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Our Blog

A Chance for Inner-City Female Artists to Gain Exposure

August 17, 2021

It is time to bring female artists, primarily those within the inner-city, out of 'hiding.' Yes, many have been hiding their artistic talents in their closets and even under their sofas. When I ask them to exhibit their works, they would bat their eyes with timidness, but I can see their minds--complex, beautiful, and creative. I have met many women who are nervous about showing their artworks. That is when I put on my 'coaching hat'. I find myself motivating them to get their creative works out in front of an audience. Many of these women have never said, "I am an artist," yet they produce unique pieces that deserve attention in the larger community. With the opportunity to show their art, these women reside in the inner-city hold the key to healing their communities and empowering their children.

How do we begin to talk about social equity in underserved communities? Yikes! Shall we start with the literature?

There are limited opportunities for inner-city residents to be exposed to the arts within their residential community. Art spaces are usually located outside of neighborhoods where people reside and are not inclusive for arts done predominantly by African-American and Latino Women. Inner-city women are not given a professional platform to showcase their talent in the arts or access to exhibit spaces to sell their artwork professionally. Despite claims that such areas are diverse, they are underrepresented in art spaces, such as museums and galleries of large cities. According to Topaz et al.( 2019), there is a lack of diversity in the art museum sector. Although there is no major diversity issue in the museum regarding staffing and visitors, there is a lack of artists in their collections that have remained unreported. They discovered that 85% of artists are white, and 87% are men. They also found that the museum collection mission is weak. After conducting a survey of 18 of the most respected museums in America, it was found that work by Black artists made up only 1.2 percent of their collections, despite Black people making up 13% of the population, according to the 2019 census. Latin X artists accounted for only about 3 percent of collections, despite comprising 18 percent of the population. Racially marginalized women were the least represented, with work by African-American women making up just 3 percent of the already small market for art created by women. Yale School of Art program has enjoyed gender parity for over thirty years; thus, demonstrating that the problem doesn't lie in a dearth of qualified female artists but rather a system that makes it difficult for women to reach the upper echelons of their fields in the arts. The research of Topaz et al. (2019) helps to disrupt the illusion of progress. Art has historically been a driving force for change in economically marginalized communities. And with the increase in the need for social and economic change, art is an instrument for empowerment.

Here are some recommendations:

1) Invite inner-city female artists on college campuses to showcase their artworks. And sell! Many of these individuals are mothers and grandmothers who need to sustain themselves financially.

2) Local non-profit organizations can create a commitment to buy the work of local artists within the BIPOC communities. Yes, we all know that not-for-profit entities need funding, but supporting those struggling in their communities is imperative. I say, 'give a little, and you shall receive a lot."

3) Showcase the artworks of diverse ethnic and cultural groups to a broader community. Some communities are not reaching out far and wide enough to be inclusive. I have attended some community art exhibitions that were not ethnically and culturally diverse. Shame on you! Sometimes I am the only person of color, and I am not even an artist--just an art lover. Come on, people, art by nature should be inclusive. We cannot learn, grow, or evolve without diverse participation.

4) Create outreach programs to give inner-city females and individuals in general a platform to have the community view their works. This recommendation is for universities and colleges to address. They have the resources to do this, but sometimes political agenda and bureaucratic approaches stifle authentic change in the community. From time to time, decision-making leaders forget that artists are instrumental in transforming how we think and feel about our humanity. They challenge ideologies, conceptions, perceptions, and even our spirituality. Artists breathe life into our souls, thus deserving to be supported from all angles.

5) Develop a partnership with various established businesses to feature artists from an underrepresented group. Yes, I am addressing our City Hall in this recommendation. Political leaders, many of you own expensive artworks in your homes. Would you mind creating a space for art to become a sustainable form of income for underserved groups?  Artists can do wonders for the social progress of any city. Sound off, Detroit! I have seen the changes that are taking place there. Again, please used artists who are placed in the 'shadow' of your cities. If you are going to address diversity, equity, and inclusion, be authentic about it.

6) Create a pipeline for artists to access corporate spaces. Yes, this recommendation is for our so-called community movers and shakers who like to brush shoulders with corporate leaders. Would you kindly encourage them to invest in our talented artists by commissioning them to do some art? Did I say commission? Yes, I did.

Now let's begin!


Written by

Petulia Blake, Ph.D.

Petulia is a Research Associate at Yale University. For ten years, she has taught management at universities in the U.S. She has visited over 35 countries as a solo female traveler. Petulia enjoys visiting museums around the world and swimming in seas and oceans.