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What in the Wide World of Art is NMWA?

Updated: Apr 16

[BLOG POST 4/13/24] Grab a cuppa your favorite drink and settle in because I have a lot of photos and stories to share!

In case you've been wondering why I haven't written in a while its because the past 2 weeks have been consumed by preparing for and then traveling to Washington DC for a conference at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA).

Dear reader if you haven't ever heard of NMWA don't feel bad. Many people have no idea they exist or what they are. I certainly had not heard of them before joining the New Mexico State Committee for NMWA (NMC).

NMWA was founded in the late 1970s by Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and it was the first museum IN THE WORLD solely dedicated to championing women in the arts.

You read that right, the first place in the whole world that focused on women artists despite the fact that women have been making art since the beginning of history.

Don't think a museum dedicated to women is necessary? Check out the information on the NMW advocacy page here:

I'll wait for you to do that and come back.

. . .

What did you learn? Feel free to email me at and let me know. 😊

The NMWA mission is to "bring recognition to the achievements of women artists of all periods and nationalities by exhibiting, preserving, acquiring, and researching art by women and by teaching the public about their accomplishments." Which, as you can imagine, is no small feat!

in 2023 NMWA completed a massive renovation and the newly designed interior is both contemporary with clean lines, and classic with "little" details like marble staircases and massive chandeliers. Somehow it feels simultaneously welcoming and impressive.

We were treated to a private tour of the library/research center, studio/classroom space, lecture hall, and the art exhibitions which are spread out over 3 of the 5 main floors in the building.

Additionally several meals were served in the Great Hall which was delightful.

But you may be wondering why I was there.

Years ago Ms. Holladay had the idea to create committees, or regional chapters, comprised of volunteers dedicated to promoting women in the arts both in their area and at the National Museum. She wanted to increase awareness of the issues facing women artists, spread the word that the National Museum existed, and help women artists everywhere. As a board member and co-VP of the New Mexico committee of NNWA I was invited to the conference.

Over 2 days different committees from around the world presented how they create meaningful programs, raise money, and collaborate with partner organizations. It was fascinating! Each committee had different situations and different solutions. There are 28 committees around the world and we heard presentations from Arkansas, Chile, France, Georgia, Japan, Massachusetts, San Francisco, Ohio, Texas, Wyoming, and the UK.

Originally I was supposed to co-present information on some of our New Mexico programs with the NM President but at the last minute she couldn't make it so I presented alone. I was the first person of the first workshop and had no idea what was coming from the other presenters. Having been told to keep my remarks to 5-6 minutes so I did but as it turns out I was the only person who did! Looking back I should have included more details about our programs. Oh well, live and learn! Afterwards I received positive feedback on my presentation so I think it went as well as possible.

Anyway, I came away with lots ideas for our New Mexico committee to discuss and decide if we want to implement. Things like tours of private collections in art collectors' homes, an artist discussion panel via zoom, gallery "hops" led by the gallery director or owner, artist hosted salons in a restaurant, mentor programs for emerging artists, and more.

If I'm honest, I probably have too many ideas! 😉

On top of all that great info we were also treated to fabulous receptions at two different ambassadors' residences. The first evening we boarded 3 large busses and drove to the British Ambassador's residence for supportive remarks from the ambassador's right hand (sadly she couldn't attend), drinks, and appetizers. We were also invited to roam the halls and gardens of the mansion enjoying their art collection, all of which was heavenly.

The second day we bussed to the French Ambassador's residence and were again treated to supportive remarks, this time by the French Ambassador himself, drinks, and hors d'oeuvres (aka appetizers but it was French after all and the servers wore berets–ohh la la). For some reason the gardens weren't open but we enjoyed the art collection displayed throughout the first floor of the mansion.

Both receptions also included invitations for the 28 artists featured in NMWA's biannual exhibition titled "Women to Watch" displaying artwork by contemporary women artists from participating committees. This year's theme was "New Worlds" and focused on artists who conceive of worlds different from the one we live in today. The artwork came in every medium and was born from alternative perspectives on topics as diverse as displacement ad belonging, environmental and social justice, gender fluidity, reimagined geographies.

Seeing the artists – who were all young – mingling with the committee members – who were generally speaking somewhat older – was really fun and energizing.

After the workshops / conference and ambassador receptions were over., the final event was the grand opening reception for the Women to Watch 2024 exhibition. It was exceedingly well attended by NMWA supporters, NMWA committee members, curators, art enthusiasts, artists, and friends. The reception was in the Grand Hall where food and drink flowed freely.

Upstairs attendees wandered the "New World" exhibit reading the plaques, discussing the work, and interacting with the artists.

One of my favorite moments was when a group of art lovers excitedly rushed past me with the leader exclaiming, "Come quick! The artist is talking about their work!" The group had the same energy as a school trip to the zoo at feeding time. They were genuinely giddy about hearing the artist talk.

Not for the first time it made me reflect on the disconnection between art lovers and artists. Many times I've observed an art lover talk about an artist as they were "magical" beings who exist outside of everyday reality and are mysterious. As if artists don't need to eat, see doctors, and drive cars. Meanwhile I've seen artists behave as if wealthy art collectors were these elusive, aloof, and rare beings to be treated like royalty. As if art collectors aren't just people seeking connections, beauty, and different perspectives.

It is weird.

Anyway, the opening reception was definitely the highlight of the week. And now the 28 artists in position to enjoy international audiences, opportunities for solo shows at major institutions, competitive grand awards, lucrative commissions, and lots and lots of accolades.

Here is the exhibit's artwork by the NM artist Eliza Naranjo Morse.

For me now it's time to rest, reflect, and process all that I observed and learned. Not only for the NMC but for my own art practice as well. I predict it will take a while!

Thanks for reading and I hope your drink lasted the whole post. 😊

P.S. As a reward here are two fun photos - the first is the capitol building which was close to where we were staying, and the second is of a few remaining cherry blossoms I found at the UK Ambassador's residence.

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