The IU Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art announced the launch of “A Space of Their Own,” an online research database celebrating the contributions of female artists, on June 13.
“A Space of Their Own” catalogs work by various female artists, particularly those represented in the museums’ collections. The launch includes artwork, essays, individual records and timelines accounting the work of several European and American women artists between the 16th and 19th centuries, according to the database’s webpage.
Dr. Adelheid Gealt, Director Emerita of the Eskenazi Museum of Art, began work on “A Space of Their Own” in 2015, and has since led a team of graduate and undergraduate students in compiling research to build the database. Gealt’s speciality in European painting and women artists influenced the scope of the project.
Jane Fortune, an Indiana-based philanthropist, advocated for the conservation and study of work by female artists throughout her professional career. Fortune founded Advancing Women Artists, an organization that financed the conservation of thousands of artworks by women artists in Florence, Italy. While the organization closed in 2021, its digital archive is still available on the website.
In 2019, the Eskenazi museum was granted a $4 million gift from Fortune which included 61 artworks and funds to establish the Dr. Jane Fortune Endowment for Women Artists and the Dr. Jane Fortune Fund for Virtual Advancement of Women Artists – which directly supported “A Space of Their Own.”
The Samuel H. Kress Foundation – which aims to promote the study of European artwork from ancient times to the early 19th century – also supported the database’s funding.
Galina Olmsted, managing editor of the database, said she hopes “A Space of Their Own” serves a variety of audiences, whether it's used for art history students’ research projects, or anyone interested in learning more about art.
The database will expand over time to include a wider variety of artists across centuries and continents. According to the museum’s press release, Eskenazi is particularly committed to acquiring artwork from women and people of color to diversify and broaden visitors’ historical understanding. “A Space of Their Own” project also includes plans to expand Eskenazi’s educational and exhibition programs on women artists.
Olmsted said female artists are underrepresented at the Eskenazi museum, as well as at museums across the U.S. and internationally. This lack of emphasis on work by women is reflective of a larger devaluing of women’s contributions to art and history, Olmsted said.
“This is a really terrific opportunity to better highlight those contributions and to familiarize our audiences with women artists who fall a bit outside of the canon,” Olmsted said. “We're hoping to continue to amplify and drive research on prominent women artists, and also to recover women about whom less is known.”