It may not seem all that groundbreaking to offer women artists the opportunity to speak, through their art, about issues facing women artists, but the decidedly male-centric history of art suggests otherwise.

It may not seem all that groundbreaking to offer women artists the opportunity to speak, through their art, about issues facing women artists, but the decidedly male-centric history of art suggests otherwise.

"Dare to Be Heard" is the result of a two-year process to present such an exhibition, Columbus feminist artist Stephanie Rond curating the beginning of a conversation centering on issues of creativity and identity from the female perspective.

"When I say I'm a feminist, I mean equality for all," said Rond, a Columbus muralist. "Everybody should feel welcome to come to this conversation and to look and to listen."

Rond initially approached 15 women artists about participating in "Dare to Be Heard," most either artists she knew or encountered in her research. They all said yes.

"We wanted to work with women who were talking about their experience as women in the art world," Rond said. "And we wanted to bring in other conversations about race, motherhood, religion.

"And we didn't want just Columbus-based artists. This conversation is happening all over the country. We have artists from Brooklyn, from Chicago. We have two international artists. We wanted to represent this larger, global discussion."

The Cultural Arts Center offered Rond the opportunity to foster these conversations two years ago after getting called on the carpet, after a fashion. Arts Administrator Geoffrey Martin explained that a key component of a 2013 exhibition at the CAC about the previous 100 years in Columbus art was a timeline, which patrons were invited to participate in or comment on via sticky note.

"We had asked people to provide feedback and someone put up a note up that asked, simply, 'Women artists, MIA?'" Martin said. "We were flabbergasted. It was a question, not an indictment, but it forced us to look back at our own history and look at more recent data and discover that representation for women in art is still startlingly low, especially for women of color.

"This then was our opportunity … to use the gallery as a tool to create a dialogue. We thought that would be right up Stephanie's alley. More than curator, she's been the heart and soul of this project."

Rond saw her role as more of assembler or facilitator than of curator.

"We were looking to create a platform where everybody felt welcome to the conversation. The artists kind of curated that aspect of the exhibition," she said. "These are artists who are talking about the same things I am, but as curator I tried to take myself out of the equation. People experience art in different ways."

Admitting that "I like to say yes to the artists as much as possible," Rond said that there were some curatorial criteria. She said that, despite the fact that she knew these artists' work was informed by topics and ideas important in developing "Dare to Be Heard," the most significant criteria was that the artists make new work.

"We asked them to make new work specifically for this exhibition," she said. "We wanted them to be inside their processes. We wanted to make sure their voice was represented [and] that they were adding to the conversation."

"We wanted to ensure the conversation is relevant to what's happening today," Martin added. "But, more importantly, it was not about what we wanted to say but about finding people who had something of their own to say."

"It's about equality and representation," said Courtney Kessel, an Athens-based installation artist whose work can be viewed in the exhibit. "There's a long lineage of women artists that have not gotten recognition through the decades. ['Dare to Be Heard' is] giving voice to those who have not had much."

Kessel said her piece for the exhibition, like much of her recent work, is about motherhood, assembling items that speak to the subject matter. She said the role is impacted both by traditional hierarchies and also by feminism.

"There is this accumulation … of things that wouldn't be in your life if you weren't a mother," she said. "That stuff becomes symbolic iconography. It is my material, [like] paint or marble."

"Dare to Be Heard" will also feature related programming throughout its approximately six-week run. Lectures, panel discussions, artist talks, poetry readings and a dance/theater performance are all planned. A full schedule of events can be found at daretobeheard.com.

"We knew the topic was beyond one medium," Martin said.

The closing reception in November will include poetry and the publication of a zine titled "Said," the result of public participation in a "community space" throughout the exhibition.

"It's a response to that original [sticky] note, to provide space within the exhibit for the community to reflect and respond, to contribute to the conversation," Rond said.