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Interview: Sonnet Stanfill

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Sonnet Stanfill, curator of 20th Century and contemporary fashion at the V&A, is taking on the boys’ club and addressing the issue of gender inequality within the museum sector’s leading positions.

Published in The New York Times in October 2016, Stanfill’s opinion piece 'Taking On the Boys’ Club at the Art Museum' questioned why so few of the world’s top museums and galleries are led by women. She will be building upon the article's arguments in her upcoming talk at the TEDxCourtauldInstitute conference this Sunday.

Sonnet Stanfill. Courtesy: TEDxCourtauldInstitute

Stanfill says that her article for The New York Times was “motivated by a sense of the pervasiveness of sexism within the museum world.” As a curator who has “worked under four directors, all of them men,” her personal background and experience provides a unique insight into the issue.

In her article and upcoming TEDx talk, Stanfill acknowledges that there have been recent improvements regarding the sector’s opportunities for female employees, but nonetheless recognises that the top leadership positions have remained male-dominated.

She informs me that in museums, “70% or more of curators are women, and those same institutions are most often led by men.”

Highlighting that there is still much work that needs to be done to give women the same access to museum director roles as men, Stanfill hopes to “continue to work on the issue, both within my own institution and through partnering with other organisations.”

Courtesy: TEDxCourtauldInstitute

The theme of this year’s TEDxCourtauldInstitute conference is ‘Connections’. Stanfill describes it as “a wonderful theme,” saying that it “goes to the heart of what the Courtauld aims for its own future.”

The theme ‘Connections’ is representative of Stanfill's belief that “for museums to stay relevant, they need to resonate with and yes, ‘connect to’ the communities they serve.”

Discussing the ways in which museum leadership should become more diverse, and therefore more representative of wider society, Stanfill is highlighting “the need to tackle the broader issue of diversity in the arts, which has for so long been a sector that is privileged, pale and male.”

Stanfill is showing that the lacking diversity amongst the museum sector’s director positions “doesn’t reflect the real world”, drawing attention to the need to make the art industry more inclusive and accessible. She argues, "we need to encourage young people from diverse backgrounds to consider the arts and heritage sector as a career option.

“Museums tell us what to value,” Stanfill says. “Their hiring and promotion practices matter.”

Sonnet Stanfill will be speaking at the TEDxCourtauldInstitute conference on 12 March 2017. Tickets are available to buy here.

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