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Ahead of Women’s History Month, CF&A collected submissions from 30 prominent women who have undoubtedly made a lasting impact on Chicago's vibrant arts and culture scene, while inspiring future leaders. A social media campaign promoting the honorees, from grade-school teachers to former First Ladies, began on March 1, 2024. Follow along at @carolfoxassociates.

As CF&A enters its 30th year, CF&A has had the pleasure of working with many of the women on the list–leaders of the field who deserve recognition–as clients, media partners or collaborators. They were selected to speak on how women of the past, whether in their personal lives or from world history, inspired them to become the leaders of the industry they are today. By highlighting the stories of these extraordinary women, the campaign aims to recognize their impact and inspire others. 

Click on the boxes below to learn more about each of these incredible women: 

March 7, 2024
Arika Hilton

Hilton Contemporary

March 8, 2024
Marissa Lynn Ford

League or Chicago Theatres

March 9, 2024
Princess Mhoon

Chicago Black Dance Legacy

March 12, 2024
Diana Martinez

McAninch Arts Center

March 15, 2024
Candace Jordan

Chicago Star/Crain's

March 19, 2024
Nora Gainer

Art Institute of Chicago

March 21, 2024
Gail Kalver

Chicago Dance Community

March 22, 2024
Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

March 26, 2024
Vershawn Ward

Red Clay Dance Company

March 1, 2024
LeeAnn Trotter



"When I was a very young girl, my mother set the foundation for my mindset, by telling me 'you can do anything you put your mind to'. Sadly, she passed away when I was 17, but two women, whom I met at the start of my career at WBBM Radio, picked up where she left off..."

Who's LeeAnn Trotter's Inspiration?
Felicia Middlebrooks and Deidra White
"They both mentored me, and helped me navigate what would become my life's passion and work. I am forever grateful." 

March 2, 2024
Brooke Flanagan

Steppenwolf Theatre


"Her mentorship taught me invaluable lessons in how to steward generative artists, shape institutional strategy and leverage the arts to effect broad-scale civic change."

Who's Brooke Flanagan's Inspiration?
Martha Lavey, Former Artistic Director and Ensemble Member, Steppenwolf Theatre Company 

"Martha Lavey's extraordinary intellect, verbal acuity and endless curiosity shaped my growth as an arts leader." 

March 3, 2024
Tracy Blackwell

Blue Man Group

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"When I began my career in Arts Administration, there was one female in a high level leadership role...her leadership style was one of calm and compassion, while also explaining things in a way that made sense to everyone."

Who's Tracy Blackwell's Inspiration?
Diane Quinn, Chief Executive Officer, Kravis Center of Performing Arts

"When I first met Diane, she was the sole female company manager with six male counterparts at Cirque du Soleil. Diane was always giving of her time, and had an amazing ability to remember everyone she came into contact with. Diane's success moving into Senior Management roles at Cirque, heading up Harvard's ART and her current role as CEO proves that you don't have to be a man to rise to the top." 

March 4, 2024
Kia Smith

South Chicago Dance Theatre

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"When I was in my early 20s, I spent two seasons at Lula Washington Dance Theater and was inspired by the fearlessness, stick-to-itiveness, artistry, business acumen and activism of..."

Who's Kia Smith's Inspiration?
Lula Washington, Founder and Artistic Director of Lula Washington Dance Theater

"I admire her because she is always moving forward and creating a space for beauty to flourish both on and off the stage." 

March 5, 2024
Sandra Guthman

Polk Bros Foundation

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"She is a philanthropist who always puts the art and artists first. Someone who has truly inspired me is..."

Who's Sandra Guthman's Inspiration?
Joan Harris

"Her vision for the Harris Theater and, particularly, for Harris Presents, has brought world class artistic performances to Chicago audiences alongside our Resident Companies." 

March 6, 2024
Elise Paschen Author, Poet

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Author of five poetry collections and has edited or co-edited anthologies including The Eloquent Poem and Poetry Speaks. She teaches in the MFA Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Who's Elise Paschen's Inspiration?
Maria Tallchief, the prima ballerina (and her mother)

"She showed me, early on, the importance of dedicating your life to your passion. From the wings, I watched my mother transform into magical creatures on stage while backstage I witnessed the demanding work she devoted to her art form." 

March 7, 2024
Arika Hilton

Hilton Contemporary

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“In the 1940’s, the Viennese-born actress was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. What most people didn’t know was that she was also one of the most brilliant women in the world.”

Who's Arica Hilton's Inspiration?
Hedy Lamarr, Movie Star

During WW2, Hedy invented radio frequency hopping technology which eventually led to WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth. She is often referred to as the Mother of WiFi. “My gallery is currently working on a show that will open late in 2024 called ’Beautiful Brilliance’- about beautiful women who are also on a genius level. Hedy Lamarr was my inspiration.”

March 8, 2024
Marissa Lynn Ford

League of



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“As she explained the amount of strength, perseverance and sheer will needed to integrate the school in her youth..Her words encouraged me to continue to walk in faith towards the larger calling on my life despite what comes my way.”

