The peak body protecting and promoting the Australian visual arts sector

Gender Equality

NAVA backs the research of CoUNTess: a report on gender representation in the contemporary visual arts released to coincide with International Women’s Day 2016. It reveals that there is a continuing imbalance of power with men holding more positions at senior levels and male artists significantly better represented by commercial galleries.

Kelly Doley with The CoUNTess
Kelly Doley with The CoUNTess

The Learning Centre: Two Feminists, installation and performance, West Space, as part of No Reasonable Offer Refused, Melbourne, 2012.

Participants: Anne Marsh, The CoUNTess, Deborah Strutt, Kenny Pittock, Kyla McFarlane, Kate Rigby, Georgie Proud, Clementine Ford, Karen Pickering, Karen Green, Georgia Quinn, Chris Scuito, Terri Bird, Odette Marie Kelada, Beth Muldoon and Jenny Menthol.

Photo: Kelly Doley

The CoUNTess Report

The CoUNTess Report is a benchmark piece of research for the Australian visual arts sector.

Produced over a year by artist Elvis Richardson, this report reveals the extent of gender imbalance across the spectrum of the contemporary art world.

Author of the report, artist Elvis Richardson said, “Through my CoUNTess blog, I have been doing some overdue statistical research confirming what many have been discussing too quietly; the systematic gender inequality in the art world.”

Statistical data has been drawn from the nation’s state and publicly funded museums and galleries, the commercial gallery sector, leading contemporary art spaces and artist run initiatives. The report is funded by Western Australia’s Cruthers Art Foundation.

Tamara Winikoff, Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) observed, “Despite the reputation of the arts as challenging outdated paradigms, it continues to fail on gender issues. Old habits die hard. We thought we’d won the battle in the 80s when the spotlight was shone on the systemic privileging of men in the arts. I hope this excellent report will rekindle the discussion and bring about a much needed change.”


The report highlights that:

  • major collecting institutions favour solo exhibitions and the acquisition of new artwork by male artists
  • overall women outnumber men as recipients of art prizes, however, when factoring in the prize pool, men receive a higher proportion of the prize money
  • at a tertiary level (undergraduate and postgraduate) three quarters of visual arts graduates are women, however, once students graduate there is a significant drop in the programming,
  • participation and representation of women artists in the nation’s major institutions, public art events and in the commercial art market
  • a higher proportion of women serve in a voluntary capacity on the management committees and boards of Artist Run Initiatives than in each of the major state galleries.


A number of notable Australians from across the arts have contributed to and reviewed the final report including members of its steering committee: Dr. Eva Cox AO, Dr Jacqueline Milner, Tamara Winikoff OAM, Amanda Rowell and John Cruthers.

Dr Eva Cox said “The CoUNTess Report is an essential reminder that gender unfairly affects women in the visual arts, as in all other creative areas. The collected data confirm that biases filter the lived experiences of the 75% female visual arts graduates into only 34% of the creators of the art we see in state museums. The valuable details reported indicate where to search for clues of how masculinised merit judgments have infiltrated the judgment of so many of our cultural institutions, failing to represent the visions of women.”

Cruthers Art Foundation chair and project steering committee member John Cruthers said, The report should be used to guide funding organisations, galleries, museums, exhibitions, foundations and arts media in areas of gender representation and gender equality. It also establishes a significant benchmark for gender representation in the Australian visual art sector so that our future progress towards equality can be quantified.”

About the Project

The CoUNTess blog was started in 2008 as an artist project by Elvis Richardson.

Since 2008 Richardson has posted over 40 times, each post the result of substantial research and data collection on gender representation in the Australian visual art sector.

Richardson combines her love of statistics and info graphics to post examining the performance of significant events, exhibitions and organisations such as the Biennale of Sydney, GOMA, Broadsheet magazine and Australia Council for the Arts.

Elvis explains, “I started the blog in 2008. At the time blogs were really getting popular and they are free so I saw an easy opportunity to make a cultural interjection… I see the blog as part of my art practice methodology to observe and record the world around me. I had long been counting ratios of male and female artists particularly in magazines and their advertised exhibitions…. It was obvious the dominant narratives, histories, subjects even mediums were always being reinscribed as authentically male. It’s a lot of history to rise above when you’re a female artist.”

