For International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, GuildHE members have run a variety of exciting events with inspiring women working in the institution’s specialisms and addressing some of the challenges and opportunities for women in their industry. In this blog, Sarah-Jane Crowson, Scholarship and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Hereford College of Art, reflects on their successful International Women’s Day 2024 event, how gender equality relates to  HCA’s curriculum, creative specialisms and local context, and why it was important for the event to be student-led.   

Background/ context               

HCA’s Fine Art course (led by Head of School Daniel Pryde-Jarman) provides an exciting contemporary critical curriculum and pedagogical approach. This attracts students from many diverse groups and encourages socially engaged art projects and critical, meaningful discussion.

Celebrating International Women’s Day through student-led initiatives level has been part of college life for several years, for example as part of an event led in-college by Lin Mathias in 2019 to remember and celebrate the lives of the ‘Canary Girls’, wartime munitions workers situated in Rotherwas, Hereford. Lin, as an ‘active artist’ continues to champion women’s rights in Hereford, through both her individual arts practice and her involvement in local organisations such as Women’s Aid Herefordshire.

International Women’s Day 2024

For IWD 2024 current Fine Art students Terri Wilson, Jo Instone and Catrin Evans invited Lin back to college as part of a celebratory event for International Women’s Day. Alongside a pop-up exhibition at College Road Campus featuring images of inspiring women, a panel discussion focused on not only inspirational personal storytelling but also interrogating some of the challenges and opportunities facing women working in the creative sector in Herefordshire.

Lin was joined by Tamsin Fitzgerald, artistic director, and CEO of 2Faced Dance, a Hereford-based dance company that has presented to critical acclaim nationally and internationally. Tamsin recounted her experiences of gender inequality within the dance sector and how this led her to form The BENCH – an initiative for female choreographers that aims to tackle gender inequality and has had significant impact through providing mentorship to female practitioners.

The discussion that took place was wide-ranging and complex, with a focus on local issues such as the challenge of balancing the need to champion women’s rights without alienating disenfranchised young men and the inequalities baked into rural infrastructures. The important of ‘brilliant women’ – of the power of dynamic individuals to support change-making, threaded through the discussion.

Student self-efficacy and activism 

From an Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion perspective, what was also exciting was the student-led impetus behind this event. It is one thing to talk about the need to encourage student self-efficacy and activism, but it is another to experience dynamic and professional student-led initiatives that support social justice in a nuanced, thoughtful, and inclusive way which brought several aspects of the creative community of Herefordshire together to discuss real-life issues as well as celebrate Hereford’s brilliant women.