International Women Artists’ Salon
Written by Sarah Moore,
An 'artist' can be defined as a painter, a writer, a photographer...the list is endless. Mediums range from spoken word and video to metalwork and yarn. Studios may be stages for some, and sidewalks for others. But what about the artist who is also a paralegal, or who dabbles in cooking along with her curatorial work? Can a woman be an artist if she decides to change career paths at 60? What about the young analyst who might be an amazing dancer if she had the right momentum - is she an artist, or a dilettante? For Heidi Russell the answer is clear: these women are ALL artists. They deserve creative empowerment, opportunities to collaborate, and support for their goals and journeys. All these resources are available in the International Women Artists' Salon, an endeavor Heidi has been cultivating for almost five years.
The International Women Artists' Salon is a diverse group of women across multiple disciplines that maintains a collaborative environment through monthly gatherings, group shows, and a wealth of shared resources and energy. The Salon's offerings help each woman develop as an artist, no matter what point she is at in her creative development. Its story is one that begins with Heidi's own career change and covers many countries, countless women, and an absolute, undying passion to support and promote emerging female artists in their creative journeys.
One's Woman's Transformation
Heidi's passion for the arts, specifically photography, was apparent at a young age, but it wasn't until recently that she began the journey to embracing her art and, inevitably, the founding principles of the Salon. In 2004, Heidi changed her career path to pursue her passions of photography and international cultural exchange. Educational travels to Rome and Greece allowed her to delve into being creative full-time, and in 2005 she moved to New York City to complete her artistic metamorphosis. Her work has since been shown in solo and group exhibitions internationally, and she holds curatorial positions with several NYC arts organizations.
Looking back on this evolution, one could say Heidi reached her goals to embrace a true passion for the arts, and as an individual she succeeded. But as a creative collaborator and a person dedicated to helping others, she knew there was more in the pipeline. She wanted to bring together women artists of all disciplines to, as she says, "support women's artistry, build individual artistic empowerment and collective community, and encourage 'out of the box' thinking, collaboration, and support of one another's projects and goals and journeys." And so the next stage of her creative development began in the form of the International Women Artists' Salon.
Founding the Salon
When Heidi came to NYC she spent two years beating the path to learn about and gain a foothold in the art community. Manhattan can be daunting enough, but add to that no formal art training, no gallery connections, and no creative management experience and the city quickly goes from swanky metropolis to formidable enemy. "I went to everything that was free," she says, chuckling. "Workshops, gallery openings, museum Fridays...just to get to know the art world but also to elevate myself."
It took months of pounding the pavement, but Heidi was able to rustle up the connections and outlets she needed for her artistic endeavors. She also saw the need to share this newfound information with others looking to forge a similar path. "One thing I learned was that I wanted to share this info, share these resources. So I thought, 'Let’s put this together and people can tap right into it.'"
That came to fruition in September of 2008 when the International Women Artists' Salon was founded. What started as a small seedling of 18 women at the first gathering has grown to an international assemblage of women artists of all walks of life and stages of artistic development. The growth was organic and steady, and monthly Salon gatherings expanded into collaborative efforts, group exhibitions, and a swelling sense of camaraderie between the members. The original Yahoo! Group meant to congregate global members extended into Facebook, social media outlets, and a blog, furthering the reach of the Salon and its cadre of artists.
And, true to her mission, this growth is exactly what Heidi envisioned for the Salon. "I went from a desire to maintain my newfound wild and crazy artist feeling and to meet other unique, wild and crazy artists...to balancing that with my life-long commitment to helping others." The group embraces informality and encourages being unconstrained and creative à la Andy Warhol's Factory style, but it still enforces a pledge to help foster members' growth.
The Salon has been cross discipline from the start, and it continues to grow as such to welcome all creative forms, including what has been traditionally considered craft/functional art, comedy, and food and fiber arts. Specific disciplines are encouraged to meet on their own outside the monthly general Salon gatherings. Every time Salon members meet, whether formally or informally, there is a cross discipline representation and discourse that encourages them to develop secret desires to pursue other forms of creative expression, form collaborative projects and alliances, and help open their minds to thinking outside the box for their own specific discipline.
The Salon's emphasis on working and developing organically also determined its need to cover a range of art-related fields, which couples with Heidi’s firm belief that ANY form of creative expression is important and deserves respect. Each Salon gathering starts with a round robin of introductions, so members can say where they're from, their discipline(s), needs, and offerings. Heidi says, "I am continually surprised about how members open up about their needs during these intro sessions. We often need support, even just a friendly ear. Maybe there is a writer who wants to pursue her photography interest but is really shy or apprehensive about dipping the toe in. So there seems to be a sense of safety and respect and openness in these gatherings; there was no learning curve. And when it came to the offerings, it was unbelievable. People started talking about offerings outside their creative entities: 'I can help build things, I'm a masseuse, I'm a cook, I can move things for you.' That was one of the huge moments when I thought, 'we really have something here.'"