Who's Marissa Lynn Ford's Inspiration?
Dr. Sybil Hampton

"I recently had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Sybil Hampton share her journey as the first black graduate of Central High while attending a AME WMS conference in Little Rock, AR. I am looking forward to her book where she will share her story with the world."


March 9, 2024
Princess Mhoon

Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project

Her company was founded in 1974 and is dedicated to preserving African American dance styles. My late mother danced with her as a teen and inspired me!"

Who's Princess Mhoon's Inspiration?
Najwa Soyini, Founder of Najwa Dance Corps

"Najwa Soyini is an iconic dance pioneer who has inspired generations and laid the groundwork for women and artists to dream big."

March 10, 2024
Lori Dimun

Harris Theater


“My current inspiration comes from leaders of our collective future."

Who's Lori Dimun's Inspiration?
Vershawn Sanders-Ward and Kia Smith

"Vershawn and Kia are contemporaries, their artistic practice, community work, and leadership are a constant inspiration in my leadership journey and vision for the future of arts and culture in our city.”cti community wo

March 11, 2024
Michelle Gonzalez

Choose Chicago

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“She is one of the strongest women I know and embodies resilience and determination."

Who's Michelle Gonzalez's Inspiration?
Lang “Mai Ly” Abram 

"My Vietnamese mother, who overcame language barriers when she arrived to the U.S. in 1968 with my father and older brother, inspiring me with her unwavering strength and relentless pursuit of success. "y wo

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March 12, 2024
Diana Martinez

McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage

“Her passion, unique style, and unwavering pride in Mexican heritage created an unprecedented brand that still stands today."

Who's Diana Martinez's Inspiration?
Frida Kahlo 

"Frida Kahlo's resilience in confronting complex issues and adversity through her art and boldly addressing emotional and physical pain is profoundly inspiring. Frida is a beacon of female empowerment." o

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March 13, 2024
Andrea Darlas

WLS Radio

“She had such a way of style, grace and professionalism - with her fiery red hair, anchoring the news, reporting on top stories, bringing down criminal organizations, and being the epitome of a class act. She is who I emulated for my entire career."

Who's Andrea Darlas' Inspiration?
Carol Marin

"Carol Marin was my inspiration in becoming a journalist and striving to be the best reporter and anchor that I could be. At 16, I interviewed her for a class project and kept in touch writing letters. When I ultimately became the morning news anchor on WGN Radio, she wrote me a handwritten letter, which I still have to this day congratulating me. But I attribute all of what I learned and accomplished to ALL of the mentors I’ve had in my life, including Carol, Robin Kaler, various journalism teachers, professors, bosses and even fellow classmates who always encouraged me along the way!”

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March 14, 2024
Erin Harkey

Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special


“I bought her book, and it changed my life. It helped me fully grasp the depth of trauma inflicted on Black women, but also the supernatural, otherworldly power that we possess because of it.”

Who's Erin Harkey's Inspiration?
Toni Morrison

“When Toni Morrison passed in 2019, I printed out a picture of her and taped it to my office door. I can’t think of any other person except her who would have compelled me to do that. Thank you, Toni Morrison, for all that you are.”

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March 15, 2024
Candace Jordan

Chicago Star / Crain's Chicago


“It wasn't an easy time or place to grow up as an African American, but she made her way north around 1943 and, if she hadn't, my life would've been very different.”

Who's Candace Jordan's Inspiration?
Mary Lee Johnson

“I am delighted to be able to honor, Mary Lee Johnson, who was like a mother to me and one of the biggest influences in my life. I learned a lot of life's lessons from Mary and her husband Jim. Despite all their hardships, I never heard them say an unkind word about another human being even though they had so many reasons to do otherwise. Their hard-fought lives taught me so much about who I wanted to be.”


March 16, 2024
Donna LaPietra



“And at 100, she is still making   “her-story”/ history.  My attempt to capture some of the qualities, if not the deeds, that have resonated with me since our first meeting..."

Who's Donna LaPietra's Inspiration?
Cindy Pritzker

“The lessons of Cindy Pritzker: Be unafraid to be bold…step up and reach down…lead fiercely, ferociously, passionately…embrace the new…make a difference in our shared community…celebrate art and artists… hold close your family and friends.”


March 17, 2024
Lisa Fielding


News Radio

“Her guidance, her passion, her encouragement and her support encouraged me to create my own path as a journalist in Chicago and eventually as an arts and culture reporter.” 

Who's Lisa Fielding's Inspiration?
Kris Kridel

“Kris Kridel is a legend in Chicago radio and quickly became my big sister and if I was lucky, my co anchor on many occasions She allowed me to stand on her shoulders to success and many other women will stand on mine to do the same, thanks to Kris. Her legacy has and will continue to live on forever in our newsroom long after her well-deserved retirement. I can’t think of anyone I’d like to recognize more for Women’s History Month than Kris.”

