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The Many Voices of Isis Women Arts

The 6th Annual Isis Women Arts Festival seeks to give female-identifying artists a space—a literal space—where they can present their art as part of a collective of like-minded individuals. This year’s festival will take place on Saturday, May 2, from 7-9:30pm at the Hillman City Collaboratory, a South Seattle institution with a mission of social change that fits in well with Isis’ emphasis on positivity and community building. The festival’s roots are in dance; three of the seven organizers are primarily dance artists, including founder Kathryn Hightower. The festival has developed from a single event to showcase the work of performance and visual artists to a kick-off for a whole year of workshops and other events—a new focus for Isis. For dancegoers, this year’s festival offers everything from modern dance to hula, with choreography and performances from Joyce Liao/Mary Ferrario, Philippa Myler, Miranda Swan, and Giovanna White. SeattleDances spoke with Hightower and a few of the other organizers—the “Isis Goddesses”—in a virtual roundtable to learn more about the festival and its mission.

The Isis Goddesses of Isis Women Arts
Photo by Jason Gerend

SeattleDances: Tell us a bit about Isis Women Arts.

Kathryn Hightower: I started Isis Women Arts Festival over six years ago, when I found myself at a loss for opportunities to show my work. I found that other female artists, despite being talented and hard-working, faced similar challenges. I found that it was easier to “make it” as an artist if you knew the “right people.” I thought, what if I created my own opportunities? What if I helped other women by giving them a safe space to show their work? What if we were the right people to know? I envisioned a performance/exhibit event that could blossom out into a sustainable sisterhood in which collaborations, opportunities, and commissions could emerge. I didn’t realize how lovely, encouraging, and supportive that community, including the audience members and supporters, would actually turn out to be.


SeattleDances: Where will this year’s festival be?

Hightower: This year’s festival will be at the Hillman City Collaboratory, a really cool space that supports non-profits and the nearby community. Previously, we held the event in the north end in various locations. We have been wanting to expand to the south end, in order to make sure we’re reaching a wider audience and supporting accessibility to the arts in more communities. The supportive environment of the Collaboratory is the perfect place for us to do this; like us, their focus is on community-building. We will also be having a potluck. Artists and Goddesses will be providing lots of yummy food and non-alcoholic as well as alcoholic drinks.

Darnita Howard: The Hillman City Collaboratory is intimate and cozy, which allows the audience to be really up close and personal with the artists. There are moments to engage and speak with the various artists throughout the festival. The previous festival which I participated in was at the Burke Museum which was just as fantastic. Yet the time to really interact with the audience was at a minimum due to everyone’s focus on the performances.

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The 2013 Isis Women Arts Festival
Photo by Aramis Hamer

SeattleDances: How will it be different from years past?

Hightower: A big change for Isis, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, is the addition of more events throughout the year. With the collaboration of the Isis Goddesses, this summer we’re launching a series of workshops run by ourselves and other artists. Every other month, we will feature a different workshop on a different topic, ranging from how to get grants, to what frustrates us in our field, to traditional dance, poetry, and painting workshops.


SeattleDances: How has dance evolved as a part of Isis?

Hightower: I am a dancer and choreographer. One reason I started the festival was to create my own opportunities for performance, safe spaces for sharing my own dance work. I also had Joyce Liao, a friend and colleague in the dance world, in mind when I started the event. You might say dance was the reason Isis started, but I knew we dancers were not the only artists searching for such opportunities. In this postmodern era, we are also seeing more and more postdisciplinary artists and artistic collaborations across genres. This means some of the dance artists have been and will be speaking, singing, and playing music as part of their performance, or working with other artists who do so.


SeattleDances: What kind of dance performances can we expect to see this year?

Miranda Veenhuysen: There will be a balletic contemporary solo to the music of “Evanescence” (performance and choreography by Mari Soul), traditional Hawaiian hula (performance by Miranda Swan), genre defying modern set to an improvised musical score (performance by Mary Ferrario, choreography by Joyce Liao), upbeat African dance (performance by Giavonna White), and a modern dance commentary on the “meat market” of modern dating (performance and choreography by Philippa Myler).

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The 2013 Isis Women Arts Festival
Photo by Aramis Hamer

SeattleDances: What do you hope people take away from the festival?

Hightower: I hope people take away a sense of the incredible diversity of the feminine voice. I hope people will see that women cannot be put into one category. I hope more people will be inspired to become involved in the Isis mission, whether as an artist, a workshop facilitator, a donor, or even a follower. I hope some people will feel compelled to pick up a pen or a guitar or their dancing shoes and realize they have a valuable artistic voice, too.

Veenhuysen: We hope that our audience comes away from the festival feeling entertained, inspired, and impressed by the work of our featured woman-identified artists. We also hope they feel like part of the Isis community.

Tamara Boynton-Howard: I hope people will be inspired to work on their craft whether it is part-time or full-time and know they can do anything they put their minds too. Isis is a safe-space to experiment, play, and create.


The 6th Annual Isis Women Arts Festival will take place from 7-9:30pm this Saturday, May 2, at the Hillman City Collaboratory. No tickets necessary, but there is a suggested donation of $10 at the door. Visit here for more information about Isis Women Arts, and here for more information about the Hillman City Collaboratory.