In the second week of the SWA Annual Exhibition, the Mall Galleries hosted a discussion entitled: ‘Women only?!’ - Exploring the continued relevance and growing trend of Women-only art exhibitions and competitions. The reason being a recently launched, and very promisingly advertised ‘£100,000 Freelands Award’ .
I was really looking forward to hearing the panel of experts: Sue Jelley PSWA; Melanie Cassoff, Managing Director of the Freelands Foundation (the organization behind the new award that was created in response to a report they commissioned on mid-career opportunities for women artists - see http://freelandsfoundation.co.uk); and Eliza Gluckman, curator of the New Hall Art Collection at the Murray Edwards College, Cambridge University. The Debate was Chaired by Susan Mumford, the founder of the Association of Women Art Dealers and also, co-author of ‘Art Is Your Life. Make It Your Living’.
The guests set out to discuss whether there is a growing trend in women specific art prizes, exhibitions and whether they are really needed. Being a mid career, UK based artist myself - as were 2/3 of the audience gathered - I hoped to learn more about the newly established Freelands prize, and also about how to get involved in these ‘women only endeavours’, as Susan Mumford called them. I came with enthusiasm, wanting to learn how much more is out there for us. I was interested in the issue from the point of view of the women artist themselves. We were given a very thorough introduction of the participants and a history of the organisations they represent. The tone of the event was serious, wider ranging and more theoretical than I had anticipated. The references were international and, I thought, there was a slight disconnect in relevance for the audience (still, do check out the New York based organisation, Pen and Brush, one never knows...). I found Sue’s account of the Society very interesting, her personal and the Society’s achievements and integrity fascinating. I thought her talk to be the most relevant to the day-to-day issues that we, women artists face. With the occasional and very well received light-hearted remarks from Sue, I felt she was trying to melt the scholarly atmosphere into a warmer, conversational event.
Melanie Cassoff did indeed outline the purpose of and the procedure involved in the Freelands Prize, which was set up to enable a chosen regional art organization, based outside of London to promote a mid-career female artist of their choice. The winner of the prize will be announced by end of September and I am very excited to hear the results.
I also enjoyed learning about the New Hall Art Collection and its history from Eliza Gluckman and her more academic view of / approach to the problems of women artists’ support and their representation here in the UK as well as abroad. Her knowledge is truly captivating.
All in all, the conversation evolved into a very informative afternoon and to answer the question it started with: Yes, it seems that all present agreed, there is a need for ‘women only’ possibilities, not just for their financial aspect, but as Sue pointed out, for the hidden value of the very welcomed confidence they engender. So ladies, the panel’s message to you at the end was: keep working, be yourselves, and most importantly, support each other, to enjoy a better future in the art-world.
For more on this topic, try #women in arts on Facebook and Twitter, go to http://www.mallgalleries.org.uk and then to ‘blog’. Also see http://freelandsfoundation.co.uk, and find Murray Edwards College on Facebook and Twitter. You can also listen to the whole discussion on https://soundcloud.com/mallgalleries.