Posts tagged ‘Diversity’

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.

NikhilTrivedi-AdrianneRussell-BLM-7-7-16

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?

20160305_155241

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

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“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.

 

 

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

Pinning My Inquietudes/Hopes for Art History

Lately I’ve been revising my Pinterest boards so that they engage key concerns I have about art history. Pinterest boards-May 2013I began using Pinterest, an online customizable set of bulletin boards, last summer when I taught History of Photography.  The boards for arth318snapshot served as a resource for my undergraduate students and broader publics.  I later started my own artstuffmatters‘ set of boards. Initially it focused mainly on books about various subject areas.  I didn’t really do much with it.  However, I recently had a “eureka moment” that sparked a different, more passionate direction.

Last fall at the Imagining America October 2012 conference, I heard a presentation that continues to inspire and challenge me.  Dr. Marta Vega, Executive Director and Founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center and African Diaspora Institute, centered her address on “inquietudes,” things that make one feel ill at ease, in relationships between academia and the wider world.  She argued that many academics don’t engage community organizations as partners or as higher education institutions.  Because they don’t value the knowledge and experience of these agencies, these scholars can’t actually engage most people.  She urged the scholarly sphere to recognize that it is a part of community instead of promoting hierarchical behaviors.  If we are serious about civic engagement and creating enduring social change, we need to foster connections between people. We need to make our arts centers inclusive.

These ideas resonated for me because in my work as a graduate student I sometimes feel apprehensive about scholarly research, dissemination methods, and traditional constructions of the discipline. One of my major inquietudes involves issues of inclusion and diversity.  When I hear about diversity in art history, it’s usually in regards to museums careers. In the academic sphere most of this discussion involves courses in art of non-western cultures. While varied course offerings are very important, we need to make this strategy a part of a system that spans types of art, chronologies, and fields.  We need to consider full inclusion and diversity in relation to our research and pedagogical methods as well.  We should communicate this focus to our undergraduate and graduate students. (I have encountered more than one art history graduate student who mistakenly believes that diversity-related topics only pertain to modern and contemporary art. One person even told me that race is only a relevant topic for those who study African or African-American art.) Our lack of attention to community and vernacular arts compounds this problem. Additionally, we need to consider how we can encourage people of diverse races and ethnic backgrounds to study and teach art history.  The discipline sorely lacks diversity in terms of students and faculty members. Addressing these matters can help us to engage broader publics and demonstrate the significance of our discipline and the humanities.

I have created boards for topics I’d like to see more art historians critically engage – diversity, community arts, public scholarship, digital scholarship, teaching techniques, and image use among others. These boards contain links to resources that I would have loved to know about when I started graduate school. I hope students, instructors, and others interested in the arts find this collection helpful. If you have suggestions for the boards, please let me know through the comment feature here or on Pinterest. As I work to create positive change in the discipline, I’ll continue blogging about these inquietudes in future posts because this platform is one way to explore, expand, and celebrate my connection to community.

By the way: While I’m serious about a lot of things, I also have a sense of humor. My boards “Foot Fetish in Sculpture” and “Theory Can Be Fun” are works in progress just because they make me smile. Foot Fetish Sculpture

Related articles:

“Art History Department Explores Diversity, Accessibility” The Oberlin Review, 4/17/2013

May 30, 2013 at 2:42 am 2 comments


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