What’s the top hit when you google Louise Nevelson, Dorothea Lange, or Betye Saar? Wikipedia, of course. The online encyclopedia anyone can edit, Wikipedia features 22 million articles edited by 1 million+ volunteer editors in 285 languages.
Of those editors, however, only 9% are women—a fact that affects what gets written about and how. “People write about what they find interesting,” a longtime Wikipedian told me last Saturday at a Wikipedia edit-a-thon focused on boosting coverage of women. “And who people are affects what they find interesting.”
Edit-a-thon organizer Sarah Stierch, a Wikimedia Foundation fellow who just concluded a stint as Wikipedian-in-Residence at the Smithsonian, told me that only one in five biographies on Wikipedia cover women. And articles on women, including women artists, tend to be shorter than comparable ones on men.
By way of example, Mary Corse and Helen Pashgian, two of the women artists featured in Pacific Standard Time, have no entry. They’re “redlinks,” meaning they’re referenced in other articles but don’t have their own page. Riko Mizuno: redlink. Gertrud Natzler: redlink. (Here’s Otto Natzler’s page.)
At the edit-a-thon, I turned a redlink into a stub by starting an entry on Esther Baum Born, a Bay Area architectural photographer whose work is represented in the Research Institute’s special collections, as well as at UC Berkeley and the University of Arizona. Since then, three other editors have expanded and improved on it. (Thanks to a librarian colleague at the GRI for tipping me about Born!)
Women aren’t the only ones underrepresented on Wikipedia, for a variety of demographic reasons. The typical Wikipedian tends toward math, science, and pop culture, not art and the humanities. But we art geeks are out there, and yes, we like to edit!
If you want to turn a redlink into a stub, or a stub into an article, more communal editing will take place this weekend at Wiknics around the world. The L.A. meet-up is happening in Pan Pacific Park, so you can participate in the biggest and most democratic knowledge project the world has ever seen while scarfing a hot dog.