Thursday, April 27, 2017

Art+Feminism’s Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the University of Georgia

Art+Feminism aims to improve the representation of female
artists on Wikipedia. Image: Museum of Modern Art

Art+Feminism is a global initiative that aims to improve the representation of female artists in articles on Wikipedia through Edit-a-thon events. In March of this year, the Lamar Dodd School of Art and the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia partnered to sponsor an Edit-a-thon here in Athens. An Edit-a-thon is a community-based event that instructs people on how to edit, improve or create new articles on Wikipedia. Since Art+Feminism was founded in 2014, events like these are held worldwide every March and have resulted in the creation or improvement of over 4,600 Wikipedia articles.

Art+Feminism logo. Image: Art+Feminism
This global effort was prompted by the release of some troubling statistics. According to a 2012 editor survey conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation, just 10% of Wikipedia editors are female. This gender imbalance means that although this online encyclopedia is open to the public for editing, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is representative of the population at large. The skewed editorship has a great effect on the content produced. Editors naturally choose to work on subjects they’re most familiar with, and in art history, this often results in neglect for already-underrepresented female artists. Many female artists have pages that lack sources and crucial information, and many more female artists don’t have a page at all.

Additionally, most Wikipedia editors live in the Global North (the richer, more developed region of the globe), resulting in a website tilted towards one perspective. According to Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam of Post-Colonial Digital Humanities, "Wikipedia reproduces forms of knowledge already implicit in older forms of print knowledge, in which marginalized groups (see: not white, poor, female, queer, disabled) are considered less worthy of representation." The skewed perspective inherent to the existing editorship of Wikipedia has a direct impact on the content that is produced, and the content produced has a direct impact on public perception.

The reproduction and propagation of these biases is dangerous on a site as widely used as Wikipedia. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, as of May 2010, 53% of Internet users look for information on the site. This shows that U.S. adults (in 2010) used Wikipedia at a significantly higher rate than sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. This gives Wikipedia a large amount of authority in conveying information online, so when women are left out of its pages, it influences what people perceive to be meaningful subjects to learn and discover.

Elizabeth Jane Gardner, La Confidence, ca. 1880

This is where Art+Feminism comes in. The organization aims to tackle the gender gap on Wikipedia by encouraging new editorship amongst people of all gender expressions and identities. The Edit-a-thon held in Athens included the participation of several volunteers who had little to no experience editing Wikipedia and who, by attending the event, now have the skills to continue editing pages on the website. Effectively, the events have lasting impact beyond the month of March, as new editors are equipped and inspired to combat the male perspective on Wikipedia and to give due representation to female artists.

This event held by the Georgia Museum of Art and the Lamar Dodd School of Art was preceded by a brief tour highlighting works by female artists in the museum. In terms of square footage, the Georgia Museum of Art features a proportionately large amount of female artists. The Jane and Harry Willson Sculpture Garden, for example, only features work by female artists. The space most recently held the exhibition “Driving Forces: Sculpture by Lin Emery,” which are works by the New Orleans–based sculptor. Indoors, “La Confidence” by Elizabeth Jane Gardner is a painting from the permanent collection that was also highlighted on the tour. It features two modest, youthful women sitting and exchanging a secret. Despite the efforts of institutions like the Georgia Museum of Art, the historical exclusion of women from the art world still results in a proportionately low representation of female artists. This makes events like the Wikipedia Edit-a-thons all the more important. Art+Feminism recognizes that mobilizing female editorship on Wikipedia will have lasting effects on biases against female artists.

Jamie Brener
Publications Intern

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