Artpace, SAMA Host Edit-A-Thon To Rewrite Women's Wikipedia History | Texas Public Radio

Artpace, SAMA Host Edit-A-Thon To Rewrite Women's Wikipedia History

Mar 7, 2020

Artpace and the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) are trying to increase the visibility of women artists on one of the most popular websites in the world — Wikipedia.


Male artists are overrepresented on Wikipedia, both in terms of sheer numbers and in the depth of the information of their pages. SAMA and Artpace want to balance the scales. 

Groups like Art+Feminism have held thousands of Wikipedia Edit-a-Thons around the globe over the past decade. Yohanna Tesfai, the public programs manager at SAMA, brought the idea to the museum. SAMA and Artpace teamed up to host the “Art+Feminism: Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon” series, which invites members of the art community to create new pages and expand existing ones for women artists. 

About a dozen people showed up at SAMA for the first event on Feb. 29.

“It’s difficult, y’all. It’s so difficult,” Tesfai told the attendees. 

They immediately experienced that difficulty. 

Attendee Ysa Aranda worked to expand the Wikipedia entry for the late Toni LaSelle, who developed the art history program at Texas Woman’s University and had an 80-year career as an accomplished artist and academic. 

But Aranda struggled to find source material about LaSelle. 

“It's disheartening,” she said. “It's disappointing, but you gotta fix it.” 

But is it surprising?

“No. It's not surprising at all, which is also disheartening. But we're working on it.” 

LaSelle is unusual in that she already had a Wikipedia page.

“Right now I'm really excited to work with Annette Lawrence,” Tesfai said. “She doesn't have a Wikipedia page at all, and so we're gonna try to create a page for her because she's done a lot of exhibitions, and you know, people do talk about her. So, it's really wild to me that she doesn’t have a page.” 

Tesfai worked to create new pages for several artists featured in SAMA’s ongoing exhibition, Texas Woman: A New History of Abstract Art. 

“It’s just kind of wild noticing which artists are on Wikipedia because we have, I think, 17 or 18 artists represented in the show, and only like five or six have Wikipedia pages dedicated to them,” she said. 

These are accomplished artists. The lack of representation is partly caused by what Wikipedia calls a “notability test.”

“To be notable, you have to have sources written about you that don't include blog posts, or press releases or personal artists websites,” Tesfai said.

Because Wikipedia’s notability test relies on historical and academic sources, if a history is skewed a certain way, Wikipedia entries about people from that history are also skewed. And art history leaves out many women.

“Absolutely. I mean, as I was in grad school, getting my master’s at UT Austin, it's wild how many times you don't ever talk about women artists or think about their contributions to the world,” she said.

Wikipedia did not respond to TPR’s requests for comment. 

Erin Murphy is the director of residencies and exhibitions at Artpace, SAMA’s partner in the Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon. 

“It's looking at the art history as a canon and how art history is represented is just so many men, so many male artists,” Murphy said. “And typically women are left out of the art historical canon.”

The volunteer community of Wikipedia editors had to be creative with sourcing, looking through various academic search engines in addition to about a dozen books Tesfai provided. But many attendees still struggled to find information. 

“It is kind of a chicken and the egg type situation looking at where to get information that doesn't exist in a tangible publication, for example,” Murphy said. 

Tesfai pointed to a simple solution. 

“It's asking art historians and critics and people to just keep writing about, you know, women and women of color artists,” she said.

ArtPace, SAMA and San Antonio’s art community will continue the Edit-a-Thon through the end of 2020. The next events are slated for May 2 at Artpace, June 27 at SAMA and Aug. 22 at Artpace. 

Dominic Anthony can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony.