Each year, the Washingtonian publishes its list of 100 Most Powerful Women. This year’s list included 117 of the area's most influential women working in the arts, business, education, government, health, law, media, and nonprofit fields. The invitation asked that each honoree bring as their guest a woman with talent and tenacity whom the Washingtonian should watch in the future. The women were honored at a luncheon that was held in the beautiful Colonnade Room of the Fairmont Hotel in Georgetown. Click here to view photos from the event.
The only reason I know about any of this is because on Monday morning Molly Smith, Artistic Director of Arena Stage, invited me to attend as her guest. I was honored, delighted, and quite simply floored. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. As the leader of one of the preeminent regional theatres in the country, I have long admired Molly for her vision, ambition and passion. It was inspiring and empowering to spend time with her at this most prestigious event.
Our Esteemed Host and Honored Guest Speaker
Washingtonian’s President and Publisher of Washingtonian Media Cathy Merrill Williams opened the event by sharing a powerful personal story. She and a group of close women friends were skiing in the Pacific Northwest on a mountain range along the border of Washington State and Canada. Cathy was sure to point out that she is a highly skilled and experienced skier. When she felt the snow moving beneath her, she knew immediately what was happening. She knew that she needed to pull the avalanche cord, a colored line that helps rescuers locate a skier if caught and buried in an avalanche. But she didn’t. She thought to herself, “I got this.” Moments later, she found herself covered in snow up to her neck. Thankfully, her friends and guide were there to help dig her out of the snow. She reminded us that in our day to day efforts and struggle for success, our ego can get in the way. Confidence can cloud hard experience, truth and knowledge. We should to do our best to check our ego at the door. When it does make its way through and we find ourselves trapped beneath 5 feet of snow, we should never to be too proud to accept the help of others who care about us.
Then guest speaker Chris Simmons, Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ Managing Partner, took to the podium. He spoke to us quite candidly. He told us that if you’re married, an organization may feel entitled to pay you less money and that regardless of our achievements and accolades, men still run the world and they knew it. He reminded us that “Whoever people choose to have around them in their relaxed moments, those are who they will support and promote.” This is why he encourages women in power to “use your positions to make systemic changes within your organizations, but also to support other women. Each of you has the credibility to tell other women how extraordinary they are.” He believes in Gender Parity. He knows that you can’t have a solution to a problem when you exclude half the population. “There are good answers to problems that aren’t being addressed because women aren’t invited to the table.” He reminded us that while we all have our struggles, we can help each other. Lastly, he spoke about the merits of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. He appreciates that in her book, Sandberg asks women to choose partners, who will support and stand by us, and not get in the way of our success. He also like that she asks us to think about, “What would we do if we weren’t afraid?” He encouraged us to be fearless in our ambition, steadfast in our efforts and courageous in all that we do. It was a refreshing, enlightening and empowering speech.
We dined on an absolutely delicious meal: a mixed green salad with some kind of new-age egg that was made of something that wasn't an egg at all followed by chicken for the meat eaters and spinach lasagna for the vegetarians. We were also served some rather fancy wine. This was quite the "Ladies who Lunch" affair!
Seated at our table was none other than Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, founder and chairman, of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. At 91, she is sharp, convivial, and lovely. I couldn't help, but share that I had visited the gallery recently to take in the exhibit, American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s. She smiled with such delight and told a few personal stories of her and Faith.
Throughout the event, Molly introduced me to a number of nominees and we also sought out a few to meet together. And we talked. She spoke about the trajectory of her career, the personal and professional challenges that she's faced and overcome, and the impact she hopes to make on the D.C. community and the American Theatre. And as a true mentor, we spoke about my dreams and ambitions and about where I am in my life ... this exhilarating and frightening transition that is fraught with such potential and uncertainty. She was excited for me and gave me some much-needed encouragement and advice.
As the event came to a close, my heart swelled with such appreciation and I felt so fortunate to be in this room filled with so many accomplished women. I thought about how far I had come from my days as a poor Texas farm girl, who was filled with so many dreams for what my future could be. I am where I am today because of parents who believed in me and instilled in me a thirst for knowledge, and because of the many amazing mentors in my life. All of which have been women. I left the event feeling inspired and invigorated, and also more grounded and hopeful than I have in such a long time.
Thank you, Molly, for your time, support and enthusiasm. Thank you Washingtonian and PWC for celebrating the hard work and achievements of women in the Washington area. Click here for a full list of the nominees and see below to learn more about the Arts and Letters nominees.
Arts and Letters Honoree Bios
Marin Alsop, musical director, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Alsop is the maestra with the mostest at the Music Center at Strathmore, where the BSO plays a third of its concerts.
Jenny Bilfield, president and CEO, Washington Performing Arts Society. Bilfield is the area's major performing-arts producer, bringing artists of all genres to audiences in many venues. The first woman to head the WPAS, she came from Stanford in January with expectations to bring more contemporary artists to local stages.
Elizabeth Broun, Johnnetta B. Cole, and Kim Sajet, directors, Smithsonian museums. Broun (American Art Museum), Cole (National Museum of African Art), and Sajet (National Portrait Gallery) run three of Washington's major museums, including laboratories in each where visitors can observe the conservation of invaluable works of art.
Monica Jeffries Hazangeles, president, Strathmore. Hazangeles took over the arts center from Eliot Pfanstiehl (now CEO) in 2010, after serving as executive vice president and heading a $110-million campaign to raise funds for organizational development and a long-term endowment. Strathmore is bursting with artistic energy both in its education programs and on its stages.
Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, founder and chairman, National Museum of Women in the Arts. The cultural visionary used her personal collection to create an institution that spotlights women's long-ignored artistic endeavors.
Victoria Sant, president of the board, National Gallery of Art. A major philanthropic force in Washington, Sant has supported not only the National Gallery but also the Summit Foundation, the Smithsonian, and Vital Voices.
Sky Sitney, director, AFI Docs. The documentary-film festival has grown to include 53 works shown in venues in Silver Spring and downtown DC, attracting thousands and offering opportunities for filmmakers to meet with policymakers.
Molly Smith, artistic director, Arena Stage. The queen of DC's theater scene helped shepherd One Night With Janis Joplin—which had successful runs at Arena both last fall and this summer—to Broadway, where the Randy Johnson-directed production opened in October.
Francesca Zambello, artistic director, Washington National Opera. Zambello took over from Plácido Domingo in 2012, cementing the WNO's merger with the Kennedy Center. She's also responsible for directing the Young Artist Program and commissioning new works. In her spare time, she directs one opera each season at the WNO and heads the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York.
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I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!