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2024
Performing Arts
Linda Rudawski, Denise Cupps, Joan Chappelle, Janet Baer, Catherine Phillips, Lisa Russell, Linda Sikes and Kim Rohmann performing spoken word. (photo by Megan Bachman)

Linda Rudawski, Denise Cupps, Joan Chappelle, Janet Baer, Catherine Phillips, Lisa Russell, Linda Sikes and Kim Rohmann performed spoken word in 2015. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Women’s Voices Out Loud returns to Yellow Springs

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After eight years, Women’s Voices Out Loud, a long-loved staple of local women’s art and expression, returns to the village this weekend.

An evening of Women’s Voices Out Loud performances will be held Saturday, March 9, 5–7 p.m., in Antioch College’s Herndon Gallery, with an accompanying installation of art to hang in the gallery through March 24.

For 36 years, Women’s Voices Out Loud was an annual opportunity for Yellow Springs women to commune and amplify their artistic voices, within — or around, adjacent to or totally apart from — the traditional parameters of spoken word, music, theater and visual art. What blossomed throughout the years, according to the late Susan Streeter Carpenter in a 2014 News article, was a tradition that left women with a “wonderful feeling” at event’s end.

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The event and exhibition grew from a late-1970s News column, “Women’s Voices,” and the first event was held in the YS Community Library in 1980. Though that first event featured about a dozen women, future events would see several dozen participants, sometimes with standing-room-only audiences of all genders. Women’s Voices Out Loud was coordinated in its last several years by local residents Liz Hale and Laurie Dreamspinner, with the last event held in 2016.

This year, local resident and Village Council member Carmen (Brown) Lee has been leading the charge to revive the event and exhibition. She told the News this week that serving as Council liaison to the Public Arts and Culture Commission, or PACC, helped spur the decision to bring back a tradition she and others have missed.

“I’ve been talking about it with friends off and on for the last three or four years,” Lee said. “Being on PACC and consolidating the [Village Inspiration and Design Awards] into one annual award ceremony kind of made sense, and then I started thinking about older celebrations that I wanted to see again — this was the one.”

Having performed poetry at Women’s Voices Out Loud events in the past, Lee is familiar with the event and how it tends to run: Anyone who identifies as a woman is invited to submit visual art or attend a performance run-through ahead of the event and exhibition, then return for the event. Some years there was an ad hoc emcee for the performances, Lee said, but most years participating women would perform in the order in which they rehearsed, introducing themselves or the next performer.

“Doing it this way is very equitable,” she said, adding that past participants valued the open, spontaneous nature of the event: If you want to perform, all you really have to do is show up.

“Since the pandemic, there’s been a real lack of appreciation for spontaneity — we need to get back to embracing it,” Lee said. “[The event is] very relaxed, very informal.”

Outside of its function as a sort of ode to impulse, Lee said Women’s Voices Out Loud has also long been a paean to camaraderie among women — a testament to community.

“One of the things I really enjoyed the most about the event is there’s really a spirit of automatically belonging and being in a space where women express themselves without censorship or without worrying how we’ll be interpreted,” she said. “It’s a woman-run event, and there’s a certain freedom in celebrating how we express ourselves.”

That freedom of expression was not always without controversy: Longtime locals may remember that, in 2012, when Women’s Voices Out Loud was still hosted at the Bryan Center, an exhibition that included renderings of nude human forms sparked debate around town. When some Village employees said that the art, then displayed on the second floor of the Bryan Center, made them uncomfortable, some argued that drawings and paintings depicting nude forms had no place in a government building.

Others, including many of the artists involved in Women’s Voices Out Loud, felt that the pushback was out-of-line with the village’s self-professed progressive sensibilities, countering that nude forms have long been central figures in fine art, and that there’s nothing offensive about the human body. As Laurie Dreamspinner told the News that year: “There’s a difference between nudity and erotica. Just because there’s a body, doesn’t mean it’s sexual.”

As a result of the 2012 Women’s Voices Out Loud, Village Council moved to create a public art policy and, in 2013, established the Public Art Commission, now the Public Arts and Culture Commission. Women’s Voices Out Loud moved out of the Bryan Center the following year.

Looking back at the discourse around the 2012 event, which she laughingly dubbed “Boobiegate,” Lee said many women artists considered it akin to censorship — women’s voices no longer loud, but silenced.

“For some people, expressing themselves publicly is an act of courage,” she said. “For their work to be submitted and then made vulnerable to censorship was something that I don’t think anybody expected. It was supposed to be a safe space.”

Now, the event and exhibition continue at the Herndon Gallery, where Lee said she hopes village women will continue to express themselves openly and freely, without boundaries.

“Part of the value is in meeting new people and reconnecting with friends,” she said. “But it’s also a kind of much-needed reprieve — always good for the mind and soul.”

The Women’s Voices Out Loud event will be held Saturday, March 9, 5–7 p.m., in the Herndon Gallery at Antioch College. The accompanying art exhibition will be on display in the gallery’s upstairs space through March 24.

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