Writing and Righting History: 2018 Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

For the fifth year, Art+Feminism led the global initiative to improve the Wikipedia representation of women artists and to train women editors. NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center participates by hosting a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at the museum every year. In honor of Women’s History Month, 28 volunteer editors gathered at the museum on March 17. After four hours (and three boxes of coffee), edit-a-thon participants created eight new Wikipedia articles and improved 72 existing entries.

2018 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at NMWA; Photo: Traci Christensen, NMWA

Why does this effort matter?

Wikipedia is the largest and most popular general reference on the internet. A 2010 Wikimedia survey found that fewer than 13% of the platform’s contributors are women. The lack of female participation has contributed to the absence of notable women on the platform.

What was lacking?

This year, NMWA focused on entries concerning women art museum directors and gallerists—a theme closely related to the month’s Fresh Talk, a public program discussing gender parity in museums. Many leaders, scholars, and tastemakers of the modern art world, including Fresh Talk speakers Frances Morris, director of the Tate Modern, and Laurence des Cars, director of the Musée d’Orsay, work to raise the visibility of women artists in their institutions.

Wikipedia has a category page titled Museum Directors, where men—unsurprisingly—drastically outnumber women. The page links to a substantially longer list of women on the page for Female Art Museum Directors. Most of the listed directors did not have links for their names, indicating that they did not have their own Wikipedia pages—even though many did. The list also sorely lacked citations to demonstrate notability, and the article had been flagged as a result. Many of these women leaders of arts institutions had sparse pages on Wikipedia or no article at all.

What did volunteers do at NMWA?

Volunteers created pages, added images, and corrected or expanded on existing content. Former Smithsonian African Art Museum Director Johnetta Cole’s article now reflects her retirement last year. Editors added details to the page of influential gallerist Marian Goodman and expanded content on Thelma Golden’s success as director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Whitechapel Art Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick’s info box now contains a permissible photograph.

2018 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at NMWA; Photo: Traci Christensen, NMWA

Over laptops at shared tables, attendees discussed their contributions, offered each other help, and worked through their new skills together. Experienced Wikipedians were generous with their knowledge, and one attendee gave an impromptu lesson on making pages accessible to the visually impaired. A team from the BBC even stopped by to film volunteers.

Museum staff members enjoy the immediate gratification of seeing editors at work, contributions go live, and new volunteers energized to continue this work on their own. Hopefully, edit-a-thons like this will spur an ongoing effort to legitimize women’s work with reliable sources.

—Sarah Osborne Bender is the director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center (LRC) and Emily Sawyer is the spring 2018 LRC intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.