Creative arts needs more support for women

By Natalie Williams

The creative work of women has created a groundswell of energy and enthusiasm in cultural discourse in recent years, but central to any female artist’s journey is an assortment of barriers preventing equality of recognition and opportunity for women in the creative arts.

The ANU School of Music tapped into this discussion by hosting an innovative research conference, Women in the Creative Arts, in August this year.

When we made the call for research papers, we were inundated with questions about the focus of the conference. Clearly, there were issues that needed airing, but we kept the focus wide because we wanted these creative women to bring their own voices and experiences to the table.

What we received was a comprehensive collection of impeding issues and some solutions.

Privilege, lack of opportunity, lack of support, funding, visibility all emerged as common barriers to a gender balance in the creative arts.

The conference showcased the rich creative work of women in music, film, dance, theatre, visual arts and literature, but also revealed a sometimes devastating landscape across the arts for the recognition of work by women.

Collective gasps were frequently heard from delegates at the revelation of shocking statistics about both the number of female practitioners in the field and the comparatively small amount of their work that is seen and heard.

In Australia, only 26 per cent of composers are women. Several conference papers revealed statistical data in the single digits for creative works by women represented in the concert hall, on film and the theatrical stage. Only between one and five per cent of new classical works, nationally and internationally, are composed by women, so we have a long way to go to redress the balance.

Given this historical gender imbalance in music over the last 400 years, perhaps it’s not surprising. Women making a life and career in music or the arts has only really been possible over the last 20 years. Yet by now, there should be many more support systems to foster an artistic career.

Despite many dire reports from the field, the gathering of research professionals alongside performers, writers, dancers, artists and industry leaders developed a strong sense of camaraderie and shared experience as they explored the many facets of creative life from a female perspective.