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Can You Name Five Women Artists?

An interview with the National Museum of Women in the Arts about its #5WomenArtists social campaign

Posted on March 7, 2018
Women Artists

Clockwise from left: (1) Amy Sherald, "They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake," 2009; Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the 25th anniversary of NMWA; © Amy Sherald | (2) A visitor dressed as Frida Kahlo takes a selfie in front of Frida Kahlo’s "Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky" at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; photo by Emily Haight, NMWA | (3) Visitors take a photo in front of Kiki Kogelnik’s "Superwoman" at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; photo: NMWA

By Jo Tiongson-Perez

Quick. Name five women artists on the fly.

Now name male artists. Were you much faster at naming men?

That’s a problem.

Two years ago, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women through the arts, launched the social media campaign #5WomenArtists. I learned about it through the Barnes, the art institution where I work, as we participated along with many local and national museums, touting female artists in our collections. Even as an art museum professional, it was eye-opening to realize I wasn’t any faster at this simple challenge nor did I possess more robust knowledge about the female painters, sculptors and illustrators in our own galleries––certainly not in the same degree as their male counterparts regarded as household names. That story needs to change.

To date, 520 arts and cultural organizations from seven continents and 30 countries have joined in. I caught up with NMWA’s Marketing and Communications Manager Stacy Meeter, a key figure in this initiative, to get her thoughts around the trajectory for this campaign, which has fired up worldwide conversations around gender parity in the arts.

What sparked the idea behind the #5womenartists social media campaign? 

Can you name five women artists? Many people can’t. If you can, it probably takes you much longer to think of five female artists than five male artists. The truth is that women have never been treated equally in the art world, and today they remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums, galleries and auction houses. This imbalance goes well beyond the art world, of course. But art plays a vital role in exploring issues of gender in society. That is why we started the #5WomenArtists campaign. By working to highlight remarkable women artists of the past and present, NMWA’s exhibitions and programs inspire action in the broader cause of gender equality.

Do you feel that the dialogue has changed since you started this social movement two years ago? If so, in what ways?

Discussions of gender inequity have had a renewed significance across the world in the past year. I anticipate that this Women’s History Month will be more popular than ever as the momentum created by the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement spark action globally.

In relation to the #5WomenArtists social media campaign, we were overwhelmed by the number of participating organizations and individuals during the first year, which increased nearly 50% in the second year. We hope that this campaign will make people stop and think about whether or not they can name five women artists, and if they can’t, why that is. Gender equity in the arts is still a real issue that needs to be addressed.

As a museum showcasing the works of our nation's greatest women artists, what are some of the barriers they've faced historically that continue on today? What must be done to break down those barriers?

Women artists have been marginalized for centuries. Social conventions limited their training, the subjects they could portray, and the ways they could market art to patrons. While gender bias is less overt today, contemporary women artists still face obstacles and disparities, such as persistently being underrepresented in museum collections and exhibitions worldwide.

Small actions lead to big changes. Visit our website for details on how you can take action for women in the arts, such as educating yourself about the issue, challenging yourself to name #5WomenArtists, praising exhibitions that strive for gender equity, and supporting women artists and the institutions that exhibit their work.

What would be your message for emerging women artists of our time?

Find the community of women artists in your area and support one another’s work.

In one sentence, what does gender equality mean to you?

To me, gender equality means that all people are afforded the same rights, opportunities and treatment—regardless of gender identity.

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Stacy Meteer is the Communications and Marketing Manager at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Prior to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Stacy held communications and marketing positions at American University and the National Building Museum, and graduated with a master’s degree in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University. @WomenInTheArts

Jo Tiongson-Perez is the director of marketing and social media at The Barnes Foundation, one of the world’s greatest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist and early modern paintings. She also is a member of the Vision 2020 Communications Committee, a growing network of communications experts who are passionate about raising awareness on the importance of women’s equality. @barnesfoundation