A photo of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA).
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The Baltimore Museum of Art in Maryland is implementing a bold new policy that is designed to address the underrepresentation of women in the arts. Beginning next year, the institution will only purchase works created by female artists.

“This how you raise awareness and shift the identity of an institution,” said Christopher Bedford, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art. “You don’t just purchase one painting by a female artist of color and hang it on the wall next to a painting by Mark Rothko. To rectify centuries of imbalance, you have to do something radical.”

Just how pervasive is the problem? A 2019 study of 18 American art museums found that male artists comprise 87% of their collections. A separate study earlier this year found that up to 10% of art galleries don’t have any works by female artists.

“The challenges are systemic and widespread, because many of the works in local donors, local patrons’ collections are traditionally made by male artists,” said Asma Naeem, chief curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art. “There are these various subtle but consistent, pervasive markers of what is considered creative achievement, and we are trying to reset all of those markers.”

The Baltimore Museum of Art’s revolutionary approach has drawn praise from Biana Kovic, incoming executive director of the National Association of Women Artists.

“What the Baltimore museum is doing is so cool,” said Kovic. “We think all museums should do it. It’s particularly important that the BMA is creating a platform for woman artists to showcase their work, because that will inspire other women to make art. Even today, female artists are highly underrepresented in museums. We have a lot of work still to do about educating the public on the importance of women in American art history.”