Equity at SAM: Furthering Our Collective Commitment

SAM aims to be transparent with what is happening behind the scenes at the museum as it moves forward with its important equity work. You may already be familiar with our internal Equity Team, a staff-driven, cross-departmental advisory group, has been working since 2016 to deepen SAM’s commitment to racial equity in all areas of the institution. Now, we want to share a major, six-month initiative that took place from August 2020 to January 2021: the Equity Task Force.

The goal of this task force was to build on SAM’s commitment to fostering equity and inclusion throughout the museum. Composed of SAM board members, staff, and members of the museum’s Education and Community Engagement Committee, it was chaired by board president Carla Lewis, board member Cherry A. Banks, and SAM’s lllsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, Amada Cruz. The task force as a whole represents a diverse cross-section of SAM staff and community members so that many perspectives could be brought to the table.

Over the course of six months, this group gathered virtually to brainstorm, comb through research, discuss ideas, and ultimately develop recommendations in four critical departments at the museum. We’d like to share some of the broad visions with you:

1.     Human Resources: Create a more inclusive work environment and increase representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) at SAM through a focus on recruitment, hiring, and retention practices.

2.     Curatorial: Increase BIPOC representation in SAM’s collections, exhibitions, and gallery interpretation; further community collaborations; and expand the scope of programming.

3.     Development: Build inclusive fundraising and membership practices that center trust and authenticity to increase connections with BIPOC audiences.

4.     Communications: Better understand who our current audiences are and identify those communities where we can more effectively engage. Provide strategic guidance to departments across SAM in communicating equity priorities, goals, and progress both internally and externally.

These are summaries of the expansive, detailed timelines that were generated through this work. Departments are already implementing many of these initiatives as they continue planning and identifying resources for the long term.

Advancing racial equity at SAM is everyone’s responsibility. We want to reflect that commitment within the priorities and plans of every element across the institution. We recognize that this work never ends, and that we each play a role—including you—in creating a museum where everyone feels a powerful sense of belonging and can connect with the art and ideas on view.

Learn more about Equity at SAM here.

A version of this article was first printed in the June 2021 edition of SAM Magazine.

Image: “We Are All in This Together,” 2002, Mark Mumford, vinyl lettering produced from CD formatted for a MAC with both a FreeHand and an EPS version of the artwork, dimensions variable, Gift of Carlos Garcia and James Harris in honor of Kimberly Richter Shirley, 2003.60, ©️ Mark Mumford.

In Solidarity with Our Asian Communities

SAM stands united with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Asian immigrant families, friends, colleagues and communities locally and across the country, in the wake of rising violence against these communities over the last year and in the aftermath of the recent horrific shootings in Georgia that left eight people dead, six of whom were women of Asian descent. We join the larger Atlanta community and the country in mourning Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng.

In recognition of these lives taken so violently, we invite you to take a moment of silence on the steps of the Asian Art Museum. A community memorial will be available for the public to contribute to and visit from Noon on Saturday, March 27, through 5 pm Sunday, March 28.

American history reveals countless examples of systemic anti-Asian racism, from the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, to the 1924 Immigrations Act, to Executive Order 9066 in 1942. All of these federal actions had a major impact on Asian communities in Washington State and the Seattle region, resulting in loss of life, livelihoods, and property, and they are just a part of longstanding patterns of harassment and intimidation. A study on anti-Asian prejudice conducted this month by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, University of California, San Bernardino shows a 150% increase in hate crimes targeting Asian people, based on data from America’s largest 16 cities. Seattle and King County officials also report on this rise. Anti-Asian racism is a part of white supremacy that we must all work to defeat.

As a global museum, we always turn to art and artists to contextualize challenging moments and examine our history and society. Experiencing and engaging with art brings new perspectives to light and broadens understanding across cultures. SAM’s collection was founded in Asian art by the museum’s first director, Dr. Richard E. Fuller. After expanding to downtown Seattle, the original home of SAM was rededicated in 1994 as the Seattle Asian Art Museum and a center of Asian art and ideas. SAM’s Asian Art Museum is the only one of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. We understand our role as stewards of not only art, but also as an important place for Asian communities to come together and where people from all backgrounds can experience and appreciate a wide range of rich Asian cultures. 