That sentiment is reflected in the experiences of Salon members, or Salonistas. Kelley Donovan, a member since 2009, says, "When I arrived in NYC…I immediately connected with the Womens’ Artist Salon. I was welcomed from the first meeting. Members even helped me to furnish my apartment since I had nothing but the clothes on my back when I arrived. It has been a great experience to connect with such a lovely and generous group of women and to help and support one another in return!"
All Walks of Life
Embracing women artists from all backgrounds is a cornerstone of the Salon. Members range from college age to over 70, professional artisans to dabbling artists, self-taught to formally educated. This openness comes, in part, from Heidi's own foray into a creative career later in her life. It also stems from the demand for an open forum dedicated to emerging, growing artists. This is not Art 101, and this is not a cooperative limited to advanced, established artists. "I see more and more women emerging artists that are seeking support; they have multiple things going on in their [lives], it is hard to focus on nurturing their creative spirit and passions. Couple this with the plethora of information that can be overwhelming and the daunting path to gain exposure, it can be crippling," says Heidi. The Salon has become that open set of arms, that extra push, that collaborative setting needed to get the creative juices flowing and to gain a sense of empowerment.
An emphasis on openness further strengthens the need to maintain the Salon's informal structure, allowing the members' commitment and involvement to ebb and flow with their lifestyles. "People can come in and out based on their own needs and timing," says Heidi, "whether they be affected by family, health, career, or other factors." Members can choose their levels of commitment and participation, resulting in a stress-free and truly open setting.
For Women, by Women
The Salon evolved naturally to be a women's group, allowing its members to find a safe, open place to harbor and sustain their work. When Heidi began the Salon, she was questioning suppression in general. She found male-dominated viewpoints in the art world and society to be limiting. Her travels to Rome and Greece opened her eyes to the feminine influences in history, from goddess worship to strong women leaders to women artists and muses who contributed great things to society, yet still oftentimes goes unheralded and unrecognized.
"By the time I came to New York I was talking like a feminist even though I had never considered myself to be a feminist,” recalls Heidi. “I wanted to help other women believe in themselves. I wanted to help them find and tap into the immense power within, to learn tools for such discovery and nurturement for themselves and link with other women artists to multiply the effect for the greater good.”
"And in order for me to succeed as a female artist, I needed to open up the dialogue in the art world to be more welcoming for women emerging artists. There continues to be a need for this dialogue, to think differently, to act differently, and to work within ourselves and with all stakeholders to help change paradigms and how we interact…to forge healthy relationships and partnerships in all areas of society including the Arts…to help communities see that women artists are doing amazing things."
With these goals in mind, the Salon continues to promote women as powerful creators and carriers of their own creative energy. And its success can be seen in the Salon's members and the influence Heidi and the group have had on their work and development. One member, Ashley Middletown, says, "It wasn't until after I met Heidi that I truly felt connected to the arts in New York City. Not only did she develop a Salon of passionate women, but also a bond between those women that is able to generate new ways of thinking and seeing."
Another member, Helen Galek, says of the group, "This Salon not only gives room for all female artists of all disciplines and backgrounds, it also gives them a place to continue to support their sister artists as well as [give] them a non-judgmental home to share their accomplishments and goals in the making."
This intimacy and encouragement are fundamental to the Salon. It throws open the doors to a dialogue on women's place within the artist community, and it encourages local neighborhoods to see women artists in their element.
Since its beginnings in NYC, the Salon has expanded to encompass a global community. Heidi saw a need for an international group from the start. The day before one of her art exhibitions in New York closed, two women came to see the show specifically and hoped to speak to her. Both were au pairs from Europe who were looking for ways to grow their own artistic visions, and Heidi realized that if she were to form this Salon, it couldn't be limited to NYC members.
It has since welcomed women from across the country and abroad, including Canada, Paris, Italy, London, and Australia.
Maggie Cousins, one of the Salon’s founding members working in New York on an artist visa, says, “For me, as a foreign artist living and working in New York, [the Salon] was a wonderful way to get connected to the art community and other women artists in a welcoming and creative space. As part of my visa requirement, Heidi and the salon have provided me with several opportunities to show in group and solo shows. That has been extremely helpful for me.”
Even the group’s local NYC representatives are international. Women come from Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Egyptian, Spanish, and Chilean descent, among others. Internationally experienced and globally minded Americans bring the international focus full circle. And it's that mix of cultures and heritages that allows this group to foster such a wealth of creative cognition and resource sharing.
Moving Ahead, Together
By creating such a rich community of women artists, Heidi also cemented the workforce that would help her to sustain it. The Salon was a beautiful concept, but in reality it was an organizational challenge to bring together all of her goals and vision for supporting women artists. "Organizing everything I learned was hard, there was so much information," says Heidi. "And people wanted to contribute but the tools were cumbersome with Yahoo! Groups. So members suggested Facebook. And I delegated that to them, which jumpstarted members’ contributions to how the salon was developing."
