Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Women in Galleries

Tara Watson, ‘Women hit glass ceiling in gallery jobs’, ArtsHub Monday 20 October 2014

The National Gallery of Australia announced its replacement for outgoing Director Ron Radford as previous head of the National Gallery of Australia Gerard Vaughan, but when will the director be a woman?

ArtsHub’s analysis of current and past directors of national and state galleries indicates an historical male preference in choosing the person up for the top job.

There are male directors at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT).

Jennifer Storer is currently running the Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery but she is only acting director. Suhanya Raffel ran QAGOMA  after Tony Ellwood moved to the NGV but when it came to appointing a permanent director the job went to a man: Chris Saines.

Most of Australia’s state galleries have never had a female director since their inception. The exceptions are the NGA and the AGWA, which have each had one female director in their history, however it was the same woman: Betty Churcher, who was director of AGWA from 1987 to 1990 and NGA from 1990 to 1997.

The gender bias is particularly striking because regional galleries show a healthy mix of women and men in top positions.

Kirsten Paisley runs the highly successful Shepparton Art Museum and is spearheading its redevelopment, There are also  female directors at Bendigo Art Gallery, Benalla Art Gallery, Murray Bridge Gallery, Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery, Cairns Regional Gallery and Rockhampton Art Gallery.

Paisley told ArtsHub the strong leaning towards male leadership in state galleries had affected her carer choices. She noticed the lack of female directors in state galleries and chose to move to Shepparton because she was more likely to have curatorial opportunities at a regional gallery.

‘I have never worked for a state gallery. I think it’s extremely difficult for a woman to become a director of a state gallery. I think that is a difficult step,’ said Paisley. ‘I think the bias if there is not a conscious one always, which makes it difficult to motivate in terms of recruitment.’

Paisley said in her experience working in the visual arts sector, females are over-represented within gallery and curatorial staff and generally making up the majority, yet this is not translating to top positions.

‘It’s incredibly female dominated. I was on the board of the public galleries association of Victoria and the board of the was 80 percent female throughout the three years I was tenured there. There are just some extraordinary female directors, in Victoria and further afield too,’ said Paisley.

A US study earlier this year found similar results to Australia with males dominating director positions in galleries across the country. The study titled ‘The Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships’ by the Association of Art Museum Directors found that women run just a quarter of the biggest art museums in the United States and Canada. Also finding that just five of the 33 most prominent art museums, with budgets greater than $20 million, had women as directors and that women are more likely to be the director of smaller scale regional galleries.

In a trend that translates outside of the arts sector into corporate Australia, Kay Campbell the Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne said that it is the system not so much the people that are at fault and this will change with time.

Read more here.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2020
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