In June 2020, following the killing of George Floyd and a massive social justice movement for Black lives, we were compelled to increase SAM’s commitment to combating institutional racism by establishing an Equity Task Force. This group of SAM board, staff, and community members worked over six months to conduct a self-assessment and provide recommendations for initiatives in specific operational areas. This work is ongoing as we continue to build on SAM’s commitment to fostering equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout the museum. 

The recent shootings in Georgia and escalating incidents of anti-Asian violence in Seattle and elsewhere strengthens SAM’s commitment and resolve to becoming an anti-racist institution. This is some of the most pressing and important work we are undertaking. As we take steps towards evaluating where we can improve and how we can better support the communities around us, the large and diverse Asian populations in Seattle and the surrounding areas, in addition to those on staff at the museum, are a crucial part of our conversations. SAM belongs to the communities it serves. 

Support Asian cultural organizations in the Seattle area and get involved.

API Chaya
Asian Counseling and Referral Service
The Future Ancient
International Examiner
Northwest Asian Weekly
Pride Asia
Stop AAPI Hate
Tasveer
Wilderness Inner-City Leadership Development
The Wing Luke Museum
Seattle Asian American Film Festival
Seattle Chinese Post
Seattle Chinese Times

Object of the Week: The ’20s … The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots

Printed in 1974, decades after his celebrated Migration Series, Jacob Lawrence’s The ‘20s…The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots depicts Black Americans casting their votes in an election.[1] The screenprint was produced on the occasion of the American Bicentennial, part of the Kent Bicentennial Portfolio, for which contributing artists were asked to the respond to the question, What does independence mean to you?

Like much of Lawrence’s work, this print focuses attention on the African American experience. Here, we see Black Americans exercising their right to vote—a right that was systematically suppressed in the Jim Crow South, from which millions migrated to the North and West during the Great Migration.

On Wednesday, January 6, we saw the historic election of Georgia’s first Black senator—and only the second Black senator from a former Confederate state since Reconstruction. This landmark victory, and that of Georgia’s first Jewish senator as well, points to a marked shift in the Georgia electorate and increased voter turnout, especially among Black voters.[2] However, we also witnessed events in the nation’s Capitol whose consequences are still unfolding; events that are rightly eliciting anger, sadness, disappointment, and fear; events that will require much more time to process, unpack, and understand. Turning to Lawrence’s work at this juncture may help reconcile the past with the present moment: Lawrence’s work so often captures the messy complexities and contradictions of America and its history—a history whose ideals of freedom, liberty, and equality are inextricable from realities of subjugation, suppression, and violence.

When describing his Migration Series, Lawrence wrote, “To me, migration means movement. There was conflict and struggle. But out of the struggle came a kind of power and even beauty.” There is no doubt that, as a nation, we remain mired in conflict and struggle, that one century after the scene in The ’20s …The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots, voting—and the right to vote—is as fragile as ever. However, hopefully out of this struggle we can emerge stronger and, as Lawrence believed, find beauty in that strength. First we need to truly reckon with where we are as a country, and take steps to repair what is broken.

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate

Image: The 1920’s…The Migrants Arrive and Cast Their Ballots, 1974, Jacob Lawrence, ink on paper, 32 x 24 5/16 in., Gift of the Lorillard Co., N.Y., 75.70 © Jacob Lawrence

[1] Lawrence’s sixty-panel Migration Series (1940-41) chronicles the Great Migration—the decades-long exodus of six million African Americans from the Jim Crow South to the North and West—that lasted from World War I to the 1970s.
[2] Dylan Scott, “’Phenomenal’ Black turnout won the Senate for Democrats in Georgia, Vox, Jan. 6, 2021, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2021/1/6/22216677/georgia-senate-election-results-black-voters-turnout-warnock-ossoff.

Recognize & Reflect with Priya Frank

We don’t necessarily recognize the magnitude of an experience in the moment, until we get a chance to look back and realize how that experience or moment was pivotal in shaping how we see the world and ourselves in it. Having the opportunity to reflect on 2020 through this piece in the Seattle Times helped me recall what carried me through the past year.

There were some incredibly big moments, such as becoming the Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at SAM, but truly what carried me through the past year were the small moments. It was the simple gestures and findings that held space for me to breathe and discover untapped creativity as a coping mechanism, both for myself and for others in my community. Utilizing my passion to connect, convene, and build community took on a whole different meaning, as I needed to relearn how that would even translate in our new reality. 

