Posts filed under ‘Museums’

“For the Good Times”

ReformOrRevolution-presentation-ElonU-4-2018This image is from a presentation I delivered last April at Elon University. I think it’s a great sign for all the public engagement activities I’ve been involved in last year. I am thankful for all the invitations I received to speak at museums, universities, conferences, high schools, and other community forums. Also, thank you to everyone who has supported our #MuseumsAreNotNeutral initiative; contributed to or shared my Social Justice and Museums Resource List; supported #artofblackdissent, or recommended me for an opportunity.

You have buoyed my spirit many times. Last year I had moments when I felt overwhelmed and deeply disappointed. But I couldn’t stay down because people, many who only know of me through these digital spaces, reached out with notes of gratitude. Those messages remind me of my blessings. I’m honored. 🙏🏿

In this new year I’m looking forward to learning more and collaborating more for justice.

(And yes, I’m a serious Al Green fan!)

[Artwork: (from top right) Elizabeth Catlett, My Right is a Future of Equality with Other Americans; Xaviera Simmons, Rupture (Edition Two); Badlands, Unlimited, The New No’s; close-up of Museums Are Not Neutral t-shirt, logo by Mike Murawski]


January 2, 2019 at 7:43 pm Leave a comment

‘Tis the Season for Exhibitions


Happy Holidays!

As the year winds down, I’m making my list of exhibitions I’d love to experience before they go:

  • “UnSeen: Our Past in a New Light, Ken Gonzales-Day and Titus Kaphar” at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. It’s on through January 6th,

December 5, 2018 at 8:04 pm 1 comment

What Many “Diversity in Museums” Articles Ignore: Structural Racism

Public Historian-BlackMuseums-NCPH-August2018

On the porch with my copy of the “State of Black Museums,” August 2018 issue of The Public Historian, the journal of the National Council of Public History

The current trend in journalism and certain museum circles to put forward the idea that the dearth of racial diversity in curatorial roles in U.S. “museums” stems from a lack of qualified candidates ignores the fact that culturally-specific museums have long histories of training, hiring, and exhibiting art and culture of Black people and other people of color. The constant erasure of their work is purposeful. It obscures the entrenchment of structural racism in so-called “mainstream” museums.

To create equitable centers, it’s essential to know the histories of museums across sectors and to study how racism and anti-racism measures have operated in this country. The August 2018 issue of The Public Historian, the journal of the National Council of Public History, is another important resource for grasping a deeper understanding of the state of the museum field. Knowledge is power. Huge thanks to the organizers of the Association of African American Museums conference, #AAAM2018, for this gift to conference attendees.


Student dancers and musicians greet AAM2018 conference attendees as we arrive at Hampton University Museum to honor its 150 years of cultural leadership. August 10, 2018, Hampton, Virginia.

As we recognized the 40th anniversary of the Association of African American Museums organization at this year’s conference, we also celebrated the 150th anniversity of Hampton University Museum. Black museums have been around for a long time! Their origins relate to this nation’s disenfranchisement of people of African descent. These centers should be models for leaders of traditionally white museums who include increasing diversity of staff and visitors as institutional goals. A reframing that acknowledges structural racism might lead to tackling systemic issues.

The August 2018 issue “State of Black Museums” is available online for free for a limited time.
I’ll add it to my Social Justice & Museums Resource List.  We need a record of the record.



August 13, 2018 at 2:55 pm Leave a comment

Fit and Making One’s Place in the Arts


The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it. – James Baldwin

2016-05-28 14.08.09

At the intersections, “Red Carpet” by Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu and Kyle Goen, CrossLines Culture Lab, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, May 2016               [see below for larger image of this work]

In academia and museum jobs people talk a lot about fit. Candidates have to be a “good fit” with colleagues. This isn’t about skills. Instead, the existing staff want to feel that you possess certain values that the organization has deemed essential. When the instructor in my teaching certificate course repeatedly emphasized “fit”, I became ill at ease. For me, “fit” sounded like another way to ostracize people who are not the traditional members of the club. I worried that I would not “fit” anywhere. I’m not from a white, middle-class, or affluent family with generations of folks with college degrees. My background is  basically the opposite of many new professors and art museum curators. My teacher, a very kind person, assured me that “fit” wouldn’t mean more marginalization. I would like to think that she’s correct. This work is important to me. Knowledge and art belongs to everyone.

