Improving Wikipedia coverage of women artists

The photograph shows three women at a computer screen, having a conversation
Daria Cybulska of Wikimedia UK (centre) speaking with some of the event attendees

This post was written by Althea Greenan of the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths College

How did the Wikipedia editathon come about with regards to women artists? There have been a number of editathons that led to the session I held here recently.

I organized a modest follow up (8th March) of a much bigger event (1 Feb 2014) organised with Wikimedia NYC. This major event in the US inspired satellite events elsewhere including an event that took place at Middlesex University. The event I organised for the Women’s Art Library to celebrate International Women’s Day, was not only a follow up to this initiative from the librarians in the US, but is something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I became aware of the Wikimedian community and the GLAM projects that connect with collections in Galleries, Libraries and Museums. I have also been in discussions with artists groups such as conversation to be had from which emerged the awareness that women artists are not represented adequately in Wikipedia. It demonstrates the bias of content resulting from a lack of women writers, scholars and content creators.

I am the curator of the Women’s Art Library which was originally set up in the late 1970s as a slide registry building a centre of documentation and arts activities that raised awareness of women’s art practice. This organisation operated over several decades and the collection, now in Goldsmiths, continues to act as a centre for research and new art projects, and a space for interventions promoting the work of women, such as the Wikipedia workshop. The charity Wikimedia UK provides trainers, volunteers, who demystify, but also set standards on how to contribute good quality articles to Wikipedia, and it seemed like a very obvious thing to set up and see if it flies.

It was a very successful, exciting debate regarding the feminist strategy, born of necessity, that we need to write our own histories, set in the context of a rapidly expanding global resource that is seeking to be inclusive and yet maintain high, impartial standards of knowledge sharing. It is absolutely necessary to take up the challenge this opportunity brings and the important result from my first workshop is that everyone would like to follow it up with more to build on the knowledge and confidence to create records.

Pages are set up in Wikipedia relating to these events that might list records created etc (like this one), but it takes time to generate these, and to track down images that can be licensed to Creative Commons. The fact that an image can only be used if you relinquish aspects of copyright, allowing unrestricted use, can feel like an obstacle to some artists, but museums and others are increasingly putting images online, and allowing photography in public displays that acknowledge a different cultural approach to image-sharing.

In the past the Women’s Art Library  has ‘tackled gender equality in the arts’ through publications, especially a magazine that was distributed globally by the time the funding came to an end in 2002. It is a strategy that creates a context for contemporary and emerging artists to see themselves alongside each other, and historical women artists, and the powerful resonances that perspective gives is something that remains not only in reading back over those articles (an anthology is forthcoming in 2015 from IB Tauris), but also in the articles that now appear in a different publishing setting: the Internet.

The workshop was attended by a multi-generational cross-section of artists, students, lecturers, a trainee archivist and a musician, and all felt welcome into the conversation. I think that’s not only because I invited them to the Women’s Art Library to take a place at the table, but because, yes, I think Wikipedia is a good place to start redressing the balance. There is a very rich world of women’s art practice that we are aware of but which should become part of our shared knowledge too.

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