The National Museum of Women in the Arts at night, surrounded by streetlights.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts Renovation: A Step Forward in Female Representation

The National Museum of Women in the Arts Renovation: A Step Forward in Female Representation

The National Museum for Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, D.C. is arguably the world’s most iconic home for women artists. The museum was founded in 1987 with a mission to advocate for increased representation of women in the arts and inspire change by highlighting the work of groundbreaking female creators. Last August, the NMWA closed its doors to the public and began its first large-scale renovation since its founding. This highly anticipated renovation is valued at 66 million dollars and is set to be completed in the Fall of 2023, marking a new and promising era in the museum’s history. 

At its founding, the NMWA was a revolutionary imagination of what modern-day art institutions could be. Co-Founder Wilhelmina Cole Holladay was compelled to create a collection of works exclusively by women artists after encountering a particularly captivating still life by 17th-century painter, Clara Peeters. Holladay was struck by the absence of Peeters' work in prominent art history texts of the time and this prompted her to create her own collection of artwork showcasing women artists that remained largely unknown in the male-dominated art world. Historically, Peeters and other women artists of the time were left unsupported and neglected by art institutions which perpetuated the belief that women had little contribution to art. Holladay’s collection, now the core of the NMWA’s collection, works to undo this rhetoric and features art spanning from the 16th to the 21st century. In pursuit of learning more about the importance of the NMWA campaign, I reached out to the NMWA to understand more about what visitors can expect from the renovation and future directions for the museum. Chief-curator of the NMWA, Kathryn Wat, shared that “The National Museum of Women in the Arts collection includes more than 1,000 artists from six continents, and our reinstallation will focus on this exceptional range, from oil paintings to contemporary sculptures made from materials ranging from pocket combs to crochet wool. It is our plan to blend historical and contemporary artworks by inventive and adventurous creative women.” In this way, Wat affirms the NMWA’s commitment to advancing its role as a pioneer for diversity and inclusivity in selecting artists and artworks for the museum. 

An additional aspect of the NMWA’s effort to strengthen female representation in the arts includes the renewal of the museum’s historic building. Women artists continue to overcome numerous gender disparities in the arts. In response the NMWA has continued to rapidly grow their collection, supporting female artists globally. With over 5,500 works in the NMWA collection, a renovated building with expanded gallery space is essential to ensure that the works of emerging and forgotten women artists can be displayed with an improved and curated viewing experience. 

Further, Wat commented on the role of technology in the visitor experience explaining that “Digital tools and experiences—accessible both in-gallery and from anywhere in the world—will encourage visitors to dig into a particular artwork that captivates them, learning more about the artist’s viewpoint or behind-the-scenes insights related to its installation in the galleries. We’re using technology to change up the conventional art museum experience; it’s not about strolling and reading anymore. We invite visitors to question, compare, debate, and even share a laugh by clicking in.” In this way, visitors will have an opportunity to directly immerse themselves in new displays and form stronger connections to artists and artworks via digital tools. 

The NMWA campaign marks an exciting future for arts in Washington, D.C., and emphasizes a commitment to investing in the work of women artists., Understanding the significance of this renovation is vital to increasing visitor engagement and cultivating shared dedication to supporting women through the arts.

Feature Image retrieved from ARTnews