Representation matters, even if it’s of the bronze or cast-iron variety. San Francisco has 87 statues featuring non-fictional figures of whom only three are women: artist Georgia O’Keeffe, nurse Florence Nightingale, and California Senator Dianne Feinstein. The city, though, is making inroads to address this issue. At the end of September, its board of supervisors unanimously voted to require at least 30 percent of San Francisco’s new public art to depict historical female figures.
The recently passed ordinance encompasses “works of art on city-owned property, public building names, and street names” and will recognize the accomplishments of great women. While this is progress, some are criticizing the initiative for offering women more inspiration, but not the resources to fight the systemic sexism that has kept them underrepresented.
The project to improve the gender balance of San Francisco’s public art will kick off with a bust of poet Maya Angelou who, at age 16, became the city’s first black, female cable car conductor. Supervisor Catherine Stefani says her goal is for 50 percent of the city’s public art to feature women.