On Collaboration, Context, and Counterpoints: A Conversation Series on Museum Practice [Video]

Originating at Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art, A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence explores how artists have engaged with the reality of anti-Black violence and its accompanying challenges of representation in the United States over a 100 + year period. In conjunction with this exhibition, a national group of curators, educators, and scholars convened to share their reflections on museum practice, engaging communities with care, and exhibiting challenging material related to race, violence, and our shared histories.

Lead support for this program is generously provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Watch the Series

On Collaboration (Part I)

This conversation featured reflections on curatorial approaches to collaborating with communities – those within and outside of the museum – and shaping a shared vision around exhibitions engaging with the issue of racial violence. Speakers included:

  •  Kymberly Pinder, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Dean of the Yale School of Art;
  •  Jontyle Robinson, Curator & Assistant Professor, The Legacy Museum, Tuskegee University;
  •  Bridget R. Cooks, Associate Professor, Department of African American Studies and Department of Art History, University of California Irvine.

It’s not just the local that resonates with so many people. [Local stories] have this wonderful resonance with the community—they would come into the show, and they would see that they weren’t alone….That this isn’t about today or 2015 or 2016. It’s about hundreds of years. That was something that we really were excited about in terms of being able to collapse history and space and locality and time.

Kymberly Pinder on the local vs national nature of exhibitions on racism.

On Context (Part II)

This conversation focused on a case study of the exhibition, Reckoning with “The Incident”: John Wilson’s Studies for a Lynching Mural. The panelists explored considerations around its presentation, campus and community engagement, and programmatic strategies at three academic art museums located in different regions of the country.  Speakers included:

  •  Maurita Poole, Director of the Newcomb Art Museum at Tulane University, former Director and Curator of the museum at Clark Atlanta University
  • Molleen Theodore, Associate Curator of Programs, Yale University Art Gallery
  •  Tilly Woodward, Curator of Academic and Community Outreach, Grinnell College Museum of Art.
  • Lucy Mensah, Assistant Professor of Museum and Exhibition Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Art & Art History. 

We wanted the exhibition to be productive and leveraging important conversations about the story of race and lynching in the U.S. and the continued systemic racist violence in our country. As I listened to concerns, I became convinced that it was important to transfer the power of contextualizing the exhibition to our community.

Tilly Woodward on pushback while planning the exhibition.

On Counterpoints (Part III)

This conversation focused on exhibition-making as a form of activism, the presentation of counternarratives, and efforts to incite institutional change. Speakers included

  •  La Tanya S. Autry, Cultural Organizer and Independent Curator, Black Liberation Center; 
  • Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell, Associate Director of Outreach and Operations at American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center
  • Krystal Strong, Professor of Education and Africana Studies, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Alisa Swindell, Associate Curator of Photography at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College and former Block Museum Curatorial Research Associate for A Site of Struggle.

I’ve always had strong interest in social and racial justice since I was a kid. And I’ve always loved art and I really enjoy studying art history, but I have to say that it’s really kind of a complicated experience because it’s very much a discipline that is notoriously entrenched in white supremacy. And likewise with museums I’ve actually enjoyed a lot of things about these kinds of spaces, but they’re also really complex. When I started working in these hegemonic white museums, I found myself in spaces that were steeped in white supremacy and imperialist thinking.

La Tanya S. Autry on the challenges of working in museums

Conversation with Allison Glenn (Part IV)

Janet Dees, Curator of A Site of Struggle, was joined by Allison Glenn, Senior Curator of the Public Art Fund and curator of Promise, Witness, Remembrance at Speed Art Museum in Louisville. The curators reflected on approaches to cultivating care and collaborating with communities in order to shape a shared vision around exhibitions engaging with issues of racial violence.

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