JS: Unlike our previous model, we will not be accepting members in the traditional sense. Instead, if a woman would like to submit her portfolio for review, there will be a nominal fee depending on how long she would like her work to be considered by our curators (6 months or 12 months). As a 501(c)(3) organization, any individual or organization is welcome to make a tax-deductible contribution in the amount of their choice to Pen and Brush, in order to support our mission and programming.
UC: When can we expect Pen and Brush to reopen? And where can we view your calendar of events?
JS: Our new space is slated to open in Fall/Winter 2014. Our website is currently undergoing a major renovation as well; however, we will have a section dedicated to announcing our exhibitions and other events once the site is more complete. For now, the best way to receive any news and updates from us is so subscribe to our email list.
UC: We noticed that Pen and Brush took a firm stand against the posting of objectionable content on Facebook. Can you comment on your decision?
JS: We feel very strongly that Facebook’s response concerning hate speech directed against women was lackluster at best. Following thousands of emails to advertisers and protests from several women’s groups, the social media platform finally acknowledged the issue and expressed a commitment to ramping up efforts to stamp out hate speech late last spring. However, we felt that this response – and Sheryl Sandberg’s silence on the issue – came too little, too late. We suspended Pen and Brush’s use of Facebook on June 1, 2013, and have no plans to reactivate our account. While some organizations heralded Facebook’s response as a “win” for women, we feel that not enough has been done to eradicate hate speech against women on this very popular social networking site. If we, as an organization dedicated to the support of women, did not act, we are merely assisting those who fail to address the deep societal tolerance for discrimination against women.
LL: In closing, is there anything we’ve missed that you might want our readers to know about?
JS: We’d like to challenge everyone to think critically about the ways women are currently represented within the realms of art and literature. Whether it’s observing how many women artists are represented in museum shows or looking at the number of female writers on bestseller lists, it’s important to keep the issue of gender parity top of mind – and even more important to ask WHY more women aren’t represented in these forums. In addition, we plan on accepting portfolios later this spring.
For women who are interested in submitting their written or visual works, our new programming structure and any “need to know” details are currently listed on our website.
For more on Pen and Brush’s history, you can now view an interactive timeline at penandbrush.org.