Raising the profile of female artists

The Prague Post

New affiliate of Women in the Arts established in Prague

A passion for art and the women who create it has led a group of enterprising females to spearhead efforts to make local artists better-known, both here and internationally.

Friends of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Czech Republic is a nonprofit civic association affiliated with the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, D.C. There are seven other affiliates around the world; the Czech branch is the eighth, and the first in Central Europe.

The initial impetus for the group came from Katherine Cabannis, wife of the former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic. It coalesced quickly following a visit to Prague in February by NMWA’s American founder, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay.

“We hope the work of this committee continues to raise the appreciation of women’s art,” says Diane Holt, an American lawyer, consultant and vice chairwoman of the Prague NMWA chapter.

The group has 18 members, all women, and the majority Czech. “We receive no funding from the NMWA or the US Embassy,” says Holt. “This was founded by the members.”

In addition to introducing art-lovers here and abroad to female Czech artists, they plan to organize exhibitions, lectures and cultural programs, both for the general public and art experts.

In selecting artists to showcase, Holt says the group will tap local expertise.

“We’ll have curators for the exhibits, because the committee is not art experts,” she says. “We want someone who is an expert, understands what the committee is trying to do and is willing to take risks. Someone independent from any particular gallery or artist.”

The group’s first project, an exhibition by Czech photographer Milena Dopitová, is on display at the American Center through the end of November. It was organized by Maya Lukas, a corporate art curator at the Praha Business Center. “We were very lucky to have gotten one of the most important young Czech female artists,” she says.

The large-format photographs on display are part of an exhibit called “Come, Let me Show You the Way Through Paradise” that Dopitová originally created for the Czech pavilion at EXPO 2000 in Hanover, Germany. Six photographs from that show were selected for the current exhibit, which has a theme of “contemporary women and mothers.”

Lukas says the venue posed a challenge.

“This was not an easy task because the American Center is located in an historic palace with partly fresco-painted walls,” she says. “But the painted walls have become part of the artwork, forming a frame around the photographs.”

Dopitová was pleased with the results. “I appreciate it; it’s a nice opportunity,” she says. “Especially that something like this is happening in the Czech Republic.”

The group has no plans for a permanent exhibit space. “We’ll rotate venues for events,” Holt explains. “We hope to develop partnerships with museums and we hope to enhance the status of local museums as well.”

The group plans to have monthly events in the new year. Upcoming events include a presentation by Martina Pachmanová, an art historian and lecturer at the Academy of Decorative Arts, and a lecture and film screening on Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Funding will be another priority for the committee.

“We are working on sponsorships from companies, and we hope to develop a ‘circle of friends’ general membership,’ Holt says.

Both Holt and Dopitová see benefits well beyond the opening exhibition.

“Part of what this committee represents is a commitment of professional women volunteering their time for something they believe in,” says Holt. “It’s a positive statement for the Czech Republic.”

“I see this type of museum and organization, to represent women, as a good opportunity for artists to be seen internationally,” Dopitová says. “I appreciate the possibilities that are starting to exist in this country.”