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No Choice Too Small: Rewiring DEI

When International Women’s Day rolled around this spring, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) did much more than move the Louise Bourgeois postcards front and center or open Nan Goldin’s photo books for display. Instead, the ICA rejuvenated the usual nods to women artists by inviting any and all members of the community to help close the gender gap in who authors and edits Wikipedia pages on the female artists included in their collection and exhibitions. The Museum provided computers, wi-fi, and reference materials in addition to digital and research training. In exchange for their contribution, participating researchers and writers got free admission.

The March efforts at the ICA and other museums were part of Art & Feminism; a campaign that has been working since 2005 to “improve the coverage of cis and transgendered women, feminism, and the arts on Wikipedia.” The organization was founded in response to the fact that only 10% of the editors of Wikipedia are female and the researched accounts of all but a few women artists are sparse, at best. The organization is having an impact, in 2018 alone, 22,000 pages were created or improved by over 4,000 participants at more than 275 events around the world.

This is not a blockbuster exhibit with banners and press that will open, host crowds and then close. It is “just” rapt attention to re-wiring how much people know about women as artists – for years to come.

We might – at last — have a big picture discussion of diversity, equity and inclusion in arts and culture in the U. S.: how musicians of color are missing in orchestras; how theaters and directors have to confront color conscious casting; how ballet companies need to invest in earlier and more equitable pathways for young dancers; how archivists have to know their holding in Black oral history and early photography of Native American communities.

But what we don’t have is a commitment to re-wiring the entire DEI house. Taking off from the ICA’s edit-a-thon, what if cultural institutions took on “No choice too small” campaigns, asking about the daily, nearly invisible, practices that comprise their institutional DNA:

  • Who edits the web page? Whose picture is up there? What are they doing?
  • Who makes the list of on-call photographers and videographers?
  • Who heads the ticket office?
  • How are auditions conducted? What feedback do applicants get?
  • Who is on the sound crew? How are individuals promoted? What are the apprenticeship opportunities?
  • Who gets prime time slots as a docent? Who listens to the narratives they tell? Whose questions they answer?

“One should consider equity a process, not a thing. It is an ongoing and sustained course of reflection, discussion, and inquiry of courage, compassion, and creativity to seek out and act on blind spots due to power, privilege, and bias.”[1]

[1] Don Long, National Association of State Boards of Education & Ace Parsi, National Center for Learning Disabilities, in Student Self-Advocacy Requires Deeper Policymaking” EdWeek, May 15, 2018.
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