Women like famous Moroccan photographer Lalla Essaydi and contemporary Scottish painter Pat Douthwaite are now on Wikipedia, thanks to a handful of students at Sweet Briar College.

On Saturday, about a dozen students joined what has become an international effort to ensure that the work of female artists is documented in the digital encyclopedia known as Wikipedia.

“Rather than just talk about the scholarship on them, they’re engaging in the scholarship on them,” said Kimberly Morse Jones Saturday afternoon, as students searched Wikipedia for the artists whose work is on display at the college.

Since Feb. 1, more than 600 women across the country have joined one of the “Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thons” like the one held at Sweet Briar College’s Cochran Library Saturday afternoon. Jones, a Sweet Briar art history professor, is making the edit-a-thon part of her “Seminar on Women Artists,” where students talk specifically about how women have been underrepresented.

 “When we discovered that Adrian Piper didn’t have a Wikipedia page, they were shocked. I was glad to see that they were shocked by that,” said Jones. “To be part of rectifying that is exciting.”

In recent months groups from the United States, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and Europe have gathered in person and through satellite sites, adding more than 100 female artists to Wikipedia. In addition, the pages of more than 90 female artists have been improved.

 “I care about women and art and I like spreading the word about them,” said Katy Zimmerhanzel, 22, as she created a new Wikipedia page.

Zimmerhanzel, an art history major, said she found the unequal representation of female artists on Wikipedia surprising.

“It’s surprising just because this is a contemporary way of looking up information and I felt like it should be more equal,” she said.

The fact that a female artist is not acknowledged with a page of her own on Wikipedia would lead an average user to believe that they are not noteworthy and that isn’t true, said 25-year-old art history major Elizabeth Wise.

“I was shocked at how little (information) is out there,” said Wise.

As a result of Saturday’s edit-a-thon, Wise and Zimmerhanzel said they are both likely to continue to edit Wikipedia.

That’s a boon for Wikipedia as well as the female artists being documented.

Right now less than 13 percent of Wikipedia contributors are female. Wikipedia reports that as a result, “Content is skewed by the lack of female participation, resulting in systemic absences in an increasingly important repository of shared knowledge.”

Wikipedia continues to promote Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thons and meetups to address the issue.

The next feminist Wikipedia edit-a-thon takes place March 18 at Columbia University, where organizers aim to make sure famous female historical figures are recorded.

“It’s also about getting women more involved,” said Jones. “There’s still something to be said for having more women contribute.”


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Contact Amy Trent at (434) 385-5543 or atrent@newsadvance.com.

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