As I engage critical race theory in my studies of visual and material culture, I often return to this issue of “fit.” I’ve found that many art museum professionals avoid topics they identify as “political.” Because they have placed issues concerning race and racism in this political/shun category, they ignore it. But my research centers on representations of race and the dynamics of institutional racism in the art world. Where does that put me? How can I “fit” within frameworks that reject the effects of race?

When I study reports on the lack of racial diversity in art museums in the U.S., I think about the role of “fit” in cultural gatekeeping. I also consider how most of our art institutions have been silent about the increased public attention to racialized state violence. Although various professional organizations and art museums have made statements in favor of marriage equality legislation and in opposition of recent gender discriminatory laws*, most have not stated “Black Lives Matter.” They have not, as Adrianne Russell, co-organizer of the #museumsrespondtoferguson initiative, poignantly noted, expressed that they care about African-Americans.


Tweet by Nikhil Trivedi, citing Adrianne Russell, July 7, 2016

Is “fit” the issue once again? Is highlighting anti-black violence too “political”? Are problems affecting African-Americans not good “fits” with the missions of our arts organizations? Who are these organizations really for?


Black Lives Matter banner above the doorway of The Church of the Redeemer, New Haven, CT, March 2016

Dealing with the rejection of one’s humanity on a regular basis is disheartening. When people of color enter museums they aren’t transported to oppression-free spaces separate from the world. If museum professionals are serious about increasing the number of people of color in the field, improving workplace culture is one of several factors that needs to happen.  As museum colleagues expressed at a recent workshop about the role of race in museum spaces, museum staff (rank and file as well as leadership) must “stop labeling the topics associated w/ people of color [as] “difficult/controversial/political.” True engagement with diverse publics will entail confronting dynamics of race within and outside of our institutions.

People committed to building equity in art museums have a lot of work to do. Art institutions are making some gestures in the right direction. But for the most part they are slow to change and aren’t employing critical race theory to address the historical and continued practices of white supremacy within our museums. Consequently, most fail to be good “fits” when it comes to working for social justice. But I am an optimist. I believe those of us working from the margins can make our place. We can fit in a world of our making.


A Few Tools


“Red Carpet” by Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu and Kyle Goen, CrossLines Culture Lab, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, May 2016

The Biggest Obstacle to Diversity in Libraries, by B. Binaohan, August 13, 2016 (this applies to museums too)

CrossLines, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, arts event May 28-29, 2016, Washington, D.C.; featured intersectionality

A Critical Lens on Diversity and Inclusion in Museums: #museumsrespondtoferguson, by La Tanya S. Autry, Museums and Civic Discourse session, National Council on Public History, January 2016

Social Justice & Museums Resource List, crowd sourced, open google document initiated by La Tanya S. Autry, July 2015



* These acts tend to be brief statements circulated on institutional websites or social media platforms. While one might question the depth of this engagement, it does demonstrate a preference for addressing certain social issues.

*All photos are by the author.



August 16, 2016 at 3:22 pm Leave a comment

From Planning to Doing: The Art of Black Dissent

Time for catch-up!

Back in January I blogged about my excitement for my upcoming museum program The Art of Black Dissent. At that point I was in the planning stages. Well this spring after careful study of historical contexts, objects, artists, contemporary issues, and engagement techniques we launched our project. From April to May, my collaborator Gabriella Svenningsen and I held a public event and several sessions for classes at Yale University Art Gallery.  Our pop-up exhibition/dialogue program centered on protest visual culture of the African-American liberation struggle gained strong support. Participants who ranged from museum visitors and staff, high school students, undergraduates, K-12 teachers, and college professors responded well. As we expected, people  were eager to discuss this timely topic in relation to our nation’s challenging contemporary moment. On our project blog we share more information about the initiative and ongoing plans to bring the pop-up to local area public schools and libraries. 20160429_173738

The Art of Black Dissent welds together various elements of my scholarly background and personal ethos as it involves social justice, studies of race and racialized visual culture and social practice art, collaboration, critical pedagogy, engaged citizenship, and community engagement. It’s energizing to develop an idea into work that creates spaces for dialogue about contemporary pressing social issues. I envision coordinating more projects like The Art of Black Dissent as I shape my career of publicly-centered work in the arts.


