Gender acCOUNTability in the arts

Media Release

Image: Kelly Doley with The CoUNTessThe Learning Centre: Two Feminists, installation and performance, Westspace, 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

Coinciding with International Women’s Day, a new report on gender representation in the contemporary visual arts has been released today. 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.

Author of the report, artist Elvis Richardson said when initially conceiving of this project, “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.”

The Countess Report is a benchmark piece of research for the Australian visual arts sector. Produced over a year, this report reveals the extent of gender imbalance across the spectrum of the contemporary 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of the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) observed, “Despite the reputation of the arts as challenging outdated paradigms, it continues to fail on gender issues.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 says “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 says, “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 Countess

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 examine 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.”

About the Cruthers Art Foundation

The Cruthers Art Foundation is a Perth based family foundation that 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. 

About NAVA

The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) is the peak industry body for the visual and media arts, craft and design sectors in Australia. 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. 

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