The focus of the Contemporary Women program is to provide practical assistance to artists through a new annual fellowship, activities and events that support women artists, and support of The Countess Report.
“It was important to Adrian and I that we create something unique, that provided an opportunity that was much needed in the Australian arts sector. The Fellowship is designed to make a practical difference to both artists and contemporary art spaces.” – Michela Fini
The Michela and Adrian Fini Artist Fellowship
Sheila Foundation Board member Michela Fini and her husband Adrian have pledged a donation to Sheila to launch a unique annual Fellowship that will support women artists and arts institutions.
This is a responsive, focused program that will support the development of new work by contemporary women artists at a critical juncture of their career, whether they be emerging, mid-career or senior artists, and assist in the presentation and documentation of the work at a contemporary art space.
The first Fellowship recipient will be announced shortly and while exhibitions are on hold for now, the artist will be able to move forward with creating work ready for when galleries re-open.
The Countess Report
For true parity and recognition for Australian women artists to occur, we need to benchmark where we are now and use this as a foundation to move forward. One of the outstanding achievements for Sheila in the past year is our support for the preparation and release of The Countess Report 2019.
The Countess Report, a collaboration between Elvis Richardson, Amy Prcevich and Miranda Samuels, has become the trusted data source for conversations on gender parity in Australian art, and a key driver of change since it was established in 2008. It provides state-by-state statistics across ten areas of the visual arts sector.
We are proud that Sheila has been a partner and funder of The Countess Report since 2014, supporting their inaugural 2016 Report and the follow up 2019 Report. This funding has allowed the report to be expanded and professionalised, and has helped provide salaries for female artists to contribute to creating the report.
It is encouraging that The Countess Report 2019 shows that many areas of the visual arts sector have made solid improvements in parity. However, it also highlights where work still needs to be done. The areas lagging behind continue to be our state and national galleries, providing an opportunity for Sheila Foundation to continue to help promote change in these spaces.
Practical Support for Artists
While long-term goals and benchmarking are important, so is immediate practical support. Since launch, Sheila Foundation has created different ways to support contemporary Australian women artists including:
Champions Donor Circle
The donors to this giving circle make it possible for acquisitions of artworks by contemporary women artists to be added to the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art. This keeps the Collection dynamic and importantly provides Australian women artists with financial support as well as encouragement for their practices and reputations. A grant of $10,000 has been made in 2020 to The University of Western Australia to acquire works for the Collection.
Activities and events
Sheila promotes the work of contemporary artists through events, publications, blogs, social media and collaborations. The Foundation also acquires works to gift to appropriate public collections, including the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art. For example, we were delighted to announce the purchase of three significant colourfield paintings by Australian women artists at the launch of Sheila in May 2019.
Into the Light: Recovering Australia’s lost women artists 1870–1960 is a project aimed at painting a more complete picture of Australia’s art history by researching professional women artists, many of whom have not been recognised previously.
Into the Light: Recovering Australia’s lost women artists 1870 – 1960
“Some might say that in 2020, Sheila isn’t or shouldn’t be needed, however the fact remains that it is. There remain systemic issues that impact the way major public institutions engage with and foster women artists and women in senior leadership roles.” – Helen Carroll
There are two parts to this project:
Into the Light is a significant national research project, led by Sheila Foundation, with the aim of making a wealth of information available on a free online database. Sheila Foundation funded a pilot project for NSW 1870–1914 and has in the last year developed a model to complete the project nationally. We have also raised seed funding to enable us to move to the next stage of development, collaborating with major institutions across Australia to make this a comprehensive and transformative project.
Into the Light Donor Circle
Since launch, generous donors have joined our Into the Light Donor Circle to enable us to purchase works that are unearthed through the research. The funds from this donor circle allowed us to purchase several key paintings in an auction of rare artworks by Australian women artists in 2019.
The Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art is a unique resource that allows audiences to see the range of art made by Australia’s women artists from the 1880s to the present, in a way that is not possible in our state and national art museums. It provides a valuable insight into Australia’s artistic and cultural history. It is, to quote leading art historian Professor Rex Butler, “an invaluable resource for the rethinking of Australian art”.
Increasing the visibility of Australian women artists through promotion of the unique Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art held by The University of Western Australia is one of Sheila Foundation’s key goals.
Significant progress has been made towards the digitisation of the Collection, which will enable anyone, anywhere in the world to access it online. Having the Collection available to the public and, importantly, to scholars nationally and internationally, will encourage research to transform the narratives of our art history.
It has also been encouraging to see the number of loan requests coming to The University of Western Australia from institutions around the nation for works from the Collection. This includes several works which will make their way to the National Gallery of Australia for the major ‘Know My Name’ exhibition in 2021. Sheila thanks The University of Western Australia for their co-operation and work on these projects.
“I admire the integrity of Sheila Foundation. I believe the action of passionate people with resources can make real change to the way culture works.”
Despite being small, Sheila is effective and agile. One of the ways we do this is through collaborations and partnerships.
Two of our key partnerships are with The University of Western Australia and The Countess Report. We also collaborate with Australian art organisations including the National Association for the Visual Arts, the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art and Museums and Galleries New South Wales.
We will continue to grow these relationships and new collaborations, recognising that together we can make big things happen.