Although women in the Western world continue to struggle for purchase in the artistic realm, in other parts of the world voices go completely unheard—are entirely silenced. There is no outlet for them. Here is where the International Museum of Women (IMOW) seeks to fill the gaps and build bridges as a forum for art, as an expression of what it means to be a woman in the world today, and as an account and preservation of woman’s experience—IMOW accomplishes all of this through the expressive power of visual art from a global perspective. IMOW’s exhibitions connect with the world and women at large by offering a safe space for inspiration, learning and exchanging ideas and stories.
The International Museum of Women is a global online museum whose mission is to “showcases art, stories and ideas to celebrate, inspire and advance the lives of women around the world.” And, IMOW’s community consists of 600,000 annual visitors and 10,000 artistic contributors from more than 200 countries worldwide. They curate multimedia online exhibitions and physical installations with a focus on “social change…that connects and inspires people with powerful ideas and new ways of thinking that transform women’s lives and the world…[and]…advance the human right to gender equity worldwide.”
Her Circle Ezine spoke to Krista Walton, IMOW’s Web and Social Media Manager, and asked about the inception of IMOW, its background and history. Walton responded, “Originally founded as the Women’s Heritage Museum IMOW in its current format was created by a woman named Elizabeth Colton. Elizabeth was seeking a place to take her daughter to learn about women’s lives and history. When she realized that no such place existed, she was driven to form IMOW. Since its inception in 1997, IMOW has organized thirteen major exhibitions, hosted public forums, developed educational curriculum for schools and created a speaker series drawing world-class artists, authors and political leaders. In 2005, IMOW embarked on a plan to build an innovative twenty-first century museum model to engage and impact women around the world through strategic partnerships, innovative global online exhibitions and local events.”
Additionally, the IMOW team creates Educators Guides for most of their projects. Walton elaborated: “Our exhibition content and resources are used by educators in formal and informal settings. We often hear college professors who have used our guides in classrooms, as well as from parents who have used our educator’s guides to teach their children about these critical women’s issues.”
Governed by a local Board of Directors, receiving guidance from a Global Council, IMOW partners with educators and hosts artistic events featuring visual artists, writers and political leaders. Their partnerships are formed with international, national and local organization such as Amnesty International, CARE, Global Fund for Women, International Council of Women, United Nation’s Development Fund for Women, National Council on Research for Women, The White House Project and many more. From their website: “IMOW seeks out associations that serve girls and women with an international focus. The purpose of these collaborations is to strengthen the voices of women by educating the public on the critical contemporary issues impacting women and children around the world.Walton went on to discuss why IMOW is critical and the ways in which the work they do impacts change: “IMOW’s global online exhibitions provide a vital platform to women around the world, many of whom might otherwise remain voiceless. Just as importantly, we turn the inspiration and understanding that our exhibitions provoke into heightened awareness and action. In surveys over half of visitors say they’ve changed their opinion about critical global issues, and that they will take action to advance women’s empowerment. We offer opportunities for visitors to turn their inspiration into action by taking online actions to empower women’s groups and causes…We can create a sense of connection with global issues at an emotional level, as well as an intellectual one.”
Online exhibitions include Imagining Ourselves, Women, Power and Politics and Economica. Imagining Ourselves, their first online exhibition, was launched in March 2006. Women from around the world were asked to answer the question, “What defines your generation of women?” and submit creative work which was featured in the exhibition. For Women, Power and Politics women were asked to tell us stories about claiming and exercising political power. Economica was launched in October 2009, as Walton says, “almost at the peak of the global financial crisis. In Economica, we wanted to tell stories about how women around the world are affected by economic issues, and show how women act as change agents in every sector of the economy. The results were truly fascinating. Because Economica was launched at such a salient time, we extended our focus on women in the economy through a series of mini-exhibitions. The first was Picturing Power & Potential, a juried photography exhibit that showcased women’s economic power and potential globally; the second was Focusing on Latin America, which took a closer look at the economic issues women faced in one global region, Latin America. The final project was Young Women Speaking the Economy, which connected young women in universities in Denmark, the Philippines, Sudan and the US in cross-cultural dialogue about their hopes, fears and realities at a time of global economic crisis.” Last summer featured a special series called Curating Change, in which global thought leaders curated a selection of IMOW stories which mattered to them. Guest curators included Jennifer Siebel-Newsom, director of Miss Representation; Activist Hafsat Abiola; filmmakers Tiffany Shlain and Abigail Disney; and social entrepreneur Leila Janah.
In January 2012, Mama: Motherhood Around the Globe, IMOW’s most recent flagship exhibition launched, its focus on issues of motherhood and maternal health. When asked how IMOW chooses exhibitions and determines their importance, Walton answered: “We go through a rather rigorous process when choosing our exhibitions. We keep our finger on the pulse of critical and timely issues for women globally, and we are especially interested in stories and art that would not otherwise be seen or heard about by popular audiences as part of a global dialogue. Some of the questions we ask when considering topics include:
Imagination—does the topic lend itself to an artistic, creative and/or imaginative presentation? Can we produce unique and high quality content on the topic? Does it offer opportunities globally for women to express themselves?
Inspiration—is there potential to truly inspire a global audience? Does it allow for celebration of women’s achievements, agency and accomplishments?
Instigating Action—does the project integrate easy, actionable involvement steps, or hold the potential to create measurable change in women’s lives?
Issues—does the exhibition foreground important contemporary or global human rights issues and pressing challenges for women?
Ideas—does the project elicit new ideas and thinking about the future and women’s potential? Does it encourage audiences to look at the issue in a new light?
International impact—does the project offer opportunities for diverse global engagement, perspectives and dialogue? Will it resonate in multiple global locations?
For example, the current focus on global efforts to improve maternal health and meet UN MDG#5 inspired us to focus on the topic of motherhood for our current exhibition MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe.”
An important aspect of IMOW’s contribution to encouraging the efforts of women’s art globally is the inclusive nature of their exhibits. IMOW provides means for lesser-known artists and women in general to contribute to the dialogue. “For all of our online exhibitions, IMOW accepts and encourages work from women all over the world, at any stage of their artistic output,” clarified Walton. “And of course, anyone is welcome to comment on stories included in our exhibitions, or Her Blueprint blog or send us messages on Facebook or Twitter, if there are important issues they would like to discuss that aren’t raised in our exhibitions. One of the great things about being an online museum is that it’s really easy for anyone with an internet connection to take part in the dialogue.”
IMOW’s long-term goals include a continuation of their role as a global online museum of women’s art, providing a global platform for women’s voices, raising awareness about important, critical women’s issues. When asked how closely Walton feels IMOW is meeting the goals of their mission, she responded, “Our mission is two-fold—firstly it’s about producing innovative, inspiring and high quality global content that matters to women and tells untold stories in their own words. Secondly, it’s about getting that content out into the world to inspire involvement in global issues, especially issues of women’s human rights. In terms of meeting goals, we know we curate strong, inspiring and high quality global content that you can’t find anywhere else. Our goal is to get that content in front of a wider audience and show that we’re turning that inspiration into quantifiable engagement and action on global women’s issues…Everyone on the IMOW staff is passionate about women’s human rights, and I think that’s what drives all of us on a day-to-day basis. The team is also highly creative—with passions ranging from art to science fiction, literature and film. It’s this fusion of creativity and social change which is at the heart of IMOW’s mission and which is a great inspiration to all of us!”