My Facebook feed is full of outraged female musicians and music lovers since the poster above was discovered advertising a concert ‘to mark International Women’s Day at London’s Barbican Hall’. The concert in question features a male conductor, music by purely male composers and an almost entirely male orchestra.

'Celebrating' International Women's Day with a concert featuring male conductor, male composers and possibly an all male orchestra


In an industry which already knows itself to have a gender equality gap, particularly for female composers and conductors, the Barbican has truly scored an own-goal.

Ironically, had the poster not specifically mentioned International Women’s Day, they might have got away with it; the response would certainly have been lower. Only the very switched on will register (out of context) that this concert falls on International Women’s Day.

The 90% male Moscow Virtuosi chamber orchestra concert on International Women's Day

The real problem for the Barbican is that the damage being caused, is actually created by a third party. For this particular concert the venue is being hired by the Moscow Virtuosi Orchestra: the programming is not under the Barbican’s control, nor is the promotional material, but the terms of the contract require the Barbican logo to be used on the publicity.

The question is, given what a charged issue gender equality is today, and the damage it can do to a brand if mis-used, should the Barbican do more to ensure a measure of control over concerts on International Women’s Day? Or have exerted their contractual right to have this poster amended if they (hopefully) did not approve of its contents?

This is, sadly, another example of jumping on the hashtag band wagon: International Women’s Day is (online at least) a major event and brands will be queuing up as usual to have their say. While competitors the Southbank Centre, who celebrate IWD with a 3-day Women of the World festival, can participate with relish, the Barbican’s programming efforts are lacklustre at best. Their only real contribution to IWD 2017 is a free Barbican Library lunchtime talk “Strong Wills, Strong Quills” on authors such as Jane Austen. This lesson, therefore, comes just in time for other brands to review their plans for 8th March. My advice is as follows:

  1. If you are planning to get involved in IWD this year, make sure your contribution is worthwhile.
  2. If you’re not planning to get involved, check your planned posts aren’t going to be seen as actively anti-feminist (no photos of all-male boards please), otherwise you soon will be…
  3. If you hadn’t realised it’s IWD on 8th March – check your schedule and decide!

'Celebrating' International Women's Day with a concert featuring male conductor, male composers and possibly an all male orchestra

One final note on the Moscow Virtuosi Orchestra. As a visiting orchestra, they will have suffered far less (if at all) as a result of this faux pas. Furthermore, in Russia although IWD does retain its original connotations of fighting for gender equality, it appears to be treated somewhat like Mothers’ Day (applied across all women) including the traditional gifts of flowers.



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