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Closing the gender gap on Wikipedia

Sharita Dickerson ’14 at St. Kate’s 2014 Art+Feminism Edit-a-thon. Below: Amy Hamlin and Emma Flood; Patricia Olson's “Feminist Revisioning” is displayed on the wall.
Sharita Dickerson ’14 at St. Kate’s 2014 Art+Feminism Edit-a-thon. Below: Amy Hamlin and Emma Flood; Patricia Olson's “Feminist Revisioning” is displayed on the wall.
Wiki photo supplied. Potrait by Ashley de los Reye

Name an influential woman artist. Chances are names like Georgia O’Keefe or Frida Kahlo come to mind. But what about Wanda Ewing, or Harriet Bart, or St. Kate’s own Patricia Olson? Until recently, the vast majority of women artists weren’t represented in Wikipedia, the largest online encyclopedia, and the sixth most accessed website in the world.

The Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon aims to change that trend, one article at a time. The international campaign encourages editors — female or male, novice or experienced — to contribute to pages about art, feminism, and women. Since its February 2014 launch in New York City, the movement has spread worldwide. So far in 2015, over 75 events were held in 17 countries.

St. Kate’s hosts the next local event on Saturday, May 9, from noon—4 p.m. in the Visual Arts Building. The event is free and open to the public. The number of available computers is limited; participants who have laptops are encouraged to bring them.

Why are female artists so under-represented on Wikipedia? Two words: male editors.

In April 2015, over 440 million unique users accessed Wikipedia’s nearly five million articles, the vast majority of which were written by men. A number of surveys conducted since 2011 have indicated that between 8 and 16 percent of Wikipedia editors are women.

Amy and Emma“So in addition to editing articles about women artists, another objective for the edit-a-thons is to bring more women editors into the fold,” says Amy Hamlin, associate professor of art history, who’s organizing St. Kate’s event with student collaborator Emma Flood ’15.

The duo have been involved in local edit-a-thon events from the start, and attended the inaugural event at the University of Minnesota in February 2014.

“There was this feeling of solidarity – that we were gathering to apply our expertise and enthusiasm for women in art and do something good,” says Hamlin.

“None of us had edited on Wikipedia before that event,” adds Flood. “By the end, we left feeling super energized.”

It’s the kind of energy found from being part of a larger movement, a form of “digital activism” that needs a female voice.

“By editing, by modifying one of the world’s top knowledge bases and making sure the information that goes out to people — even if it’s basic information — has a feminist lens and has perspective and has gender parities, that’s a huge achievement,” says Flood.

That initial 2014 launch resulted in over 100 new articles about women artists from 28 locations worldwide.

Bridging the movement to the classroom

Aiming to keep the momentum going, Hamlin and Flood hosted St. Kate’s first edit-a-thon in April 2014.

Since the assignments for her Women in Art course were already set for the term, Hamlin required students to attend the event, but didn’t grade them on the work. She was surprised by how the students claimed a stake in the process — many of whom have continued to edit Wikipedia articles, long after the course was over.

“I was so interested to see how invested they were. There was no grade, no incentive, yet they did more than I would’ve imagined,” says Hamlin. “It’s been eye-opening to imagine assignments where the student isn’t writing for me, but for a bigger audience out there.”

This year, the event was intentionally integrated into the spring Women in Art course. Hamlin and Flood have been researching and evaluating the Art+Feminist Wikipedia Edit-a-thon movement as part of an Assistantship Mentoring Program (AMP) project and are preparing manuscripts on their research for several online art publications and academic journals.

Related information:

Previous experience with Wikipedia editing is not required for attendees. Tutorials are available on editing and how to set up an account. Visit the Art+Feminism meetup site to access these resources and a list of upcoming events.

May 4, 2015 by Sharon Rolenc

See also: Alumnae/i, Arts, Faculty, Liberal Arts, Social Justice, Students