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Forum Explores Women’s Creativity

Composing, Not Juggling, Is Best Metaphor

Mary Catherine Bateson
Mary Catherine Bateson, author of "Composing a Life," spoke at the Center for Women & Work 2011 Forum.

By Sandra Seitz

“Women’s work” conjures up many images: Rosie the Riveter, soccer moms, League of Women Voters. At the Center for Women and Work’s (CWW) annual forum, Gathering at the Well, speakers and participants explored women’s creativity at work, at home and in the community.

“‘Women’s work’ is everything that can be done simultaneously with caring for a child,” said Mary Catherine Bateson, noted anthropologist and keynote speaker. “Across cultures, women could farm, but not go to war; could gather, not hunt; could carry great weight while walking, not running.”

Bateson argued that “juggling” was a “terrible, anxiety-inducing metaphor” for women’s lives of multiple commitments. Author of “Composing a Life” and “Composing a Further Life,” she proposed the alternative metaphor of composition to describe the discontinuities, changing demands and multiple elements of women’s lives.

Because of increased – and healthy – life spans, women face another task, a new stage of adulthood, said Bateson: “The continuing challenge of our time is to improvise, liberating ourselves from stereotypes and working out new ways of doing things.”

Crafting Hyperbolic Planes

Participants in the forum created their own on-the-spot artistic compositions, as they each tried to crochet a hyperbolic plane under the direction of Prof. Sarah Kuhn of the Psychology Department.

“You are working in non-Euclidean geometry, in which parallel lines do meet,” said Kuhn. “You follow an algorithm, or procedure, from which properties emerge.” 

Produced with much laughter, encouragement and occasional consternation by attendees, the emerging creations resembled creatures of the coral reefs or deep sea.

Community Activists Share Creative Vision

The fresh idea also infused presentations by three panelists about their community work.

  • Karen Akunowicz of UTEC, the United Teen Equality Center, is the culinary program manager and chef for the Fresh Roots initiative. She works with Lowell’s most disconnected young people in developing and running a catering service. 
  • Diana Coluntino, artistic director of the Revolving Museum, challenges multicultural youth to interpret their experience through public art and technology. 
  • Betty Burkes, educator and peace activist, directs a leadership and empowerment project for middle school students in New Orleans that publishes “Feet to the Fire: the Rethinkers’ Guide to Changing Your School.”
Three Honored With Splash! Awards

CWW’s 2011 Splash! Awards honored three individuals who have brought creativity to bear in shaping workplaces, families, or communities.

  • Rosemary Noon, assistant director of The Lowell Plan Inc., is the founder and director of “Public Matters” in Lowell: a leadership training and education program for diverse young people, building future strength and leadership for the community. 
  • Irene Egan, director of community development for the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) of Greater Lowell, is active in using public art for healing and to help women overcome abusive experiences. She has developed an exhibit and art projects for the VNA’s 100th anniversary. 
  • Allegra Williams, neighborhood planner for the City of Lowell, has a history of organizing community events for art-making activities and performances, working with diverse cultural organizations.
Paula Rayman, left, director of the Mideast Center, and Imogene Stulken, Campus Ministry, consult on hyperbolic planes and crochet.
Attendants at UMass Lowell's Center for Women and Work annual forum
Prof. Emerita Anne Mulvey, left, nominated Irene Egan of the VNA for a 2011 Splash! Award, given by Prof. Meg Bond, CWW director.