By: Samantha Holm, RMBS Member
“Subtle Changes In What I Once Aspired To Be” by Kelsey McDonnell.
Printed with permission by the artist.
The Rocky Mountain Bonsai Society's membership is currently only made up of 15% women. While it is tempting to focus our efforts on female recruitment to solve our issues of gender disparity, we must first make certain that the culture of the club is such that we will be able to retain female members. The changes that I suggested in Part 2 would go a long way in creating an environment that is welcoming, supportive, and inclusive for women. Below are some of the ideas about how to attract more women to RMBS that were brought up in the women's survey. Hopefully this article will begin an exchange of many ideas across the whole club!
How Can We Attract More Women to the Club?
Our annual show is the main way that our bonsai club interfaces with the public. We should encourage the women in our club to volunteer at this annual exhibition. If we have women doing demonstrations and answering questions, then women become a public face for our club. Additionally, it would be helpful if more women displayed their bonsai trees at the show so that the public will see that bonsai is an art form open to all. It is possible that some women in the public see bonsai as an art form of large conifers, which may discourage them from investigating bonsai further due to the perception regarding size of material, species generally seen, cost, and amount of space needed. There may also be a perception that it takes many years before you can create anything worthwhile. It might help if we present a larger variety of tree species at our exhibitions. We could also think about including more younger trees, and species that offer more "instant gratification" like tropicals and sub-tropicals.
Next, we should consider the ways that we can utilize our connection to the Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG). The bonsai pavilion in the DBG is likely the most common way that the general public is exposed to the art of bonsai in Colorado. This is why it is so important to represent female artists at our botanic garden. When bonsai by female artists are exhibited it sends a message to the public and to bonsai artists that art created by women is worthy of display at world-class institutions, and worthy of our attention and admiration. Perhaps a temporary sign (“Interested in doing bonsai yourself?”) can be placed near the bonsai pavilion with a QR code that people can scan with their phone that takes them to the “Join” page on our website. Additionally, some of the women in the bonsai survey expressed interest in creating a temporary women's bonsai exhibition at the bonsai pavilion. A show that highlights female artists would be a wonderful way to inspire other women and entice them to join us.
Some of our bonsai Masters teach the Introduction to Bonsai course at the DBG. When I took the class I thought it was excellent, and I noticed a good number of women attending. Although our bonsai club was mentioned in the course, perhaps we could also pass out a handout with information on our club. We could also have a sign-up sheet in the classroom so we can collect the email addresses of people who might be interested in joining our club. Then we can send them information on the club and how to join.
There are many other plant lovers to be found in the other Plant Societies at the DBG. The women in our club could join other Plant Societies to encourage the exploration of less traditional plants - roses, cacti, etc. - as bonsai material. We could also do a bonsai demonstration for other Plant Societies to recruit new women as members.
We should also think about additional locations at which we can advertise to the general public. Nurseries or garden stores would be a natural place to find future bonsai hobbyists/artists. We could ask to post flyers/posters at their facility, or ask to put information about RMBS on their website. A great place to post a flyer would be right next to their bonsai pots or pre-bonsai plant materials. We could even ask nurseries if we could do a beginner's bonsai workshop or a demonstration put on by our female members at their facilities. We could use plant material from their nursery and show the public that they can create a decent looking tree in a short period of time. We could also have handouts on appropriate species to use, potting, plant care, etc.
Social media is of course another excellent way to advertise and share with the public. RMBS's facebook and instagram account viewers are about 77% men and 23% women, with 35-44 year-olds being the most active viewers. I have really enjoyed the Bonsai Mini-Exhibitions, and I hope those continue. It may help to also include photos/posts of bonsai trees by our female club members. I also think highlighting bonsais that were created from nursery stock makes the art more approachable to the general public.
This series of blog posts were meant to uncover some of the hard truths about our bonsai club's gender disparity. In Part 1, I presented our statistics, however uncomfortable, so that we could have an accurate picture of where we are starting from. In Part 2, I explored things that may be creating hardships for our female membership, as well as ideas that we can try together to make improvements. And in Part 3, I shared some ideas for recruiting new women to help even out our male to female ratio.
By increasing our female membership we will give the women in our club a voice. The creation of a women's study group will also give them more support and camaraderie. For real change to occur, however, it is essential that our club leadership believes that this gender disparity is an important issue that we should work to resolve. We will also need the help and support from our male club members in order to build a more robust, inclusive society. I hope that this series has brought this issue to more people's attention, and that we can work together to start a shift towards equity in our bonsai community.
Thank you to the women in RMBS that participated in my survey. The facts that you shared about your lives and your ideas helped me piece together what is holding women back in bonsai and how we can move forward as a club. Thank you to the many bonsai club contacts who shared with me their club's membership data. Thank you, Andy Berry, for inviting me to write a blog post on the topic of women in bonsai, and for being supportive of what I ended up writing. And a special thanks to Larry Jackel, Aarin Packard, and Jorge Nazario for taking the time to speak with me and answer my questions.