Opening up the Conversation: Expanding Participation at WMG

Laura Kina - "Okinawan Tattoo #2" (2010)

WMG recently sent out the following survey to some artists and friends in our network as part of a new initiative to expand participation and broaden our community. Check out the introduction and following survey. You can see what kinds of interesting and innovative ideas we have received so far in response. Please add your ideas in the comments section below! We rely on this kind of feedback and the conversations it inspires to build our plan–meaning we need you!

Woman Made Gallery (WMG) was founded in 1992 to provide women artists with the opportunity to exhibit, perform, publish, and sell their work, and to offer a place for support and community. Despite leadership by a diverse board, exhibitions that provoke and challenge, and some strategically planned and supported outreach projects, exposure and inclusion is not where we want it to be. As of early 2011, Woman Made is still a resource and exhibition space used and enjoyed primarily by white women. Our mission is to support, cultivate, and promote the diverse contributions of women in the arts through exhibitions and other programs that serve, educate and enrich the community. We want this mission to embrace not only the diverse contributions of women in the arts, but also diverse communities of women and gender nonconforming people. In an effort to grow, please help us by answering the following questions:

1. What do you think is the biggest obstacle to more diverse overall participation at WMG (including artists, audiences, members, interns, volunteers, etc)?

Response: Marketing; outreach.

Response: I would guess that the current demographics of the gallery are not that different than who typically defines themselves as “Feminists” with a capital F. Historically, women of color have been excluded or used by white women within the Feminist movement (see Gloria Anzaldua “This Bridge Called My Back”).


– More presence in non-white communities via exhibition opportunities with radical concepts. What about Women in Graf (just one example) or other cool shows that can attract not only mostly non-white people, but younger artists.

– More exhibitions that deal with contemporary arts practices of different ethnicities. However, being very careful not to essentialize culture into nicely boxed products. Look at Studio Museum of Harlem or El Museo Del Barrio or LACMA and their recent PHANTON SIGHTINGS exhibit.

Response: I am not aware the gallery offers the volunteer program, I think it could have some extended announcement on the website or print on postcards.

2. What kinds of marketing, press, and public relations innovations might be useful in appealing to both ethnic and socio-economic populations that are under-represented at WMG?

Response: Trying to search out and contact diverse neighborhood newsletters or newspapers or artistic organizations/galleries to introduce them to WMG?

Response: I’m convinced this has less to do with the way things look (advertising and marketing) and more to do with reaching out on an individual basis to network and involving more individuals who are leaders from the communities you are targeting and at the same time opening up opportunities for emerging artists in these same communities…find a way to build a network where you have both ends of the spectrum involved to mentor each other within the WomenMade space and then it can become their home.

Response:  I would say delivery postcards, poster, social network websites, and sending email blast to both public and private organizations, (TV, radio stations, schools, universities, cultural clubs etc,) for the upcoming events or exhibitions.

3. With an ultimate goal of building sustainable and diverse participation, what kinds of participation-building practices do you think have the greatest possibility for success:

-Increased exhibition programming that will appeal to more diverse populations of artists and audiences?

Response: Speaking for me, I am hoping to be in shows with everybody. Themed shows that separate ethnic groups are fine. Let’s do an Irish show and a French show, too.

Response: Maybe allow artists to propose a group show or solo show in one of the small gallery spaces, (project room) once a year.

Response: Yes, very much so. I think its all in the exhibition programming. Ask interesting people that have strong relationships to other communities to curate interesting shows. This will then draw new people that have a good relationship to these guest curators.

-Outreach initiatives focused on bringing more diverse audiences into the space for one-time workshops or events, or short-term, series-based programs?

Response: Yes, talks, readings. Significant writers that will draw new communities into the space.

Response: What about a series of “Art Nights” in which WMG would invite one person already in their network to invite another person who has never been before, but may have some interest?  There would be a gallery tour, an artist talk,  time for discussion and conversation, and of course refreshments.

-Partnerships between WMG and community or services-based Chicago organizations that focus on a more long-term or permanent collaboration?

Response: Yes, perhaps connecting with places like Antena Gallery or Yollocalli, the Southside Community Arts Center, NMMA, 32nd Urban, Little Black Pearl….

Response: Yes!


Response: Increase our visibility during other chicago art planned events– such as the 2011 Creative Chicago Expo (just one idea).

4. Do you have any ideas for exhibition themes or series that might provide a venue for under-represented artists and audiences?

