Supporting Women Artists and Entrepreneurs

By John Gregory | 7/20/15 9:31 AM

Female artists and small-business owners can face special challenges when it comes to advancing their careers. On this week’s edition of Connections, host Renee Shaw explored two organizations that support women in their creative and economic endeavors.

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Fostering a Community of Female Artists
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Kentucky Foundation for Women, the non-profit organization founded by writer Sallie Bingham to support feminist artists who seek to create positive social change.

Bingham, who is the daughter of former Louisville Courier-Journal owner Barry Bingham Sr., was inspired to create the foundation after she worked as a playwright in New York City. KFW Executive Director Sharon LaRue says Bingham relished the opportunity to bond with other female artists there.

“So when she came back here she really wanted to see that start in Kentucky,” says Larue. “To see that same sort of place where women could freely come together, share and experience their art, grow together, and include their voices together to make a stronger impact.”

Bingham provided the foundation with a $10 million endowment out of her profits from the sale of her family’s media companies. LaRue says the generosity of that initial gift (reported to be among the largest such endowments to any women’s fund in the nation) ensures that the foundation will never have to worry about fundraising to pursue its mission.

Using Art to Promote Social Change
LaRue says the foundation has two grant-making programs each year: an artist enrichment grant to support a grantee’s creative development, and an “arts meets activism” grant to fund projects that promote social change. Through those two programs, LaRue says KFW gives away about $100,000 in grants each year.

And the roster of previous grantees is a veritable who’s who of Kentucky women, including current state poet laureate George Ella Lyon and acclaimed writer Crystal Wilkinson. But LaRue says men are also welcome to apply to the foundation as long as their project supports feminist principles. KFW also hosts retreats and residencies at its Hopscotch House in eastern Jefferson County.

For its 30th anniversary LaRue says KFW is recording oral history interviews with Bingham and other women who helped lead the foundation in its early years. And they are surveying young women to learn how the foundation can better connect with a new generation.

“How do we reach these younger voices?” LaRue wonders. “We need them, we need them to talk about which ways we’re going in the future.”

Annual Conference Helps Entrepreneurs
Next week marks the 13th annual Lexington Bluegrass Area Minority Business Expo, which helps female and minority entrepreneurs launch and grow their own companies.

Valeria Cummings Swope, the marketing and public relations director for the expo, says the two-day event at the Lexington Convention Center will feature keynote presentations by former University of Kentucky basketball star Derek Anderson and leadership consultant André Taylor, who is a regular contributor to ABC News Money Matters.

“We tend to address the issues that really are hard-hitting for businesses,” Swope says. “We look at what it is business owners [and] people who want to start a business tell us they have questions about.”

In addition to the keynote speeches, Swope says the expo will include breakout sessions about doing business as a single woman, financing a new business, securing government contracts, and cyber-security. Another session, conducted in Spanish, is geared toward Latino business owners.

Networking a Key Activity
The profile of the expo has grown over the years, and Swope says the event now attracts attendees from across Kentucky as well as from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. She says the expo is a valuable networking opportunity for anyone who wants to start or expand a business.

“So we have individuals who come in who have an idea… but they really don’t know how to step out on faith,” says Swope. “And then they also make the connection with individuals that they can then connect with after the expo to help them continue to grow their business, either by putting their business plan together, putting a marketing plan together, [or] getting the financing they need.”