Members step forward to contribute their expertise for the Salon’s greater good and growth when the need arises, from helping to install exhibitions, paint exhibition walls, MC performance events, and organize events to hosting gatherings and documenting member and Salon activity.
The Salon's growth has since been a group process, and its momentum a way to give back to its members. Salonista Lillian Gottlieb remarks, "There’s nothing quite like the inspiration and energy that result from the friendship, interest and acceptance of fellow artists. They motivate me to persevere with my projects, even during those times when there doesn’t seem to be a clear path."
Opening More Doors
Heidi's goal for the Salon is both individual and collective - it should nurture each woman as a unique artist with a singular vision as much as it instills the importance of a community, a collaboration, and a constant stream of inspiration from fellow artists. "The Salon grows all the while Heidi nurtures the artistic spirit in women for the greater good of our culture," says Janet Restino, a sculptor and one the Salon's members.
And the collective creative journey for the Salon is far from over. Heidi plans to expand the group by way of a custom-designed online platform to better link members and offer communication tools to members globally, and a re-vamped blog that promotes the artists and fosters self and peer commentary on their work. She is also working tirelessly to get artists from all corners of the world to participate and exchange ideas and space. She sees an opportunity for women to collaborate cross culturally and geographically using the growing network available to them. Opportunities range from showing their work in different counties or exchanging living/working space to collaborating on projects and helping each other learn about one another’s cultures.
It's about "connecting globally and acting locally," says Heidi. "Several members in cities around the world are meeting locally, and they also have the opportunity to send their work to N.Y., to have it showcased here. It's about bridging disciplines, challenging paradigms, changing the way we think about things. By bringing art to the masses we can better society and create open lines of discourse."
The original mission of the salon and the organic expansion that has kept it running from the beginning are still strong. It is firmly positioned to continue its ascension as a resource, a collective learning environment, and - perhaps most importantly - an open door for women looking to find their true creative calling.
Insider View: Member Testimonials
I have known Heidi Russell for nearly five years and I am very grateful to call her a friend and mentor. Heidi is so enthusiastic about helping women achieve opportunities and grow within the Art world. I personally am so appreciative of her hard work and dedication to fellow Art Salon members. My experiences in the Salon have helped to nourish me while I have independently worked on various projects. Had I not known Heidi, I would never have known about Women Making Movies. Thanks to Heidi's emails about various film opportunities for women, I applied for a grant through Women Make Movies and was presented with a 2011 grant via NYSCA.
Now my film is completed and I owe much thanks to not only the organizations listed, but to Heidi for informing me of such opportunities. Also, I often receive phone calls or emails from Heidi encouraging me on with my work. I have never met anyone so disciplined, with organizational skills and the compassion to encourage help amongst artist vs. competition. It is really a pleasure to meet various women from around the world as we share our ideas, fears, and successes with one another. This all began with one woman wishing to help other women get more of their art into galleries, into theaters, into office spaces and into the mainstream of society. We have so much to offer, so much to say -yet I feel we are under-represented in a male dominated world and that can not remain.
I became a member of the International Women Artists’ Salon in January 2011. Joining the Salon has been nothing short of a miracle. At the Salon gatherings it is so wonderful to be able to share and collaborate with wonderfully creative women. Heidi Russell also constantly informs the members about so many wonderful opportunities. She informs us about all types of artist events that we can enjoy or be a part of.
Heidi is the curator of the gallery at Manhattan Theatre Source and she gave me the opportunity to have my first solo show. The show is very successful. I have sold many pieces and have been commissioned to make pieces. And it is because of Heidi that I registered for the Art in the Kitchen show. I am really looking forward to it.
Laura H. Cannistraci
Kudos to Heidi Russell for the vision, the inspiration, the drive, and the commitment in her part in developing and ensuring the International Women Artists’ Salon becomes a huge success. It is an important part of the international art community, one that was long in coming and so important within contemporary parameters. Thank you, Heidi. You have provided a voice and sought to find venues for women artists from all disciplines.
One thing I appreciate about the Salon is the opportunity to meet artists in other disciplines. Eventually, I'd like to collaborate with a visual artist, and that kind of project usually germinates in a social context, the kind I find at the Salon. I also find the meetings useful in regard to resources. Recently we met with author and publishing advisor Carren Strock, and I found some of her tips about how to approach editors, very useful. I've also met other writers through the Salon whose work appeals to me, and it has broadened my circle of artist and writer friends.
The Salon is an incredible community of talented female artists. In a competitive city and world it is a place to be supported by those who understand live the artist life. By attending events one begins to feel that they are not alone. I have benefited from the Salon and know for certain that I am not the only one.
Thank you to Heidi whose passion and warmth turned a beautiful idea into something magical.