August 14, 2016 at 8:36 pm Leave a comment

Actualizing Plans- My Program on Black Protest Art Comes to Life


Leigh Raiford, Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 2011

These days I’m happily aligning my academic research of visual culture, race, memory, and public space with my museum work and commitment to social justice.

In December 2014 my involvement with the #museumsrespondtoferguson initiative on Twitter encouraged me to brainstorm actions that art museums could institute to engage issues of racial inequities in the U.S. One of my ideas centers on designing programming that highlights the role of visual culture in the African-American liberation struggle. Fortunately this proposal is coming to life. On April 29th along with my colleague Gabriella Svenningsen Omonte, I will co-lead The Art of Black Dissent at Yale University Art Gallery. This program spotlights black protest art in the Gallery’s collection and current images circulating on the streets and via social media platforms in concert with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. For this summer we’re designing a walking tour that features black art and protest sites in New Haven, Connecticut.


To prepare I’m brushing up on favorite references such as Amy Helene Kirschke’s Art in Crisis: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Struggle for African American Identity and Memory. Additionally, my resources are growing as I’m diving into many other critical resources on graphic arts, photography, the black liberation movement, and studies of New Haven’s local history and grassroots organizing. As our work progresses, I’ll share updates on these projects.


January 31, 2016 at 7:48 pm Leave a comment

This Year and Always – Museums and Social Justice


Carrie Mae Weems, Fresh Talk for Change program, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., November 2015

So many things have happened this year. Between working as a curatorial fellow, writing my dissertation, participating in various arts activist groups, presenting research, facilitating a Black Lives Matter teach-in and a workshop on the role of race in the arts, and healing from a series of accidents, there has been almost no time to blog. But as I catch some moments to reflect, I want to reignite this space because it’s an important way to share what I’m experiencing and find others who are committed to the arts activism.

Through this year’s activities I’ve found support in the #museumsrespondtoferguson initiative which started in response to the December 2014 Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and Related Events. After reading this call for action, I dedicated time to participating in the monthly #museumsrespondtoferguson online discussions that Aleia Brown and Adrianne Russell have organized on Twitter. Through these conversations and my recent experiences involving leading workshops and developing museum programming centered on black protest art, I’ve learned that we all need deeper engagement with critical race theory.


Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, Brooklyn Museum of Art, 2014

Over the past six years, I have witnessed uncertainty and fear in several art museum professionals and students when discussing race. In addition to not wanting to feel “uncomfortable,” people worry that they will say something insensitive or that museum visitors and donors will find attention to this major social phenomenon too controversial or political. Perhaps even more troubling,  I’ve noticed that many art museum professionals act as if race is only a factor when works involves artists of color or depictions of people of color. Also there is little uproar about the scarcity of diversity within art museums. This climate has encouraged me to concentrate my efforts in making art museums more inclusive spaces that critically engage with race and intersecting issues such as of class, gender, and ability.

At present I have three key projects centered on inclusion and critical race theory in the arts.

  • First, the conversations on #museumsrespondtoferguson and other social media collaborations such as the #CharlestonSyllabus encouraged me to initiate the Social Justice and Museums Resource List. This open GoogleDoc that features discussions, readings, digital initiatives, and other resources welcomes contributions from museum professionals, theorists, artists, and students. So far I’ve mentioned it mainly to colleagues within the #museumsrespondtoferguson network and my friends and followers on Twitter and Facebook. To broaden its effectiveness, I need to reach out to museum studies, art history, and public history programs across the U.S. and abroad.
  • Second, I’m in the initial stages of developing a critical race theory toolkit for art museum curators and educators. I envision that this how-to guide will feature case studies and interviews. My goal centers on showing how race operates within the various facets of artistic production, instruction, exhibition, collection, and interpretation. As this study includes art made by artists who aren’t people of color and works that do not contain representations of people of color, it will extend the field that notable authors such as Bridget R. Cooks, Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum and Jennifer A. Gonzalez, Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art, have forged. The innovative exhibition Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties curated by Teresa A. Carbone and Professor Kellie Jones is a significant model.
  • Lastly, I’m focusing on making the art museum workforce more diverse. I intend to coordinate outreach sessions that put museum professionals of color in touch with middle-school and high-school students. I’m looking forward to working through the details and building a coalition of museum collaborators to make this come alive in the near future.

