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Community Editors Work To Get More Information About Kansas City's Black Artists On Wikipedia

Amelia Nelson
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
A group of people helped contribute to and create Wikipedia articles about Kansas City's African-American artists during a Feb. 23 edit-a-thon at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

A quick Google search of Kansas City author and artist Shane Evans, who has illustrated more than 30 children's books, brings up his professional website, his author page on Scholastic and his Facebook page. What doesn’t show up is a Wikipedia entry.

Evans isn't alone. Other African-American artists in Kansas City are also missing from Wikipedia, which a recent edit-a-thon attempted to fix.

"The edit-a-thon idea is a program where people can come together, learn about Wikipedia, learn about the policies that guide Wikipedia, some of the markup language," says Amelia Nelson, head of Library and Archives at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

"And they can start to edit, create, improve articles in a group setting where, if they encounter an issue, they can ask somebody who can help them through that."

Nine people attended an edit-a-thon at the Nelson's Spencer Art Reference Library on Feb. 23, with a focus on editing and creating articles about African-American artists in Kansas City.

It was the third time the museum has hosted this kind of edit-a-thon, although it's far from the first edit-a-thon to take place. 

The concept began in 2014 with "art and feminism edit-a-thons," which focused on combating the gender disparity among Wikipedia editors — about 90 percent of editors creating articles are men — and improving articles about women artists. Nelson said another purpose of those events is to create pages for women artists who do not already have them.

"The goal was to get more people editing in Wikipedia so that content could be improved over time," Nelson says. "There could be more references put in that told the story more completely, and more perspectives from a broader community could be integrated into those articles."

'When Harriet Met Sojourner,' published by HarperCollins, is one of more than 30 books Kansas City artist Shane Evans has illustrated.

Most of the people who attended the Nelson's recent event were new to the Wikipedia editing experience. 

Kyra Cross worked on a page about Evans. She says she has done some Wikipedia editing before but did not have experience building a page from the bottom-up. She says she likes it that any person can contribute information to the online encyclopedia.

"I think it's decentralizing the hierarchy of keeping things inaccessible for no reason," she says. "I think that it's for the people and by the people."

A defining quality of Wikipedia edit-a-thons is that they're open to anybody. Their primary purpose is to not only improve the quality of Wikipedia articles about members of marginalized communities but also to diversify the editors who build the site in the first place.

In addition to diversifying Wikipedia's content and editorship, Nelson says another benefit of edit-a-thons is their ability to bring research from places like libraries and museums onto the fifth-most-visited website in the world. 

"Libraries, museums, archives — they want to get their content integrated into those pages so that Wikipedia can really serve as a network that is a landing page when you’re starting that research process," she says, "but then takes you out to all of these amazing resources that are out there, from scholarly articles to archival materials."

Debbie Reynolds, a first-timer at the edit-a-thon, gathered research about photographer Hartswell Gray, whose biography is also absent from Wikipedia. Reynolds says she was interested in helping archive the history of Kansas City's African-American artists.

"I'm always interested in African-American history," Reynolds says. "And I recently became an artist here and I'm learning a lot about how expansive the art community is here among African Americans."

Reynolds says people like her can bring a sensitivity and depth that might be missing from the site.

"I get to come in and be a woman of color who helps to document the history of an artist of color," she says.

Amelia Nelson spoke with KCUR on a recent edition of Central Standard.

Celisa Calacal is an intern with KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at @celisa_mia.

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