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#5WomenArtists Shaping Museum Practice

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
Clockwise (from top-left corner): Kiki Kogelnik, Ambreen Butt, Jennifer Celio, Susan Goethel Campbell, Alma Thomas, Betsabeé Romero, Cindy Sherman, Judy Chicago, Mickalene Thomas, Mónica Mayer, Tanya Habjouqa, Amy Sherald, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Faith Ringgold, Jami Porter Lara, Nan Goldin, Howardena Pindell, Guerrilla Girls and Barbara Kruger.
Clockwise (from top-left corner): Kiki Kogelnik, Ambreen Butt, Jennifer Celio, Susan Goethel Campbell, Alma Thomas, Betsabeé Romero, Cindy Sherman, Judy Chicago, Mickalene Thomas, Mónica Mayer, Tanya Habjouqa, Amy Sherald, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Faith Ringgold, Jami Porter Lara, Nan Goldin, Howardena Pindell, Guerrilla Girls and Barbara Kruger.

Museums are among the most trusted sources of information and can use that superpower of trust to nudge society towards preferred futures. Today on the blog, Amy Mannarino, Director of Communications and Marketing at the National Museum of Women in the Arts tells us about one campaign designed to steer the world towards a future in which women artists have recognition, and recompense, equal to that of their male colleagues.

–Elizabeth Merritt, VP Strategic Foresight and Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums, American Alliance of Museums.

At the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women through the arts, we promote women artists all year long. Each March, during Women’s History Month, we have an even bigger platform for celebrating women artists and influencing fellow museums to think about gender equity in their institutions.

In 2016, we initiated a social media campaign using the hashtag #5WomenArtists. The impetus was a simple question: Can you name five women artists? When we posed this question, we found that the majority of people struggled and many could not at all—even those who consider themselves well versed in the arts.

The difficulty of this question points to a systemic and longstanding imbalance. Across the centuries, women artists have been marginalized—omitted from history books, undervalued in the art market, and underrepresented in museums worldwide. While gender bias is less overt today, contemporary women artists still face obstacles and disparities. Just 11% of all acquisitions and 14% of exhibitions at 26 prominent American museums over the past decade were of work by women artists.

By encouraging organizations and individuals to share the contributions of women artists on social media with the #5WomenArtists challenge, we also spark conversations about gender equity in the arts. To date, this award-winning initiative has galvanized more than 1,500 cultural institutions from all seven continents and over 50 countries.

From Awareness to Action

The original campaign concept aimed to increase the awareness of gender inequity in the arts. In the first few years, #5WomenArtists generated almost 70,000 Twitter and Instagram posts—and we saw an opportunity to take it a step further. Last year, we expanded the campaign from awareness to action by asking participants to publicly pledge actions that would help advance gender equity in the arts. For example, museums might survey the ratio of women artists in their collections, acquire a new work by a woman artist, or commit to more exhibitions of women artists. We provided ideas, but organizations could also choose to craft their own pledges. Many museums made impressive pledges:

  • Tate pledged to feature five major solo exhibitions by women artists opening across Tate galleries in 2020 and 2021.
  • The Nationalmuseum, Sweden, pledged to determine the ratio of women artists in their collection by conducting a survey and to highlight more women artists on social media throughout the year.
  • The Seattle Art Museum pledged to feature an installation by a woman artist in their Olympic Sculpture Park.
  • The Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires pledged to increase the representation of Latin American women in their collection until works by female artists account for at least 50% of acquisitions.

In addition to their pledges, museums inspired by #5WomenArtists also created in-house programming:

  • The Museum of Fine Arts Boston created wall text related to the question “Can you name five women artists?” in their Women Take the Floor exhibition, with references to the #5WomenArtists campaign and aggregated statistics that NMWA collects.
  • The Columbus Museum of Art made 3,000 color brochures called “5 Women Artists,” highlighting women artists in their galleries, and hosted a Conversation Station where visitors could name five women artists and hang the names on cards in the lobby.
  • The Royal Cornwall Museum developed a tour of women artists in their galleries using a campaign graphic that we created and shared with campaign participants.
  • The Historic Arkansas Museum produced an exhibition with five local women artists who had significantly contributed to the Arkansas art community.
  • Tate expanded the reach of #5WomenArtists by hosting dedicated events during March and promoting the campaign on a shop window and throughout the store.

Women Artists Changing the World

This March, #5WomenArtists will highlight how women use art to make change and drive awareness about globally relevant issues including gender equity, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, climate change, and more. Our goal is to show how art can, and does, affect change beyond a museum’s walls.

Organizations can register to participate in the campaign via this Google survey. We have already received heartening responses from past participants who are joining us again this year:

  • “This campaign really helped us see that our content and overall history is very male dominated. It helped us seek out those women-focused stories and better preserve them.”
  • “It has helped highlight areas where we can focus more on the women in our collection and exhibitions and given us a wonderful space to tell their stories. It also gives us an opportunity to find other women artists across the globe, which is such a gift.”
  • “[#5WomenArtists] has been a useful way for us to find women makers in our collections and to highlight [those] that may not have been highlighted previously.”
  • “We have had at least one contemporary female visiting artist each exhibition cycle—it’s been great!”

We hope that your museum will participate with us—and with more than 275 other cultural organizations currently registered—to advocate for museum practices leading to gender equity in the arts. The #5WomenArtists campaign can be an effective jumping-off point for continued work in the field, both online and in person.

You can follow NMWA on Twitter @womeninthearts and the campaign via the hashtag #5WomenArtists.

Amy Mannarino, a senior communications professional with more than 20 years of experience, is the director of communications and marketing for the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Mannarino is a museum strategist and spokesperson, specializing in branding, communications, marketing, and media relations. She has also worked at The Walters Art Museum; the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery; and The Phillips Collection.

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