A Penn program is helping female artists in Philadelphia speak up for each other.
On Tuesday, the Women In Art Initiative hosted a panel of six artists featured in the “10 Philadelphia Female Artists You Need to Know” by PhillyVoice. The women in the panel included Kiki Gaffney, Diane Feissel, Hollis Heichemer, Mallory Weston, Leslie Boyd and Katherine Fraser.
This panel promoted awareness of female artists in Philadelphia. The artists discussed their art practice, the inspirations of their artwork, being an artist in Philadelphia and the role that gender plays in their art or in their lives.
Panelists differed in their perceived gender gap in the visual arts. While women represented 51 percent of visual artists in 2014, they have a low representation in major art cities. The National Museum of Women in the Arts reported that out of 4,000 artists represented in Los Angeles and New York City, only 32.3 percent were women. In addition, women hold only 24 percent of art museum director positions and earn, on average, 71 cents for every dollar earned by male directors.
Gaffney and Heichemer said that gender does not play a critical role in their work and they do not face any gender biases.
“I have not experienced any gender biases probably because I am focusing on what connects us and not what separates us,” Heichemer said.
However, for Weston and Boyd, both in the field of jewelry, gender directly influences their work. Both women said they often face gender inequality in their subfield.
“Even though a majority of jewelers are women, it is disheartening when awards and huge career steps are often going to male jewelers. I would like to change that,” Weston said.
The Women in Art Initiative is a nonprofit student organization at Penn that addresses gender imbalance in the presentation of art, draws recognition to women artists of all time periods and nationalities and advocates for gender equality in the visual arts.
College sophomore Linda Lin, founder and president of Women in Art Initiative, started the organization at the beginning of her second semester at Penn to combine her passion for the visual arts and women’s rights. For Lin, advocating for women's equality in the visual arts is intuitive — gender equality should be advocated for in every field.
“At Penn, there are clubs like Women in Engineering and Women in Technology to promote women in fields known to be male-dominated,” Lin said. “But the thing with art is that even though it’s perceived as a girl thing, when you look at the representation of galleries, the collections are mostly male.”
In the near future, the Women in Art Initiative plans to collaborate with PennDesign to fight the gender gap in the amount that is written online about female artists compared to male artists. Similar to an Edit-a-thon, the two groups plan to create a book of collections of women’s printed art and create works responding to the perceived gender gap. In the long term, Lin said she hopes to establish an exhibition to represent female artists.
Lin has high aspirations for the organization.
“Right now, we are focusing on women in the visual arts but our direction is diversity in the arts world,” Lin said. “I think diversity is important in every field. We need to have multiple perspectives and hear diversity of different experiences so we can embrace all of these great things the world has to offer.”
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