Katie Bruce, producer curator at Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, with a Glimmer series of drawings in Jacqueline Donachie’s solo show, Deep in the Heart of Your Brain (2016) © Elaine Livingstone

“I think it was really good for GoMA to do a show which was all women; it was a great declaration to make.”

Museums tell important stories about the world we live in, so it is vital that they reflect their communities. Most museums in the world own and exhibit far more art works by men than by women.

The project Ripples on the Pond at Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) marked a moment of change in Glasgow Museums. It helped empower a group of women in the city and began to redress the gender inequality in Gallery of Modern Art exhibitions and the museum collections by showing the work of women artists and highlighting the need for change.

At its heart was an exhibition of work exclusively by women (from May 2015 and April 2016), but it went far beyond this with a programme of associated activitysuch as events and screeningsto support the work of women artists in Glasgow.

A group of volunteers was convened with Glasgow Women’s Library. The women developed their skills and knowledge by making short films about the artists whose work was part of the exhibition.

Ripples on the Pond was developed by curator Katie Brucewith Affiliate: Thinking Collections (a University of Glasgow programme funded by Creative Scotland) and Modern Edinburgh Film School (a project led by the artist Alex Hetherington), along with LUX Scotland and Glasgow Women’s Library.

The exhibition was welcomed for making an unequivocal statement about the value and quality of work by contemporary women artists, the need for collections to be properly representative of their work and the need for museums and galleries to reflect their audiences.

It included art works from Glasgow Museums and work from Glasgow Women’s Library’s 21 Revolutionsseries, relating them to other works in the museum collection.

The volunteers who made the videos worked closely with Glasgow Women’s Library which is the only Accredited Museum in the UK dedicated to women’s lives, histories and achievements.

They received training and support, and developed new skills such as editing, project management and teamwork, to enable them to produce the films. They were given bespoke tours of the exhibition and the Library’s archive to help develop their research skills and knowledge about the artists.

Each of the short films provided an insight into the artists’ work, revealing some of the inspiration behind their art works andmaking a valuable contribution to the recording and archiving of women’s creative contribution in Glasgow.

Discussions highlighted the level of under-representation of women artists and led to an understanding of how gender inequality permeates many cultural institutions.

I was conscious of gender inequality within the sector, but didn’t realise it was as bad as it was. When you go into a gallery you focus on the work rather than who has done it and don’t realise that women artists aren’t represented as much as they should be.”  Lucy Stewart, volunteer film-maker

The project has had a direct impact on collections and acquisitions at Glasgow Museums. It also raised awareness of work by women artists that was already held in the collection.

Helen de Main with her work in Ripples on the Pond © Glasgow Life

Like many institutions [Glasgow Museums] is dominated by male curators, who were perhaps perceived to be curating and collecting predominantly male artists – so some things might be overshadowed or overlooked.

“Ripples on the Pond, as a process and an exhibition, generated a wider aperture – through time, participation, voice and location – to consider and inspect those narratives. As a result, it widened the scope, detail and breadth of work included, and in so doing shifted or changed perception on the works in the collection. This in turn led to the development of thinking on the curatorial, on collecting and acquisitions.  Alex Hetherington, artist  

Glasgow Museums is now acquiring more work by women artists and has launched new projects and commissions which redress the imbalance.

For example, work by Glasgow-based artist Sarah Forrest that featured in the film programme was acquired by Glasgow Museums in 2016. Curator Katie Bruce submitted a successful application to the Contemporary Art Society, and the film Abstract, by the eminent German artist Hito Steyerl, was gifted by the Contemporary Collections Fund in 2015.

Artist Ilana Halperin gifted her work The Center for Short Lived Phenomenaby the (a film shown in the screening space of Ripples on the Pond). More recently works by the Glasgow artist Jacqueline Donachie, the American the American photographer Anne Collier and Turner-Prize winner Charlotte Prodger, also from Glasgow, were acquired for the collection in 2017/18.

More broadly the way GoMAconceives and delivers projects has now begun to address the gender imbalance within the Glasgow Museums’ collection.

“Shows like Ripples on the Pond are important for raising awareness that there is an inequality within collections like the Glasgow Museums’ collection. Such shows give that a wider prominence – I think it has moved the sector forward in this regard.”  Helen de Main, artist

Watch the film! Click on the link below to watch a series of short films produced by volunteers at the Glasgow Women’s Library, featuring interviews with the artists about their work in the collection. https://womenslibrary.org.uk/discover-our-projects/21-revolutions/ripples-on-the-pond/

Additional reading: Recentlyboth the Contemporary Art Society and the Freelands Foundation published research and set up awards to support the collecting of work by women artists, recognising the gender gap in collection representation: http://www.contemporaryartsociety.org/special-projects/valeria-napoleone-xx-contemporary-art-society/; http://freelandsfoundation.co.uk/award/2017

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Acknowledgements: SCAN would like to thank GoMA, Katie Bruce and colleagues for taking part in this Case Study, including Alex Hetherington (Collaborator/Artist), Helen de Main (Contributing Artist), and Lucy Stewart (Volunteer Film-maker).