By Emma Jiayue Liu
The Ottawa Art Gallery marked International Women’s Day on March 8 by hosting an event to raise the Wikipedia profile of 14 local artists, part of a world-wide campaign to amplify the presence of Ottawa women and non-binary artists in the popular online encyclopedia.
Every March since 2013, the New York-based global Art+Feminism campaign, has organized more than 500 events around the world to create and improve thousands of Wikipedia entries on women
“It builds a historical link to the International Women’s Day,” said Amber Berson, the Canadian ambassador for this project.
From art galleries and universities to local coffee shops, participating organizations could host an Art+Feminism workshop teaching Wikipedia-editing skills to people of all gender identities and expressions, according to Berson.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of the campaign, and the OAG was one of the hundreds of institutions mobilizing local citizens to get involved. Participants were taught how to edit and create a Wikipedia page, and were given resources to add content on one of a selection of 14 regional female artists, said Siobhan Locke, the OAG’s digital content coordinator.
According to a 2011 study by Wikipedia, fewer than 10 per cent of editors were women. The largest and most popular general reference work on the Internet, in fact, didn’t tell public the story of women in a way that reflected their true role in history or contemporary society.
The Art+Feminism campaign specifically wants to address the lack of Wikipedia knowledge about female artists and feminism.
Locke said in advance of the March 8 event that people attending would leave with the skills to continue to edit and make a difference in closing the online gender gap.
Art+Feminism started with two Canadian artists and two American artists in New York in 2013. They wanted to amplify the voices of women online and promote Wikipedia as a site to challenge one of the the ways women are silenced — through the biased preservation of information.
“Many of the existing entries only have one perspective,” Berson said. “This project is changing the tone of Wikipedia.”
Emma Cross, a cataloguing and metadata librarian at Carleton University, said the library community also values and wants to engage with Wikipedia.
“Libraries are trusted knowledge mediators,” said Cross. “They have a responsibility to help improve the content on Wikimedia platforms and are strongly encouraged to lead edit-a-thons in their own communities.”
Though students are often told never to cite Wikipedia academic papers, it is widely accepted as the first step in researching most topics and is useful for quick checks for facts and definitions.
“Some professions have strict views on Wikipedia, (but) most people are becoming realistic and recognize its vital role in our day-to-day life,” Cross said.
She added this event encourages critical thinking about the way information is created and consumed. Better coverage of the achievements and contributions of women artists in Wikipedia is a step towards a more balanced presentation of information.
“We should make sure women are represented, not just men and male artists,” Cross said.
OAG has organized an Art+Feminism edit-a-thon in the past with Carleton University and others have taken place in Ottawa over the past few years, including one at Gallery 101.
“They have been well attended in Ottawa and we expect the same amount of enthusiasm for this year’s event,” Locke said ahead of the March 8 gathering.
She added that the edit-a-thon covered a selection of 181 artists whose work will be appearing in the OAG’s inaugural exhibition on April 28.
The exhibition will be unveiled in the OAG’s new building at 50 Mackenzie King Bridge and will celebrate the gallery’s 30th anniversary, showing a survey of Ottawa-Gatineau art dating back 6,500 years.
The exhibition will tell an intertwining story through four themes – bodies, bridging, mapping and technologies, about the Algonquin, French and English of this region, according to the OAG’s website.