Not all superheros wear capes. One anonymous woman has been fighting gender inequality in the art world for decades by doling out over $5.5 million in grants to women artists. Now, 77-year-old photographic artist Susan Unterberg is revealing her secret identity so she can put her mouth where her money is.
Twenty-two years later, Unterberg has decided to reveal herself to use her platform for good. “It’s a great time for women to speak up,” Unterberg told The New York Times. “I feel I can be a better advocate having my own voice.” Unterberg once met her grant’s requirements: a middle-aged female artist undervalued by the art world, at a crossroads in her work. But now her work hangs on the walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.
Gender parity in the art world has a long way to go. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, a 51% majority of visual artists are women, but they make on average 81 cents to the dollar as their male peers. Work by female artists makes up just 1-3% of major permanent museum collections in the United States and Europe.
Inequality drips from the top to the bottom: according to the Association of Art Museum Directors, of museums with significant budgets of at least $15 million, only 30% of directors are women, and they earn 25% less than male directors. When decision-makers are disproportionately men, it’s very difficult for women artists to garner equal attention. As 2014 grant winner Carrie Mae Weems explained to The New York Times, “The work is not taken as seriously, and men are still running the game. Men in power support men in power, and they want to see men in power.”