Examining inequities during Women’s History Month

Can you name five women artists? That is a question the National Museum of Women in the Arts asks on social media each year during March, which is also Women's History Month. The #5WomenArtists campaign highlights the inequity women face in the world, and, this year, encourages people and institutions alike to move “from awareness to action.”

While you can see the Columbus Museum of Art participating on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, its involvement goes beyond the hashtag.

“For the past few years, the museum has participated in Women's History Month,” said Lauren Emond, manager for community engagement. “We think it's really important to embed this into the programming we're already doing.”

This month, the “Think Like An Artist Thursdays” series featured an all-female lineup of artists. The Teen Open Studio sessions and weekly public tours are highlighting women. Additionally, the women-owned Replenish spa's monthly yoga practice in the museum is inspired by the subversive art of Honoré Sharrer.

And on Thursday, March 28, the museum will host a “Women, Art and Activism Community Conversation,” with a special focus on voting rights.

“We hope that our program participants in this consider multiple perspectives on social issues [and] feel more connected to one another when they're done,” Emond said.

One of the panelists, artist Cat Sheridan, uses her work to respond to patriarchy in her life. “It's my way of dealing with it, processing it and then being able to continue a conversation that I've been muted from,” she said. “Activism through my art is my voice.”

Sheridan explained that many women do not recognize their art as activism — and that's OK — but she has seen a shift since the recent presidential election. “I think that there is a tsunami of women artists that have recognized, I'd say very specifically since 2016, that they have to give voice to what they were a little more subtle about before.”

Panelist Rebecca Ibel, a longtime arts curator, entrepreneur and consultant, experienced her own transformation.

“In 2016 the world ended,” she said half-jokingly. “I went to the Women's March in January 2017. I'd never gone to a march and never been very politically active. … And it was just a life-changing event.”

In response, she co-founded the Matriots, a nonpartisan political action committee devoted to endorsing, encouraging and electing more women to Ohio public office.

“We've raised well over a million and a half in support and pledges,” Ibel said. “Our mission is in 10 years to have 50 percent representation of women in office in Ohio.”

Equal participation in the political process also applies to voting, which the women panelists will address during the conversation.

“I think there's this misconception that voting rights is something historical and we don't have to really talk about it,” said panelist Tyiesha Radford Shorts, a writer and alum of the YWCA Columbus Leadership for Social Change program. “But Ohio has legally purged voters from the rolls.”

Critics say that Ohio's practice — you will be removed from the rolls if you haven't voted for two consecutive elections and do not update registration within a certain timeframe — disproportionately affects minorities and poor people.

“I think as we approach a hundred years [in 2020] of, specifically, white women being able to vote, it's important for us to reflect on the possibility that voting [is not] this universal right,” said panelist Dr. Treva Lindsey, who teaches in the department of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies at Ohio State. “There's a bill that passed the House that would make Election Day a national holiday … [and] cut down some of the red tape for registering and being able to vote. And our current senate majority leader will not allow a vote on that.”

In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the HR 1 bill a “power grab” by the Democrats.

“The artist's role is to agitate, agitate, agitate,” Radford Shorts said. “Any way that we can use our art to make people feel uncomfortable or to orchestrate those uncomfortable conversations.”

But while topics may be uncomfortable, the museum will create a space for people to freely share their ideas.

“Can you be curious?” Sheridan asked. “Can you come with questions rather than stamped with answers? That's what I'm hoping for, is people leaving with a more elastic mind.”