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Contemporary Art

Oprah Winfrey Wants "The World to Focus on the Extraordinary Work of Women Artists"

By Sotheby's
Sotheby’s Saara Pritchard in conversation with Oprah Winfrey and Miss Porter's School Director Dr. Kate Windsor about the importance of supporting girls' education and celebrating female artists.

S aara: Thank you Ms. Winfrey and Dr. Windsor, for speaking with us. We’re very excited to work with you Ms. Winfrey and would love to know how you first become involved with Miss Porter’s School?

Oprah: I sent my niece, who is now 41 and has her own children, to Miss Porter’s in the ‘90s. I researched a lot of different schools and after coming upon MPS, I felt it was the kind of place I wished I could have gone to school. I put my niece in school there in the ninth grade and she loved it so much that I created scholarships for other girls who came from underprivileged backgrounds and couldn’t afford the tuition.

Saara: This project is helping to fund financial aid at Miss Porter’s and thus enable emerging leaders to receive an all-girls’ education. Why is it important for girls to have access to a girls’ school education regardless of their family’s ability to pay tuition?

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dr. kate windsor and oprah winfrey

Oprah: You flower best, you become your fullest, greatest blossom in a field where there are other buds just like you. I have observed and studies have indicated, that at about ten years old, girls start performing in classrooms, not just for themselves, but also to get the attention of the boys in the room. The girls want to be liked by boys and adjust their behavior accordingly. This dynamic filters the way a girl sees herself and also the way she sees her power base, at a very young age. For me, it’s exciting to see girls be able to fully blossom in an environment that is conducive to them being all that they can be, and where the center of attention is being the best a girl can be because of her identity, not despite it. I believe so adamantly in this concept that I couldn’t consider doing anything else in South Africa than build a girls’ school. The vision behind OWLAG was to take the girls out of their underprivileged environments, where they experienced challenges because of their gender, specifically because they were girls, and provide a space where they could grow and learn to thrive for themselves.

...it’s exciting to see girls be able to fully blossom in an environment that is conducive to them being all that they can be, where that’s your number one focus, where the center of attention is on your gender and your identity and all that that means for you as an individual and as a collective group.
Oprah Winfrey

Kate: At Miss Porter’s School where I serve as the Head of School and at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls where I serve as the Board Chair, we know that identity matters. One’s gender informs the way one is received and perceived in the world. This is true whether you grow up in Farmington, CT or on the African continent. Both schools are organized on the premise that gender matters, especially for girls and women who are frequently the victims of negative stereotyping which often creates barriers to success. Girls’ schools provide academic and leadership programs that are intentionally designed to prepare girls to overcome and ultimately beat these stereotypes. Graduates of all-girls’ schools have higher levels of confidence and are more likely to aspire to be leaders as adults. We also know that having diversity within our community of girls creates a richer environment for learning, as students learn not only from their teachers but from each other. Financial aid is a tool that allows us to admit and enroll students based on a wide range of personal characteristics rather than simply their ability to pay. It allows the admissions office to craft an incoming class based on merit. With the support of financial aid, we can enroll the most deserving artists, athletes, scholars and leaders and prepare them, in the words of our mission statement, to go forth and “shape a changing world.” Financial aid provides the opportunity for an individual girl to access a world-class education and, in the words of our mission, go on to be an “informed, bold, resourceful, and ethical global citizen.”

Saara: At this moment in time, in 2019, why do you think an all-girls’ education is relevant and important to the world we’re living in? And an addendum to that, how has all-girls’ education changed from the more antiquated model of the “finishing school”?

Oprah: I’ll take the first part of that question. Why is it more important than ever? It’s more important than ever for women to own their individual power and to have a sense of what their identity means to the collective whole. It is more important than ever to be able to stand in the truth of yourself and to use everything that you have been trained to do, that you have your natural gifts to do, that you were born to do, to create the highest expression of yourself as a human being. It is more important than ever in our divided world that women get to stand in the truth of themselves. This is more important now than ever before, because women are creating their own lives with their own sense of independence and don’t need to have to depend on anyone, other than themselves.

We also know that having diversity within our community of girls creates a richer environment for learning, as students learn not only from their teachers but from each other. Financial aid is a tool that allows us to admit and enroll students based on a wide range of personal characteristics rather than simply their ability to pay.
Dr. Kate Windsor

Kate: Let me start by saying MPS is NOT a finishing school today, and contrary to what our name might suggest, we were never a traditional finishing school. From the beginning, Sarah Porter had a different vision for her school and it was based on a comprehensive experience for girls. She believed that each girl should be prepared with a liberal arts education so that she would learn to use her mind and actually take a seat at “the table,” and I mean that both literally and figuratively. Sarah Porter believed that both social graces and academic preparation were essential to women living their best lives. Sarah Porter’s belief in the power of education came from her own experience. As a woman born in the first half of the nineteenth century, she did not have the same access to formal education that her brothers did and yet her parents took the highly unusual step of providing Sarah with an advanced education. She was tutored by the same Yale professors her brothers studied with as they pursued a formal degree. Sarah saw first-hand how this opportunity changed her life and set out to replicate it for other girls. Sarah was successful in executing her vision of providing a progressive education for girls, but her success did not break the stereotypes associated with these schools that persist even today. Since 1843 our graduates have gone on to live remarkable and impactful lives. It should come as no surprise that they have been “the first” and “the leaders” in every sector. The success of these women, our graduates, is living proof of the impact of a world class education within the context of an all girls’ school.

Saara: Let’s talk a little bit about art, because this project is also about celebrating and bringing the world’s attention to the female artists whose art will be sold as part of By Women, For Tomorrow’s Women and included in the Contemporary Curated Auction. What would you like to see changed in order to level the playing field for women artists? What else do you think we can do in the art community to bolster female artists and to make sure their position in history is acknowledged in the same way male artists are?

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Oprah Winfrey with OWLAG Class of 2018 graduates

Oprah: I think that’s exactly what we’re doing with this project, creating an auction consisting of women artists and partnering with a major auction house to promote the sale. We want the world to focus on the extraordinary work of women artists and we want collectors to honor the work of women artists by purchasing the art and featuring it prominently in their collections as I have.

Kate: Women artists face the same barriers to success that women in other fields do. Like professional women in other industries female artists experience a wage gap and a glass ceiling. This is evidenced by the fact that 51 percent of visual artists in the U.S. are women and yet on average they earn 81 cents for every dollar made by a man, additionally, 96.1 percent of artworks sold at auction are by male artists. Women artists have significantly less exposure and support of their work. The permanent collections of the 18 most prominent museums in the U.S. are 87 percent male. Likewise, only 30 percent of the artists represented by commercial galleries are female. Finally, despite the fact that 70 percent of the Bachelors of Fine Arts and 75 percent of the Masters of Fine Arts in the U.S. are earned by women and women make up the majority of the professional staff in museums, women are underrepresented in leadership positions. They hold only 30 percent of directorships in museums with budgets greater than 15 million and even then experience a wage gap. By Women, For Tomorrow’s Women is an example of Miss Porter’s School living its mission statement. By bringing together prominent women in the arts and partnering with Sotheby’s to market and sell a lot comprised exclusively of women artists, we are setting an example for others to follow as we seek to remedy the inequities women experience in the art world. We are leveraging our “all-girls” network on behalf of the young women at Miss Porter’s today and the generations to follow, and we are saying in our words and our deeds that we can do better and we will do better!

*Statistics referenced are from the National Museum of Women in the Arts https://nmwa.org/advocate/get-facts

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