Art is STILL the reason.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an opinion piece by Eric Gibson, sharing his concern that “Woke Ideologues Are Taking Over American Art Museums.” As someone actively working to expand inclusion, diversity, and equity for ALL, particularly with my institutional art, culture, and education clients, I disagree with his assertions.
I believe that the expressed opinions are troublesome insofar as they present inclusion and art as diametrically opposed versus being complementary and necessarily linked.
Here, the intent of many museums’ institutional inclusion efforts are at best, misunderstood or, at worst, deliberately misconstrued. There are so many reasons why inclusion initiatives are important and, ironically, the writer directly points them out.
The op-ed states that museums are “our collective cultural patrimony, symbolizing who we are and where we came from. They are, too, transmitters of cultural values.” If that is the case, being more inclusive and aware of bias, exclusion and offense is of critical importance. Museums have both the opportunity and the responsibility of telling our entire collective story and reflecting our entire world. This is art as storytelling.
In addition, and reflecting on Mr. Gibson’s quip that an exhibit turned into a #MeToo moment, why shouldn’t we contextualize art with our new learnings, cultural norms, and improved understanding? How can and why should we miss the opportunity to question or challenge abhorrent content that includes sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism and all the other ‘isms? If we now KNOW better, why not actually DO better? This is art as instruction and continued learning.
Finally, the author also says that museums “were built with the belief that cultural treasures belong not to the elites but to all citizens and should be available for everyone’s edification and enjoyment”. Most communities that surround museums are indeed diverse, multicultural, and growing more so. If the museum is for everyone, inclusion initiatives are directly responsive to that fact. This is art as community.
The raw truths about our responsibility and opportunity are inconvenient but important and should inform our approach to curation, collection, and community. That is why efforts toward inclusion and representation for museums must be pursued.
One of my clients* has as its slogan “Art is the reason.” Art and artistic expression remain at their core and there is no worry that it will change.
And, we needn’t worry that our beloved museums become politicized as suggested. Unless of course, continued discussions akin to Mr. Gibson’s, make them so.
#CuriousLeilani #Onward #Art #Culture #CuriousAboutCulture
* Leilani M. Brown is an advisor to executives and boards on strategy, communications, crisis management, inclusion, and equity. Learn More : leilanimbrown.com
The opinions expressed are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients and collaborators.
Image: Kenturah Davis, Study for Entanglements, Courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery