Meet Sydney Stoudmire, Executive Director of Woman Made

womanmade[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]U[/dropcap]psetting statistic time: Women make up 51% of visual artists but only 28% of gallery solo exhibitions. Ugh. And we’re willing to bet that disconnect has nothing to do with a talent gap and everything to do with a gap in which artists the industry chooses to validate. There’s a reason you only ever learned about men in your high school art history class and that reason is called patriarchy. Fortunately, some badass women have decided to no longer accept male artists as the baseline of good art, and are carving out space specifically for women’s work. Sydney Stoudmire is one of them. She’s the executive director of Woman Made, a gallery in Chicago that supports the work of female-identified artists. This week, we chatted with Sydney about why a space like Woman Made is so needed in the art world and why she’s “ruffling a few feathers”.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.

I’m Sydney Stoudmire, the executive director at Woman Made Gallery. I oversee basically everything that happens throughout the year through exhibitions and supplementary events that happen around the exhibitions. I’m also responsible for grant writing and organizing fundraisers and facilitating all of the partnerships with other institutions in the city.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

We love that your gallery creates (literal and figurative) space for female-identified artists - can you tell us a bit about why that's needed in the art world?

It’s kind of surprising that there’s still a huge gender discrepancy in the art world in terms of women’s exhibitions versus men’s – and for salary. Woman Made’s been around for 25 years now, and we’ve frequently been asked the question of how necessary is this space that’s dedicated to work by women, and we’re constantly reminded and confirmed in our position that there’s still a need for it. Until there’s parity in the art world so that it’s 50/50 – because it’s not that we’re advocating for anything more than equality – until we get there, that’s what Woman Made’s mission is.

We look forward to the point where we can just have exhibitions that are art for art’s sake, but a lot of times our exhibitions are kind of somehow about social justice and unpacking women’s issues because it’s a fight that we’re seeing every day. So it’s definitely valid in the sense that it’s giving women artists sometimes their first exhibition opportunities that lead on to other commercial opportunities. On the other side of it, the fact that our exhibitions sometimes have themes that are dealing with social justice, they’re bringing awareness to those issues too, so that’s the value of the space.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

Can you tell us about how feminism plays a part in what you do?

I really believe that there’s no one right way of being a feminist, and so that’s why the programming we do at Woman Made is intersectional. It’s a space of feminist inquiry where we look at all kinds of feminisms, so we work with women of color, we work with trans women, with people in the LGBTQ community. So we’re positioning ourselves, of not being an authority on feminism, but being inclusive of all types of feminisms.

I would say feminism is rooted in my race, because every type of marginalized people has their own issues and we like to bring attention to that. There’s not one conservative type of feminism that represents all people and it’s okay that we have subsections of feminism. I think we’ve ruffled a few feathers in the last couple of years doing programming because Woman Made has historically been catering to a very second wave feminist theory in terms of the type of issues we dealt with and the type of art we showed and so we’re expanding our approach and broadening what we represent now. And it’s a lot more inclusive, a lot more diverse.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

What's been your favorite part of running the gallery? The most challenging?

My favorite part is having people say how much they value the space, because I’m here all the time and it’s easy to take for granted that it is what it is. But every time someone’s here for the first time and they’re like, “I can’t believe I didn’t know this existed” or “This feels like home to me” – especially artists feel that way – so it’s always exciting and reaffirming, because we’re a small non-profit. We’re very understaffed so it just kind of gives me that motivation to do what we’re doing because it really is making a difference to people.

Illinois nonprofits are kind of in general struggling right now because there’s been a big budget holdup… so we were impacted by that to the tune of $25,000 so we’re actively working on fielding that deficit and finding other ways to bring in income while being pretty understaffed, so it’s a big challenge. It’s a lot of hard work, but we’re pulling it off somehow.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]

Any upcoming shows or initiatives our readers should know about?

We have a show opening on May 27 and it’s called code/switch. It’s work that’s based somehow in code or art that’s in the new media genre. So we are bringing visibility to the aesthetic value of art in those fields and in the STEM fields. There’s a huge gender gap in stem fields, and additionally, there’s a recent integration of art in STEM.

So we are having this exhibition as a way to showcase art that exists in that realm, but also, we’re doing programming around that exhibition that’s inviting young girls at that age where they’re being told that it’s not cool to get a computer science degree or be interested in tech. The exhibition is lots of really cool, fun apps and video games, artist-made games, and so it’s a very visual and aesthetically pleasing way for young girls to engage with that kind of tech. So we’re hoping that creates a pipeline for them to go down that road of being involved in those fields.