How do you tell the difference between a painting done by a man and one done by a woman? Look at the price tag. It’s no joke. Women artists are not treated equally. Statistics support that statement. It’s a fact.
Guerrilla Girls, a group of women artists and arts professionals who started highlighting sexual inequality in 1985, state “Less than 5 percent of the artists in the modern art section of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are women, but 85 percent of the nudes are female.” The National Museum of Women in the Arts states, “Though women earn half of the MFAs granted in the U.S., only a quarter of the solo exhibitions in New York galleries feature women.”
There are many more statistics. Inequality is a fact in the world of art. But here in Peoria, Channy Lyons, local author and champion of women artists, founded the Illinois Women Artists Project (IWA) six years ago to recognize the art and experiences of Illinois women artists from 1840 to 1960.
When asked how she got started on this endeavor Lyons said, “I was working at the Observer [a local paper], and I had a chance to write about local art shows and the historic women in Peoria. These women have wonderful stories and they did wonderful art, but I realized nobody knew about them. And so I thought let’s stretch it out a little bit and do the region. Let’s see what’s going on in Bloomington and Galesburg, and then it became the state, and then it became the Illinois Women Artists Project.”
This fall Peoria will be alive with women’s art and art-related activities. The Peoria Riverfront Museum will host a show Oct. 17-Jan. 17 curated by Lyons titled, “Making Their Mark: Illinois Women Artists 1940-1960.” Lyons said, “The work of these women artists is very interesting. Everything is different. They weren’t all deciding they were going to be abstract impressionists following Jackson Pollack. They were doing personal visions and using different kinds of materials.”
Additional shows featuring women artists can be enjoyed at the Prairie Center of the Arts, Bradley’s Hartmann Gallery, Studios on Sheridan, the Contemporary Art Center and the Peoria Art Guild.
The focus doesn’t end with gallery shows. Oct. 22-23 the IWA Project and Bradley University Art Department are hosting a Midwest Women’s Artist symposium at Bradley. Lyons said that one of the highlights is a panel of “women artists coming from Chicago who will tell us what it was like as they were learning art and teaching art in the 1950s and 1960s. These women were responsible for teaching and mentoring the men and women artists of the Art Institute and the Institute of Design in Chicago. They influenced the future of art in Chicago.”
Lyons says, “When you look at art, look for art made by women. There are many amazing active women artists in Peoria and galleries that show their work. See what you think, and take it home with you if you like it.”
You can hear the stories firsthand and be part of tearing down the gender barriers. Sign up for the free symposium at iwa.bradley.edu. Let’s make new facts.