I wondered how I would continue to center my values of joy and optimism during a time filled with so much pain, grief, and reckoning. But those glimmers of hope—whether it came from my amazing colleague Rayna who built the Little Purple Library at The Station in Beacon Hill, my neighbor Rosie who gave me hand sanitizer in mid-March (basically gold!), and my friends who all rallied to join a car parade for my Mom who turned 70—those are the moments and events that will shape the way that I live my life, do my work, and hold myself in gratitude to the community I have the privilege of being a part of, and in service to.

I hope that all everyone who has found inspiration in art or community in the Seattle Art Museum while they stayed home with SAM is able to reflect on the stress and intensity of the last year in order to identify and act on the positive things that will influence and uplift the future.

– Priya Frank, SAM Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Photo: Natali Wiseman

Documenting Diversity in SAM’s Permanent Collections

Museums across the country are contending with the structural racism that shapes their collections and organizations. One component of this process, in striving for transparency, is assessing the individuals and communities who are—and who are not—represented in these collections.

In the summer of 2019, SAM’s Curatorial Department began the challenging—and ongoing—work of collecting data to better understand the diversity of the museum’s permanent collection. While I helped initiate this research, it was carried forward by one amazing and dedicated curatorial intern, Rachel Kim, whose time, energy, and care laid essential groundwork for future initiatives to increase the representation of artists of color at SAM.

The methodology that guides this undertaking is shaped by a study titled “Diversity of Artists in Major U.S. Museums,” published in March 2019 by a cross-departmental group of colleagues at Williams College in the departments of Statistics, Mathematics, Art, and Art History. The study used crowdsourcing to mine the online databases of 18 major American museums, inferring data related to artists’ ethnicities, genders, and geographic origins. As in the Williams College study, we focused our attention on artists whose identities are known to us, first conducting research to manually calculate representation by gender and, later on, ethnicity, within SAM’s permanent collection. The Williams College study relied on the crowdsourcing platform Amazon Mechanical Turk to gather data and, like much of such data collection, is subject to human error. Still, the study found that 85% of works in major U.S. museum collections are by white artists, and that 87% are by men. Works by Black artists make up just 1% of collections; works by Asian artists, 9%; and works by Latinx artists, 3%.[1]

I should pause here and note that the complexities and sensitivities of this research are many—there are often limited resources, including limited biographical information, available on a number of artists; many artists’ identities and orientations are intersectional or non-binary, and the application of one singular identity for the sake of data collection reduces the complexity of many artists’ backgrounds and biographies; and most important of all is how the artist personally chooses to identify. With this in mind, Rachel Kim thoughtfully reflected, “No person’s identity can be relegated to simple formulas and spreadsheet labels. With this recognition, I made it a priority to extract source material on an artist from the words of the artists themselves before turning to secondary accounts.” Many museums are beginning to conduct similar data collection and research, and some are even developing surveys to be sent to living artists during the acquisitions process; this way, the artist may self-identify and share details related to their own biography as they would like for it to be recorded.[2] It is crucial to acknowledge another limitation as well: this first phase of data collection, focusing on “individual, identifiable” artists, inherently privileges a Western perspective and valuation of a singular object with a singular, documented maker.[3]

Yet, as nuanced and imperfect as this data may be, it acts as a critical blueprint that reflects what SAM—like too many museums around the country—has known and knows must be corrected. We must confront the inherent biases and narratives that collecting histories, including our own, perpetuates. Serving the museum’s larger institutional goal of addressing racial inequity within its walls and collection, this research further underscores the need for increased investment in 20th- and 21st-century artists of color.

Focusing on the museum’s modern and contemporary collection as one example, roughly 7% of works are by artists of color. However, since 2010, this collection has also seen the number of works by Black artists increase by over one-third. Many of these acquisitions are directly linked to the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize, a $10,000 award offered biannually to an early career Black artist, along with a solo exhibition at SAM. The first prize was awarded in 2009, and SAM has consistently acquired works by the exhibiting artists in the years since.

Looking at another data sample, SAM acquired approximately 1,360 works by 20th- and 21st-century artists since 2010. Of these, roughly 48% are by artists of color. In addition, well over two times the funds were spent on the purchase of 110 works by artists of color compared to 94 works by white artists. These numbers are heartening and signal the progress that an intentional approach can accomplish, though we acknowledge that our work is only beginning.