And at some point soon I will finish writing my dissertation!
Yes, the new year will be a busy one. That’s a very good thing.


December 21, 2015 at 3:32 pm Leave a comment

My Art Museum Mission

As the #BlackLivesMatter movement increased attention to racial inequity in the U.S., in December 2014 a group of museum professionals published a joint statement highlighting the lack of acknowledgment by most museums to the unrest and struggles in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, and other cities. Soon after that call to action, Aleia Brown, @aleiabrown, and Adrianne Russell, @adriannerussell, both co-authors of the statement, started #museumsrespondtoferguson, an ongoing open discussion on Twitter that occurs every third Wednesday of the month. The exchanges I have encountered on this virtual forum along with actual conversations with my museum colleagues have reignited my focus on diversity in art museums. The thoughtful words of the beloved Maya Angelou “I am working toward a time when everything gives me joy!” helped me articulate my vision of how museums can promote anti-racism initiatives.

My Art Museum Mission
by La Tanya S. Autry

I am working toward a time when
being black and a curator doesn’t elicit surprise the curators, educators, conservators, and directors are of all races, ethnicities, and genders

I am working toward a time when
past and present systems of omission, discrimination, and privilege are admitted, addressed, and resisted

I am working toward a time when
more people realize that works by women and people of color are integral to the social relevancy of institutions

I am working toward a time when
fear of donor disapproval doesn’t obstruct progress, education, and inclusion

I am working toward a time when
programming regularly engages diverse communities

I am working toward a time when
art museums operate as sites of dialogue and social justice, places for public conversations about things that fracture society

I am working toward a time when
institutions work as collaborative partners with local community organizations
to improve the lives of oppressed people

I am working toward a time when
art museums are truly centers for all people

My Museum Mission was posted on the PAGE2Ferguson blog salon on Imagining America’s website, January 26, 2015.

April 27, 2015 at 2:06 pm Leave a comment

Falling Back into Art! Exhibitions to Explore

After being buried under heaps of books for a few months, I’ve resurfaced!

George Segal, Three People on Four Benches, 1979, Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo by author

George Segal, Three People on Four Benches, 1979, Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo by author

I’ve passed my comprehensive PhD exams and I’m ready to put away the PowerPoint presentations (for a little while) so I can get out and see some art.
Here’s a list of Northeast coast exhibitions I’d like to see this fall.

Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston

Anthropocene Extinction, ends 12/30
Realistically, I don’t think I’ll be able to travel to Boston because of lack of time and funds. However, I’d love to see this site-specific installation by street artist Swoon. She has combined her hallmark cut paper drawing technique with a large bamboo sculpture.

Museum of Modern Art
New Photography 2011, ends 1/16/12
I’m particularly interested in two of the six artists featured in this show. Moyra Davey’s efforts to re-materialize and re-personalize conceptions of photography by circulating non-digital (film based) images in the mail sounds cool.  And Doug Rickard’s reinterpretations of Google Map images touch on culturally and politically resonant issues of privacy and surveillance.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Romare Bearden: A Centennial Celebration, ends 1/8/11
Although I’m a Bearden fan, I haven’t seen much of his actual work.  This exhibition, which features The Block, a mural sized landscape collage, sounds like the perfect solution to this predicament.

The Noguchi Museum, Queens
Civic Action: A Vision for Long Island City, ends 4/4/12
I haven’t visited this museum yet. However, I’ve frequently checked out their website and other online materials. This community oriented exhibition, a tribute to Isamu Noguchi who worked with other artists on neighborhood revitalization projects, seems like a wonderful impetus to get me over to this museum. Four artists, Natalie Jeremijenko, Mary Miss, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and George Trakas, collaborated to re-envision how the area can better serve residents and businesses.

The Studio Museum of New York
The Bearden Project, 11/10/11 – 3/12/12
Romare Bearden was instrumental to founding The Studio Museum. Accordingly, the institution is honoring him and recognizing his 100th birthday (September 2nd). I look forward to checking out this in-depth and lively exhibition which will continually change over time. It should be interesting to compare the Met’s interpretative stance regarding Bearden’s subject, Harlem streets, with the approach taken by an institution located in that neighborhood.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Isamu Noguchi, sculpture garden installation, ends summer 2012
This exhibition was scheduled to close earlier this year.  Fortunately PMA will continue to feature Noguchi’s work until next summer. Hmm, stars are starting to align. I can imagine having an awesome day in Philly checking out Noguchi’s work and finally going on one of those mural arts tours. Fingers crossed….

