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Getting more women into Wikis
ActNow: It's about gender and representation - on wikipedia and behind the keyboards
Participants at the May 2015 Wikipedia edit-a-thon event at St. Catherine University. Photo courtesy of St. Catherine University.

"If only 13 percent of [Wiki] users are women, then that disparity gets reflected in the content on an open access body of knowledge like this."
- Amy Hamlin

by Kathy Magnuson

Amy Hamlin builds community while advocating for women in the arts. She's a local organizer for Art + Feminism Wikipedia edit-a-thons - an effort to increase female contributions and information about women artists in the online encyclopedic resource.

In a 2011 survey, Wikipedia found that less than 13 percent of its contributors were female. There are probably multiple reasons why, but the effect is that women are underrepresented and information on existing women is missing or biased.

As a result, a group in New York organized the first Wikipedia edit-a-thon in February 2014 to bring women and male allies together to start changing that. One hundred and fifty people participated with another 500 people in 30 satellite locations in six countries. Many more events have been held since then.

There is no central organization but intentionally it is grass roots and based "everywhere." In principle, being a Wiki editor is open to everyone.

The idea spread to the Twin Cities, and a first local event was held in February 2014 at the University of Minnesota. Another was hosted at the Walker Art Center March 8, 2015 for International Women's Day and one at St. Catherine University in May 2015. Two local events are scheduled for the Twin Cities this fall.

Katy Vonk of Midway Contemporary Art is taking the lead on hosting one of the events. "Representation matters," Vonk says. "I firmly believe that everyone should have a voice."

"We live in an age of democratization of knowledge, and it is unfortunate that we still are playing out biases even in a digital way where there can be fewer barriers to participation. What we are talking about is education. Part of the issue is what kind of culture you want to build collectively," Vonk says.

In addition to adding women and editing women's entries, local participants' objectives also include recruiting more women to continue editing pages and raising awareness of women in the arts.

"Women have not been represented as robustly in the arts," Hamlin says. "There are so many articles on male artists relative to women, and the argument is that women are less inclined to advocate for themselves than men are. If only 13 percent of [Wiki] users are women, then that disparity gets reflected in the content on an open access body of knowledge like this."

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When Hamlin got involved with the edit-a-thons she described herself as a total novice with no coding skills.

Any women or male feminist sympathetic to the cause is welcome to attend a session, and resources are available, including tech support, lists of possible artists and women's art resources.

They would like to see the movement grow, especially among younger women, "to really take responsibility in terms of knowledge consuming and having our voices heard. A rising tide lifts all boats," Hamlin says.

Hamlin sees a historical reality of discrimination and silencing. But, she says, "That really starts to shift and change, reflected in this online resource that we all use every day. It could be pie in the sky - but maybe not! It's an altruistic mission but only as good as our community of users."

To register for the fall events:
Sept. 12, 2015, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Free and open to the public. Drop in as you can. No advance registration, although registering a Wikipedia username beforehand is strongly encouraged. Participants should bring their laptops with them.
Where: Midway Contemporary Art, 527 2nd Ave. S.E., Mpls.
FFI: 612-605-4504 or library@midwayart.org; www.midwayart.org

When: Oct. 24, 2015, Noon to 4 p.m., trainings at 12:30 and 1:30 p.m., bring your own laptop
Where:The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave. S., Mpls.
FFI: Registration and free ticket required. Call 612-870-6323 or tinyurl.com/wikiartsmia

Where do you see women connecting and making change in your world? Send me your story, magnuson@womenspress.com

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