DC Wikipedia edit-a-thon a chance to shine light on women in the arts

Frida Kahlo? That's an easy one. But can you name four other women artists? That's just one of the ways the National Museum of Women in the Arts is celebrating Women's History Month. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

WASHINGTON — The National Museum of Women in the Arts will help celebrate Women’s History Month by adding to that history in a digital way.

The museum will host a Wikipedia edit-a-thon March 11, during which volunteer editors will update, enhance and create entries for women visual artists.

Sarah Osborne Bender, director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the museum, said it’s the fourth year the museum will host one of these events, organized by the New York-based group Art + Feminism. She said it fulfills one of the core missions of the museum: “creating a space and an opportunity to represent women in the arts that have not been given the time and space that they should have.”

For one thing, Bender said, Wikipedia’s own survey finds that only 10 percent of its editors are women; for another, “It’s common knowledge that women in the arts have always been underrepresented, when we talk about gallery shows and museum collections, and art-historical writing.”

So the edit-a-thon addresses both of these situations, she said — “by training more women to be editors, and … pointing those women who are interested in art to improve and create more entries about women in the arts.”

Bender emphasized that would-be editors don’t need any special skills or to have edited Wikipedia pages before — all they need is a laptop.

The organizers from Art + Feminism identify women artists who don’t have Wikipedia entries, or sketchy ones, and make lists for hosting organizations to give to volunteers. The museum will provide Wikipedia training, as well as print resources from the library and guidance to reliable online sources to craft entries.

“It can seem overwhelming at first, but this is the best environment in which to learn,” Bender said.

Wikipedia is an important resource for anyone looking to add to their store of knowledge, Bender said — for one thing, it’s “open, democratic and available.”

“We’re not talking about publishing an expensive book, or putting together a museum exhibition that’s in one place at one time. Wikipedia is a vast, open resource,” she said.

And its influence is big.

“Even Google pulls basic biographical information from Wikipedia entries. So the better that we can present reliable, factual information on Wikipedia, the better that we can feel people’s basic informational needs are being met when they go to the internet.”

The first edit-a-thon was held at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, four years ago. Similar events have been held to boost the profiles of women musicians, writers, architects and more. Art + Feminism has grown since the first event: This month, edit-a-thons are set for across the U.S. and in Canada, Turkey, Israel, Portugal, Chile, Italy, Germany and other countries.

The edit-a-thon begins Saturday, March 11, at the museum, at 1250 New York Ave. NW, in D.C. It starts with a welcome and a tutorial on editing at 10 a.m.; the editing runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and lunch is served at noon. It’s open to the public, but registrations are required. You need a laptop and a photo ID; the museum says extension cords and power strips are also highly recommended.

It’s not the only way the museum is celebrating the month: It’s the second year for their social media #5womenartists campaign.

The aim is simple: Can you name five women artists? If you can, do it, and use the hashtag. If you can’t, you’ve got a chance to learn.

“Some people can name five, 10, 20 male artists and can’t name five women artists,” Bender said. “And also [we can] draw a lot of names out of the woodwork [from] people who are easily able to name five women artists, and get those names online.”

The museum also features gallery talks on Wednesdays at noon and an event with artist Ann Hamilton and artist-activist Emily Pilloton entitled “How Art Makers Change the World” March 29. And admission to the museum on the first Sunday of each month is always free.


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