A Chicago museum’s unique way to highlight the gender pay gap

A Chicago museum’s unique way to highlight the gender pay gap
'Big Camera, Little Camera', Laurie Simmons, 1976. Silver gelatin print; 5 ¼ × 8 in. Photo courtesy of the artist and Salon 94, © Laurie Simmons.
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According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW) the median women’s pay is 80% of that of their male counterparts – in other words, for every dollar that men earn, women, by and large only earn $0.81. The gender pay gap widens for women of colour and of different nationalities (particularly Latina women). The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), however, is planning to combat the pay gap for visitors right at the front desk. Starting February 24th visitors will be able to pay $12 – 81% of their usual ticket price of $15 – if they feel they have been negatively impacted by the gender pay gap.

In recent data collected by the AAUW, ‘American women lose out on a staggering $500 billion each year because of the gender pay gap. But the latest government data show that progress toward narrowing that gap has stalled: Women working full time are still paid, on average, only 80 cents for every dollar paid to a man—a figure that has changed by less than a nickel during the twenty-first century.’ The MCA hopes that their new price option will highlight the issues surrounding the gender pay gap in a new manner making it more visible to visitors.  The roll out of the $12 ticket will coincide with the opening of ‘Laurie Simmons: Big Camera/Little Camber’, the first major retrospective of the artist’s works. The reduced price will complement the exhibition ‘in honor of Laurie’s activism to expose inequality across the lines of gender, sexuality, and race,’ according to Madeleine Grynsztejn, director of the MCA. It was Grynsztejn’s idea to lower the rate of entry to the museum and MCA curator Naomi Beckwith announced the new price tier at a preview for Simmons’ exhibition and another of the MCA’s upcoming exhibitions highlighting Virgil Abloh.

The symbolic ticket price will not last forever, though. As of now, the MCA only plans to offer the reduced ticket price through the course of Simmons’ show, which ends on May 5th. The opening day of the exhibition on February 23rd, however, the MCA will be free to the anyone and everyone, men and women alike. Simmons’ retrospective will centre around the feminist artist’s photographs and is a traveling exhibition created first for the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth where it recently wrapped up. Having worked with photography since the 1970s, Simmons used the medium to explore gender roles and to disturb the traditional view of the ‘American Dream.’

This is the MCA’s first time using their guests to emphasize a point. In 2018, the museum housed ‘What Remains to Be Seen,’ an exhibition that looked at artworks by Howardena Pindell from the 1980s and 1990s that studied the demographics of female artists in New York museums and galleries at the time. The MCA recreated the surveys to explore contemporary demographics and found that, much like the gender pay gap, circumstances for female artists had improved but there was still much to be done before reaching a solid level of equality.