This research and its analysis is far from definitive or complete, but it is a helpful tool—a compass, perhaps—that can help guide current and future actions to correct the systemic and institutional racism that has invariably shaped the museum field. Supporting, representing, and investing in artists of color through exhibitions and acquisitions is just one part of this anti-racist work for SAM.

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate

[1] The authors importantly see this study as a companion to the 2014-15 “Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey” conducted by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which found that 72% of staff at its member institutions identify as white. It will take more than simply acquiring more works by artists of color to correct racial inequity within museums––equal attention must be given to staffing, workplace culture, board membership, programs, exhibitions, and collections.
[2] Frances Lloyd-Barnes, Head of Collections Information Management at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), further problematizes and offers thoughts on what it means to document diversity in this way: https://new.artsmia.org/stories/documenting-diversity-how-should-museums-identify-art-and-artists/
[3] SAM is a comprehensive museum, which means that its permanent collection houses artworks by artists and makers across time and place, from antiquity to the present, and we cannot always know the identities of an artwork’s maker or makers. If we expand the scope of our data to include works by artists whose specific identities are unknown to us, or perhaps worked as a community or collectively, the museum’s holdings of works by artists of color hovers around 58%. This high percentage is due in no small part to SAM’s foundational collection of historic Asian art, renowned collection of African art, and strong representation of Indigenous—especially Northwest Coast Native—art.

Juneteenth: A Rededication to Freedom

“Words of Emancipation didn’t arrive until the middle of June so they called it Juneteenth. So that was it, the night of Juneteenth celebration, his mind went on. The celebration of a gaudy illusion.

―Ralph Ellison, “Juneteenth”

Two and half years. 400 years. 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Two and a half years. That’s how much time passed between January 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all enslaved people in the Confederacy, and June 19, 1865, when the Union Army’s Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced the end of both the Civil War and slavery. (The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, formally abolishing slavery in the United States, would not be fully ratified until December 6, 1865.)

On that June night, celebrations broke out. Historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner documents an heir recalling, “…my daddy told me that they whooped and hollered and bored holes in trees with augers and stopped it up with [gun]powder and light and that would be their blast for the celebration.” Juneteenth was celebrated the following year, and among many other emancipation holidays, has endured. Local traditions feature everything from readings, lectures, songs, voter registration efforts, cookouts, street fairs, rodeos, and more. It’s a day to reflect on the promises of freedom and the bloody costs of its continuous delay. It’s a day to celebrate the genius of Black joy and resilience. It’s a day to gather at the table and eat delicious food.

400 years. 2019 marked the 400th year since enslaved Africans arrived in what would become the United States. And in 2020, eight minutes and 46 seconds——the amount of time a police officer named Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, killing him—has set off an uprising against the present and past of racism in America. On the eve of the 155th celebration of Juneteenth, a different future again seems possible.

Juneteenth is not currently a federal holiday, but it is commemorated or observed in most states and the District of Columbia. In Washington State, the holiday was officially recognized in 2007, and a bill (HB 2312)  to make it a legal state holiday, proposed by Representative Melanie Morgan, is currently in front of the state legislature. The Seattle Art Museum is happy to announce that it has instituted Juneteenth as an official paid holiday for its employees, as a gesture within its broader commitment to creating racial equity and structural change within its walls. On this holiday, we encourage SAM staff to commemorate this inflection point in American history, as we live through another.

SUGGESTED EVENTS

BLKFREEDOM.org: Juneteenth digital commemoration
Presented by six Black museums and historical institutions, including Northwest African American Museum (NAAM)

Juneteenth Freedom March & Celebration
Led by King County Equity Now from DeCharlene’s Boutique to Jimi Hendrix Park

Juneteenth Week 2020
Presented by Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, Black Lives Matter – Seattle/King County, Tabor 100 and FW Black Collective.

Juneteenth: Ijeoma Oluo in conversation with Ahamefule Oluo
Live webcast hosted by King County Library System

Miss Juneteenth
Film directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples and starring Nicole Beharie

FURTHER RESOURCES

Juneteenth.com
Resource site founded by Cliff Robinson in 1997

Seattle Public Library Juneteenth Resources
A community-generated list of books and other media

King County Library System Reading List
A great list of reads for all ages

Nicole Taylor for the New York Times with reflections from Black chefs
Including James Beard award-winning chef Eduardo Jordan of Seattle

Chef Lazarus Lynch in the Washington Post
Shares his complicated feelings on the holiday

A Message of Solidarity

The Seattle Art Museum believes that Black lives matter and stands in support of Black families, friends, colleagues, and communities across the country as they grieve and seek justice for the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all victims of police brutality. We mourn the lives lost and, as we say their names, we recognize that we cannot be silent.

