Commentary: Should funders require quotas for female equality at arts orgs?

Lalayn Baluch, The Guardian Theatre Blog, 10/6/11

We all know equality is a point of contention in the arts. Think about the concerns raised over the lack of meaty roles for women. Playwright and director Julia Pascal, the first woman to direct at the National Theatre, believes it's because most subsidised venues are run by men who "choose male writers to write about male experiences". Pascal has [proposed] that the woman issue can be addressed through Arts Council England: "I think unless we have equality being demanded at funding level, equality of employment for women at all levels, this is not going to change." It's a timely suggestion, given that ACE is currently reviewing its plans for diversity. [And] it's happening in the business world: a report by Lord Davies urged FTSE 100 companies to increase the number of women on their boards to 25% by 2015. While the former minister did not go as far as recommending mandatory quotas, he didn't rule it out as a future option. And the EU justice commissioner believes quotas could be the necessary next step. [Spain, France and Norway] already apply quotas for women [on boards]. The world of arts doesn't have trouble recruiting women, but women rarely move into high-powered positions. The 2011 Sex and Power report shows that the number of women chairing national arts companies dropped from 33% between 2005 and 2008 to just 8.3% in 2010-11. The Cultural Leadership Programme's Women in Leadership study of 2008 revealed that in the creative industries, male leaders outnumber female by 2 to 1. Clearly something needs to be done. More women at the top might filter down and have an impact on programming and commissioning. It may create more opportunities for female playwrights and actors, and fill a gap for audiences, going some way to addressing the often-highlighted gender inequality issues. But we can't know this for sure until it actually happens. I wonder if Pascal is right.

 

Commentary: "I don't believe in quotas"

Producer/director/playwright Augusta Supple on her blog, 9/14/11, discussed a recent Salon on 'Women in Theatre Research' at the Australian Theatre Forum:

Since 2009, there has been prolific debate about the persistent under-representation of the work of women directors and playwrights at the highest levels of the theatre industry. [Yet] strategies for addressing this under-representation have been elusive. The Australia Council commissioned researchers Elaine Lally and Sarah Miller to analyse the issues affecting women in theatre, as the basis for informing the development of strategies and actions.Have a look at [their] reference material that is a conversation starter about the issues facing women in theatre.I think it's interesting to ask:Why are we expecting the Australian Council to remedy the problem? Why is it that we want other people to solve our problems? How do we learn to ask to be noticed, visible? Why is this so difficult to talk about? Why don't women agree with each other? Could it be that it is how we talk about gender that puts people (and ADs) from engaging with it? What are the problems in theatre sector on the whole - and what are the problems which are unique to women working in theatre? And now I am left thinking: Why are we expecting the theatre companies and artistic directors to represent everyone, all the time? They clearly don't. And I don't think they practically can. Programming is about taste. IF you don't like how or what someone programmes - don't attend. For me it comes down to this:

VISIBILITY of women artists is vital.
EXAMPLES of awesome talent women should be widely and constantly publicized
AWARENESS brings change.
CONFIDENCE wins over arrogance.
TASTE drives programming over merit.
I don't believe in QUOTAS.
IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE EITHER/OR - we can and should want both men AND women.

 

Commentary: The issue isn't about quotas, but intellectual representation

Ariel Ramchandani, The Economist's More Intelligent Life blog, 7/25/10

Gender bias at [New York's Museum of Modern Art] continued uncorrected for decades. In 2007, Jerry Saltz, an art critic, took aim at MoMA's permanent collection on the fourth and fifth floors of its grandly renovated midtown space: "there are 400 works of art on these floors," he wrote, "14 by women." He conceded that "Art history isn't about fairness. Nevertheless -- and this is a vital point -- MoMA's master narrative would not be disrupted if more women were placed on view. In fact, that narrative would come to life in ways it never has before, ways that would be revitalising, even revolutionary." Saltz made an essential point. Exhibiting art made by women is not about quotas, but intellectual representation. Seeing Georgia O'Keefe alongside Arthur Dove at the Clark Art institute in Massachusetts illuminated for me the influence of one on the other, and changed my perspective of both. A great retrospective of Elizabeth Peyton's work at Manhattan's New Museum reinforced her brand of soft-focus pop art and helped to nudge it into the contemporary canon. "Feminism is dead," declared an angry man to his far angrier girlfriend on a bus behind me recently. "You don't need it anymore." Woman now make up more than half of the American work force, and boys are falling behind in school. In The Atlantic, Hannah Rosin wonders if it's "The End of Men". And Lady Gaga exists. How important is it for women to clamour for more representation in museums? The issue is not about numbers, but about widening the field of view. It's about giving female viewers chance to experience the resonance of personal expression. Through exposure to more work by more artists, women can learn more about ourselves, about how we understand the world and express our place within it.

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