An Evening with Women of Excellence in the Arts

Women of Excellence in the ArtsThe 3rd Annual Women of Excellence in the Arts presented by the Riverside Theatre, kicked off Monday evening, March 26 with this question posed by the moderator, a Style Network television spokesperson, Ms. Havilah Malone: ?What does it take to be a power leader in the arts??? The six panelists, representing various achievements in their respective fields, shared their responses for a packed audience in the elegant and spacious Assembly Hall of Manhattan?s Riverside Church.

These Women of Excellence in the Arts are Jacquie Lee, a marketing executive with Soul of the South cable television; Malikha Mallette, actress and host of New York City?s Power 105.1 radio program; Melba Moore, Tony award-winning singer and actress; Mona Scott-Young, executive producer of the VH1 series ?Love and Hip Hop,? and creator of the entertainment management company Monami Entertainment; Winsome Sinclair, casting director of the movies ?Sparkle? and ?Precious;? and Lillias White, Tony award-winning singer and actress.

Being true to oneself, developing and projecting one?s unique creative gifts set the tone for the evening?s discussion. Each woman echoed one another?s assertion that the entertainment business ? whether behind the scenes or center stage ? is a tough environment that requires years of dedication, passion and a thick-skinned approach. The stakes are high, the odds are long, and the internal and external pressures can be overwhelming.

Indeed, all of the panelists? comments sounded like any performer?s mantra: Be prepared, stay focused, work hard, have faith, and believe in yourself and your abilities. Yet because it was presented from the viewpoint of notable African-American women, the discussion took on a deeper poignancy. ?As women we have to be better than,? said Ms White. ?And as Black women we have to be better than better than,? she added.

Success Is No Secret: Persevere and Own Who You Are

The panelists agreed that men in the entertainment industry enjoy a stronger tradition of support. Therefore it is necessary for women in the arts to educate themselves, think for themselves and develop confidence. Commenting about her experience marketing and managing entertainers, Ms. Scott-Young said, ?In life, you don?t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.? ?Everyone here is a trailblazer, and trailblazing can be lonely work,? she added. Ms. White stated that one has to be fearless to defend oneself as an artist. And regarding the courage to cross over to more than one entertainment genre said, ?let the limitation be in someone else?s mind, not yours.? Winsome Sinclair echoed this by declaring: ?If you play yourself small, you rob the world of who you came to be.?

Each panelist?s input struck definite chords of resonance among the very receptive audience. The renowned singer Melba Moore shared her perspective as ?probably the oldest member of this panel.? On the challenge to keep growing while making adjustments in one?s career and life she said, ?You always have to research in the area you?re in, be willing to reinvent who you are, and build your creative infrastructure with the attitude of an entrepreneur.??

Developing streams of income and seeking additional ways to market oneself is key, noted Ms. Mallette. The radio personality and actress also does voice over work to pitch products.

Ms. Lee stressed the importance of networking with others for professional as well as personal benefits. ?Fostering relationships outside of your intimate circle can be a parachute for women who are single mothers,? said Lee.

Given the private and public demands everyone faces, the moderator asked how these women find balance. ?You never master the balance issue, because there is no such thing as perfect balance,? said Scott-Young. ?In order to find balance we have to learn to prioritize,? said Ms. White. ?And that means learning to say ?no,? and taking time to rest.??

More words of wisdom from Ms. Moore also reverberated throughout the crowd that was eager for every affirmation. ?I hope to be a spiritual example, because my priority now is God. To acknowledge the presence of God every day is the source of inner peace,? she said.

Former Triumphs and Future Plans

The women were asked to share some of their proudest moments and new projects. Ms. Mallette recounted the privilege to mentor a young man, and his gratitude over her impact on his career. In addition to her work as associate producer on the upcoming NYC play ?A Streetcar Named Desire?, Lillias White said traveling to Nigeria to play the role of the title character?s mother in the musical ?Fela!? was deeply meaningful.

Organizing a fundraiser to help rebuild Haiti after the 2010 earthquake filled Haitian-American Mona Scott-Young with pride. Contributing to the success of the film ?Malcolm X? inspired Winsome Sinclair?s appreciation for her work behind the camera. Jacquie Lee expressed excitement for cable television?s Soul of the South Network programming that will ?repurpose the story of our lives and reshape the image of African-Americans.? And Melba Moore shared delight over her recent Caf? Carlisle performances, her upcoming European tour, and her new CD, ?Love Is.?

As the evening closed with a Q&A between the audience and the panel, most questions and comments concerned one challenge: how to maintain the direction and the motivation ? at any age and in any area of talent ? to pursue ones? goals. ?Write out your goals and keep checking in with your plans and your goals regularly,? advised Ms. Lee. ?That?s how I keep track of what I?ve done and what I want to do,? she said. Ms. Sinclair?s comments also concluded the evening with another positive perspective. ?Know the difference between a dream and a goal. The fulfillment of a goal depends upon the time and the effort you put into it,? said Sinclair.