Connecting Art to Justice: the Feminist Art Coalition

“Rather than seeking stark divisions between approaches or themes within feminism, perhaps we should instead look for the many possibilities for productive coalitions.” – Sally J. Scholz

It’s no secret that art comments on, fights against, and breaks the molds of society. Sometimes, it even forms the basis from which activists and earth-shakers build platforms to enact real social change.

connecting art to justice
Apsara DiQuinzio, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and Phyllis C. Wattis Matrix Curator at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), first envisioned the Feminist Art Coalition in 2017. (Photo by Page Bertelsen Photography)

The Feminist Art Coalition (FAC) seeks to create a platform where art projects can build creative collaborations between artists and their societies, in exhibitions that give established institutions a way to give voice to their commitments to social justice and structural change. Supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, FAC connects art museums and nonprofit institutions to present a series of events beginning in Fall 2020, and continuing over the course of one year–a critical year, as we’ve mentioned, leading up to the next American presidential election.

“This strategic endeavor takes feminist thought and practice as its point of departure and considers art as a catalyst for discourse and civic engagement,” the FAC writes in its mission statement. “Motivated by the ethical imperative to effect change and promote equality within our institutions and beyond, these collective projects will advocate for inclusive and equitable access to social, cultural, and economic resources for people of all genders, sexualities, races, ethnicities, classes, ages, and abilities. This cooperative effort stages a range of projects that together generate a cultural space for engagement, reflection, and action, while recognizing the constellation of differences and multiplicity among feminisms.”

The Coalition is the brainchild of Apsara DiQuinzio, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). In 2017, following the tumultuous presidential election, DiQuinzio began to envision a platform for feminist art as a way to highlight the caustic issues that came to a head during the election.

“A lot of the conversations in the last election were horrifying, and completely caught me by surprise. I started thinking, ‘Maybe we need to define misogyny on a popular scale,'” says DiQuinzio. “The #MeToo movement was incredible. It did a lot to help people understand problems of misogyny on a massive global scale. The Feminist Art Coalition became a strategic endeavor to try and think through how we could create a richer cultural groundwork, so that during the next election, we could be having the important conversations that we needed to be having on local, regional, national scales.”

Over the course of 2017, DiQuinzio reached out to colleagues and friends within her field to garner interest for the project. The response was overwhelming–artists and curators alike expressed an “overwhelmingly positive response” to be included in the project. By the spring of 2018, DiQuinzio had organized a three-day colloquium in Berkeley, where women from across the country gathered to draft a mission statement and participate in a branding workshop for the Coalition.

The FAC applied for a grant with The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which became its first source of lead funding. The original program, scheduled to run from August to November of 2020, intended to use exhibitions of art inspired by feminisms to foster important conversations around feminist issues, the problem of misogyny, and other critical topics.

The goal was to coincide these exhibitions with the lead-up to the U.S. presidential election, facilitating conversations about the issues brought up, but not fully addressed, in 2016. However, like many nonprofit organizations, the FAC has had to make some drastic pivots to account for the global COVID-19 crisis. Today, the Coalition includes almost 100 arts institutions, museums, and universities across the United States, each committed to putting on exhibitions of works of art inspired by feminisms.

“Of course, that number is subject to change based on the unpredictable environment we’re in,” says DiQuinzio. “Everything has dramatically changed for museums. They’re trying to find out how to exist in this new reality. Across the country, museums are slashing programs and exhibitions, and finding new ways to save their budgets. So while we hope that some of those initiatives can still take place during the original time frame, we know that many institutions are going to have to delay their programs. That’s just the reality we’re in.”

One such program was the exhibition curated by DiQuinzio herself. New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century was slated to open in August. Now, the program has been rescheduled to February of 2021.

“I’m thrilled that it’s still happening, but it means working with the situation,” says DiQuinzio. “We feel very strongly, the steering committee and everyone involved, that feminisms are just as important, if not more important than they were before. Specifically, we need to be thinking about issues relating to care and the environment.”

Connecting Art to Justice with Feminism

FAC intentionally uses the plural form “feminisms” to describe the movements behind the art. According to the FAC website, “There are many different definitions for feminism, both past and present, so FAC prefers to put it in the plural. Feminism is no longer a singular concept, but embraces and encompasses many different forms of thought and approaches to cultural change.”

In addition to the physical exhibitions, FAC offers a variety of online resources that include quotes from feminist leaders, videos about artists and their work, and books that speak to the connections between art and feminism.

One of these resource collection, Notes on Feminisms, offers newly commissioned essays from writers, artists, and educators that are available for download and printing through the FAC website. At the time of this writing, essayists include Jack Halberstam, Saidiya Hartman, Peggy Phelan, and Trinh T. Minh-ha. Over the course of the year, the essay collection will continue to grow as more partner institutions and commissioned essayists take part.

“With so many resources for viewers to connect with, the website is acting as the virtual platform for us to convene,” says DiQuinzio. “We are always trying to activate these ideals within our own communities.”

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has presented a new collection of hurdles for FAC artists, curators, and exhibitors. With museums closed across the country, budgetary concerns make it much more uncertain whether exhibitions will move forward at all–and whether the artists will have the funding to create their works in the first place.

“Some people are struggling to have enough money to run their projects,” DiQuinzio explains. “Other institutions have cancelled many projects for budgetary reasons. They’ve had to furlough their workers, which is just devastating.”

But all is not lost–funders have a unique opportunity to sponsor these artists and exhibitions, and ensure these critical conversations still take place.

“Look at our website, look at the organizations and the projects that are listed there ,and if there are any that interest you, contact those institutions and offer your support for those projects,” DiQuinzio suggests. “Everyone is in dire need of funding right now. It would be absolutely welcome. If there’s a project that speaks to you, and that you think you want to help realize, then get in touch with the organizations. They would love to hear from you!”

This collaboration between different schools of feminist thought, artistic institutions, and places of educational and cultural significance offers an exciting look at the future potential of collaborative feminism. Art, by nature, speaks to social norms and seeks ways to step away from “the way things are” in favor of “the way things should, and can, be.”

Supporting art is more important than ever before. In times of crisis, we turn to the artists and creators to find inspiration and joy in the midst of uncertainty. The Feminist Art Coalition is made possible by lead funding from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and additional support could help the FAC grow beyond its current offerings. Furthermore, the institutions participating in the Coalition will need funding to keep these programs alive, once they are finally able to open their doors post-COVID.

The world of feminist philanthropy has a fantastic opportunity here to bolster the connections between art, feminisms, and social commentary–and put us a few brush strokes closer to social change.


To learn more about the Feminist Art Coalition, visit their website at www.feministartcoalition.org. Consider supporting the FAC by supporting participating institutions, or downloading and sharing resources curated by the FAC.

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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist headquartered in Annapolis, MD and Philadelphia, PA. She has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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