POWA, an organisation recently founded by singer/songwriter Siobhan Wilson and Fistymuffs‘ Ashley Stein, will release an original track every sic weeks in collaboration with many familiar female faces in the Scottish music scene, as well as creating a safe online discussion space on Patreon. Their first track with Laura Wilkie, Pocketlight, has been composed and recorded remotely while the artists were in lockdown earlier this year, and was released on the 15th of November. Siobhan spoke with The Fountain about the organisation and their plans for it in the forthcoming future.

TF: Can you please elaborate on your campaign POWA?

POWA stands for Protection of Womxn in the Arts. POWA is a collective raising awareness about the sexual discrimination womxn are currently facing when they work in the arts. We use the word womxn from feminist theory to specifically include the protection of all people who identify as female, as needing protection from sexual discrimination faced due to identifying as female. The goal of POWA is to help womxn working in the arts. Firstly, the best way to increase female presence in the arts is to fund womxn and allow them to create on their own terms. This is why we donate our £1 monthly membership subscriptions on our fanspace directly towards funding womxn artists. We launched 2 months ago and we’re overwhelmed at already having 50 members. What this means right now, is that we have been able to give a grant of £200 to commission a POWA artist to create something. So far we’ve commissioned 3 POWA artists. 2 POWA artists have created a song and 1 has been commissioned to create visual graphic design so far.

TF: What inspired the setting up of this organisation? 

You only have to read the figures to see that there is a massive imbalance in music for example in the UK between men and women. Less than 17% of registered professional royalty-earning musicians in the UK are female according to the PRSF, which is shocking considering so many womxn study music at a high level. PRSF are the foundation working alongside the PRS, and PRS is the UK’s main music royalty distributor. Because royalties are an extremely vital source of income in order to be able to sustain a professional career in music, it’s competitive to be a writer/composer and that’s why we’ve also seen recently reported in the media that while many top 40 songs are sung by a woman not many of the royalty-earning songwriters are female. POWA aims to raise awareness of exactly WHY womxn are less likely to pursue writing careers. POWA believes that prevention should be in place to stop sexual discrimination and that raising awareness about the issue is the first step.

TF: Is it open to women only? 

POWA’s online membership is not just for artists or people who already know about women’s rights in the workplace, but it is also open to art-lovers, music fans, amateur musicians, those interested in supporting womxn through lockdown. If you are interested in supporting womxn to be less discriminated against in our place of work then you are welcome to join our space. POWA is open to every gender because we feel that it is vital for all members of society to contribute to the discussion of progress.

TF: How do you intend to create a safe space for womxn discussing industry issues?

The benefit of using Patreon for our space is that it’s harder to get trolled or harassed and they have staff who we could contact in this event in such a way that is more significant than any other platform such as Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. £1 per month was the lowest possible amount we were allowed to charge members monthly, so we thought it would be perfect to use this membership to fundraise for womxn to help fund this demographic by doing something to help keep womxn in employment. 

Since we launched, we’ve already been hosting Zoom meetings for both music industry and POWA members to explore the issues womxn are facing and how to best raise awareness, and the first thing we did was create a survey to gather information on how womxn are being treated currently in their place of work in the arts. We have been in an initial research phase of figuring out what is already being done to address and improve the issue of sexual discrimination before we came along. We strongly and enthusiastically welcome those into our space who have ideas to contribute towards the issue of inequality and lack of diversity within our industry so if you’re reading this article and are interested please join or get in touch. POWA’s survey is still open and we’d encourage anybody reading to please respond. 

TF: You are also releasing music through your Patreon, the first by Laura Wilkie, who else can we look forward to in coming months? 

Music is a brilliant vehicle to carry a message. Our membership exists on Patreon where you can join for £1/month to fundraise for womxn artists over lockdown. This Patreon member space is where you can access our services: our music, learn about our commissions, take part in our zoom discussion meetings, and more. Our first song Pocketlight featured Laura Wilkie on the violin and we just released a song featuring Good Dog called Serving Suggestion. The lyrical content of these songs addresses collective experiences of womxn and seeks to raise awareness about the difficulties womxn face in order to demystify the issue and normalise the reality of the issues by singing about them. In my own opinion sexual discrimination can be treated like a taboo, women’s rights being brought up in the workplace causes eyes to roll, women’s safety can often be generally treated as unimportant and through singing about these issues we seek to portray the reality of an issue and de-objectification and sexualisation of womxn writers and singers in our industry.

Ashley Stein and I made this Patreon space with the intention of releasing our music on there for our members only because releasing music for free during lockdown seems ironic considering many female artists may be financially in one of the worst-off situations in a very long time, or perhaps their careers due to the current situation in Britain where the Musicians Union estimates up to 40% of their membership did not access the government furlough scheme at all. There can be many reasons for this high number of musicians not being eligible for support including taking time off work to have children in the last 3 years, recovering from an illness, studying full-time or part-time. Musicians and artists are often under pressure to educate themselves at an expert-level and own lots of very expensive equipment in order to achieve their job role such as instruments, degrees, pedals, stands, and now entire home studios to create in lockdown.

It’s well known that artists are very often under-paid for the work they do so you could make an assumption that many don’t have savings and pensions. Ashley and I both come from DIY backgrounds in music, and we agreed that members of POWA’s space should be the ones to access the music and that we shouldn’t release music for free into the abyss of Spotify. Whether we decide to release the music at a later date in a more conventional method is something we’d take time to discuss with our members and the POWA artists. We don’t know exactly what the world will look like after these lockdowns are over, but we hope it will be safer for womxn artists to work and create in and POWA is committed to trying to help do that. Especially for female artists who are younger than us and entering the industry just now. The more we talk about it, sing about it, create spaces to fundraise, encourage activism which creates positive change for womxn, the more that discrimination can hopefully be prevented. Since there’s a lot in place to help womxn artists **after** they are discriminated against or assaulted we think there should be more in place to **before it happens** to prevent the normalisation of sexual discrimination from happening in the first place. The perpetuation of sexism in not just the arts but wider society is a systemic issue within institutions and communities and the cycle needs to be broken. POWA would like to help break the glass ceiling for womxn to at least create art and work in the arts without dealing with the very time consuming and expensive burden of being discriminated against often.

For more on the POWA Patreon click here