eing an artist of any type can be a solitary existence, as the act of creation is usually undertaken in private, without knowing how the results will be received by the world until a project is unveiled. That’s why finding kindred artistic spirits can be invaluable to the process as well as life beyond it — a fact that the Altadena-based country music artist Eileen Carey and writer-filmmaker Patricia Cunliffe have taken to heart.
Amid National Women’s History Month, aka March, their six-year friendship finds them thriving, both on their own and together. Carey just performed a coveted opening slot for veteran pop star Don McLean at the prestigious Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on March 23 and has a summer schedule filling up with plenty of other shows, while Cunliffe is making rapid progress on finishing her dream documentary project on the Pueblo Revolt, which she also terms “the first American Revolution.”
“In my own career experience, I have been treated far worse by other women than by any man in my artistic career,” says Cunliffe. “In fact, I would go so far as to say that much of what I have been able to accomplish in my life has been because I was a woman.
“I do not feel that it serves women to continue to portray ourselves as ‘victims,’” she adds. “This is 2019 — strong women are everywhere making remarkable contributions to the world — including governing countries. I think we need to focus some of that ‘victim’ energy on current concerns like African-American youth being killed by police or incarcerated unjustly, homelessness, poverty, decline in funding for public education, health care and families being torn apart.”
Congress declared March National Women’s History Month in perpetuity in 1987, with a special presidential proclamation issued every year which honors the extraordinary achievements of American women. The United Nations established March 8 as International Women’s Day, with this year’s focus on gender equality, a greater awareness of discrimination and an increased appreciation of women’s achievements.
Carey’s achievements have been impressive indeed, especially the past few years. She was just named Adult Contemporary Breakthrough Artist of the Year by New Music Weekly, and she’s is preparing to release the video in April for her new May single “Meet Me Halfway.” From there, she is undertaking a promotional tour for the new tune, heading to Nashville between an April 18 gig opening for blues legend Albert Lee at The Rose in Pasadena and a full slate of festivals and fairs throughout summer.
“I met Patricia through her husband Joey Alkes, who’s my manager, and we instantly had a lot in common,” recalls Carey. “Besides being women, we have a lot of creative ambitions. She does a lot of editing and film and I started in directing. I help directors on my videos with lots of suggestions and editing ideas. (Full Disclosure: Patricia is an occasional news and feature writer for the Pasadena. Her husband Joey also occasionally wrote for the paper in the late 1990s.)
“A passion between she and I is that she has lots of great paintings and drawings, and they draw you in,” Carey continues. “I love creative people. They always have something to give and offer and you learn from each other. We need to be more supportive of each other as women in general. I’m a member of a group called Femmuse that’s designed to help women support each other in the music industry, as we will go see each others’ shows as a group or even collaborate together, and there has to be more groups like that.”
While Carey ramps up for a busy summer season, Cunliffe is hot on the fundraising trail for the post-production funds for her documentary “The Pueblo Revolt.” The film recounts the often-forgotten 1680 event — also known as Popé’s Rebellion — that was an uprising of most of the indigenous Pueblo people against the Spanish colonizers in the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico, otherwise known as present-day New Mexico. The revolt killed 400 Spanish and drove the remaining 2,000 settlers out of the province.
“I am a New Mexico native of Spanish and Apache Indian descent, and a product of the Pueblo Revolt,” explains Cunliffe, who is a one-woman filmmaking force as a writer, director, cameraperson and editor in addition to being a frequent painter. “I originally set out to make a documentary about the oldest community festival in the US, Fiesta de Santa Fe, and while doing my research I discovered the story of the Pueblo Revolt. I had heard the phrase before but never understood what it was. If it has not been omitted completely from US history, it has been presented as a mere footnote.
“The Pueblo Revolt is the only time in colonial history that the native peoples of an area put aside all of their differences and banded together with one sole purpose, which was to oust the European invaders,” Cunliffe continues. “According to oral history the Revolt was led by a 50-year-old man, Popé from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. This took place 96 years before the American Revolution. It was amazing to learn that my ancestors refused to allow the Spaniards to continue to brutally dictate the terms of their existence, and did something about it.”
Cunliffe notes that “the story comes full circle” with the 2005 installation of the Popé statue in Statuary Hall in Washington, DC. Her ultimate goal for the film is to distribute it for free to any public educational entity to help teach people “what really took place.” She finds that funding is “always the most challenging part,” and notes that the doc was originally intended as a self-funded project. She completed all principal photography before the 2008 financial meltdown occurred.
“Life happened — the economic downturn, I took care of my mother with dementia for five years, we had a family tragedy, and I worked on other projects,” says Cunliffe. “Many of them were so low-paying that I ended up using my post production money to live, not to mention periods of unemployment. Even applying for grants has been difficult because California wants California stories and New Mexico wants a New Mexico residency.”
Yet Cunliffe can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Last year, several people from New Mexico inquired about the documentary after being told about it by a Tesuque Pueblo tribesman. Knowing that there is real-world interest in seeing the finalized project, she decided “for the first time in my life, I am asking for help.”
One person she can always count on, of course, is Carey.
“Besides being talented and focused with a good business acumen, Eileen stays positive and is extremely supportive of other artists, which is very rare,” says Cunliffe. “I admire that she is ‘hands on’ and knows exactly what she wants in every element of her music and in her business of music. But what I admire most is the fact that she is committed to elevating the lives of so many individuals, as well as animal causes. She is a strong woman who made a conscious decision to pursue a dream over collecting a secure paycheck. Plus, she’s a lot of fun. What’s not to admire?”