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March 18, 2024
Cynthia Noble

ART on


“I am inspired by legendary American dancer and choreographer..."

Who's Cynthia Noble's Inspiration?
Twyla Tharp

“She expresses that ongoing creativity and a life well lived are comprised of discipline and consistency punctuated by spontaneity.”

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March 19, 2024
Nora Gainer

Art Institute

of Chicago

“Picking one woman who has inspired me is almost impossible!  Other than my mom and sisters, I have done a deep dive on the artist..."

Who's Nora Gainer's Inspiration?
Georgia O'Keeffe

“We have a show of hers opening June 2. This quote of hers kills me and is so emblematic of how we question ourselves and only when we give ourselves permission to be who we truly are, the magic happens; ' day seven years ago [I] found myself saying to myself – I can’t live where I want to – I can’t go where I want to – I can’t do what I want to – I can’t even say what I want to… I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to and say what I wanted to when I painted…' She was so brave!"


March 20, 2024
Angel Idowu


“While I’m still learning how to manage it all, and juggle it all, I look at the work she’s done all her life and the work she continues to do today as a reminder to never limit myself to just one box. “

Who's Angel Idowu's Inspiration?
Debbie Allen

“Sister to everyone’s favorite Black TV mother, Phylicia Rashad, Allen has been MY personal favorite for years. As a child, growing up I always found myself eager to be a storyteller in multiple facets. So imagine my surprise when I was able to find a career, at PBS Chicago, that allows me to engage and share all of the diverse storytelling methods that informed my life.”


March 21, 2024
Gail Kalver

Leader of Chicago

Dance Community

“As my most important clarinet teacher, she also gave me my start as a professional musician and opened doors for me as an arts manager.” 

Who's Gail Kalver's Inspiration?
Marilyn Laurient

“I honor my dear friend, teacher, and mentor, Marilyn Laurient. An inspiration and role model, she gave me confidence and made an indelible impact on my personal and professional life."


March 22, 2024


Hubbard Street

“She was my modern teacher at the Baltimore School for the Arts and remains a mentor to this day. She is a gifted educator who has encouraged and inspired countless students for more than 40 years. "

Who's Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell's Inspiration?
Ms. Stephanie Powell

“One of the women who has inspired my artistic journey is Ms. Stephanie Powell. She not only cared about and contributed to my dance training throughout my career, but she made sure that I had dancewear, that my hair was always properly secured, that I had choreographic submissions for scholarship opportunities and college auditions, that I had a place to stay while traveling, and everything in between."


March 23, 2024
Ellen Sandor


“From day one to the present, they have been my constant source of joy and inspiration."

Who's Ellen Sandor's Inspiration?
Her Daughters

“Both of my daughters who traversed my graduate school journey with me, physically and emotionally – who were always there and encouraging even during my daring art exhibitions.  From delightful, creative children to accomplished, kind, caring, thoughtful, philanthropists and heroines."


March 24, 2024
Janet Carl Smith



“Over my career in the arts I’ve worked with many stellar women who have influenced me.  However the person most responsible for me learning to love and lead in the arts was..."

Who's Janet Carl Smith's Inspiration?
Irene Willis

“My High School English teacher and director/advisor of the school plays.  She taught me how to think conceptually, to love theater, to be excited about new ideas and to express myself verbally and in my writing.  Although she passed away many years ago I’m pleased to acknowledge her this Women’s History Month."

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March 25, 2024
Lynne Belsky

Time to Dance

“She created her unique dance style imbued with acting. She was also a prolific writer. At 12 I was inspired by her book To a Young Dancer to pursue a career in dance. She had the power of passion and perseverance."

Who's Lynne Belsky's Inspiration?
Agnes de Mille

“An inspiration to me during dance career and beyond. Some of her notable works were Oklahoma! (1943) on Broadway, and Rodeo (1942) for Ballet Russe De Monte Carlo. As a dancer with The Joffrey Ballet in New York, I had the privilege of working with her as an understudy for the Cowgirl part in Rodeo. At that time, Agnes had recovered undeterred from a massive stroke.  Agnes embodied the true sense of Grit."

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March 26, 2024
Vershawn Ward

Red Clay



“I am inspired by her multifaceted career and commitment to Artivism."

Who's Vershawn Ward's Inspiration?
Katherine Dunham

“My inspiration is the great Katherine Dunham. Her impact was both local and global and I am honored to stand on her shoulders.”

Brooke Flanagan
Tracy Blacll
Kia Smith
Sandra Guthman
Elise Paschen
Erika Hilton
Marissa Lynn Ford
Princess Mhoon
Lori Dinum
Micelle Gonzalez
Diana Martinez
Andra Darlas
Erin Harkey
Candace Jordan
Donna LaPietra
Lisa Fielding
Cynthia Noble
Nora Gainer
Angl Idowu
Gai Kalver
Ellen Sandor
Jane Carl
Lynne Belsky
Vershawn Ward
LeeAnn Trotter

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