Designing Women -- A Panel Discussion

A great evening of honest dialogue and frank discussion on the topic of choosing a career in design, being a woman in the field and being an advocate for the next generation of creatives. The Pacific Northwest College of Art center commons was packed as 400+ people attended as part of Design Week Portland. The panelists included Second Story's Julie Beeler, illustrator & educator Kate Bingaman-Burt, Sara Huston of The Last Attempt at Greatness and architect Carrie Strickland of Works Partnership. 

The moderator began with questioning the panelists' reasons for choosing their individual career paths. Only Carrie Strickland, the architect of the group, had decided early on of her intended path although she quickly asserted that she didn't know anything about architecture except that her dad bitched about them daily as a union concrete finisher. It seemed that her only motivation for going into the field was this personal angst and even after gaining entry into architecture school and realizing it was nothing that she realized it to be, she powered through. In comparison with the other three creatives, she seemed the most conflicted with her path. The other artists acknowledged that it was important early on to have a solid understanding of what pursuing a career in the arts can afford you, they all acknowledged they were doing what they did based on a love for the craft.

These are the main points I took away from this discussion and that resonated with me:

1. "I spent my life avoiding difficult conversations. I've learned there's such a thing as positive confrontation."   Kate Bingaman-Burt made this comment stating that so much valuable time is spent avoiding things, but actually meeting things head-on can lead to positive experiences.

2. When asked about marketing and being asked to speak at panels and conferences, the comment Sara Huston made was that you create your own existence, cut your own path and really can't wait for others to make inroads for you. The fact that so many artists are under represented was judged to be laziness on the part of organizers who didn't take the time to reach out to new or emerging artists to participate in panels or conferences.

3. "Learn how to tell your story. Have a voice so you can make people understand what your art is about." Being clear and eloquent about your passion was extremely important for the panelists. The lack of confidence in being able to speak to groups about your product or service was seen as a main reason why creatives remained undervalued.

4. A point that really hit me was the fact that although these strong, creative women appeared to have their shit together - they all admitted to being completely frazzled before having to speak in front of a large group, or give presentations, or launch a new product. The fact is they embrace being a mess, seeming emotionally weak but channeling that as empowerment. Accepting yourself, being comfortable in the skin that you're in and realizing that both failures and successes create your singular story.

5. To finish it off, the main take away courtesy of Kate Bingaman-Burt: "Just go out there and kick ass, regardless of if you're a man or a woman." Of course!!

I would love to hear your input on these take aways. Also, you can check out this panel discussion as a pod cast available on the Museum of Contemporary Craft website.