Systemic and institutional racism pervades every corner of American life, including cultural institutions such as the Seattle Art Museum. SAM recognizes the inequities faced by Black Americans, and we acknowledge the work that SAM must do and the impact of our work on our community. Since the 2000s, SAM’s Education & Community Engagement Committee has helped guide SAM’s programming and community partnerships. We will continue to listen to this inspiring group of advocates as we make changes to better lead by example within our arts community and city to create a country where Black people and other people of color are not oppressed.

In 2017, the museum’s Equity Team and leadership integrated an equity statement of the museum’s official values into SAM’s strategic plan, which guides all we do. It reads:

We are responsive to cultural communities and experiences, and we think critically about the role art plays in empowering social justice and structural change to promote equity in our society. We are dedicated to racial equity in all that we do.

We know that we can do more. We must begin by looking at ourselves and working to uncover the structural biases within our own organization.

Art is a crucial way of sharing unique perspectives, reminding us of the past, and envisioning future possibilities. Throughout history, art has been used for education, revolution, politics, propaganda, emotions, subversion, and sharing transformative experiences. SAM believes that art always contains a message and cannot be neutral. We rely on our collection, exhibitions, and the artists we work with to reflect our institutional values and we can, and will, take tangible actions to enact necessary change in our society. 

We are committed to:

  • Striving for racial equity in our exhibitions, educational programs, hiring practices, and all activities at the museum
  • Sharing work by Black artists in our collection and in our communications. For the next week, we will not be promoting the museum on social media, in order to amplify the views of organizations, artists, activists, and individual Black voices
  • Continuing to increase the acquisition and exhibition of more works by artists of color
  • Featuring artwork by Black artists in the following exhibitions and installations in the next year:

John Akomfrah: Future History
Aaron Fowler: Into Existence
Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle
Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence
Storied Objects
Lessons From the Institute of Empathy

There are many ways to show support and solidarity at this moment. As a part of the Seattle art community, SAM would like to encourage you to support local Black-led arts organizations through donations and engagement. This list is by no means comprehensive and we encourage you to add to it in the comments.

Art & Justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, & Ahmaud Arbery

The young girl gazes directly into the camera: serene, open, determined. Her arms cross in front of her; her hands reach for those of the other children beside her. Together, they form a chain that cannot be broken.

She is 11-year-old Quintella Harrell, as the photo’s caption notes, and she’s participating in the campaign for voting rights for Black people in Selma, Alabama, that took place in the early months of 1965. The photo was taken by Dan Budnik, who uses documentary photography as a tool for activism and to bear witness to the battle for equality. A few weeks before this photo was taken, a 26-year-old church deacon from Marion named Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot by a state trooper as he tried to shield his mother from the trooper’s nightstick, dying eight days later. Days after this photo was taken, the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, led by civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis, would begin. The images of state troopers attacking the activists during what came to be called “Bloody Sunday” galvanized public opinion, eventually leading to the march’s safe completion on March 21—and to the passing of the Voting Rights Act.

This moment of a young girl’s perseverance is captured forever in this black-and-white photo, but it’s far from the distant past. Today, Dr. Quintella Harrell is 65 years old. How much has changed?

SAM expresses deep compassion for those seeking justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. We share in the grief, anger, and frustration that their friends, families, and Black communities are feeling, which has spread across the country and the world. SAM is committed to doing our part in the necessary work of creating racial equity. Art can play a critical role in creating structural change and equity; it deepens empathy, asks tough questions, and offers new visions for collective responses to our world. We must create that new world together.

Image: Quintella Harrell, 11 Years Old, With Other Young Voting Rights Protestors, Dallas County Courthouse, Selma, Alabama, 4 March 1965, 1965, Dan Budnik, gelatin silver photograph, 11 x 14 in. Gift of Getty Images, 2000.38 ©️ Artist or Artist’s Estate.

Muse/News: Suiting up, speaking out, and making art

The Seattle Art Museum wants to acknowledge the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black people killed by police. We share in the grief, anger, and frustration that their friends, families, and communities are feeling, which has spread across the country and the world. Read more of our response to the recent events.

