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Female exclusion limits art economy

MEN TEND to dominate the arts economy in Jamaica both as artists and buyers, even though the key gallery owners and gatekeepers are women.

Gatekeepers argue that it makes the art economy much smaller than its true size.

“We have a wealth of talent, and artists and creatives of both genders should receive opportunities and investment, so that our creative economy has the benefit of 100 per cent of its cultural workforce achieving its fullest potential,” said Andrea Dempster-Chung, a structural engineer and co-founder of Kingston Creative, an arts-focused non-governmental organisation.

Dempster-Chung addressed the opening of ‘Women in Art’, an exhibition at The Sky Gallery in Kingston, on Tuesday night.

She admitted that females in Jamaica lead the world in holding management jobs, and also tertiary-level enrolment. Females are, however, underrepresented in political participation, business ownership, project funding, and the creative sector.

For instance, it is easy to list male master painters from Jamaica, but it’s a challenge to match that list with an equal number of female master painters. Few are women, even though most persons enrolled in arts education are women.

The ‘Women in Art’ exhibition runs under the theme ‘Uncovering the artistry of contemporary female artists’. The artistes showing their works include Laura Facey, Ammoy Smith, Inansi, Romaine McNeil, Madison Addington, Danielle Powell, Smicky, Christine Reynolds, Kianne Patrice Hutchinson, Melissa Lyn, Chantal Rhone-Kellyman and Lee-Ann Haslam.

The exhibition closes tomorrow. The Sky Gallery is led and co-founded by Tara Brown.

Dempster-Chung lauded the exhibition as a means of selling more artwork made by women.

To reduce the gender divide, Dempster-Chung recommends equity in various fields such as investments, hiring, purchasing, pricing, and awards.

Regarding investments, she said that if more men apply for capital, then banks and venture capitalists ought to find out why the divide exists, and also reach out to women in groups to apply. In relation to hiring, she said that organisations should aim to hire an equal number of males and females for creative projects, whether as writers, graphic artists, photographers or muralists. For pricing, she said that there’s a tendency for art by women to be priced less than that of men. And when it comes to awards, she said that corporate Jamaica should provide scholarships and grants or residences to emerging artists, which would allow them a platform to enter international art shows.

“This is a call to action for our corporates, who should take note of this trend and join global brands in supporting the women artists in Jamaica,” she said.

Dempster-Chung highlighted that at the US popular arts fair Art Basel, in Miami, roughly one in four artists on display are women. She added that institutional places like museums and top-tier auctions are worse, with nearly 90 per cent of the art being painted by males. This results, she said, in men earning the bulk of the funds flowing from the sector, with only two of the top 100 most expensive pieces sold last year being painted by women: Georgia O’Keeffe and Louise Bourgeois.

The data in Jamaica, while anecdotal, would follow the international norms. She reasoned that women would earn less for the same art jobs as men.

Galleries are key to the art scene, giving artists a place to sell their works and art collectors a place to resell. Today, there are a handful of galleries in the island. The Sky Gallery, which opened in 2021, acts as a lounge and gallery that allows modern art and culture to mix.

The art economy remains one of the last asset classes which has not seen a rebound since the 1990s. Its vibrancy collapsed with the financial sector meltdown in that era. It removed key players in the arts economy such as banks and insurance entities, which were institutional buyers. Also, buyers no longer held disposable income, and this led to the closure of some galleries.

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