East London Fawcett: Arts Campaign

I started working with the East London Fawcett Group two and a half years ago, upon finishing my BA and deciding: YES, I did want to be an artist. Considering the financial and social implications of my choice, this was not a particularly easy decision to make.

Instability, as anyone who knows anything about the art world will tell you, is par for the course. Arts jobs typically pay a less than adequate wage in comparison to the cost of living whilst demanding 24 hour commitment.

Then there are the private views… which actually typically involve anxiously networking through a sea of individuals who only shop at COS, or Jill Sander if they’re having a particularly good day.

But most offputtingly I’d come to realise that – despite a public misconception of the ‘liberal’ art world – class, race and gender-based discrimination are still very much ingrained. I’d become frustrated that there seemed to be so many female arts graduates, but this was not reflected by the number of women represented by galleries.

ELF were already researching this topic when I joined. They were arranging gallery tours and had started an audit to record the ratio of male to female representation in London’s galleries, inspired by the Guerilla Girls.

I became involved because I turned up to a free gallery tour at Sprueth Magers, arranged by ELF arts-director Gemma Rolls-Bentley, who was incredibly welcoming. Immediately, I felt I wanted to help and became part of the arts team. The audit found that although women make up 60 per cent of art graduates, they only account for 31 per cent of the artists represented in London’s galleries. We released a pamphlet, after a lot of painstaking counting, and launched our data at Calvert 22 Gallery in 2013. (Full statistics here: http://elf-audit.com/the-results/)

We have since organised discussions exploring motherhood in the arts, challenges faced by female arts graduates, and we run a rolling programme of artist-led talks and gallery tours. Our next event, organised and chaired by ELF affiliated artist and programme curator Rose Gibbs, ‘Taking Up Space’, following on from the public discussion at the Richmix, ‘A Fine Art Degree, Will I ever Practice?’, will explore the following questions: What are the cultural benefits of women-only shows and alternative types of affirmative action? How does this type of approach impact artists? Does it affect them positively or negatively? Are potential fears of a backlash justified, or would affirmative action in fact solve many of the current discriminatory practices in the art world?

Whilst researching and organising discussions with arts institutions about female representation, I’ve developed invaluable skills, transferrable to my professional life. ELF is a platform for women from many different backgrounds and professions to get together and talk about what they want to change in their working and personal lives, and how this can be achieved through collective discussion and positive action. This is why I am so proud to be a part of ELF.

YES I do still want to be an artist. But now I would add: YES I would like to change things so that social and economic inequality doesn’t stand in my way. For me or anyone else.

This autumn the arts team will release new statistics relating to Frieze Art Fair.

East London Fawcett Group is the East London branch of the Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading campaign for equality between men and women. ELF organises talks, parties, arts events, sporting activities and much more. It is 21st Century activism for women and men who believe in progress and who want to be a part of an exciting movement that comprises a growing network of interesting and engaged people in East London. The group is open to all and membership is free. The Art Audit Statistics to date can be found here: http://elf-audit.com/ 

Emily Pope is an artist and writer based in London.

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Emily Pope
Emily Pope is an artist and writer based in London. She has been a member of the East London Fawcett Group since 2012.