Leading article: Put women in the picture

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The Independent Online

We are used to complaints about the lack of women in British boardrooms, despite evidence that companies generally perform better if the board is more representative of the real world. Now the Culture minister, Margaret Hodge, has highlighted the absence of women in the upper echelons of the arts establishment. She is entirely right to do so.

It is true that, down the years, some of the most discerning and distinguished art collectors have been women. It is also true that some of today's most flourishing and innovative galleries are owned or run by women. Something similar could be said about the theatre. And the fact that women are successfully running quirky or independent ventures is good for the arts in Britain generally.

But there must also be the suspicion that at least some of these women branched out on their own for the same reason that many women leave big corporations to set up on their own: because they felt excluded or patronised by the male-dominated establishment. Somehow public funding was less likely to come their way, and those plum jobs on committees and boards eluded them.

In some ways it is the same old story: patronage and jobs for the boys. But Ms Hodge is right to be impatient – and leading women in the arts should be, too.

All-male boards of high-profile arts institutions convey a message that is the very opposite of the originality and vibrancy on which the British arts world prides itself. One result is that men remain the dominant arbiters not only of public taste, but of monetary value, too. Women in the arts are being, quite literally, short-changed.

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