Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The following are excerpts from a longer interview with Charlotte Richardson Anderson editor of the British magazine: Wears the Trousers.  A big thanks to Charlotte for asking such great questions.

5.  Would you say the IMA provides  an alternate kind of education that the public school system doesn’t offer?

…(Y)es IMA offers an alternative kind of education but it is more than that.  Because it was founded by and has grown up out of the experience, needs and concerns of women from diverse cultural backgrounds it is an all too unique organization that will eventually, with June and my passing it on, become an institution. As far as I know there are not very many, if any, institutions that have grown out of women’s relationships in this way.  Most women’s organizations and colleges are modeled on men’s colleges or on men’s idea of what women should be doing.  Throughout the industrial world men have been running the show and women are relegated to a subclass.  That arrangement has created some huge imbalances in the world and we have come to a place in the last 60 years or so where the technology that has risen from that imbalance is poised to destroy us.  I think an antidote to this dangerous precipice is to move toward integration.  I don’t mean integrating women into men’s world, blacks into a white world, indigenous peoples into a colonial world or Muslims into a Christian world (or vice versa).   I am talking about bringing the content that each of us hold as individuals and as cultural groups together into a whole and operating from there rather than compartmentalizing,  categorizing, subjugating and suppressing.

6.Could you tell us a little about how June’s experience as a musician helped to shape and inform the IMA?  As an innovative musician who started out in an age when women rockers were a minority, she undoubtedly had invaluable first hand knowledge of what girls and women need when starting out.

June understood as a teenager that playing music, in particular playing in a band with other girls, was completely empowering.   She is working on her autobiography and the sense of liberation she describes in her first  band as they practiced and gigged each weekend– getting better and better at their craft, doing more and more shows and driving further and further away from their homes and the limitations put on them for being girls– is palpable.   The fact that they were a band made it easier to take the insults and ignore many obstacles because they had a group identity.  While some things have changed in the 50 years since they started out, the reality is that it is still difficult for girls and women to develop their musicianship without having to overcome limiting expectations both from within and from the outside world.   June knew very early on that having a place to go with other girls and women to learn their craft is essential.   Also she felt that having access  to equipment and understanding the recording process was critical.  One of the places women traditionally have lost control of their music is in the studio.  IMA had its own recording equipment right away.  In fact I think we had a board before we even had a place to put it!  We now have a state of the art recording facility and train girls and young women in studio recording, engineering and producing.   A girl who comes through our programs will gain understanding of how to run a sound system, how to play a variety of instruments, how to write and arrange music, how to run a band rehearsal, how set up to record, how to run a recording session,  how to engineer and mix.

9. “You’ve said on your Leading From The Kitchen blog: “When June and I founded IMA we had lots of ideas about what we wanted it to be.   Not once did we think about the kitchen; yet, as the institute has evolved the kitchen has become the very center of all that we do. “ Please elaborate.

Around the mid 1990’s a local women’s newspaper asked me to write about IMA for an issue focused on women’s relationships.   I wasn’t sure what to write so I just started describing what was going on in the moment as I sat upstairs in my office at the Old Creamery which was then our home.   I realized while writing that article that everything and everybody was filtering through the kitchen and that’s when I understood that we were growing an institute from a seed planted in women’s relationships rather than building one from a static blueprint or an idea of what it should be.  We have rarely had a lot of money to spread around but everyone knows they can get a good meal here.   Having a great meal with others goes a long way toward making the work that needs to be done worthwhile.  That’s a no brainer I suppose in many cultures, but not so much in  America.   What is different about what is unfolding at IMA is that this universal human activity of cooking and eating together is a central point  from which what will become institutional relationships are forming.

Out of necessity I ended up cooking for the camps and there have been some, on our board for instance, who thought that I as the Executive Director  should not be “stuck in the kitchen”. Initially I felt somehow ashamed  that I liked to be in the kitchen while the camps were running, but later I realized that it was the perfect place for the Director to be. The whole feel of  decision making and problem solving is very different when it is done in the kitchen as opposed to my office.  It’s a statement to move “command central” to the kitchen.  When the girls want to  find me it’s the first place they check.     Further, being in the kitchen is a great way to be present for the girls without being intrusive.  It is open 24/7 during the summer programs and the girls are welcomed in at any time (except when we are rushing to get a meal finished on time).  Sometimes I just go about my business when they are hanging out making tea or snacking and at other times I join or initiate conversation.  Either way it is a point of interaction and a way to keep an ear to what’s up for them.  The whole concept of leading from the kitchen seems like an oxymoron  until you begin to explore it, we have begun to explore it simply because we maintained the vision of developing from scratch a women-centered institution—we didn’t let our ideas get in the way of what was really happening.

10. Have you/the IMA come up with its own model over time?  What advice would you give to other women who want to manage that balance of business and giving that the IMA has perfected?

I have always believed that IMA is a model simply by virtue of its all too unique origins of having been built from the ground up by women of diverse cultural backgrounds.  “Leading from the Kitchen” or putting the nourishment aspect of our work first changes the dynamic dramatically.  We are modeling raising the feminine (the nourishing,  receptive,  intuitive,  birthing, empathetic aspects of who we are) and cultivating an institution which reflects an integrated masculine and feminine self so that we might all move from the imbalances created through the deification of either side of the equation.

Because I am so inside it all it’s hard for me to step back and point to to specifics but the focus on maintaining small intimate groups, cultivating collaborative leadership skills and creating healthy relationships toward the self,  each other and the institute itself is an alternative to institutions that focus on working with large groups in a competitive setting which cultivates specialization at the expense of relationship and health.  If we simply trust our own intuition while building businesses,  schools and other organizations rather than bowing to the pressures of the dominant culture to do otherwise we will achieve that balance.  In short,  the less we compartmentalize and compete and the more we integrate and cooperate the better.

excerpts from “wears the trousers” interview

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