Birdie Busch composes music for artwork at the PMA in a Women’s History Month performance

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Birdie Busch | photo by Nikolai Fox | courtesy of the artist

March is Women’s History Month and what better way to celebrate exceptional women in art and music than Philly’s own Birdie Busch performing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art? As a part of the PMA’s Friday Night series, Birdie has written eight original songs inspired by women’s art and seven others for her own project centered around goddess archetypes. The performance will take place in the PMA’s Great Stair Hall and Birdie will be accompanied by four other musicians: Todd Erk on upright bass, Carl Cheeseman on guitar and banjo, Gretchen Lohse on violin and vocals, Thomas Hughes on keys. Projections of art works from the museum collection will accompany the musical performance as well as original visual art by Busch of goddess archetypes.  As a whole, it will celebrate art makers across the centuries and demonstrate what we can learn from our history of remembered — and forgotten — women’s art.

Busch is a staple of the Philadelphia community with a resume as impressive as her open heart and vibrant artistic spirit. She is a musician, writer, photographer, and visual artist whose work embraces the multitudes of our world. She follows her own guiding light when it comes to creating work, and this collaboration with the PMA is no exception. In speaking with The Key, Busch shared that she had already begun a project of songs and paintings that explored goddess archetypes when she was contacted by the PMA. Working with Cat Ricketts, the Coordinator of Evening Programs at the PMA, Busch developed a “super project” that combined her work with goddess archetypes and the PMA’s collection of women’s art.

“It’s been very cool to have those running in tandem,” Busch says, “Originally I thought they would be split, one set of this and one set of that. But now, by studying so much of the background of these women whose pieces I picked from the PMA collection and the female Greek archetypes, it all seems fluid. There’s so many things I wouldn’t have thought of without the combination.”

Birdie isn’t the only one excited about this generative collaboration. Ricketts herself says, “We wanted to work with a Philadelphia-based artist who would make the most of the museum’s art and other resources and we knew Birdie to be a deeply thoughtful person, something that comes through in her songwriting.”

For the performance, Busch searched through the museum’s collection for artists who inspired her. She narrowed down her selection from 25 artists to 10 and then dove into the background of each artist to inspire her musical compositions. “I took out a lot of books,” she says, “The central branch at the library has crazy resources for books on these individual artists. I started with visual things then I started to read backstories. Something the artist might have said or have been quoted as saying would be a trigger in combination with the visual piece.” Busch says that some of her favorite artists featured in this performance are Sister Corita Kent, an abstract artist and educator who spent the majority of her life as a nun and Alma Thomas, an art teacher and painter and the first ever graduate of Howard University’s Fine Arts program.

We asked Busch about her interest in uplifting women’s art in this multi-media performance and in her body of work overall. “I’ve always kept my head and heart open,” she responded. “I think it’s more that in my 30s I’ve been drawn to seeking out more female-based work. I don’t know if it’s just my awareness growing and expanding, but for this project especially, going to the museum and seeing the collection on the walls, it just felt important to do because I realized there was not a lot of women’s work on the walls.  But there is a lot of women’s work in the back collection that gets rotated over the years.” Busch wants to highlight women’s art that she feels deserves more recognition for its innovation and insight. “That’s part of the effort and enthusiasm for this show, like ‘Oh my gosh, look at all this cool women’s stuff !’”

“These women give me so much life juice,” she concludes, “Some were already dear to my heart and others I discovered in the process. They just kept creating their own kind of world. Which is so inspiring. Louise Nevelson has a huge sculpture at the west side of the museum, and one of my favorite quotes from is, ‘I’ve been discouraged about life but never about art.'”

From Shaker artist Sarah Bates to dada artist Sophie Tauber Arp and to contemporary artists like Becky Suss, Birdie Busch has immersed herself in a new world of women-centered art and history. Through this project, she has combined original music composition with the PMA’s robust collection of art works from across the world and across the centuries to create a poignant and timely performance about the importance of recognizing women’s art. Why does Birdie think it’s important to highlight women’s art? “Because we’re half the population!”

Birdie will perform on Friday March 15 at 5:45pm and 7:15pm at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The performance is free after museum admission.

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