Positive Keyboard Activism Through Wikipedia at The Menil

The Menil Collection hosts its second Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on February 22.
The Menil Collection hosts its second Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on February 22. Courtesy of The Menil Collection
Lauren Gottlieb-Miller, the Menil Collection’s librarian, wants to be clear that while editing Wikipedia is easy, suspiciously easy even, realistically you would not be able to trick Jenna Maroney into thinking Janis Joplin was a speed walker who feared toilets and ate cats.

“It’s not a complete free-for-all,” she says.

But it is the ease of using Wikipedia that makes the results of a 2011 Wikimedia Foundation survey, which found that less than 10 percent of the contributors on Wikipedia identified as women, even more striking. The Art+Feminism campaign was launched shortly after to address this disparity, and The Menil Collection will join the cause by hosting its second Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to “improve entries on women and non-cisgender people in the arts on Wikipedia.”

Gottlieb-Miller says that people’s curiosity about art history is no different to that toward a celebrity, a solar eclipse or a place you’ve never visited before – if you have questions, Wikipedia is one of the first places many people go to for answers, so it’s important that “correct and non-male voices are represented and represented in a quality way.”

She adds that with events like the Edit-a-thon, “you can contribute positively by making small incremental changes, and that’s what this is all about – getting rid of that feeling that you can’t contribute if you’re not a tech wiz or you’re not a PhD in art history, that all of us come to this with an expertise and all of us can participate.” And for the Menil’s library, Gottlieb-Miller considers it “a real chance to say, ‘hey, we’re here.’”

The library, which Gottlieb-Miller admits is “a little bit of a secret,” primarily serves the Menil’s research staff and visiting undergraduate and graduate students, independent scholars and outside curators. But the library boasts approximately 35,000 volumes and a special collection of more than 1,000 items, including rare books, and Gottlieb-Miller hopes that events like the Edit-a-thon will further open its doors into the greater Houston community.

“My vision for this space is that we do connect with our community more, that we are a resource for not just established scholars but people who are interested in using our unique holdings,” says Gottlieb-Miller. “We want to have that relationship with the public just like the museum does.”

As an added incentive, the Edit-a-thon overlaps with Night at the Menil, a free, all-are-welcome neighborhood celebration including food trucks parked along Mulberry Street and Keyun and the Zydeco Masters playing on the front lawn. The museum will stay open from 5 until 9 p.m., giving visitors a late-night chance to see their galleries and Mona Hatoum’s “Terra Infirma” before the exhibit closes on February 25 and the museum’s main building closes February 26. (Public programs and events will continue in the Menil’s other buildings, including the Cy Twombly Gallery and Byzantine Fresco Chapel, and their greenspaces, until the main building reopens in the fall.)

The Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon is scheduled for noon to 7 p.m. on February 22 at The Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross. For more information, call 713-525-9400 or visit Free, but registration is required.
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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.