Commentary: Women Have Made Their Mark In The Arts

Jan 2, 2015

Nancy Kranzberg

The subject of Women in the Arts has been brought to my attention once again.

Dr. Barbara Harbach, Curators' Professor of Music at UMSL, an internationally known composer and organist has now directed her third Women in the Arts Conference. Women in the Arts is a celebration of women creators present and past, a partnership of institutions and arts organizations from the St. Louis metropolitan area.

The Nine Network recently aired, "Makers: Celebrating Achievements of Extraordinary Women." Six new documentaries in the "Maker's" project featured groundbreaking American women in different spheres of influence: war, comedy, space, business, Hollywood and politics. Each program profiled prominent women and related their struggles, triumphs and contributions as they reshaped and transformed the landscape of their chosen vocations.

Laumeier Sculpture Park Director Marilu Knode says that the visibility of women in the visual arts has changed over the past few years. St. Louis is a perfect example of how women have matriculated into leadership positions--almost all of the visual arts museums in town are led by women, but the statistics regarding the number of women artists showing across the country in galleries and museums is disconcerting. While women are almost half the graduates of art schools, newspapers and art magazines record the slide of representing women artists in the market. We need another round of consciousness raising about the importance women artists, curators and philanthropists have had, and continue to have, in shaping the visual arts for the past 100 years.

Laumeier Sculpture Park includes more women artists than any other museum in town.

Lisa Melandri, Executive Director of The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis says, "CAM is committed to exhibiting the work of women artists--Maya Lin, Cindy Sherman, Louise Bourgeois, Jennifer Bornstein, Ellen Gallagher, Polly Apfelbaum, Jenny Holzer, etc. and many others--as essential contributors to contemporary art and as vital, recognized members of the art historical cannon. Recently, CAM organized the mid-career survey of Nicole Eisenman, one of the most important artists working today, in an exhibition that addressed, head on, subjects of equality, civil rights, identity and feminism".

Olivia Lahs Gonzales, Director of The Sheldon Art Galleries is a well-known photographer in her own right and has published on prints, drawings, painting and sculpture. Publications and essays include "My Nature: Works with Paper by Kiki Smith (1999),"Defining Eye: Women Photographers of the 20th Century (1997) and "Candida Hoffer Photographs (2005).

Em Piro, Executive Director of The St. Lou Fringe Festival feels that like gender which is transient, art exists on a spectrum rather than a dichotomy.

Jessica Baran, nationally published poet, writer and art critic and Director of Fort Gondo Gallery on Cherokee, says she's trying to understand the effect of the abundance of women artists and would like to think that it serves as a progressive model.

When googling "women in the arts" there was no end to organizations saluting women in the arts. There was "Brava For Women in the Arts" in San Francisco, Southern California's, "Caucus for Women in the Arts" and "The Women in the Arts Festival" in Michigan. There was a website for Black Women in the Arts, Jewish Women in the Arts, and Native American Women in the Arts. The list goes on and on.

Women have certainly made their mark in the arts, and I'm very thrilled, but hope that one day, we won't have to discuss it anymore and that women will always be heard and folks won't be so shocked that a work of art in any discipline was produced by a woman.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years on numerous arts related boards.