This Nonprofit Is Closing the Gender Gap in the Arts

December 09, 2022
Molly Woodbury is the Grants Manager/Writer for Women’s Audio Mission (WAM) and is continuously inspired by the passion, kindness, and depth of love her coworkers put into their jobs. WAM’s mission is to advance women, girls, and gender-expansive people in music/media production and sound arts, to address the chronic gender-inequity in these fields. Fewer than 5% of those making the sounds we hear everyday are women or gender-expansive, and WAM is dedicated to changing that. WAM has a nineteen-year history of providing music/media production training, classes, and mentoring in our recording studio training complexes in Oakland and San Francisco, the only in the world built and run entirely by women and gender-expansive staff. These programs include our youth program, Girls on the Mic, which provides inclusive music and media arts production classes for thousands of underserved girls and gender-expansive students in San Francisco and Oakland. These students learn about audio careers, the women and gender-expansive people behind famous music, genres, and sounds, beatmaking, coding, and create their own original songs and mixes, podcasts, and more. They are truly the future of sound!

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“One thing the students all have in common is their desire to be heard.” This observation from youth instructor, Cadence Ware, encompasses the deep importance of the work of Women’s Audio Mission (WAM), and the inspiration I take from my coworkers and the students they teach. Before WAM, I had no idea that so few women and gender-expansive people were making the sounds that we hear in our everyday lives – music, films, podcasts, etc. – even though they make up more than 50% of the population! I feel so lucky to be surrounded by a passionate, creative, and kind team working to change that.

I am proud of all my coworkers, but especially our Girls on the Mic (GOTM) youth instructors and the effort they put into ensuring WAM’s middle-to-high school-age students learn not only technical skills, but also guide them to amplify their voices in a society that often tries to silence them. Each semester I’ve listened to such a diverse set of audio projects from WAM students, each showcasing the skills they’ve learned, and I am continuously impressed by their hard work and thoughtfulness.

I asked some of WAM’s Girls on the Mic instructors to share their favorite experiences or lessons learned on the job. My coworker Marta Alvarez (a musician and audio engineer herself), shared her story of how her students took charge of their own arts education:

“At the beginning of the school year, I had two students who were shy, but interested in learning more about audio, and they kept coming every week to class. My students expressed that they really didn’t want the program to end, because there is such a lack of music or arts programming at the school, and (the WAM class) had become an important community for them. They recruited some of their friends to join, and brainstormed putting together a promotional video for GOTM that could be shown at the school . . . a media arts teacher at the school sent us a student who would shoot some B-roll of the class for the video, and together the students scripted, recorded, composed music for, and edited a high quality audio segment.

At the end of the project, the media arts student ended up joining our class, and we were able to continue programming at the school! At the end of the year, the students were able to do a field trip to the WAM (professional audio recording) studio. They were so excited to see the space, record, and use the equipment. One of my students continued on to assist more GOTM classes at a middle school over the summer. They were all such huge advocates for the GOTM program, and so articulate about why it was important to them. I was really proud of what they achieved and so grateful to have been able to work with them!”

My coworker, Cadence, is both a former WAM intern and a graduate of WAM’s Girls on the Mic program – in addition to being a talented musician and music producer. She shared that everyone should be given the space to speak up, and that she is constantly learning from her own students.

“Although all of the sites pose different challenges, one thing the students all have in common is their desire to be heard. I’ve been able to walk into classrooms and help create a safe space for students to learn and give a voice to their thoughts and feelings . . . It warms my heart to hear students reflect on the class session and share that the affirmations were their favorite part of the class and that there wasn’t anything they disliked about the day. It further drives home the point that exposure and representation on various levels matters to future generations. Instructing middle school students has taught me alot about myself and shown me areas of potential growth. Even though I am the instructor, the students have taught me patience, perseverance and to keep things simple.”

I have no doubt in my mind that the next generation of girls and gender-expansive youth will decrease gender inequity and change music and audio industries for the better, guided by compassionate, respectful, and dedicated teachers like Cadence, Marta, and the rest of our Girls on the Mic team. Stories like these remind me of the immense capacity for kindness in the world as well as to remember that we can and should learn from and be inspired by people of any age!

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