It is no coincidence that the Greek goddess of art is also the goddess of warfare. The struggle to make a living in a creative career resembles a fierce battlefield, with sword-wielding playwrights, visual artists, performers, and more all vying for recognition and audiences to sustain their livelihoods. In this unforgiving arts arena, women face the toughest fight as a historically underrepresented and undervalued group. In the 2019 Broadway season, women constituted just 13% of writers and 13% of producers. And when women do manage to secure opportunities, gender-based pay gaps persist. The art auction market reflects this staggering disparity, with work produced by women accounting for only $4 billion out of $196.6 billion spent between 2008 and 2019, an iniquitous 2% of total sales. Addressing this imbalance, the Athena Project, a Denver nonprofit, empowers female artists through transformative programming and partnerships that help them secure paying gigs. Its extensive roster boasts a remarkable collection of over 2,136 talented local artists.
The Athena Project, under the leadership of its executive producer and founder, Angela Astle, is dedicated to empowering women in a way that embraces inclusivity and diversity. “We recognize that gender is a spectrum,” she says. “We define women as including all aspects of the gender spectrum, including nonbinary and LGBTQIA+.”
The Athena Project has a score of empowering programming that connects artists to one another and their community, including Read and Rant, a book club for playwrights, and Artful Reflections—discussions based on specific works of art. Yet, the program that makes the biggest difference for artists is the one that helps them put food on the table: Curating Art for Impact. You may have already experienced this program without even being aware. Athena’s roster of artists filled the setlist for Cherry Creek’s Live and Local this summer—an outdoor music series that was 84% female. (The only men to take the stage performed alongside female artists.) Tamara Vigil, the director of Ballet Folklorico Baile Caliente and an artist Athena books regularly, tells us that “the Athena Project provides opportunities to represent diverse art, which is amazing—but what was really eye-opening for me was being paid for my performance. Often artists are asked to volunteer their time in exchange for exposure. Working with the Athena Project, I felt newly respected and empowered.”
Looking to join the uplifting mission? You can support Athena’s artists at CycleNation on September 21, or attend Comal’s annual fundraiser on September 22, when a female comedian and musician will entertain satiated crowds. And the Athena Project is always seeking donations, volunteers, advocacy, and partnership to help support its mission.