Achieving Gender Parity Through the Arts
by Emily Jaeger, Features Editor
Founded in 1894 by Janet and Mary Lewis, Pen + Brush has been at the forefront of gender parity in the arts for over 120 years. In its current incarnation as a gallery in the Flatiron District of New York City, Pen + Brush provides crucial exposure for female artists in the extremely competitive field of visual and literary arts. The gallery hosts not only exhibitions that vanquish some of the stereotypes of female artists, but also literary reading series.
During the 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, professional organizations were a way for guilds to protect their workers and the value of their products. However, women were often denied entry to these groups, and in the arts, professional organizations were exclusively open to men. Pen + Brush was initially modeled after these organizations—a group for women interested in arts and literature—and their first building was essentially a clubhouse to conduct meetings.
While a professional organization for women was at the forefront of women artists’ needs in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Pen + Brush has evolved to support contemporary female artists and writers. In their new location on 22nd Street, art from the gallery is visible to passersby, drawing locals and visitors in with their often eclectic exhibitions. An all-women reading series—created by Kate Angus, a member of their reading board—is part of a lively roster of events hosted amongst the beautiful artworks.
Pen + Brush’s interactive website helps spread the organization’s mission of supporting female artists beyond the doors of the gallery. For example, in a recent exhibition featured on the website, Future is Goddess by Michela Martello, online viewers can click through high-definition images of pieces inspired by graffiti, archaeology, and Eastern art traditions to learn more about the artist. While Pen + Brush does not have their own blog, they do curate articles about their organization and the artists they represent in an easily navigable “Articles” section.
In addition to the online renderings of visual arts exhibitions, on the literary side, Pen + Brush hosts its own online imprint of e-books featuring literary fiction and poetry exclusively by women. All e-books are available for free download. For writers new to Pen + Brush, the website also has a portal for submitting new work.
We at Pen + Brush strongly support the premise that art and literature are vital aspects of the human experience. We also believe that art and literature created by women deserves to be recognized and valued on its merit. We recognize that gender-based inequality in the arts has a much larger historic societal context, but we also recognize that, by concentrating our resources within our sphere of influence, Pen + Brush has the greatest chance of effecting real change for women in the arts.”
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