The Women and Spirituality Conference is a multi-faith, educational, healing event that brings together diverse spiritual traditions to create an atmosphere of shared spiritual growth.
With 90 exhibitors and 84 speakers in the 2017 program, participants can explore religious traditions in a nonjudgmental, supportive environment. After 35 years at the University of Minnesota-Mankato, this year, the conference will be held in Rochester. Highlighted are the local women who will combine spirituality, art and community into the two-day conference, running September 16-17 at the newly renovated Mayo Civic Center.
Terri Allred, Women and Spirituality Conference producer, begins, “I sent the intention into the universe to do more work in the spiritual realm of my life and utilize my master’s degree in feminist theology. At that time, I was already producing an international belly dance event in San Francisco, as well as helping produce local events like ROCKchester and the World Festival. Literally the next day, a friend contacted me about this amazing conference looking for a new producer. Just two days later, I was in Mankato talking about details. The rest is history.”
With Allred in the lead, attendees can expect some new experiences. The conference is partnering with La Mese delle Donne (A Month of Women) to host a Saturday evening performance. Additionally, this year’s conference is offering a Maker’s Space.
“Historically,” Allred explains, “this conference attracts 500-1,000 attendees of all ages, races, backgrounds and beliefs, but I want to expand the demographics even more.” In 2017, the conference program includes speakers ranging in age from 18 to 75 years old. It also boasts speakers and exhibitors from every major world religion, plus a wide variety of spiritual practices. Allred says, “Whether you are interested in social justice as an expression of your faith, contemplative spiritual practice, or just exploring different traditions, this conference is for you.” In an effort to include participants from all walks of life, Allred has also kept registration fees inexpensive. The Maker’s Space, exhibit hall and La Mese delle Donne exhibit are free and appropriate for all ages.
“Some women have been attending this conference since its inception 35 years ago!” Allred shares. “They come year after year as a touchpoint in their lives to restore their spirit and reconnect to a supportive community. Personally, I was raised in the Christian faith, even attending Divinity School at Vanderbilt. I thought about going into the ministry.” Instead of entering the ministry, Allred worked for 30 years in social justice on behalf of oppressed women. Allred concludes, “I invite you to join us as we build bridges among faith traditions.”
Multi-media artist Teaki Garcia conceived and will implement the innovative Maker’s Space at the Women and Spirituality Conference. “As a past attendee,” Garcia begins, “I knew the conference was special. I envisioned an interactive community space where guests could connect and make their own art.” With Allred’s encouragement, and the support of community sponsors, the Maker’s Space is becoming a reality.
“The Maker’s Space offers time, resources and support to awaken the creative spirit within us all—a way to keep our passion for life ignited,” Garcia says. Youth and adult volunteers will facilitate personal creative experiences through many different artistic offerings in the southeast corner of the Mayo Civic Center lobby. The interactive, safe space aims to welcome and celebrate diversity, cultural heritage and self-expression. While grant money was secured from The Greater Rochester Arts and Cultural Trust and Rochester Downtown Alliance for art materials, the labor, supervision, teaching and art-making is volunteer-run.
Garcia shares, “Women are caregivers and providers. Often, we make life choices and decisions based on everyone else’s needs and feelings. The Women and Spirituality Conference allows time for reflection, healing, education, new experiences and to connect with other women. We should all make space for ourselves!”
Local artist, educator and arts advocate Cassandra Buck founded La Mese delle Donne Annual Exhibit in 2012. Her dream of becoming an art educator stems from her high school art teacher, Janet Suter, influencing her direction in life. “After seeing a need for advocacy and connectivity for women creatives in Rochester,” Buck states, “I connected with the Rochester Art Center to create one.” In 2012, just six women exhibited work. Three years later, the exhibit showcased over 30 women creatives, including visual arts, dance, spoken word and music. Buck explains, “As we expand, we see this conference as a perfect fit! Art, music and dance are bi-products of the human spirit. Why not combine them all?”
The mission of the exhibit is to showcase, promote, connect and collaborate with Minnesota creatives who identify as women. Throughout the conference, tours will be given to conference attendees who wish to view the exhibit at the Rochester Art Center. The curated La Mese delle Donne performance will be held on September 16 from 7-9 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.) at the Mayo Civic Center and is open to both conference attendees and the general public. Suzanne Szucs with Antares Tribal is curating and organizing the performance aspect of the exhibit.
“I could not live without art,” Buck states. “I feel like sometimes women are pushed aside in the art world, and I want all women to have a voice. That is why I started the exhibit—to advocate and create. This conference will be the perfect location for us all to do just that.”
Visit womenandspirituality.org for information on volunteering in exchange for registration, or for scholarship applications.
36th Annual Women and Spirituality Conference
September 16-17, 2017
Mayo Civic Center
Full Weekend: $75 advance/$85 at the door
Full Weekend Student/Senior: $40 advance/$50 at the door
One-day: $45 advance/$55 at the door
Gina Dewink is a Rochester writer. Her time travel novel, “Time in My Pocket,” debuts September 2017 and is available via ginadewink.com.