03/08/2011 02:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Women Supporting Women

It must have been close to 30 years ago when we decided to create a scholarship program at Great Performances. It began with two awards of $1000 each to two members of the party staff. It was to recognize the contribution made by the women (mostly) and men who were the "performance" behind Great Performances. It felt so good to establish a commitment to give back, even though $2,000 seemed like a massive sum of money.

The esprit de corps in the early years was remarkable. Everyone was so grateful to discover an alternative income generating job that was also flexible to accommodate the demands of pursuing an artistic career. What other work environment would welcome an employee cancellation because s/he got an audition? And we were different in several ways, the most important being that we were committed to hiring women (at first exclusively) in a very male dominated industry.

It never occurred to me that we were attempting to accomplish something radical; Women looking out for women, artists supporting other artists -- what is unusual about that? In the 3 decades that have passed, I have come to understand the importance of defining core values and sticking to them. It is a luxury a small entrepreneur can choose, but must reaffirm in the face of variable business climates and the natural evolution of companies. And in spite of all the years that have passed, the thrill of remembering how a dream came true, still thrills us and is a source of continued inspiration. Doing things like this feels as good today as it did years ago.

Tonight three $4000 prizes were awarded, from a field of 11 applicants. To qualify, an employee of GP must work at least 400 hours in the recent year. Full-time employees are excluded. The application calls for a description of the project, but also asks how this award will help the artist achieve hers or his goals.

The panel of judges is traditionally drawn from the GP client base. Tonight's were: Jonelle Procope, President of Apollo Theater Foundation; Timur Galen, Goldman Sachs Managing Director, Global Head Corporate Service and Real Estate; Gail Beltrone, Vice President of Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center; Brian Halweil, Publisher of Edible Manhattan/Brooklyn/East End, and Marsha Firestone, Ph.D., Founder and President of Women Presidents' Foundation. A judging dream team with empathy, knowledge and experience.


It is one of the best nights of the year as co-workers gather to support each other; and our full-time office staff, who depend on the hard work of the service staff to represent the company and serve our product, along with a handful of supportive party staff, turn out to honor them as individuals.

The winners of the 2011 Scholarships are:

Dustina Wessman-Smerdon - Dustina is working on a photography project about people in England in a particularly backward area that's just been modernized. She started the project a few years ago and has since taken classes and gotten more equipment. She will use the funds to go back over there, take more photos, make gallery prints and start producing a book of the photos.

Maura Kelley - Maura has been working on a screenplay called Dog Park, a comedy for animal-lovers. The funds will go to producing a stage rehearsal for possible investors and marketing the project.

Pamela Jones - Pamela is a relatively established singer/songwriter who has performed in small venues throughout the city. She has recorded part of an album and will use the funds to finish recording and production.


Another great women's celebration last week was at the new commissary for Hot Bread Kitchen, located in East Harlem's La Marqueta. Established in 2007 by Jessamyn Waldman, a visionary who traded a career in banking for a dream of baking while making a difference in the lives of immigrant women: "Hot Bread Kitchen is a non-profit social enterprise that creates better lives for low-income women and their families...By paying women while they learn the skills necessary to launch food businesses and achieve management track positions in food manufacturing.

To help offset the cost of training and to build esteem in the contribution of immigrants, we sell delicious multi-ethnic breads that are inspired by our bakers and the many countries that they come from.  We make it a priority to use local and organic ingredients."

The intensely creative Hot Bread Kitchen hires about 80 women a year, 20% of whom eventually launch their own small business. The emphasis is on teaching women to be managers and entrepreneurs - a distinctive mission.

It is March, Women's History Month, designated so in 1987 by Congress but inspired by International Women's Day, established in 1911. (What took us so long?). From the International Women's Day website, an historical overview:

"International Women's Day has been observed since in the early 1900's, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.

Great unrest and critical debate was occurring amongst women. Women's oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named a Clara Zetkin (Leader of the 'Women's Office' for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women's Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day - a Women's Day - to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women's clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin's suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women's Day was the result.

Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen in 1911, International Women's Day (IWD) was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination.

It has been 100 years, women count their successes and the celebrations of the past week attest to our power to make change. We congratulate ourselves for a moment, then go back to work, multi-tasking, mentoring, struggling and making change.