SWAN Day CT brings women's arts festival to Manchester

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Manchester/Region - posted Tue., Apr. 2, 2013
Jennifer Hill, the SWAN Day CT organizer, performs with her band, Jennifer Hill & Co. at the sixth annual event on March 26 in Manchester. Photos by Steve Smith.

SWAN Day CT, in its sixth annual presentation, has become one of the largest arts events in the state. The latest installment brought hundreds of people to take in the 12 musical acts and dozens of crafters, painters, sculptors and artists of other media, at Kelly's Pub in Manchester on March 30.

The Support Women Artists Now events sprang from collaboration between the Women Arts organization and the Chicago-based WITASWAN (Women in the Audiences Supporting Women Artists Now) just over six years ago. Since then, SWAN Day festivals – typically held the last weekend in March – have popped up all over the country and the world, but Connecticut's annual event has quickly become one of the largest and most-notable of the movement, thanks to coordinator Jennifer Hill.

“We are getting so much recognition right now from the head of WomenArts [Martha Richards] in California,” Hill said. “They've been helping us so much by posting things online.”

Hill said Connecticut's women artists are why she puts together the event each year, and were particularly supportive when she had a death in the family about a week before this year's show. “The artists have been so great,” she said. “I had to lean on people in the middle of the biggest part of promoting the event, and they just did it for me. I've never had to do that before. They helped me a lot. I think that shows that I'm doing something right.”

Artist Kerry Kennedy has become a mainstay of SWAN Day CT, and besides displaying her creations, annually creates a painting on the stage while the bands perform.

“There's no other event like this. This is the only event that I'm aware of where, in one building, that you can see 12 different female-fronted bands perform, 25 different artists display their work, get a tattoo, get your tarot cards read, see an artist paint something live from start to finish on stage, see some burlesque dancers, and buy gifts for people that you could never find in a mall, and eat and drink at the same time.”

Kennedy said she was somewhat surprised at the lack of attention such a large event gets from some of the state's arts publications. “I'm surprised that it doesn't get more press,” she said. “I'm always shocked at how many people show up, based on how many people who I talk to who haven't heard of it.”

Kennedy said someone told her the piece she created this year looks like a song she wrote about fire and water. “That was certainly not my intention,” she said. “Looking at it now, it does look like some sort of fight between fire and water. It also looks like I was tripping on acid when I made it, but I wasn't. I didn't really have any intent. It just kind of flows.”

Hill also fronts her own band – Jennifer Hill & Co. – and was one of the evening's biggest hits. She said she feels like the balance of types of artists has settled into the right groove. “Everything's going smoothly,” she said. “We have a lot of people who have been here before, and some new people, so it's great.”

One of the struggles for the festival is that it has yet to find a permanent home. In its six years, it has taken place in five different venues, and hasn't yet found just the right fit – especially if it continues to grow. “What we need to do is find a permanent venue,” Hill said.

Paul Leone of the Illumination Authority, who provides lighting on one of the performance stages, said there will be a more concerted effort to find a suitable location for next year's event that is hopefully a permanent home. “I think that it's just going to keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” Kennedy said.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/swandayct.

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