Women outnumber men at art school, yet underrepresented in industry, finds report

21 June 2017

Phyllida Barlow: folly, commissioned by the British Council. Photo: Ruth Clark
At the Biennale Arte 2017 from 13 May – 26 November

The Freelands Foundation has released its second report on female representation in the art world, finding that although women outnumber men in art school they are still underrepresented at professional level.

The report states 63% of undergraduates studying creative arts and design in 2016 were female, according to UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Services). In contrast, 29% of artists represented by London’s major galleries were female, and 3% of auction lots in the top ten highest-grossing sales of each of the Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sales in 2016 were by women artists.

30% of solo shows at London’s major institutions in 2016 were by female artists. However representation in major institutions outside London has improved since the Freelands’ last report, with 42% of solo shows held by female artists.

Positively, an audit analysing the artists selected to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale over the past ten years found that 50% were women. This has jumped since the last report thanks to Sarah Lucas and Phyllida Barlow exhibiting in the British Pavilion in the last two events.

Likewise, representation in the Turner Prize over the last ten years has also improved to 44%, after Helen Marten won last year. Also the report says “there have been some promising signs of a changing landscape” with the appointment of Frances Morris as director of Tate Modern and Maria Balshaw as director of Tate.

However only 17% of post-war public sculptures selected to be listed in 2016 were by female artists. “Public artwork by women is not sufficiently recognised or encouraged,” the report says. “We must work harder to ensure public artwork by women has the opportunity to be canonised for future generations.”

Summarising, the report says: “We conclude that although there have been some improvements, the fact remains that despite women outnumbering men in art school, women are under-represented in all of the metrics we used to measure career achievement.”

The report has been released together with the announcement of this year’s Freelands Award shortlist, which will award £100,000 to one visual arts organisation outside London to present an exhibition of work by a mid-career female artist. Launched last year by Elisabeth Murdoch, it was won last year by The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, and artist Jacqueline Donachie, whose show opens in November.

The shortlist comprises Dundee Contemporary Arts, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Mostyn (Llandudno), Nottingham Contemporary, The Hepworth Wakefield and Turner Contemporary (Margate).


Sarah Lucas: Venice Biennale 2013, commissioned by the British Council


Helen Marten. Photo: Juergen Teller

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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