Women's Artists' Group Fights Discrimination

By Sturken, Marita | Afterimage, May-June 1998 | Go to article overview
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Women's Artists' Group Fights Discrimination


Sturken, Marita, Afterimage


Women in the arts are speaking out and taking action against what they feel is sexual discrimination within their fields. The recent founding of the Coalition of Women's Art Organizations and the January convening of a conference of women artists in New York City are two recent signs of this. In addition, Margaret Costanza, special assistant to President Carter, and Joan Mondale, wife of the Vice-President, have been very supportive of women artists' groups, and instrumental in gaining them public attention.

Women artists' groups support their arguments with many statistics. According to Judith Brodsky, a founding member of the Coalition, who also teaches at Beaver College in Pennsylvania, "Women represent 50% of the pool of professional artists. This figure is supported by a number of surveys, the most recent of which is a survey of recipients of the Master of Fine Arts degree, conducted by the College Art Association." Brodsky, who is also president of the Women's Caucus for Art, a national organization of over 2500 artists. art historians and others, which was begun under the auspices of the College Art Association but is now independent, continues, "Yet women do not have the visibility of men. . . . One-person exhibitions by women make up less than 2% of the shows given to living artists by museums."

The formation of the new coalition within the last six months is a combined effort of many women artists to remedy this situation. The coalition will attempt to strengthen the efforts of their movement by consolidating women artists' groups - art collectives, cooperative galleries, publications and art schools - throughout the country, and by sending a paid lobbyist to Washington, D.C. The membership of the Coalition, which is comprised of over 200 organizations, is nearly 100,000, almost 10 times what its organizers expected before forming the group. The Coalition sent delegates to the International Women's Year National Conference in Houston, TX; Coalition representatives have testified before Congressional committees; and other Coalition members have lobbied government officials in support of the cause of women artists.

The goals of the Coalition are to have more individual grants given to women, to increase appointments of women to grant-awarding institutions (National Endowment for the Arts [NEA] advisory panels, for example, are only 25% women, the Coalition claims); to have the government enforce Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines in federally-funded cultural institutions such as museums, universities and performing arts centers in regard to hiring policies; to amend Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - which affects government grants - to prohibit discrimination on any basis, including sex (at no time has there been legislation or executive order prohibiting sex discrimination in the grants made by the National Endowments); and to establish a nationwide network of communication among women in art, which would include newsletters, conferences, women's galleries and the Coalition.

More far-reaching goals of the Coalition include the establishment of separate federal funding categories for women's art organizations; more funding of community art projects that promote the participation of women; funding for research on the special needs of women; and changing the curricula of art education institutions to include courses in aesthetics and history of art by women (more than 75% of art students are women, the Coalition points out, and most art teachers are male).

Not all of the goals of the Coalition are exclusively in the interests of women. It also wants increased public funds for all artists, including more government grants and expanded programs of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, revision of the Internal Revenue Act to remove provisions discriminatory to artists, and passage of HR1042, a bill which calls for a tax return check-off contribution for the arts and art education, among other things.

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