Supporting Diversity

Elisabeth Murdoch, a former Tate Trustee, established the Freelands Foundation. Its goals are twofold: to address geographical and gender-based inequalities. By collaborating with galleries outside of the capital, it brings attention to Britain’s vibrant, but under-funded art scene. It also aims to support the work of women by offering the prize specifically at a “pivotal” career moment.

Six regional organisations have been shortlisted for this year’s £100,000 award; Dundee Contemporary Arts, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, MOSTYN, Nottingham Contemporary, The Hepworth Wakefield and Turner Contemporary will all be given the chance to produce an exhibition proposal in collaboration with a mid-career female artist. Last year, Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery and Jacqueline Donachie won the inaugural competition. Donachie’s solo show opens in November, and represents a major landmark for the Glaswegian, whose current focus is on hereditary illness and disability.

This endeavour seems desperately needed: despite the fact that female students outnumber their male counterparts at schools across the country, the balance shifts dramatically as careers progress. A report commissioned in 2015 found that only 13% of the UK’s most popular public artwork was produced by women. Investigations into the social balance of high-grossing lots at Sotheby’s and the split along these lines in terms of representation at top galleries revealed similarly shocking figures.

In Scotland – and elsewhere – Fruitmarket and many of its peers already make a conscious effort to counter these inequalities, but the additional possibility of this specific support is undeniably important for practitioners such as Donachie, as well as for the city of Edinburgh itself. Other places outside of London will clearly also benefit from increased exposure and monetary assistance in an atmosphere of ongoing cuts which have hit these galleries and museums especially hard. By providing this funding, the organisation is playing an important part in countering some of the structural problems that are evidently present in the British arts ecosystem.

The winner will be announced in autumn 2017. For more information:

1. The Hepworth, Wakefield.