Monday, October 20, 2008

Balancing the books

The usually breathtaking views from CoUNTess office are currently obstructed by piles of papers. There's post-it notes on every surface and calculators crunching underfoot. But this blog is not about OH&S its about gender representation in the Australian art world and that is a messy business. There has been a mountain of research to get through in our quest to compile the numbers and we are all out of pink and blue highlighters. The CoUNTesses @ have decided that our best plan of action is to sort our excel spread sheets (and sheets and sheets) into bite size chunks. "First things first, but not necessarily in that order" as Dr Who wisely said.

The first chuck: the CoUNTesses @ have reviewed the websites of one mid-sized publicly funded contemporary art gallery from each state, adding up the number of women and men who have exhibited in the gallery's main space from the first show in 2007 to September 2008.  We haven't included any offsite projects and spaces, graduate exhibitions or competitions as they will be the subject of future posts. Plus, in the spirit of first-thing-being first, main gallery spaces host solo and curated group shows and are major milestones in an artists exhibiting career; as all the galleries reviewed accepted proposals for their exhibition programs giving focus to the main stage offers a good gauge of which artists — and more importantly for us, which gender — are making the cut. And no we haven't forgotten the Apple Isle, but unfortunately Cast in Hobart has missed out, as their website is under construction.

The CoUNTesses @ wants to take this opportunity to encourage female artists in Australia to send off those applications for exhibitions to these 'artspaces' we have assessed. We have discovered there is a huge gap in the market that needs urgent redressing and can only assume this is due to a lack of applications by women? Surely, the (almost) blindingly male-centric programming of these galleries can't ALL be pinned on a system-wide valuing of men's art over women's? Surely?With the exception of 24Hr Art in Darwin who exhibited more women then men, the next rating approaching an equal balance was Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne with 60% men and 40% women, and CACSA were the worst offenders with 77% men and 23% women. Jokes about the numbers of women's applications aside, could somebody please explain this gender discrepancy?

The CoUNTesses @ expect only the highest quality work to be exhibited in these galleries, so are rightfully suspicious that it is men as a group who are consistently given exhibition opportunities. If the galleries are programming exhibitions of the highest quality are they declaring that men make better art than women? If not, then why so few women artists? Is it a question of talent and ambition or just plain old fashioned discrimination?  The CoUNTesses suggests these organisation's EEO policies should be seriously reviewed as EEO is an outcome not a procedure.

The Australia Council sets an excellent example and gender equality as institutional policy, awarding individual grants to men and women artists EQUALLY, which proves it can be done without causing a major Taste Crisis.  The CoUNTesses @ thinks these art spaces and all public galleries should be expected to do the same.

Balance the books.