New leaders create different narratives
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Simon Stephens
The publication of gender pay gap data has shown museums are far below the national average of nearly 20% difference between pay rates for men and women. As our article points out, this is perhaps unsurprising in a sector that is increasingly made up of a female workforce. And discrimination in museums is far more than just being about those who work in the sector. It’s also about the types of exhibitions that museums choose to hold and the stories that they tell.

Campaigners such as the Guerrilla Girls have spent years exposing gender bias in the art world. This group of feminist activist artists created the provocative 1989 poster asking: “Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met Museum?” The subtitle pointed out that while fewer than 5% of the artists in the New York museum’s modern art sections were women, 85% of the nudes in the galleries were female.

The Guerrilla Girls have addressed far more than gender issues. In 2015, they put a projection on the facade of the Whitney Museum in New York about income inequality and the super-rich hijacking art.

Of course, how museums behave and what they display is down to issues of power and who makes the decisions. For many years, most of the directors at the major museums in the UK and US have been middle-aged white men. When this changes, it comes as no big surprise that museum programmes change.

Baltic is a good example of this. Sarah Munro took over as the director of the Gateshead gallery in late 2015. This year’s programme kicked off with exhibitions by Jasmina Cibic, Sofia Stevi and Serena Korda. This month, a show featuring the work of 2017 Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid and an exhibition called Women by Women curated by photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, a founder member of the Amber film and photography collective, will open.

Would as many women be showing their work at Baltic if it had a male director? It’s impossible to say, but what is true is that directors such as Munro are creating a different narrative at the UK’s museums and galleries.

And it is these new stories that are helping museums of all types to reach wider audiences, as they better reflect the interests, concerns and experiences of today’s society.

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal

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