A Picture of Parity: Women Leaders In The Art World Aim To #BeBoldForChange

A gender gap in the art world has fewer women artists displayed, and fewer women in museum leadership, but new initiatives are seeking to change history.

A gender gap in the art world has fewer women artists displayed, and fewer women in museum leadership, but new initiatives are seeking to change history.

This could be a picture of life literally imitating art. Or is it art imitating life?

In honor of International Women’s Day March 8, Artfinder has launched a campaignto raise awareness of gender inequality in the art world. And there is quite a gap.

You may be able to name a handful of women artists over the centuries who have received international acclaim—Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Mary Cassatt.

But chances are you cannot name as many women as men artists whose work you have seen in museums or studied in school. For instance, only 4 percent of the artists whose work is hanging in the modern art section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art are women.

Only 4% of artists whose work is hanging in the modern art section of the Met are women #ArtEquality

According to the International Women’s Day website, “Artfinder is seeking to open-up debate and to start a discussion, because action can only come from greater awareness.” Artfinder is utilizing the International Women’s Day #BeBoldForChange to encourage art institutions around the world to be more inclusive of women artists and their works.

Artfinder shows and sells 300,000 artworks created by 9,000 artists (52 percent are women), only one out of 100 of lots of artists’ work sold in the last year was by a female artist. Like other gender parity initiatives, aimed at closing the gender gap in all fields across all sectors, this one takes aim at making changes in leadership and taking specific actions for the advancement of women leaders.

At a recent conference on women’s art at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, panelists discussed the historic and current gender gap in the art world and how to change that.

“’The market doesn’t trust women,’ said Valeria Napoleone, who spoke passionately about the challenges faced by women forging careers in the arts business. It may be no surprise to you that women’s art continues to be treated differently, whether it’s lower prices or the gendered lens through which people view it,’”  Anna Moody writes in Varsity.

Donna Seaman, author of  the new book, Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists, writes: “Each of these exceptional artists, working in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., were highly regarded during their life­ times, if not nationally, certainly regionally. Their conviction and mastery did earn them encouragement and professional support from men: teachers, brothers, friends, lovers, husbands, sons, gallery owners, critics, and collectors.”

She continues, “They exhibited regularly; their shows were reviewed; they posed for photographers and gave interviews to journalists, and they were honored with awards and grants. Collectors and museums purchased their work. But their renown was short-lived. All too soon their original, daring, and galva­nizing paintings and sculptures were forgotten, put in storage and neatly excised from the pages of art criticism and art history.”

Seaman’s book is excerpted in a recent PBS segment and she writes, “Outside the art world, very few people now recognize most of their names or their work. We tell and retell robustly romantic tales of revered and delectably infamous male artists, while lore about women artists is scant and neglected. For decades, there seemed to be room in the American pantheon for only one iconic woman artist, Georgia O’Keeffe. There are many more stories to tell.”

Brittany Casey writes about a a gender gap in art her 2016 University of Nebraska dissertation: “As a microcosm, the art museum is a means of expressing and reflecting greater social conditions. Art is an essential element in the social thread of humanity, it provides the vocabulary for a social construction of culture, and thus should also reflect the unique lenses of women artists. Unfortunately, the percentage of women artists, and their artworks, represented in art museums are insufficient.”

Recently, The Guerilla Girls arrived at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design “to expose gender and ethnic bias in the arts and politics,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“The Guerrilla Girls formed in the 1980s as an anonymous feminist activist artist collective to expose gender and ethnic bias in the arts and politics. Members take the names of historical female artists, don gorilla masks and protest through art. The group decided to use humor and facts to protest the under-representation of women and artists of color. The girls have created more than 100 street projects, posters and more.”

In Chicago, the Women Made Gallery only features and sells  the work of women artists.

In Italy, writes Hannah McGivern in The Art Newspaper, “The Uffizi Galleries in Florence will show more work by female artists starting this spring, as one of the world’s oldest art museums seeks to redress a historic gender imbalance in a long-term initiative.”

The gender gap in art in across the world extends beyond the artists themselves into the directorship of museums, a key position of leadership for women.

The gender gap in art in across the world extends beyond the artists themselves #genderequality

“In 2015, the world’s top 12 art museums as based on attendance — what I call the “directors’ dozen” — were all led by men. When Frances Morris became the director of the Tate Modern in April, she became the first woman to join the club. This gender gap extends from Europe to North America, where only five of the 33 directors of the most prominent museums (those with operating budgets of more than $20 million) are women, including Kaywin Feldman of the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Nathalie Bondil of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It’s the leaders of those big-budget institutions who set the tone for all,” writes Sonnet Stanfill in the New York Times.

“The top three art museums have never been run by a woman. The Louvre, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are treasure-filled, international destinations. They are also big businesses, together attracting more than 20 million people a year,” Stanfill writes.

While these top leadership positions are mostly held by men, the curatorial positions are mostly held by women. There is a clog in the art world pipeline. And it isn’t a pretty picture.

As many as 75 percent of curators at the top museums are women, Stanfill writes, “Yet women remain scarce in the directorial roles. A 2014 report released by the Association of Art Museum Directors suggested that gender might not matter in selecting the best candidates, but that museum boards and their search committees, still predominantly male, may be appointing in their own image.”

As many as 75 percent of curators at the top museums are women #womeninart

This is a pattern repeating for women leaders across many sectors of business, not the just in the art world.  Take The Lead has a mission of achieving gender parity in leadership across all fields—including art—by 2025.

According to the IWD site, “The study, Women. Fast Forward: The time for gender parity is now, offers some ideas on how to accelerate parity.” A survey of men and women leaders in 400 companies around the world reveal that:

  • Men and women alike agree that more female leadership leads to stronger companies

  • 64 percent of high-performing companies reported that men and women have equal influence on strategy in their organizations, compared with only 43 percent of the lower-performing companies

  • Men seem to be aware of the unconscious bias in the workplace that holds women back, which means we now can spend more time identifying and eradicating it

In order to #BeBoldForChnage in the art world and all arenas, the IWD recommends a trio of “accelerators” to help women advance into leadership. Those include, “Illuminate the path to leadership by making career opportunities more visible to women; speed up culture change with progressive corporate policy, such as paternity leave and flexible working; and build supportive environments and work to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias.”

The vision is to change the landscape to one of parity and paint a picture of fairness for all women leaders far beyond International Women’s Day.