Recent events have again laid bare the aggression, injustices, and inequities faced every day by African Americans. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery,—these are just three more names added to a tragically long list of unarmed black individuals whose lives have been taken by the hands of police officers empowered to protect them and through violent vigilante actions. The Block Museum of Art condemns these murders. They are part of a long arc of systematic racism in North America that can be traced to the origins of trans-Atlantic slavery, including the day in August 1619, when a ship carrying 20 enslaved men and women from Africa arrived on the shores of the English colony of Port Comfort, Virginia. The line that joins the forced removal of these human beings from their homes, their communities, their cultures to now is palpable.
We have all watched the events that have unfolded over the last weeks. Many cultural leaders have written movingly about their anguish and anger, and for white colleagues, their awareness of the unearned privilege that they wield. The Block Museum stands with Black communities and these allies in mourning and in protest against injustice and in a shared commitment to implement change.
The Block, like all museums, has a significant role to play in confronting injustice and inequality. Museums are storytellers and meaning-makers with immense capacity to question and transform the dominant narratives of history by providing engagement with works of art. In so doing, museums literally and figuratively help us to see what has been overlooked and suppressed. The Block must be a place where suppressed voices and histories are lifted up through all we do. In serving as its leader, I am committed to ensuring that The Block actively contributes to dismantling systematic racism by examining, along with my colleagues, how it is embedded in the staffing, governance, history, practices, and language of museum work.
A museum is not a neutral space. Every exhibition we organize, every work of art we acquire, every program we host—requires choices and each is an opportunity to present with intent. Our responsibility to our publics is to be fully present to the consequences of our choices, which can either reinforce or contradict, and therefore contribute to dismantling the status quo. The power of this moment includes a heightened awareness of the privilege to choose and what is at stake when we do it.
Works of art are bridge builders. By bringing people together across differences, they make possible conversations that are vital, difficult, painful, and which can also unite us through a shared understanding of the experiences and histories of others. In the face of current events, The Block will address racism and structures of white supremacy by leveraging its programs to enable conversations that push us forward. It will be a place where we can connect to and understand global events in a local context and, most importantly, where we can hold space for people to gather with equity, dignity, and grace. It is through this dialogue, made possible when art and people come together, that we may find the courage to confront our past, examine our present, and build our future.
As The Block’s director, I have asked myself: What is most required of me today as a white museum director with the privileges and opportunities afforded to this public position? The answer that resonates for me is to listen with humility to those whose voices have all too often been silenced. In listening, The Block Museum of Art will live its stated value—“to be generous.” What we learn will transform what our visitors experience and our organizational culture, leading us closer to the ideal of being a truly diverse, inclusive, and equitable museum and an instrument of change.
– Lisa Graziose Corrin, Ellen Philips Katz Director, The Block Museum of Art