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Female legislators push for more diverse artwork in State House

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Former Senate President Therese Murray inspected her official Senate portrait at the Great Hall State House.

By Globe Staff 

The unveiling of former Senate president Therese Murray’s portrait at the State House has led some observers to wonder, why are so few women featured in the art hanging on the walls under the golden dome?

Rest assured, there is a movement afoot on Beacon Hill to change that.

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On Oct. 27, state Representatives Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Lori Ehrlich released a statement calling for the creation of a task force to study the artwork that adorns the walls of the State House “to ensure that it is reflective of the people of Massachusetts.”

Meanwhile, state Representative Cory Atkins says she’s moving forward to working with an ad hoc group to diversify the artwork in the State House and make sure more women and people of color are depicted in the corridors of the building.

Atkins said she gets upset whenever she sees groups of schoolchildren on tours of the State House because when the children look around, “they don’t see anybody that looks like them.”

“The halls of the State House are covered with portraits of dead white men,” Atkins said. “We’re in a majority-minority city. You could never tell by the artwork.”

Atkins said it’s an issue that has concerned her since she became chairman of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development in 2012.

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“This building is not welcoming to the general public,” she said. “There’s a lot of things we can do.”

Atkins said there are many stories that can be told in the State House. “Why aren’t we telling the story of the abolition movement?” she said.

Atkins said there are also many historical figures that deserve recognition, including Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King Jr., who went to school here in the 1950s and earned his PhD from Boston University.

Atkins invites the public to contact her office if they have suggestions or ideas.

“This is the people’s house,” she said.

The portrait of Murray was unveiled Thursday. Before that, according to State House veterans, former acting Governor Jane M. Swift was the only female elected official to have a portrait hung in the venerable building.

“They’re all men, they’re all white men,” Murray said of her Senate president predecessors. “There are no pictures of women. That will change today, and hopefully not for long, I won’t be the only one.”


Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.