Launch of the 2022 Countess Report reveals stagnation of gender equity across the visual arts since the previous assessment

Media Release

The 2022 Countess Report, Australia’s premier reference point on gender representation in the contemporary visual art sector, is now available. This marks the third installment of the sector-wide national report, providing invaluable insights into the state of gender equity and representation across the visual arts.

Co-edited by Miranda Samuels and Shevaun Wright, the 2022 Countess Report expands its scope to include a critical analysis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation. Statistical data has been drawn from the calendar year of 2022 on education, prizes, funding, organisational governance, collection acquisitions, commercial gallery representation, biennales and triennials, and solo and group exhibitions across galleries of every size: artist run initiatives, contemporary art spaces, commercial galleries, public galleries, Aboriginal-owned art centres, university art museums, major museums, and state galleries.

The Report reveals gender equity has stagnated across the visual arts sector. 

Over 21,000 artists and arts workers across more than 450 institutions were counted, making the sample size significantly larger than the 2019 report. Countess also conducted the first national count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation across the gallery sector, and analysed gender representation within this.

The Report’s highlights include:

  • Across the sector, gender representation has plateaued or experienced a backward slide since the 2019 Report. The 2018 Report showed significant gains for women artists and reflected gender parity in many sectors, compared with the 2014 Report. 
  • First Nations representation ranged from 6.5% in artist-run initiatives and 7% in major museums, to 26% in university art museums and state galleries. 
  • Across most gallery types, women and First Nations artists were underrepresented in solo exhibitions, as well as in state gallery acquisitions, and commercial gallery representation – areas that are key indicators of career success and legitimation.
  • While men had the majority of solo shows in state galleries, contemporary art organisations, commercial galleries, and major museums (including the NGA), the reverse was true in university art museums and public galleries.
  • Despite being underrepresented in state galleries’ acquisitions, works by women constituted the majority of purchased works, whereas artworks by men were often gifted.
  • Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists only, women significantly outnumber men in commercial gallery representation.
  • Although there are moves toward First Nations consultation through advisory groups, First Nations persons are seldom represented on gallery boards or directorates across the sector. 
  • Representation of non-binary artists increased across all categories since the last report, with contemporary art organisations exhibiting the highest proportion of non-binary artists and in solo shows.

‘It's important that galleries are held accountable to their statements around diversity and inclusion, which is what our independent and self-published research aims to do. By looking closely at gender and First Nations representation in the Australian art world, especially in areas indicative of career sustainability and artistic legitimacy, the 2022 Report shows that the work of women and First Nations artists continues to be undervalued and that the arts sector is no exception to the biases observed in society at large. Our analysis seeks to interfere with mainstream cultural narratives informed by capitalist and colonial ideas of artistic value,’ says the Countess Report. 

Sheila Foundation Chair Kelly Gellatly says: ‘As the major mechanism that keeps our museums and galleries accountable for their practices and work in relation to representation, the impact of the Countess Report cannot be overestimated, and with the addition in the 2022 count of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation, its importance only continues to grow. The Countess Report ensures that our institutions back up their claims about their achievements in terms of gender and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation with concrete action, moving beyond reactionary tick box marketing exercises to real structural change. As the figures of the 2022 count remind us, this requires an ongoing and continual commitment on behalf of our institutions, and as their major stakeholders, the arts community needs to remain vocal in terms of our expectations. As a longstanding champion and financial supporter of the Countess Report, the Sheila Foundation cannot thank Countess enough for the real-world impact of their work.’

Penelope Benton, Executive Director of NAVA says, ‘Unfortunately, the latest Countess Report offers little cause for celebration. The numbers suggest that progress in gender equity within the visual arts has stalled since the last count. Male artists continued to dominate solo shows in state galleries, commercial galleries, and major museums. Despite this discouraging trend, it is crucial to highlight the significance of three major solo exhibitions by Indigenous women currently showcased in Yhonnie Scarce: The Light of Day at the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA), Judy Watson: mudunama kundana wandaraba jarribirri at Queensland Art Gallery I Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), and the major survey of Emily Kam Kngwarray which recently closed at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA). These exhibitions signal a potential turnaround in representation. I eagerly anticipate the impact of this shift in the next gender count.’

