If someone asked you to name a few famous artists, what would you say? Rembrandt? Van Gogh? Picasso? Pollock? Warhol? How many men would you list before a female artist came to mind? If you’re still trying to think of a woman to add to your roster, don’t worry, you’re not alone—Google “famous artist” and the search engine spits out 50 names spanning five centuries, a measly three of which are women.
Attempting to right this gendered recall imbalance, the National Museum of Women in the Arts have launched a campaign, beginning today, called “Can You Name Five Women Artists?” in honor of Women’s History Month. Using the hashtag #5womenartists, the museum will share female artists’ biographies, quotes, statistics, and more on their website, blog, and social media pages to help raise awareness of women artists throughout the ages.
“When we’ve asked people, they’re often shocked by how difficult it was to name five women artists off the top of their heads,” says Amy Mannarino, NMWA’s director of communications and marketing. “We hope that moment of shock will inspire people to share the challenge and start questioning why the disparity exists and persists.”
In an effort to share a wider range of work produced by women, NMWA asked other art institutions to join them using the hashtag on social media to highlight works by women in their collections and exhibitions. To date, 70 museums have joined in the cause, among them 14 D.C. institutions, coastal vanguards like the New Museum in New York and the Getty in L.A., and international participants from Canada, Australia, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
“We were hopeful, of course, that other museums would be interested in participating,” Mannarino says. “However, we are thrilled with the extremely positive response we’ve received. What we didn’t anticipate was how the campaign would inspire other museums and cultural institutions to take the social media campaign further.”
Some participating institutions have run with NMWA’s #5womenartists initiative. According to Mannarino, the Columbus Museum of Art decided to create recordings by artists, professors, museum directors (including NMWA’s Susan Fisher Sterling), and local personalities about these artists’ works that visitors can listen to in the galleries.
More locally, Torpedo Factory Art Center resident artists will contribute tiles featuring names of and sources of inspiration from prominent women artists for a magnetic installation near their Union Street entrance. Additionally, artists participating in the center’s Second Thursday Art Night program have been asked to wear #5womenartists buttons to encourage questions from studio visitors.
Of course, the public is encouraged to contribute to the campaign using the hashtag as well. “If you search #5womenartists on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram you’ll see that people have already begun using it,” Mannarino says.
NMWA will host several events throughout the month to further exhume women’s historical significance in the arts, including their fourth annual Wikipedia edit-a-thon, during which participants revise Wiki entries significant to female history to reflect a more gender-balanced narrative.
1250 New York Ave NW. $8–$10. (202) 783-5000. nmwa.org.