Two years after its opening in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art acquired a painting by Sarah Miriam Peale — its first work by a female artist. More than a century later, one might assume that the museum would have a fairly equal mix of male and female artists, right? But as of today, only 4% of the 95,000 pieces in the museum's permanent collection were created by women.
The museum is determined to narrow that gap, and they're taking a drastic step to do so.
In 2020, the museum will only add works by women to its permanent art collection. In addition, each of the 22 exhibits on view throughout the year will be focused on women.
Every artwork the BMA obtains for its permanent collection next year will have been created by a woman, director Christopher Bedford says. https://t.co/yaFejXLQ7M
— The Baltimore Sun (@baltimoresun) November 15, 2019
The push is, in part, a commemoration of the passing of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote. But according to museum director Christopher Bedford, a correction of the marginalization of women in the art community is long overdue anyway.
"This how you raise awareness and shift the identity of an institution," Bedford told the Baltimore Sun. "You don't just purchase one painting by a female artist of color and hang it on the wall next to a painting by Mark Rothko. To rectify centuries of imbalance, you have to do something radical."
"We're attempting to correct our own canon," he said. "We recognize the blind spots we have had in the past, and we are taking the initiative to do something about them."
The newly announced initiative has received widespread praise.
"What the Baltimore museum is doing is so cool," Bianca Kovic, incoming executive director of the National Association of Women Artists, told the Sun. "We think all museums should do it. It's particularly important that the BMA is creating a platform for woman artists to showcase their work, because that will inspire other women to make art. Even today, female artists are highly under-represented in museums. We have a lot of work still to do about educating the public on the importance of women in American art history."
Bedford said the museum expects to spend up to $2 million next year to purchase art by female artists, but they're not going to stop there.
"This is a declaration of intent going forward of the kinds of exhibits we will have and the kind of acquisitions we will make," he told the Sun. "There can be no beginning and no end, just a consistency of effort in the right direction."
If you are wondering why this initiative is needed, check out some of these stats from the National Museum of Women in the Arts:
- Nearly half (45.8%) of visual artists in the United States are women; on average, they earn 74¢ for every dollar made by male artists. (National Endowment for the Arts)
- Women working across arts professions make almost $20,000 less per year than men. (Artsy)
- A recent data survey of the permanent collections of 18 prominent art museums in the U.S. found that out of over 10,000 artists, 87% are male, and 85% are white. (Public Library of Science)
- The annual Freelands Foundation report found that at London's major arts institutions, only 22% of solo shows were by women artists — an 8% decrease from 2016 data. (Freelands Foundation)
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