Inspired by her own experience as a successful woman director in New York and Denver, Colorado's Angela Astle began conversations with other women in the arts from her home state about survival in a society where women creatives can still be overlooked — and what to do about it. That led to the earliest rendition of the Athena Project in 2012, initially a plays-in-progress series which then expanded into a full-fledged arts festival the following year. Astle’s consuming project has grown through the years to also address women and girls in dance, visual art, performance, comedy and other cultural niches during its annual monthlong run every March during Women’s History Month.
It takes a lot of guts and an iron sense of commitment to produce the Athena Project Arts Festival each year, but Astle shrugs off her role in the enormous undertaking by simply saying she’s grateful for the opportunity and the team that gives its all to make her dream come true year after year. She discusses this and a lot more in her answers to the 100CC questionnaire — midway through the 2018 fest.
Angela Astle: My partner, Jason; my daughter, Brooklyn; and my son, Jonathan. And the team behind Athena Project. Jason, because no matter what time of night I get home, he is waiting for me, ready to listen, brainstorm ideas with me and sometimes comfort me for whatever my day brings. Brooklyn, because she’s the mini-me whose love of the arts is equal to mine. I love that she’s old enough to join me when attending plays, concerts, dance events and movies, and she genuinely seems to love it as much as I do. Jonathan, because he is just learning what Athena Project is and why it’s important. And because he challenges me the most to be the best mom I can be. And the team behind Athena Project…well, without each of them doing their part, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I’m super-proud and grateful at the same time.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
I think the best thing is that there is so much art in town. On any given night, there are multiple things to see and do in the realm of the arts. I am also frustrated by the lack of collaborations. I feel that many times artists set out to “do something better for themselves” without really paying attention to whether it’s needed. We end up competing for the same audiences anyway, so I wish artists did a better job of collaborating together to attract those audiences rather than compete for them. I could say the same thing for organizations. I think we have a lot of nonprofits that are “doing good,” but there seems to be resistance toward coming together to problem-solve. Everyone seems to be a bit protective of their space and who their donor base is, and yet it seems to me collaboration and not duplicating efforts is the way to go for better sustainability. I know I just got vague, but it’s a challenge I see over and over again.
How about globally?
The best thing about art is that I believe it’s the way for social change. People can feel empathy for someone else through their experience of art. Whether it’s a story unfolding on stage or a visual creation that makes them feel a way they might not have before, this is why I love connecting with artists and continue to find ways to work together. The worst thing about this is that it has value in other countries where it’s prioritized at a government level. That is not the case in our country. Artists are amazingly resourceful and continue to find ways to do a lot with a little and are barely scraping by. I wish we lived in a time and place where that didn’t have to be the case because our society valued it more.
Some trends are worth following, but it depends on the trend. With the explosion of social media over the years, it seems like even the word “trend” implies something different in meaning than it did before. So I’d say it depends. Trends that I do believe in are those that are creating spaces for conversations about speaking up and out more than ever before. I’m particularly drawn to the #TimesUp movement, in that it is an example of women coming together to work to create space for us to all be better humans. It’s not all figured out, but it certainly seems to have traction in a way other movements haven’t.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?
The Athena Project is truly my best accomplishment to date. Creating an organization from the ground up to empower women in the arts in multiple disciplines takes a lot of passion, hard work and sacrifice. Not just by me, but by the many, many women (and men!) who make it possible. I added up the number of volunteer hours my team and I put in for a month, and it was over 500. That blew my mind! I mean, it’s one thing to know how much I am putting in each week (this is a full-time job, plus!), let alone the other people who are also putting in that kind of time on top of work and family life. These passionate people supporting this organization keep me going.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
Oh, just a few small things like world peace; creating spaces for artists to create and be valued at a level that is not below poverty; finding and directing a play so successful that it moves on immediately to impact the world in a positive way; traveling to way more countries than I’ve been able to thus far, despite growing up moving around in the military; and franchising Athena Project worldwide in a way that’s meaningful to communities who aren’t supporting arts in general, let alone women in the arts.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I do love Denver. I love that we seem to be rising above our cowtown reputation and our arts scene is at the forefront of doing so. I love that my family is here (both my partner and my parents and my sister) and I have a lot of different circles to play with. I love that I have lived a lot of life here, and I love that this is the place I call home.
There are too many talented artists to name just one or even a few. And my first question would be: “Which genre?” In music, dance, theater, visual, comedy, fashion? Accckkkkkkk! The list is long and mighty. I have been lucky enough that in my role as executive producer, I get to not only meet women who are doing awesome things in the arts, but I also get to create space for them to continue their journeys. I have also had the pleasure of meeting and supporting talented young women who are just beginning their journey of finding their own voices and letting their stories unfold. That is also inspiring.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
First, we have to have our best festival ever — it’s the sixth Annual Athena Project Arts Festival, and it opened earlier this month with our Girls Create Celebration, so that’s top of my brain. After that, we have collaborations with Denver Center for the Performing Arts, West Side Live!, the Women’s Foundation, and Women in Film and Media of Colorado in the works; two more Artists’ Night Out events; reading scripts for next year’s festival; writing about ten more grants; coordinating our summer-camp offerings; planning our fall fundraiser, our fall visual arts show and selecting which of the plays from our past festivals will be premiering in September. Oh, yeah, and I have to find a space to do that premiere, raise double the money we did this past year and recruit more boardmembers! Maybe a little sleep at some point, a mini-getaway with Jason, and time to encourage my daughter to write her second play.
I’m hearing a lot of buzz about Meow Wolf coming to town and what else it might bring as far as opportunities for various artists in the community are concerned. I’d also like to think women are on the rise; more and more places are starting to pay attention, and we’ve had several people with key leadership positions in arts organizations in town both open up and go to support talented women. I look forward to seeing more of that, and also continuing to support the talented ladies we at the Athena Project meet along the way.
The 2018 Athena Project Arts Festival continues this weekend with Weekend of Dance, beginning with an Evening of World Dance, a performance showcase for local women working in multiple dance disciplines, on Saturday, March 17, at 8 p.m. (tickets, $18 to $20), and an afternoon of three expert dance master classes in different disciplines beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 18, followed by a dance panel at 6 p.m. ($20 per class or $50 for all three). All events at the King Center, 855 Lawrence Way on the Auraria campus. Buy tickets at the Athena Project Weekend of Dance home page.
The festival’s 2018 Plays in Progress Series begins March 22 and runs through March 31 at the Black Box Theatre, Johnson-McFarlane Hall, 1903 East Iliff Avenue on the University of Denver campus, presenting three workshop productions ($13 each), a concert reading ($8 donation) and a table reading ($5 donation) of new works by women selected by the Athena Project. One of the three workshopped shows will be earmarked for a fully staged performance in the future, determined by feedback from the audience and theater professionals. Purchase individual tickets or an all-inclusive pass for $35 at the Athena Project PiP home page.
Learn more about Angela Astle and the Athena Project online.