Response: You could create shows that have Chicago neighborhood themes. So for example, you title a show “Pilsen” and it has to be work from artists living in Pilsen or influenced by Pilsen (also Albany Park, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Bridgeport, Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park, Englewood, Austin, Chadtham). You could do the outreach through individual artists in the community and through community centers.

I would invite someone from the demographic you are interested in targeting to guest curate a show. They would then bring in their network to the space. This might or might not be overtly about identity. Essentially, changing the “gate keepers” might change who comes.

Response: What about a show about artistic mothers/mentors? You pick a well-known artist from the demographic you are interested in and you ask her to show her work alongside the woman or women that have been her mentors or inspiration?

Response: As artists we all have to be careful about where we show; we have to think about who juries us.  The juror  is critical to the number of entries the gallery gets and contributes to the interest of people who may review shows at the gallery. Jurors should have national status, and even though many of us show nationally and even internationally, I am not talking about us. I am speaking of Kara Walker, Renee Cox, Mickalene Thomas, Thelma Golden, Philemona Williamson, June Kelly, etc. as judges for an African American, and of course, these women are capable of jurying anyone in an exhibition, not only black women or women of color. Anyone would be thrilled to be selected for a show they judged as was evidenced when Faith Ringgold and Margaret Hawkins judged the International.

Prizes could include an exhibition at a gallery OUTSIDE of Chicago. Easy to collaborate with galleries who are also looking for ways to promote their spaces. Would it be great if June Kelly agreed to feature an artist she selected at her NYC gallery? Or Thelma Golden made it possible for a winner to show at the Studio Museum in Harlem?

Paul Klein would be a great judge for a show, if a man is allowed to do it.

Response: I’m not sure we will be able to increase the number of scheduled exhibitions, but we could schedule the year’s exhibitions with an overall unified direction—for instance, maybe one full year of programming revolves around chicago neighborhoods, the next year around global unity, etc.

Response:  I think looking at the interesting exhibits of Studio Museum of Harlem, The Renaissance Society’s Black Is, Black Ain’t show, Phantom Sightings – LACMA, Sikkema Jenkins Gallery , Antena Gallery, El Museo Del Barrio, Bronx Museum, PSI – great sources for expanding the potential of a contemporary, cutting-edge dialogue.

5. If you saw a blurb on the TV news tonight, or if you heard a report on NPR about something amazing Woman Made was doing, what might that be?

Response: If you start outreaching to seriously underserved community centers, that’s going to have a big impact. The NPR reference reminded me about a segment I heard on food deserts in Chicago neighborhoods. There are community gardening efforts going on in an attempt to solve these problems. I wonder if raising awareness through the arts could help?

Response: That WMG has been a pillar in the city of Chicago, which provides a great range of female artists and ample audiences a great platform to express creativities, love, and exchange intellectual dialogues between different subjects traditionally and contemporarily. 

Response: Super amazing cutting edge exhibition dealing with urgent issues….

6. What is a reasonable short-term goal for building participation, and how can we measure success/ results?

Response: A designated committee would be helpful in terms of putting together a strategic plan-maybe this could be part of a larger programming committee—I would love that!!

Response: An interactive community blog and the neighborhood show idea above wouldn’t cost you much money and could fit with your short-term goals as could hosting events for existing communities (relating to the arts) that you are targeting. In terms of assessment, that’s always a trick. Short audience surveys, using a blog again to gather feedback, attendance numbers and demographics, antidotal human interest stories.

Response: Have a reception with a structured program and invite representatives from ethnic member organizations to promote dialogue and awareness.

Response: After an outreach/ad/contact, tracking ethnic and economic demographics of new artists and members.

Response: Ask a curator to put together a show: someone like those listed above…a collaboration perhaps….this can be soon and it will promise new folks…

Response: The number of visitors increases during the openings or while gallery is open? The amount of artworks sold? More volunteers would help the gallery in any ways? More submissions for shows or workshops?

One thought on “Opening up the Conversation: Expanding Participation at WMG

  1. Sioban Lombardi says:

    1. The more we look only at our differences, the more we are separate. If we limit our identity to our gender, we are giving both artists and art short shrift. Or perhaps we ought to take a chance and see what the unrepresented gender thinks about women?

    2. In providing this survey to an already existing constituency, Woman Made is not reaching the artists it is not reaching.

    3. The gallery space often seems crowded, artists statements posted next to work eliminates the opportunity for personal interpretation, retail space seems “crafty”.

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