‘Some state-based collection policies limit the application of the Cultural Gifts Program (CGP) to artists already in their collection, others draw from long-established collections, where women artists may be less represented. High valuation costs also delay donations to the fund, perpetuating biases and reinforcing existing power structures. Outdated collection policies can hinder equitable representation and acquisition practices. The findings of the latest Countess Report illustrate the urgent need for policy reform within our cultural institutions. We are long overdue for a framework that fosters inclusivity, equitable investment, and governmental support for gender equity in the visual arts.’

‘On a positive note, the inclusion of data on First Nations representation in the visual arts is a significant step forward. While these figures may appear low, they serve as a crucial baseline for future analysis. Many galleries, often with limited resources, are making concerted efforts to improve practices and showcase the work of First Nations artists. However, there is a glaring gap in First Nations representation, not only in exhibitions, but also in arts worker and leadership roles across the visual arts sector. NAVA advocates for urgent investment at all levels of government to address this disparity.’

The Countess Report offers a data breakdown and analysis under the headings: education; art media; galleries (including artist run initiatives, commercial galleries, and university art museums); state institutions; art fairs; staffing, boards & directors; prizes & awards; and funding.

The 2022 Report builds on previous reports published in 2019 and 2016 with an expanded data collection methodology and a more intersectional approach to data analysis. The new methodology was informed by the guidance of project advisors, principles of data sovereignty, and protocols and guidelines for collecting data on non-binary and gender diverse creatives, as established in 2018 research by artists Spence Messih and Archie Barry, both of whom were also advisors to the 2022 Report.

The report enabled larger institutions, including galleries and museums, to self-report data for increased reliability. Countess assessed the impact of gender equity-focused campaigns run by state art institutions over the past four years by examining data collection acquisition modes and representational issues, offering a comprehensive analysis of progress and areas for improvement.

The statistics can be understood within expanded Countess activities, including an appendix of commissioned written responses and critiques to the Report supported by funding from the Copyright Agency.

The Report is co-authored by Shevaun Wright and Miranda Samuels with support from Countess members Elvis Richardson and Amy Prcevich, and a team of project advisors from across the sector.

The 2022 Report is backed by the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) and has received financial support from the Creative Australia, the Sheila Foundation, and the Copyright Agency. Countess acknowledges the Sheila Foundation for their ongoing support of their research.

About The Countess Report

First released in 2016 with data collected from national exhibitions in 2014, the Countess Report is a major independent research project that analyses and publishes data on gender representation and related issues in the Australian visual arts sector. The 2022 report forms part of Countess’s periodic collection and analysis of data, and tracks changes from the prior Countess Reports (published 2019; 2016). Since 2017, has been a collaborative project of Amy Prcevich, Elvis Richardson and Miranda Samuels, with Shevaun Wright joining in 2022.

About Copyright Agency

Copyright Agency collects licence fees for the reuse of text and images and distributes these as copyright royalty payments to near 40,000 members including authors, journalists, publishers, visual artists, and surveyors. 

About NAVA

The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) is a membership organisation established in 1983. It brings together the many voices of the contemporary arts sector to improve fundamental conditions of work and practice through advocacy, education and the Code of Practice. For further information on NAVA visit  

About Sheila Foundation

Sheila Foundation is a national philanthropic foundation with a mission to overturn decades of gender bias by writing Australian women artists back into our art history and ensuring equality for today’s women artists.

Media enquiries

Jane Morey, Morey Media

Image credit

Co-authors of the Countess Report, Shevaun Wright and Miranda Samuels in front of Gamilaraay/Wailwan/Biripi artist r e a's GARI (language), 2024, for the 24th Biennale of Sydney, Ten Thousand Suns, 2024, Artspace. GARI (language) was commissioned by Biennale of Sydney and Artspace, in collaboration with r e a to create a safe space for reflection. The Banner Series and Ideas Platform is supported by Andrew Cameron AM and Cathy Cameron. Courtesy the artist © r e a. Photograph by Jamie James.

ID: Photo of two women seated on the ground in a gallery with their backs against a bright yellow banner depicting black text that reads ‘YARAAY’, ‘DHUNI’ and ‘TOONAU’, the words for sun in the Gamilaraay, Wailwan and Biripi languages, and white text that reads 'LAND RIGHTS'.

Launch of the 2022 Countess Report reveals stagnation of gender equity across the visual arts since the previous assessment