As a book artist and museum professional, Kat Buckley works at the Barnes Foundation as Membership Services Assistant, where she works on tasks including outreach, membership tracking, prospect research, reporting, and programming. She has also interned for many museums and institutions, including The Walters Art Museum and The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Buckley has a wide range of expertise in such topics as modern and contemporary art and contemporary collecting practices. She is the Membership Chair of Emerging Arts Leaders: Philadelphia and also a member of Museum Council of Philadelphia and American Alliance of Museums, among others. You can find her works at portfoilios.mica.edu/katbuckley and katartsis.blogspot.com.
Interviewed and Edited by Linda Lin
Tell us about your practice with book arts and how/why it has been a female-dominated field.
Book are a quiet, intimate medium. The viewer must interact with an object (traditionally) smaller than they are. It forces the viewer to handle with delicacy in order to have the true experience of the book. It seems that the traditional barriers to exhibiting art are all intrinsic to the book arts medium, leading to it not being well-publicized and the artists within the field being unable to find fame. This is doubly true for female artists in the book arts world.
I can't say why I feel most book artists are female, and maybe it has something more to do with the books that I connect with (books like Tunnel Map by Carol Barton and Soap Story by Angela Lorenz). Books force the viewer to pause, get close and really listen to the artist's intent. They are the perfect medium for the introvert, as they value experience and interaction more than superficial or bombastic works.
What challenges have you encountered working in the arts field? Do you feel that your gender has had/will have any impact on your career?
Finding a job is certainly the biggest obstacle that I have faced working in the arts, as jobs within this industry are shrinking while in high demand. I have encountered managers who work to perpetuate misogyny, even though they themselves may have not been aware of their tendencies. I have seen women passed over for positions and promotions as another manager felt threatened by their prowess. My current workplace has a mostly female staff, even at the executive level. This is an anomaly for museums. As I am looking to work with a large institution one day, I am aware that there is often a gender gap at the executive level. I am prepared to have to work to overcome some sexism in order to get there.
What are your observations of female leadership/gender gap in art museums? How does the leadership structure look like, according to your experience? And how do you think we could potentially improve this situation?
While I have not personally observed a large gender gap at the art institutions I have worked at, I am aware of its persistent existence in my field. In my experience, as one travels up the museum pyramid, there is a whitewashing of staff and gender gaps become greater. Museums need to do more to improve promoting and hiring at upper levels, so these top-tier positions can become a reality for those who fall outside the cisgendered white category. This can be done through a retraining of staff as to the importance of corporate diversity, and how it leads institutions to innovation and improved efficiency.
Is there something that surprises you as you work in the visual arts field?
What I am surprised by when I work in the visual arts field is the public's caution and tentativeness around art. I personally believe this is not because guests are concerned about one another's artistic experience, but more because they have been taught to socialize this way in a museum space, and to speak in hushed voices unless they feel their opinion is valid. Museums are beginning to do a great deal more to welcome the public, but overcoming a perception of how to behave in a gallery space, and a general unwelcoming atmosphere, needs further consideration.
The situation is exacerbated by the usage of International Art English, or IAE, which renders many journals and periodicals inaccessible to the reader looking to immerse his or herself in art. An exterior shell provides an insulating barrier for the art world from the greater public, incubating our institutions in circular conversations and thereby causing us to suffer from our exclusionary practices.
What are your thoughts on having an exhibition only dedicating to women artists? Do we already present gender inequality by grouping artists by their genders and paying special attention to women?
Grouping women artists together for an exhibit with no other purpose can be detrimental to the group as a whole. Group shows on their own are not detrimental, and can be progressive when they are about the work and the artists equally. Gallerists and curators can make more of an effort to hold a more inclusive roster of solo and group exhibits that reflect the diversity present across artistic spectra today, by artist as well as media.
What do you think are some of the effective ways to encourage/educate the general public to learn about women artists who live in shadows of the famous male partners? Have you seen similar efforts in the field?
The most efficient means of educating today's public is social media. Major museums should make an effort to consistently highlight inclusive work from their collection on all communication touch points. Women artists would further benefit when critics review their shows in equal numbers. Reviews that are printed in prime areas of newspapers and magazines are often the male-dominated blockbuster circuit. When there is a shift around institutional communication priorities and critical reviews, we will have a more educated public around all artists.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring female arts leaders?
I would say to join a group of like-minded individuals. When we have community, we accomplish more together. I serve on the Membership Committee for the Museum Council of Philadelphia and as Membership Chair for Emerging Arts Leaders: Philadelphia. Both of these organizations have put me in touch with so many others, as well as created a safety net of female friendships in which we can discuss our profession and how it affects us.