A Q&A at MoMA with cofounder Jacqueline Mabey
On Saturday, March 7, more than 200 people were hunched over their laptops at the Museum of Modern Art’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building, united in the goal of creating Wikipedia pages for female artists—a vastly underrepresented demographic. (Shocking.)
This was part of Art+Feminism’s annual worldwide Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, and though this year’s was only the second edition, it was several times larger than last year’s by every measure. Whereas the 2014 event boasted 600 volunteers, this year saw 1,300; instead of 30 separate events, there were 70 this year, in 17 countries on 4 continents; and most importantly, 334 new articles were created globally compared to 101 at last year’s event.
Artists who were added this year include Elise Forrest Harleston, Amy Marie Sacker, Janet Payne Bowles, Lisl Steiner, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Kali, Betty G. Miller, Camille Henrot, Sarah McEneaney, Kyle DeWoody, Jennie C. Jones, and the Heresies Collective. (All of this information, and more in-depth analyses of the event’s outcome, is available on Art+Feminism’s Meetup page.)
The operation looked impressive. Molly Kurzius, a PR representative, provided a guided tour as I stuck my head into occupied classrooms, library spaces, and elevators, all humming with activity. In the auditorium, 45-minute training sessions were provided throughout the day, and each work area appeared to be designated for users with different levels of experience. “These people came with serious projects in mind,” whispered Kurzius, gesturing towards a group dominated by hoodies. Contrary to my expectations, there seemed to be as many men present as women.
After examining an enormous sheet cake emblazoned with the Wikipedia logo, I sat down with one of the founders of Art+Feminism, Jacqueline Mabey, to discuss the project.
ARTnews: How are you keeping track of all the pages people create?
Mabey: On our main Meetup page, we have an ongoing list of articles to be created and articles to be edited that need additional citations. That’s not curated by us—everyone adds to it. We’re semi-autonomous; we gather under the same banner, but when we do this once-a-year big event, we encourage people to localize materials, including the interests and holdings of the archive. We don’t dictate what anyone should do!
Do [the event’s leaders] all have art backgrounds?
Some form of arts. Siân Evans and I met at McGill University, where we both studied art history. Michael Mandiberg is an artist and a professor. We’ve always said that this is an intervention as feminists but also as artists, art workers, art historians, and art librarians. The content on Wikipedia about the arts isn’t great, and it’s worth standing up and saying that women’s work matters, but art also matters.
Do you think women are pretty evenly underrepresented on Wikipedia in all areas, or more so in the arts?
In general, every prominent male artist you can think of has a page—those might be in varying states but they’re usually pretty okay. The same thing is not true of female artists. Either the pages don’t exist, or they’re just in terrible shape. I can’t speak to any other areas, because I have no idea. I’m an arts kid.
What are the root causes of this gender inequality, in your opinion?
I think the reason more women aren’t editing has to do with leisure inequality—they work outside the house and they work inside the house. People speculate it’s because the talk pages can be contentious, and also just because we don’t raise young women to think of themselves as authorities of anything.
It’s also due to a combination of facts: only 10 percent of Wikipedia editors are women; in America, anyway, we don’t really have a culture that values art, and space issues. A web character from Grand Theft Auto has five hundred citations, but that’s not true of someone who’s an important artist. I think there are a number of issues.
Some men are interested in artists across the board, though, so you’d think more of them would be creating pages.
Yeah. It’s hard to get into individual motivations as to why these things happen, but part of what we’re doing is drawing attention to [this phenomenon]. Don’t just edit Jeff Koons.
Yeah, he certainly doesn’t need it.
He needs no more attention whatsoever. It’s like, instead take that moment to think about who you aren’t writing about, and why you aren’t writing about them. Why is your first inclination to write about an artist of the same gender?
I’m heartened to see all these men here today, knowing that men in tech aren’t the most feminist-friendly.
Yeah. Open Source Projects in particular has even lower rates of female participation because, I guess, they’re deeply antagonistic, which seems contradictory to their spirit of openness. Astra Taylor has this great line about how “open doesn’t mean equal.” And that’s sort of what we’re hoping to do.
I’m sort of surprised Wikipedia is so supportive of this event—I know when Gamergate happened, they banned some female editors because they claimed these editors were furthering a feminist agenda instead of remaining objective. Did this same attitude affect this event at all?
That’s complicated, because the Wikipedia Foundation is very supportive of what we’re doing—they’ve given us two amazing grants so we can provide childcare for events across the world. But then there are the individual Wikipedians who made that decision you mentioned. Michael wrote a very nuanced piece on Gamergate for Social Text which is maybe worth referencing. There is dissent within the Wikipedia community. We would never say that all Wikipedians are misogynists because we have so many helping us here today who are kindred spirits and want to see us succeed.
I assume the ‘Thon will happen again next year?
Yes we’re going to do this next year! We’re working on building infrastructures, like a toolkit for a feminist thematic-a-thon, so other people can do this too. So if you’re in medicine and feminism you can do one, or I was just speaking to a woman who was interested in starting a literature and feminism Wikipedia edit-a-thon. It’s so much work but it’s really exciting to be part of a project that has women from Paris to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, gathering together.
Are people who aren’t necessarily interested in art, but who just want to support a feminist project, participating?
Yes, a lot of them are our friends. For example, one of our friends is a feminist economist, and she came and wrote about that. Another of our friends is doing a Ph.D. in Italian Studies, and she came and translated an Italian artist’s page into English. She’s actually running the [satellite event] in Florence today. But we don’t really care! Just get involved. You’re a feminist editing—that’s what matters.
Is there anything that’s different about this year’s event? I know there was more training provided after there were some complaints last year.
Yeah, there’s more training, and more funding for refreshments and childcare.
I saw the Wikipedia cake.
Yeah, the cake is really important! There was more development leading up to the training and more promotion, and just expanding our network of people involved with it. That’s been the big difference.