The conversation

02.09.2019
Why is it important to investigate gender representation in the art world?
Dear Kate:

I was delighted to have worked with you on producing the Freelands Foundation’s fourth research report, looking at female artist representation in Britain.

When we started the research in 2016 we were surprised at how big the imbalances were. We were encouraged to see that after four years of reviewing the data we are finally starting to see improvements in some areas. While some of the changes are positive, there is obviously still a way to go when we look at gender equality in the visual arts sector in the UK.

Best wishes, Melanie

Dear Melanie:

It’s been fascinating to undertake this research – it is the only forum where the breadth of the industry is mapped from early career, all the way to “deceased estates” in the commercial sector.

This trajectory enables us to see what data is improving – solo exhibitions in the not-for-profit sector, for example – and what aspects are barely changing, such as auction houses. We know that women do well in art school, but after graduating their representation declines over the span of their career.

Best wishes, Kate

Dear Kate:


You highlight some interesting points from the findings. It is so important that we not only conduct and publish this research, but that we track this data on an annual basis. By shining the spotlight on what the reality looks like, we can draw attention both to good practices and to areas where remedial action is needed.

We have seen some exciting developments this year, including the all-female rehang at Tate Britain. We hope that drawing attention to the data will encourage organisations and their senior leaders to support initiatives that will encourage the career progress of female artists, and also set examples of best practice that others can follow.

Best wishes, Melanie

Dear Melanie:

You are absolutely right – the data underscores what things are improving, and what things are stagnant. In many ways, the task now is to examine what is doing well, and why, and whether we can apply and/or encourage particular types of best practice in other areas.

The data looks at three areas: opportunities for women artists; the performance of institutions in terms of programming and representation of female artists; and female “non-artists” working within the sector. Each has distinct obstacles and challenges.

Improvements in some areas, such as the number of female gallery directors, do not necessarily impact on the representation of female artists in programming. It is a complex ecology and the data helps us understand what areas require more research.

Best wishes, Kate

Dear Kate:

This is why we continue to track the data annually, and also look to include additional metrics for each new report we publish. The data from previous reports shows us where we need to focus, and we are already getting some interesting ideas for further exploration for next year.

While we have only just published the results from the year-four report, we are already thinking about what next year will look like, both in terms of where the data trends will move, what may have shifted and improved, and how best to continue expanding what we are looking at to ensure that the information from any and all relevant metrics is being captured.

Best wishes, Melanie

Dear Melanie:

It is exciting thinking about how this research can continue to challenge and change the sector. The potential to build on the research each year means we are able to constantly respond and evolve, as new ideas and issues arise.

Exploring the whys and hows will enable us to engage directly with artists and the sector about what they perceive the challenges to be, and what has made a big difference to them. We already know that simply “doing the numbers” can cause people to look at what they are doing. The question now is: “What else can be done?”

Best wishes, Kate

Melanie Cassoff is the director of the Freelands Foundation. Kate McMillan is a teaching fellow in culture, media and the creative industries at King’s College, London

The Freelands Foundation commissions an annual report into the representation of female artists in Britain

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