Smithsonian National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture, on exhibit at NMAAHC’s gallery in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights, ends 11/27
For some reason, I missed this exhibition when it was at the International Center of Photography in New York last year. Fortunately, it’s a traveling exhibition so there’s still time to see it. After the current venue it will go to Baltimore, Maryland and Andover, Massachusetts (see the webpage for details). I’m very eager to see this exhibition since it relates to my studies in visual culture and it’s curated by Professor Maurice Berger. He has written extensively on issues involving the interplay of race, visual culture, and museums. So this one is on my absolutely must see list!

What about your list? What have you seen or hope to see this autumn?


Google Street View and the Politics of Exploitation, Visual Culture Blog, 10/19/11
Navigating the Puzzle of Google Street View Authorship, Wired, 8/19/11
The Romare Bearden Commemorative Stamps Unveiling, Katherine Finerty, The Studio Museum Blog, 10/6/11
Romare Bearden Honored with US Stamp, Hrag Vartanian, Hyperallergic, 9/28/11

October 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm Leave a comment

Beat the Heat! Summertime East Coast Art-Hopping

It’s always fun to enjoy great public art when it’s nice outside. However, when the temperature and humidity are on the rise, art museums are even more attractive than usual.
Here’s my Summer ArtHop list of exhibitions and works of art to see in the Northeast to Mid-Atlantic region.
So far I’ve visited the Elliott Erwitt exhibition at International Center of Photography, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,  and Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads.
The remaining shows are on my “hope to explore” list.
Stay tuned for exhibition reviews and have an art-filled summer!

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads by Ai Weiwei, 2010, installed at Pultizer Fountain in Grand Army Plaza, NYC. Photo by author.

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads by Ai Weiwei, 2010, installed at Pultizer Fountain in Grand Army Plaza, NYC. Photo by author.

Photography – Catherine Opie: Empty and Full, The Institute of Contemporary Art, on view through September 5th

Public Sculpture – Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads by Ai Weiwei, at the Pultizer Fountain, in front of Plaza Hotel, 5th Avenue & 59th Street, on view through July 15th, ends soon

*My take-away: I was surprised by the large size of the 12 sculptures and the unusual  blend of quietness and violence. Oriented across the front of the fountain facing Central Park, the disembodied heads seem like spiritual sentries.  Oddly Ai’s work is well suited to the 100-year-old fountain designed by Karl Bitter and provokes one to consider cultural contact and tensions.
For those of you not in the area, you still may have a chance to experience this work because these heads will soon travel to Los Angeles and other U.S. cities. (See the NYTimes article listed below for more information.)

Costume/Textiles – Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Metropolitan Museum of Art, on through August 7th
Yes, the line is very long to see this exhibition. Last Saturday morning I waited in line for about 30 minutes, but I’m glad I did.
*My take-away: The “romantic artist” rhetoric stated in the exhibit labels is somewhat heavy-handed. In the wall label text the curator attempts to highlight serious themes such as cultural appropriation and racial stereotyping. Unfortunately, the effort is too timid  and the blockbuster-like crowd doesn’t promote contemplation. On a positive note, McQueen’s clothes and the museum’s exhibition design are very imaginative and dramatic. While the show aggrandizes the familiar “the Artist” trope and spectacularizes the fashion industry,  for those with cerebral interests, there’s plenty here to consider on your own.

Mixed Media – Francis Alÿs: A Study of Deception, Museum of Modern Art, on through August 1st

Photography – Lorna Simpson: Gathered, Brooklyn Museum, on through August 21st

Photography – Elliott Erwitt: Personal Best, International Center of Photography, on through August 28th
*My take-away: This show is larger than I expected. It highlights Erwitt’s witty, engaging, dramatic, and stylish work. Beautiful black & white photography. Of all his great work, I found his photos of dogs the most endearing and ironic. Definitely worth checking out.

SculptureIsamu Noguchi at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden, on view through June 30th, ends soon

Textiles – Battleground: War Rugs from Afghanistan, Penn Museum, on through July 31

June 27, 2011 at 5:30 pm Leave a comment

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