Cruthers Art Foundation

The Cruthers Art Foundation supports the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art at The University of Western Australia, Australia’s largest stand alone collection of women’s art, it also advocates nationally for women’s art and women artists through funding research projects, publications, exhibitions, symposia and advocacy campaigns.

As a key driver of this project, NAVA will incorporate the findings into Edition 5 of the Code of Practice for the Professional Australian Visual Arts, Craft and Design Sector to encourage gender equality in Australian visual arts and craft organisations and practices.

Q&A with Elvis Richardson

Elvis Richardson

Elvis Richardson

NAVA spoke with Elvis Richardson, artist, academic and author of the blog, CoUNTess, on her practice and experience as an artist.

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Signature Style: The artist's name in the exposure economy of contemporary art

Elvis Richardson, Art and Australia 2010 Women

Elvis Richardson, Art and Australia 2010 Women 55 x 70cm, archival pigment print on Hahnmuhle Photo Rag, mounted on di-bond. Courtesy the artist.

Elvis Richardson on the online research behind The CoUNTess report and the representation of female artists in Australian arts media.

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Women in Australian Art

Deborah Kelly

Deborah Kelly, A Whistling Woman and a Crowing Hen, 2008-10, collage on stonehenge paper, each 77 x 98 cm. Courtesy the artist.

Coinciding with the recent publication of The CoUNTess report on International Women's Day, Tamara Winikoff writes on a brief history of women's art collectives and movements in Australia. The CoUNTess report has been funded by The Cruthers Art Foundation and is supported by NAVA.

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Gendered decision making?

CoUNTess

CoUNTess, the pool of artists

Writer and curator, and Director of Regional Arts Victoria, Esther Anatolitis on the accountability of decision makers at Australia's major art institutions.

(Please note this article contains strong language)

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Catcalling bad behaviour

Mish Meijers and Tricky Walsh

Elvis Richardson, Art and Australia 2010 Women, video still, 2:03 mins duration; image courtesy the artists.

Dr Jacqueline Millner proposes an ongoing resolve: a continuing and growing commitment to call out sexism wherever and whenever you encounter it in the visual arts.

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Beyond Rhetoric

Image courtesy of thecountessreport.com.au

No longer bound by institutional space and often working independently, contemporary curating is a creative act. Curators are seen as the drivers of artistic and critical discourse creating opportunities for intersections between disciplines, practices, audiences and exhibition making.

Within this context this forum questioned and discussed gendering of opportunities, contemporary curatorial approaches within the diverse arts infrastructure, and what meaningful action looks like beyond rhetoric.


Virginia Fraser - artist, writer, editor and curator

Kelly Gellatly - Director, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne

Camila Marambio - curator and PhD candidate at Monash Art Design and Architecture

Elvis Richardson - artist and author of CoUNTess

Patrice Sharkey - the Director of West Space.

Chaired by Dr Rebecca Coates - curator, writer, lecturer, and current Director Shepparton Art Museum, SAM

12-2pm, Saturday 24 September 2016

Gertrude Contemporary, 200 Gertrude St Fitzroy VIC

This event was supported by ACUADS and hosted by NAVA in partnership with Gertrude Contemporary; University of Melbourne; and MADA, Monash University.

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In the news

Sarah Boxer, An Era for Women Artists? The Atlantic, December 2016

Gina Fairley, Tate Modern director on risk and gender, ArtsHub, 30 August 2016

The CoUNTess Report: Women count in the artworld, Art Almanac, 30 May 2016

Andrew Stephens, The Countess Report counts the cost of art’s gender gap, SMH 6 May 2016

Jane Raffan, Counting (and accounting for) Women in the Visual Arts – The CoUNTess Report, Eastside radio, 3 May 2016

Dewi Cooke, Art life: Tough enough to succeed, especially if you're a woman, The Age, 8 March 2016

Ben Neutze, Gender imbalance rife in parts of Australia’s visual arts sector, new report reveals, Daily Review, 8 March 2016

Breakfast Radio Adelaide, Interview with Tamara Winikoff, 8 March 2016, podcast available here

Madeleine Dore, Research reveals continuing gender bias, ArtsHub, 8 March 2016

Toby Fehily, New survey paints grim picture of gender balance in Australian visual arts, The Guardian, 9 March 2016