Last night’s Guerrilla Girls event at NCAD was lively and entertaining– their take on feminist art-world protest certainly draws some strong reactions, and I was interested to hear comments from the crowd assembled… one of which was the opinion that Irish women contemporary visual artists are perhaps more prominent/successful than their male counterparts (a statement which set off ripples of murmurs, mainly in disagreement I surmised?) As another audience member pointed out, 80% of the student body at NCAD is female (is this true? I have no idea.) Still another noted that while this was the case, women did not figure as prominently on selection panels and other positions of power within the Irish art world. I added the observation that nearly all of the directors of the National cultural institutions of Ireland were also male (which is certainly true– out of the nine institutions who make up the CNCI [Abbey, Chester Beatty Library, Crawford Art Gallery, Irish Museum of Modern Art, National Archives, National Concert Hall, National Gallery of Ireland, National Library, National Museum], only two are directed by women– this statistic goes down if you split out the satellites of the NMI). However both the Chair and the Director of the Arts Council are women, the Council itself is 50/50, and its staff is overwhelmingly female. Added to this, my experience with the MA programme and folks in positions at lower and mid-managerial levels in the arts management sector is that they are also overwhelmingly female.
What does this tell us? Anything? Nothing? What is the relationship between gender and compensation, and does that change whether we’re talking about non-state organisations or government/civil sector posts? Have women in more senior positions within arts and culture experienced a ‘glass ceiling’, or is there a generational shift waiting to happen? Should we be worried about the shrinking number of men entering arts management as a profession? In the art historical sphere there’s lots of activity at the moment focused on re-establishing women within Irish art history and visual culture (see an upcoming conference at TRIARC and also a recent book edited by UCD Postdoc Dr Karen Brown)– however I don’t know of any current research focused on cultural management or more contemporary sociological takes on the Irish arts sector (any suggestions welcome!) The term ‘feminism’ continues to provoke strong negative reactions amongst undergraduates, both male and female, in my experience at UCD– so whilst some of the Guerrilla Girls’ actions might seem a little tame (or outdated?), I have found their performances a good starting point for discussion in some undergraduate classes– I don’t think there’s a convincing argument for hanging up the gorrilla masks just yet!