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Why Do We Make It So Hard for Artist Moms to Flourish?


During her own three-year, self-imposed residency, she created pieces like “63 Objects Taken From My Son’s Mouth,” “All Scissors in the House Made Safer” and “The Distance I Can Be From My Son,” a film that measured — like, literally, with a tape measure — how far away he could stray from her before she felt an uncontrollable compulsion to run after him.

ARIM, which is open source and free to all, now has more than 1,200 residents. “We are all claiming motherhood as a space of creativity and inspiration,” Ms. Clayton said, “rather than one that stops you doing what you want to do.” Though it is similar in some aspects to a traditional residency, ARIM does not come with funding of any kind.

Despite more visibility around motherhood, most residencies still do not accommodate people with caregiving responsibilities, says Ms. Gravina, the founder of Procreate Project, which is based in Britain.

Entrenched structures in the art world, she says, are built around the very narrow idea we have of an artist — a single male who is not encumbered by familial or domestic obligations. “It is quite problematic,” she said.

Ms. Gravina, as well as others, are pushing to make the art world more inclusive. Among other things, this includes changing the days and times of events, because they traditionally occur in the 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. window “when we’re putting kids to bed,” and making events child-friendly “without it meaning that the quality of the exhibition is any lower than any other exhibition.”

This summer, Ms. Gravina’s Procreate Project plans to open Mother House, a 21-seat art studio with integrated child care that she hopes will serve as a prototype for others to replicate. She says the space will give women the infrastructure, support and community needed to continue making art in the early years of motherhood. “We can change the fact that there’s a huge gap in their CV,” she said, explaining that the lull in productivity during motherhood is often what keeps galleries from supporting women, and yet the lack of productivity is often the result of insufficient child care options.

But child care won’t solve everything. Ms. Gravina says the stigma that surrounds motherhood continues to be an issue. “Just having children,” she said, “in the eye of a lot of galleries and institutions, equals some kind of lack of quality all of a sudden.”

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