“Mom, I think I’d like to be a photographer,” my 10-year-old daughter, Maya, said recently.

“That would be very cool.”  Inside, I found myself thinking: I hope you can earn a living doing that.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a believer in the arts.  I sang in a high school show choir before Glee made that seem cool.  I worked backstage on all of my high school’s plays and minored in theatre at Muskingum College just because I loved it.

In fact, maybe because I know I have a bias toward the arts and humanities, I worry about how to correct for that.  I also know very well the barriers women face in entering the male-dominated—and lucrative—STEM fields.  I love sharing blog space with Science Grrl, Veronica Arreola, and I definitely gain insights from her posts.  I want to try to expose Maya to those potential career paths, too.

But the National Women’s Studies Association’s annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia last week gave me a new way to think about the transformative potential of the arts.

I listed to Lisa Yun Lee, the director of the Jane Addams Hull House museum, talk about why she makes efforts to support the arts with her programs.  She explained that her immigrant mother—who she knew as an accountant—had wanted to be a poet, a calling she gave up when she came to the United States.

I attended Ashley Lucas’s moving one-woman show, Doin’ Time Through the Visiting Glass, which examines the impact of incarceration on families.  Before the performance I admit I had given little thought to how prison shapes and binds those on the outside.

Lee’s remarks about her mother and Lucas’s performance reminded me that I want Maya to pursue her passions, wherever they take her.  I want her to be the photographer—or the poet—who can realize her vision and possibly make art that makes change.