Why Women?

One way MAWA redresses gender inequality in the visual arts is through mentorship. Mentor Sarah Crawley poses with mentee Clara Kusmoto.

MAWA developed as an offshoot of Plug In as a way to redress the huge gender inequity of the times. In no small part thanks to the efforts of MAWA, many of the problems that existed 25 years ago in the arts community have been ameliorated. However, MAWA continues to provide mentorship to women because we have not yet reached equality in the cultural sector nor in society.

Women’s works still comprise lower numbers than men’s in public art gallery collections. Women fill fewer of the top Executive positions within large public galleries nationally. Women hold fewer tenured positions within university art departments, even though there are greater numbers of women students than men. Women receive fewer public commissions nationally. And although women make up a higher percentage of practicing visual artists (54%), we have a lower income in the sector: the average Canadian male artist earns $24,400/year from all sources whereas the average Canadian female artist earns $13,800/year from all sources. (Hill Strategies Research, Sept. 2004).

Sexism and violence against women persist in society. MAWA mentorships provide a safe place for women artists to explore issues of sexuality and gender, in an all-women atmosphere. Further, many of us have been socialized to defer to men’s opinions. An all-woman environment encourages women to take up space and assert their own viewpoints.

Women make up over 51% of the general population. Why women? Why not women! In the same way Aboriginal galleries provide opportunities for a large population that has been historically disadvantaged and who have a unique cultural perspective, MAWA likewise provides opportunities for women, who have faced discrimination and who have unique experiences and perspectives.

Although our first priority is providing peer-based education to women visual artists, most of our events and programs are open to people of all genders. Men are welcome at MAWA as members and are encouraged to attend talks and lectures, workshops and studio visits.

Winnipeg’s thriving arts community is the envy of the country, in no small part due to the efforts of MAWA. Thanks to the experience and leadership MAWA has provided, other Winnipeg arts organizations (such as Video Pool, Winnipeg Film Group, La maison des artistes, etc.) have established mentorships programs of their own. By focusing on women, we have contributed to and continue to benefit the whole arts community.

-- Shawna Dempsey

A young woman told me she’s not a feminist but she will stand up for herself. I asked, “But will you stand up for other women?”
-- Lucy Lippard, Wendy Wersch Memorial Lecturer, MAWA 2008