SAM News

Last week, Stay Home with SAM serves up social justice binge watch recommendations and freeze dances with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Trapsprung.

Local News

UW’s The Daily shares that the Jacob Lawrence Gallery has launched the fourth issue of the art journal, MONDAY. All pieces were commissioned and edited by resident artist Danny Giles and tackle the relationship of art to race and democracy.

Seattle Met’s Allecia Vermillion recommends ordering takeout from several Black-owned Seattle restaurants.

The Seattle Times has ongoing coverage of this weekend’s protests of the killing of George Floyd, which had their team of reporters and photographers in the streets covering it as it happened. Reporters spoke with Andre Taylor, Rev. Dr. Leslie Braxton, Girmay Zahilay, and other protest attendees. They are also asking protestors to share their stories. And columnist Naomi Ishisaka called for police reform.

“Isn’t the midst of a pandemic — especially one that puts extraordinary stress on people experiencing homelessness and poverty, and people of color — exactly when we need more community responsiveness from the police?”

Inter/National News

Watch this short film, commissioned by the Archives of American Art, in which five contemporary artists—Mickalene Thomas, Jacolby Satterwhite, Maren Hassinger, Shaun Leonardo, and Elia Alba—respond to eight questions for Black artists, first posed by Jeff Donaldson in a historic 1967 letter.

Nick Cave’s Soundsuits debuted in 1992 as a response to the beating of Rodney King. In 2016, he recorded an interview with Art21 in which he talked about a new Soundsuit created in honor of Trayvon Martin. Lately he’s been sharing short videos on his Instagram. Read and watch all about his “suits of armor” in this Artnet story. SAM’s collection includes one of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits.

Artist Carrie Mae Weems is launching a new initiative, reports Artnet’s Taylor Defoe, that “draws attention to how the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately hurts African American, Latino, and Native American communities.”

“The death toll in these communities is staggering. This fact affords the nation an unprecedented opportunity to address the impact of social and economic inequality in real time. Denial does not solve a problem.”

And Finally

Dreaming about reading outside together.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Installation view of Lessons from the Institute of Empathy at the Seattle Art Museum. © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman. 

Community Questions: What Equity-Related Content Are You Consuming?

SAM locations are closed but we continue to center diverse voices in everything that SAM does. The SAM Equity Team has asked the staff to share their voices in reflections on how equity and community continuously shape the work of the museum, despite our inability to physically gather at this time. This week, we answer this important question: What social justice-/equity-related content are you consuming during this time and why? 

Yaoyao Liu, SAM Museum Educator, Asian Art Museum

A prominent Asian American film festival is offering virtual (free!) screenings, panels, and programs during May: Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. I’m particularly excited to tune in for And She Could Be Next, a documentary mini-series about women of color organizers and political candidates across the United States. Another recommendation especially for SAM staff and SAM Blog readers is Mele Murals. Here’s a summary from the web: “Mele Murals is a documentary about the transformative power of art through the unlikely union of graffiti and ancient Hawaiian culture. At the center of this story are the artists Estria Miyashiro (aka Estria) and John Hina (aka Prime), and a group of Native Hawaiian youth from the rural community of Waimea, HI.”

Priya Frank, SAM Associate Director for Community Programs

Priya Frank points at the TV featuring Becoming with Michelle Obama

I am unashamed to say that I have binge watched my way through the last few months. Instead of asking people what they did today, I must know what they are watching. What someone is watching right now is helping me understand where they are coming from, what they are obsessed with, what they hate, and it all comes back to how arts and culture are helping us through this uncharted time. Besides the British murder mysteries I’m obsessed with, these three stuck out to me and brought such joy, inspiration, and connectivity to my world. 

My Netflix Recs: 
Gentefied: I so appreciated the multigenerational perspectives, the way in which each generation’s cultural traditions and history show up, and how that translates within each generation’s ideal of what the “American Dream” looks like. They navigate clashing ideas, their love and loyalty for each other, their food, their art, and Latinx people, all while set amongst the reality of a backdrop addressing the changing neighborhood due to gentrification. It was produced by America Ferrera, and I was uplifted by her interview on Reese Witherspoon’s Shine On (also on Netflix).  

