This is a guest post from Sarah Osborne Bender, Director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
I graduated from library school in 2001, just months after Wikipedia was launched. So as a freshly minted information professional, it is no surprise that I fell in with the popular skepticism of the time: How could you trust an “encyclopedia” written by your next-door neighbor or your local barista? What about entries on movie stars, which might be written by their publicists?
It was my participation four years ago in the Women in the Arts Meetup & Edit-a-thon at the Archives of American Art that turned me into a Wikipedian and a true believer in Wikipedia as an essential and democratic resource. The event was organized for Women’s History Month and efforts focused on “notable women artists and art-world figures.” After an orientation to the policies and editing practices of Wikipedia, I happily dove in to improving the brief the article for Edith Halpert. Halpert, a gallery owner and collector in mid-century New York, propelled the careers of some of America’s most important modernist painters. Using both online and print resources, I took a relatively skeletal entry and turned it in to a more complete overview of her life and legacy, learning quite a lot about Halpert along the way. With experienced Wikipedians at my side, I had guidance on keeping my tone neutral, adding new sections, and finding an appropriate image to upload to the info box. The editing process required great focus and was engrossing. I felt a rush when I clicked “Save changes” at the end, knowing that anyone who looked up Edith Halpert would read what I had just contributed.
On Saturday, March 11, the National Museum of Women in the Arts will hold its fourth annual Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to train new editors and address the low representation of women artists on Wikipedia. According to a Wikipedia survey of its users, only 10% of editors are female. And it is common knowledge that women artists have never been equally represented in gallery shows, museum collections, and art history texts. Art+Feminism is a worldwide effort to address these issues. Last year, more than 2,500 participants in 28 countries at over 175 venues worked to improve articles about women in the arts. The movement keeps growing, and the motivation to represent women and reliable resources may never have been greater.