In this discussion we will look closely at various letters of protest by artist of color from 1960s to the present. Reading primary sources allows us to hear the words directly without the mediation of content by critics, the press, or internal public relations departments. Afterwards we will gather in smaller groups to discuss how we feel about these demands and possibly consider developing new collective ideas for change in our cultural institutions.
Fueled by the Civil Rights movement, Black and Puerto Rican artists began organize themselves during the 60s and 70s. Spiral, and later the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition, The Puerto Rican Art Workers Coalition, Art Workers Coalition Black Bloc, among others all questioned the position of people of color in major New York museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions. Many demands were made to the Metropolitan Museum, Whitney Museum, and the MoMa. Some their demands were that more artists of color be included in all levels of the museum operation--from staff, directors, and curators, to exhibiting artists and permanent collections.
Within the past few years, more protest letters by artists of color have been written: Adrian Piper withdrawals from NYU exhibit; Chaun Webster, Jeremiah Bey Ellison, Arianna Genis, Shannon Gibney, and Valerie Deus write an open letter to The Walker Center before the opening of 12 Years a Slave; Yams Collective withdrawal from the Whitney Biennial.
Many of these protests have been left out of our art history books. Therefore we feel it is important to collectively explore these letters of protest in order to better understand the current situation, and to insure a continued effort is made to improve our cultural intuitions in regards to class, race, and gender.
'Documents of Resistance' is a growing archive of letters of protest written by artist of color to cultural institutions. The project began by Antonio Serna in 2014, when researching alternative histories of the 1960s/70s
as a member of Arts & Labor’s Alternative Economies Working Group.
These documents show that towards the end of the Civil Rights movement there was an increase in activity by artists and activists of color demanding change in our cultural institutions so that more artists of color be included in all levels of the museum—from staff, directors, and curators, to exhibiting artists and permanent collections.