Tue | Jun 6, 2023

Create equality for women in arts

Published:Sunday | April 30, 2023 | 1:22 AMAndrea Dempster-Chung - Contributor
Guests at Sky Gallery which hosted Women in Art exhibition
Guests at Sky Gallery which hosted Women in Art exhibition

The Sky Gallery hosted an exhibition, Women in Art, which opened on April 11, where the founder, Tara Brown, expressed the need for a show that focused solely on the work of female artists.

During the pandemic, women artists faced additional challenges in comparison to their male counterparts. Global statistics for inclusion of women are sobering.

• In US museum collections, studies show that the art displayed is 87 per cent male and 13 per cent female.

• At the Art Basel fairs (Basel, Miami, and Hong Kong), women made up less than 25 per cent of the artists on view over the past four years.

• In terms of sales across the global art market, male artists earn 90 per cent and women earn 10 per cent.

• At auction, there are zero women in the top percentile of the auction market, where 41 per cent of the profit is concentrated.

• An estimated 96 per cent of artwork sold at auction are by male artists and 4 per cent are by women. At the current rate of growth, it is estimated that women’s total sales in the auction market will not approach 50:50 until the year 2053.

Further, the rise of digital technology has brought over the same biases that were observed in the tech and art worlds pre-COVID-19. For NFT art, only five to 15 per cent of the art is generated by women.

However, there are glimmers of hope, for example, in the tultra-contemporary sector, which considers works by artists born in or after 1975. The 56 per cent male vs 44 per cent female split of the ultra-contemporary auction market is a vast improvement over the 90 per cent vs 10 per cent split that we see in the overall art market.

One reason for this change in that sector is the pressure exerted by the “Me Too” movement. As a result, private and institutional collections have made commitments to show and acquire more works by female artists. They have included more work from non-Western, Indigenous and LGBTQIA+ artists, too. But this took sustained effort over a period of years to get institutions to take action.


Many acknowledge the global statistics but embrace the narrative of a “post-gender” Jamaica where women are dominant. A contributor to this school of thought is a well-known 2015 study conducted by the International Labor Organization, which stated that Jamaica had “more women managers than any other country in the world”. That, along with the high rate of enrolment at the tertiary level educational institutions signals for some that Jamaica is an anomaly, with no challenges for women and, therefore, no need to examine topics like women’s rights.

The truth is that challenges to gender equality still exist in Jamaica. According to the World Bank, gender equality in Jamaica was reported at 67 per cent in 2021. Women are still seen as caregivers, which disadvantages them in terms of participation in the workforce. Women still have a disparity in income levels for the same job as women earn 62 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.

All the challenges and inequities that impact women in Jamaica also impact women artists and females working in the cultural sector. To create an equitable cultural sector for future generations of women artists, there are a few practical steps that we can take.

1. Equity in Investment – Banks, venture capitalists, and grant makers should ensure that they are investing equally. Investments should be assessed to ensure that there is balance in who receives the grants and the loans to build creative businesses. If the argument is that more men than women are applying, then that is also an issue, and we should make the effort to find out why this is happening.

2. Equity in Hiring – Ensure that equal numbers of male and female creatives are hired for projects. Whether they be writers, graphic artists, photographers, or muralists, ensure that employment and contracting has gender balance.

3. Equity in Purchasing – Collectors should review corporate and personal art collections and check to see whether it is balanced in terms of work by women artists. If it isn’t, then deliberately seek out women artists and purchase their work.

4. Equity in Pricing – In pricing creative products to ensure that we are fairly valuing the creative content of women. The natural tendency is for art by women to be priced less than art by men, so be conscious of the bias when pricing creative products.


A great way to level the playing field is to establish art awards, especially for women, to build gender equity in the ecosystem. Corporations offering awards in the arts is common overseas as global brands typically do this as part of their corporate social responsibility. Some examples are the Rolls Royce ‘Muse’ programme, the Max Mara Art prize for Women. Boeing, Deutsche Bank, American Airlines, Times Warner. Shell and Wells Fargo are other cultural innovators that support artists who need funding.

This should be the norm for companies in Jamaica. Many art awards, travel grants, and residencies are established by individuals in their family name, so it is clear that much can be done by individuals and corporations to level the playing field for the next generation of women artists.

We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that women artists are artists first. They have a valuable viewpoint. A healthy society is one in which both genders can achieve their fullest potential and make their contribution to national development. There is a wealth of talent in Jamaica, and everyone should receive fair and equitable opportunities and investment so that our creative economy has the benefit of 100 per cent of its cultural workforce achieving its fullest potential.

Andrea Dempster-Chung is the co-founder & executive director of Kingston Creative.