All posts in “social justice”

SAM Connects Art to Social Justice with Tours

Every January, SAM honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a week of spotlight tours led by museum staff, focused on artists and artworks currently on view in SAM’s galleries that speak to themes of race and social justice. Free and open to the public, the tours are also a big draw for SAM administrative staff, who step away from their desks on the fifth floor and head down to hear from one of their colleagues. Grounded in a love for, and knowledge of, the collection, the tours are often deeply personal, as the speaker finds resonances in the art with their own experiences of race and social justice.

Since launching the series in 2015, there have been many memorable tours. In 2017, Public Engagement Associate David Rue danced his tour in front of Robert Colescott’s Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas, a major work by the Black artist that had been recently been brought into the museum’s collection. He moved to the sounds of The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” simultaneously celebrating the increased visibility of Black artists and wondering whether it was just lip service—or the beginning of a new future of true equity.

Actress and performance artist (and SAM Visitor Services Officer) Adera Gandy led a tour in 2018 that visited the current show Lessons from the Institute of Empathy. Anchored by an immersive installation by contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk, the show includes works selected by the artist from SAM’s African art collection. Adera focused on Fulani and Ghanaian gold jewelry, reminding us that just as practitioners of alchemy attempted to find a universal elixir by turning base metals into gold, we must work towards equity not only with external steps—measurable policies and practices—but with internal shifts to transform the collective mind and create authentic and sustainable change.

In 2019, Social Media and Communications Coordinator Nina Dubinsky visited the current installation Body Language and discussed Akio Takamori’s ceramic sculpture Willy B. It’s inspired by a famous 1970 photo of German Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeling down and silently bowing his head at a monument to the thousands of Poles killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Nina connected Takamori’s interest in this evocative gesture as a political statement to her generation’s use of social media to unite in social movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #TransRightsMatter, and #MuteRKelly.

Also this year, we expanded the series beyond staff to include tours by Dr. Cherry Banks, a SAM trustee and Professor in Education Studies at the University of Washington Bothell, and Celeste Ericsson, a SAM docent who participates in the SAM docent corps’ Equity Working Group. The Art and Social Justice Tours continue to change the way we all experience the works in our collection. Including more perspectives only deepens their impact. Join us next year when we continue this tradition of honoring the radical and loving legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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#SAMSpeakUp: RACE, SOCIAL JUSTICE & MUSEUMS

When it comes to conversations surrounding race and social justice, museums aren’t readily thought of as spaces that would play much a role. However, I believe that museums can in fact be powerful and unique in facilitating these discussions.

The next time you come to SAM, you may notice that our Think Tank walls have questions that await your response: “How do you define race and social justice?” “How can art mobilize social change?” “How can museums be spaces of social justice?”

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(The Think Tank is located between the Mezzanine Level and the second floor, towards the back of the building! Just walk up the Grand Staircase until you hit the room with the chalkboard walls.)

As our MLK Spotlight Tours last week highlighted, we don’t have to look too far to see that there are works and artists in our collection who are already having these conversations with you—what are ways we can delve deeper?

I see that museums can play a unique role in these conversations for these reasons:

  • Museums serve as portals and connectors—connecting us to cultures and ideas, connecting us to others and our community, and connecting us with ourselves.
  • Museums are engrained within communities—it is the community who interacts with the museum and thus these spaces exist not only to share stories about art but also to serve the community (local and beyond).

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When race and social justice issues arise on a local, national, or even an international level, how can museums leverage their unique positions in order to help? And how can museums strive to become more inclusive spaces and to better reflect the communities they serve?

One recent issue that has been on my mind and on many others’ is the non-indictment rulings in the deaths of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, and countless other similar situations. I feel conversations surrounding race relations—and the injustices and inequities that communities of color face—have reached a new height. These situations have been fostered by historical legacies and systems in the United States. This means historical institutions like museums can be a critical part of this conversation, particularly in bridging gaps in racial and cultural understanding.

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In December, a few museum bloggers and colleagues also saw the need for museums to step in and thus issued a joint statement asking the question, “What should be our roles?” This sparked conversations across the country, and museums shared how they’ve responded—from hosting community conversations to collecting Ferguson-related media artifacts.

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It was partly this traction that inspired our latest iteration of the Think Tank. Rather than specifically tackling #MuseumsRespondtoFerguson, my colleagues and I want the Think Tank to be a space for a larger conversation about race, social justice, and museums. These conversations are best sustained and brought to the forefront when they are incorporated into our regular practice.

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And while I do believe museums can serve as catalysts, I don’t think they have all the answers, which is where our community comes in.

My hope for the Think Tank is that it can function as a free and open community dialogue space for all who interact with SAM. I want it to be a space for you to reflect on current topics and issues in social justice, examine your own experiences, share your stories, express your voice, and connect with others—and my hope is also that you will give us feedback for us to use as an institution to better serve you. I truly believe dialogue can spark change.

It is also my hope that we can continue to have these conversations together as an institution and community, and continue to strive to make the museum a more inclusive and accessible space to honor all stories, perspectives, and voices.

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We invite you to join the conversation.

Marcus Ramirez
Coordinator for Education & Public Programs

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