By Sara M. Vance Waddell
Edited by Michelle Vance Waddell
There have been numerous women pioneers that have made strides for themselves and their gender over the years to garner equality. One significant stride occurred 100 years ago this year, the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote.
Finally, women thought, equality! But I still find myself asking, how far have women really come? There are still significant disparities between women and men in so many areas.
I want to focus on the art world, maybe not an area people think has gender disparity. I’ve been collecting art for more than 20 years. Even when I began all those years ago, it didn’t take long for me to see how vastly different men and women artists are treated.
Male artists secure the more prominent galleries, receive huge shows at major museums, and can demand, and get, higher prices than women artists for their work. And there are some collectors that only want what they term as “blue-chip” male artists.
A recent survey conducted by a group of statisticians and art historians at Williams College looked at artist diversity in the permanent collections of 18 art museums in the US. They found that on average, 87% of the work in permanent collections is by male artists.
What about locally? The Cincinnati Art Museum, under the direction of Ainsley M. Cameron, PhD, Curator of South Asian Art, Islamic Art and Antiquities and her co- workers conducted their own study. They discovered that the CAM’s collection is 17.2% female artists, slightly higher than the national average of 12%. But they also found that since 1886 of the more than 600 single artist exhibitions mounted at the museum, only 84, or 14%, have featured female artists.
In terms of earnings for women artists, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, 45.8% of visual artists in the U.S. are women; yet on average they earn 74 cents for every dollar made by a male artist. They also found that as women artists age, they earn even less than their male artist counterparts, just 66 cents for each dollar earned by men.
This year, in celebration of the 100th year of the passage of the 19th Amendment, some art institutions are pledging to balance the playing field by focusing on art by women versus men.
In 2018, The Baltimore Museum of Art participated in a study conducted by Art News and In Other Words. The study found that between 2008-2018 just 12% of the museum’s acquisitions were by artists who identify as a woman. To begin changing that trend, the Museum announced that they would only purchase works made by women in 2020. I say kudos to them for finally starting to rectify the injustice.
I could go on and on with more unsettling statistics but I think you get the picture.
So, what can we do? If you are a collector, vow to collect more art by women. I am doing this with my own collection and have been for more than 10 years now. In fact, I collect only art by women and artists of color. A small gesture from a local collector, but maybe it will encourage others to follow my lead.
Museums should at the very least start to level the field and make a conscious effort to acquire more art by women, not just in 2020 but in all years. Galleries need to seek out and represent more women than they currently do.
Even artists are making statements. Michele Pred is an amazing artist and activist from California. She is launching a project called The Art of Equal Pay. She is asking all female-identifying artists to raise their prices by 15% starting on Equal Pay Day, March 31, 2020. Her campaign seeks to build awareness about the current inequalities and asks artists, arts professionals, collectors and galleries to pledge their support to make change. If you want to join in, please go to www.theartofequalpay.com.
Each of us can change the course, whether a large museum, an artist/activist, or a local collector from Cincinnati. Collectively we can lift women artists to their rightful place.
Sara Vance Waddell is an art patron, collector, non profit board junkie and advertising media manager.