Word Warriors

Can a Virtual Edit-a-Thon make Wikipedia More Inclusive?

The upcoming workshop series wants to get more Houston women artists recognized on the web.

By Katelyn Landry May 14, 2020


While it remains the world’s most popular tool for quenching spontaneous curiosity and fact-checking your uncle at family reunions, Wikipedia sometimes gets a bad rap, thanks to its less-than-stellar track record when handling information. The online encyclopedia often appears like an infinite ocean of knowledge—and we’ve all taken a dive down the late-night wiki rabbit hole—yet huge factual gaps persist, especially when the topics are related to women. 

Just look at Houston’s own cultural history. Artist Thedra Cullar-Ledford, was once called “one of the biggest personalities and presences on the Houston scene,” yet a search for her name turns up zero Wiki results. None of Houston’s former or current poet laureates have articles, nor do any of the rising female rappers we mentioned in a feature last year. A new series of free, online Wikipedia editing workshops aim to change that by training its participants in how to create and edit articles to increase the online exposure of Bayou City women artists.

“Long-term, I hope programs like this will help artists to sustain themselves on their work,” organizer Jaison Oliver says. “I hear all the time how artists are annoyed with Houston’s overall lack of visibility and feel like they need to leave the city for NYC, LA, or even Austin to become successful.”

Oliver’s edit-a-thon, which is being conducted over Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic, is one of hundreds organized by Wikimedia volunteers to grow the encyclopedia’s content and editorship. Within the worldwide initiative, the Art+Feminism campaign, run by the intersectional feminism nonprofit of the same name, works specifically to remedy Wikipedia’s gender gap when it comes to women and the arts. Not only are there fewer and less extensive articles on women, but less than 10 percent of the site’s contributors identified as female in 2011, according to the organization’s website.  

Since becoming Art+Feminism’s US South Regional Ambassador in 2016, Oliver has held a few workshops every year in an effort to “help close Wikipedia’s multicultural and gender gaps,” starting with Houston. After working with renowned publisher Arte Público Press and oral-history initiative Black Lunch Table on past local edit-a-thons, Oliver partnered with the two organizations as well as Impact Hub Houston and the Houston Arts Alliance to bring this latest series to life. 

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all of these organizations pushing Houston into the global spotlight are led by women,” Oliver adds. “I hope that the edit-a-thon will increase patronage, visibility for awards and acclaim, and help all of us living in Houston to stay more connected with the amazing arts community we have here.”

So, dust off those typing gloves and get ready to bust through the glass ceiling one Wiki-page at a time.  And if you get lonely hunched over your keyboard during this editing extravaganza, be sure to blast this girl power mix, created specially for the event by H-town DJ-ing royalty Gracie Chavez—seriously, someone make this legend a Wiki page.

Thru Jun 2. Free. Your laptop. More info at eventbrite.com.

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