WHO WE ARE
Brenda Baker & Bird Ross are Madison, WI-based socially engaged artists working in multiple media, including painting, sculpture, installation and textiles, who show their work locally, nationally and internationally. The creation of Being Forward, the Women Artists Forward Fund, and the Forward Art Prize, is one of their largest of many collaborations over the past two decades.
They have received prestigious international, national and local grants to support their individual practices, which significantly advanced and buoyed their careers. Since this meaningful funding has largely disappeared, they wanted to recreate opportunities to recognize, support and honor women artists and their contributions to our community.
Brenda on left, Bird on right
Brenda Baker is an artist, writer, educator and mother, who learned to knit, sew, build, paint, draw and appreciate the natural world from her family and fabulous teachers along the way. Her work resonates from those early roots, and is grounded in place, family and craft.
Baker’s paintings, sculpture, drawings and installations have been shown around the globe. She has an MFA from UW-Madison, a BA from DePauw University and she studied at the Austro-American Institute in Vienna, Austria and the Karl Marx University in Budapest, Hungary. She is the recipient of an NEA grant, an Arts Midwest Fellowship, a Fulbright Travel grant, a Noyce Fellowship, a Badger Bioneer Award and Sustainability Visionary of the Year Award, and numerous local Madison Arts Commission and Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission grants.
As both an artist and museum educator, Baker is interested in offering playful visions of sustainable practices. When she isn’t making things, or overseeing the exhibit and sustainability programs at Madison Children’s Museum, where she has worked for 27 years, she can be found chasing her boys and husband on bikes or cross county skis, or tending to her family’s flock of small farm animals in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin.
Bird Ross, a studio artist living and working in Madison, Wisconsin, received her MFA in Sculpture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bird works primarily with mundane materials, exploring their exceptional qualities both two and three dimensionally.
Over the past 30 years her work has been featured in exhibitions throughout the US and abroad, including Germany, Japan, Scotland, Canada and England. She teaches classes for a wide variety of ages on manipulating a range of materials and loves introducing students to the lesser-known ways of creating using the sewing machine. She has lectured on topics about her work, inspirations and collections, has been a juror for arts boards, art fairs, arts councils and gallery exhibitions. She has written articles and been featured in a variety of print and web media.
Bird has enjoyed residencies in the Boreal Forrest in Canada, and the Central + Hawthorne Libraries in Madison, WI. She loves collaborating with other artists and has done so recently with Tom Loeser, Paige Davis, Brenda Baker and Derrick Buisch. Along
with Brenda Baker in the fall of 2017 she co-founded the endowment Women Artists Forward Fund which seeks to relieve some of the disparities in funding to women visual artists.
WHAT WE'RE DOING AS ARTISTS
It’s rare when an artist’s social practice work not only calls attention to one of our social ills, but radically addresses and changes the underlying system. For the past two years Brenda Baker & Bird Ross have used their social practice piece, Being Forward to point out gender inequities they see in the art world and make lasting change. Being Forward asks us to stand up and notice, while playfully inviting us to be part of the change. And it’s working!
Since fall of 2017, Baker and Ross have systematically jumped head first into the world of arts philanthropy. Baker and Ross have held over 250 meetings with women artists and arts supporters, documented their practice with hundreds of photographs of women artists and advocates, sent out thousands of emails, invitations, and appeals, spearheaded four exhibitions, written over 500 thank you notes, and most notably, amassed a treasure chest of nearly half a million dollars in an endowment fund for women artists.
Being Forward includes three distinct components:
Being Forward Public Exhibitions, On-Line Presence and Portrait Gallery features hundreds of black and white portraits of contemporary women artists and supporters. Their subjects stand in the pose of the iconic Forward statue, created in 1893 by a woman and funded primarily by women. Each photo session is accompanied by a conversation addressing women’s inequity in the arts.
The Women Artists Forward Fund, is a growing arts endowment, nearing $500,000 held at Madison Community Foundation (MCF), supporting women visual artists of Dane County.
The Forward Art Prize is two unrestricted $10,000 grants given annually to exceptional women visual artists in Dane County. The Forward Art Prize is an open competition, with selections made by an anonymous jury. The Prize is among the top three awards in the nation for women artists.