The State of Women in the Arts in Kansas City

On Tuesday, April 27, a group of about 30 local arts supporters gathered at the Diastole in downtown Kansas City to discuss the state of women in the arts in Kansas City.  The event was billed as an “Artist Salon” where informal conversation about a shared topic of concern could take place amongst the diverse, yet like-minded group of individuals.  Those in attendance included Jan Schall, curator at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, several local visual artists including Ritchie Kaye, Shea Gordon-Festoff, and Nicole Emanuel, local spoken word artist Natasha El-Scari, and several other arts supporters.

The evening began with a reception hosted by local artist Sonie Ruffin, who is also one of the 2010 Charlotte Street Award recipients.  The conversation during the reception was lively and convivial.  It was obvious that many of people in the room were well acquainted with each other and had talked “art” before. 

But the real discussion began when facilitator, Renee Blanche (host of Night Tides on KCUR), welcomed the group into the Diastole’s kiva where she asked everyone why they were all there.  “Support… Recognition… Balance…” were words that were called out.  It was clear that the state of women in the arts was a topic this group had been waiting to talk about for quite a while.  Before getting into the discussion a short clip from the documentary “Who Does She Think She Is?” was shown followed by a presentation of some statistics on the state of women in the arts in Kansas City.  Both the movie clip and the presentation emphasized the inequities that women face in the art world.  For example, women comprise of more than half of the students studying art, music, dance, or theater; however, men overwhelmingly dominate museum collections and positions of power in the art world. 

The movie clip and presentation provided much fuel to get the conversation going.  Most of the people agreed that there were disparities when it comes to female representation in the visual arts.  There were many comments and personal accounts from several female artists who experienced sexism from gallery owners.  Others commented on institutionalized and systemic problems that caused the imbalance of male to female representation in the museums.  And there was much discussion about the woman’s role in society – how does a woman have enough time to raise a family, have a career, and express her creativity?  Natasha El Scari and Nicole Emanuel talked about sacrifices that they had to make in their lives in order to do all those things. 

The discussion ended with a conversation about support.  It was clear that the women artists in the room were in agreement that support from all directions was necessary to making it all work.  Ritchie Kaye talked about having the support from her family and friends so that she could travel long distances to and from art school when her children were young.  Others emphasized the support of other female artists and coalition building.  And it was discussed that leaders in the art world, whether male or female, needed to have a sensibility to women artists’ unique needs in order to get the support that they deserve.  In the end the group agreed to come together more frequently to put together an action plan for how the issues raised could be addressed.

The artist salon ended the Her Art Project, a month long series of events that explored the unique challenges women face as they bring together motherhood, careers, and artistic fulfillment, including the group art exhibit Her Art: Who Does She Think She Is? on display at the Leedy-Voulkos Arts Center through the end of May.  This series was sponsored by the UMKC Women’s Center, the Leedy-Voulkos Arts Center, the Women’s Employment Network, the University Libraries, the UMKC Department of Communication Studies, the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, and STUFF.  The Women’s Center hopes to build on the Her Art Project and continue to provide programs about women in the arts.

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