The #5womenartists Campaign for Women’s History Month

It’s March, and along with Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, this month also marks the second year for the feminist art history hashtag campaign known as #5womenartists. The campaign invites you to think on how quickly and easily you can list 5 women artists. While naming 5 women artists isn’t hard for me (I teach a class on Women in the History of Art), I suspect there are many out there who might have some difficulty. Why? Well for starters, women make up only 9 percent of the artists represented in the most widely used art history survey textbook, and only 5 percent of the
artists represented on museum walls. What’s worse, is the inequities apply to Guerrilla Girls 2015contemporary art as much as art history. This recent sticker created by the art action group the Guerrilla Girls makes this point clear. Even in 2015, men have almost total control of the art market.

The campaign was created last year by National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA). The folks there saw it as a starting point towards positive change  As NMWA director Susan Sterling explained at Big Think last year:

“By calling attention to the inequity women artists face today, as well as in the past, we hope to inspire conversation and awareness.”

The campaign began in 2016 with 70 museum participants from five different countries, and has since gone viral, with hundreds of galleries, universities, and individuals (including yours truly) sharing their own favorite women artists on social media. This year’s actions include regional meet ups, write ups in the media on women artists, and a recently completed wikipedia editathon. Throughout the month, museums also highlight women in their collection online (though I want to emphasize that it would better if more of them used this campaign to add more women to their collection).

Last year for The Art And Place Blog,  I contacted NMWA Associate Curator Ginny Treanor during Women’s History Month with a few questions about the museum’s thoughts on the initiative’s early success. She generously shared her thoughts on campaign’s success in a short email interview. In honor of this annual event, I’ve decided to republish her answers here:

BC:  What made NMWA decide to create this challenge for Women’s History Month? And why five? Why not more?

GT: We wanted to do something more pro-active for Women’s History Month. The idea was initially cooked up by our amazing PR team but then grew into a collaboration with our web team (also amazing!). The number 5 comes from a question our founder, Wilhelmina Holladay, used to pose to audiences when she spoke about her idea to form the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She would challenge them to answer the question, thereby proving her point that such a museum was needed.

BC: Almost everyday on Twitter this month I’ve been excited to see yet another museum join in the #5womenartists challenge with a post about a woman artists featured in their collection. It seems like a big hit! Were you surprised that the campaign turned out to be such a widespread success?

GT: Yes, the response has been incredible! We had institutions agree to participate before we went live but it has definitely grown exponentially. It’s also been picked up by major news outlets like Huffington Post and the NY Observer.

BC: One of the great things about the #5womenartists challenge is that it doesn’t have to be contained to Women’s History Month. Does NMWA have any follow up plans to build on its success?

GT: The last big push for the end of WHM was a BuzzFeed quiz – Which Women Artists are You (I got Guerrilla Girls!). There’s nothing planned specifically at the moment to build upon it but the hope is definitely that it will live on well past March!

* * * *

Interested in getting involved in women’s issues in the arts? Join in yourself on social media with your own favorite 5 women artists. Or go for 10! If perhaps you have some money, consider collecting art made by women. For more ideas, see NMWA’s main website, or check out the hashtag on instagram or twitter.

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