Becoming: I can’t say enough about what this documentary means to me. There are so many lessons that resonate, but the ways Michelle Obama authentically connected with people on her tour, and got to let her real self shine, is so incredible. The fact that she continues to reinvent herself is truly inspiring. She isn’t defining herself by the eight years in the White House. This doc allowed me to think about what I want my own life to look like post-COVID.  How do I want to show up for myself and for those I love? How do I show up for emerging leaders in the arts field and create space that helps folx move beyond the shadow of imposter syndrome and recognize their own greatness?  

Shine On with Reese: I was skeptical about this one, but the episodes were short enough that I was willing to try it out, and I’m so glad I did! Each episode centered around powerful womxn making change from where they are. With episodes centered around folx like Simone Askew, Dolly Parton, and Ava DuVernay, it’s a little peek into the journeys and people who influenced where they are today. My fave episode was the one with Cleo Wade and Elaine Welteroth because it reminded me of me and my BFF Jaimée in how they show up and support each other, build their dreams, and do so via slumber parties!

Noelle Vasquez, SAM Admissions Volunteer Supervisor:

Shows: Never Have I Ever

Books:

  • Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China – Leta Hong Fincher
  • The Poppy War – R.F. Kuang
  • Sex and World Peace – Valerie Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, Chad F. Emmett
  • The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write – Sabrina Mahfouz (editor)
  • Memoirs of a Polar Bear – Yoko Tawada

Lauren Farris, SAM Campaign Assistant

I’ve been following a local photographer and activist, Sharon H. Chang, on Instagram for awhile. During this time, I’ve found her “Safety Not Stigma,” very impactful, It’s a “portrait campaign to help combat increased racism against people of color during the pandemic, raise awareness about the disproportionate impacts of coronavirus on communities of color, and prioritize safety instead of stigma by the public,” to be . 

Images: Lauren Farris & Priya Frank

My Favorite Things: Ramzy Lakos on Amerocco

“As an American Egyptian, born and raised in the Middle-East, living in the US, I could see myself reflected in this piece, which is unique for me, because my identity mostly exists in-between spaces.”

– Ramzy Lakos, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Under the unique circumstances of SAM’s closure, our amazing Emerging Arts Leader Intern, Ramzy Lakos adapted the culminating tour of his internship into a video! Go inside Aaron Fowler: Into Existence with Ramzy as he shares his personal approach to understanding and connecting with the large-scale work, “Amerocco.” The exhibition is slated to be on view through October 25, 2020, and we hope you will have a chance to experience it in person once SAM can reopen.

Aaron Fowler’s larger-than-life works are at once paintings, sculptures, and installations. They are made from everyday discarded items and materials sourced from the artist’s local surroundings in Los Angeles and St. Louis, among other places. Items include cotton balls, security gates, afro wigs, hair weaves, broken mirrors, djellabas, sand, broken-down movie sets, found car parts, ropes, lights, and much more.

Emerging Arts Leader Internships at SAM grew out of SAM’s equity goal and became a paid 10-week position at the museum designed to provide emerging arts leaders from diverse backgrounds with an in-depth understanding of SAM’s operations, programming and audiences.

SAM Connects Community to Gallery Spaces

SAM’s Community Gallery has been displaying work from artists of all ages located throughout Washington State for over a decade. Shows featuring photography, mixed media, sewing and textile arts, ceramics, and 2-D and 3-D mixed media have filled this space over the years. Youth, SAM staff and volunteers, community organizations, nonprofits supporting arts programming, and schools and classes have had their art displayed on the ground floor of SAM’s downtown location, serving as a colorful reminder of creativity and community building.

2019 staff art show

Before I worked at SAM, I installed a show in the Community Gallery representing a multitude of different artists who connected with the Yesler Terrace community and beyond. It brought many community members to SAM for the first time and the artists involved in the show expressed the feeling of importance that came with having their work displayed in the museum.

With the beginning of a new decade, SAM is taking a new approach to the Community Gallery. We are working to show art from communities and artists who are underrepresented in the museum world due to systematic oppression. We are looking for artwork by and for artists of color, queer artists, disabled artists, youth and elderly artists, immigrant and refugee
communities, and low-income artists.

Naramore award ceremony, May 2019

We now have a simple application that outlines our equity goals for the space and how the Community Gallery can be used. Take a look at our call for art to learn more and apply to hang your community’s artwork downtown at SAM.

We are also adding more Community Gallery space in a city where art spaces are becoming more and more tenuous. The renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum created a new, additional Community Gallery space. Once it opens in February, the Asian Art Museum Community Gallery will feature works by and for the Asian Pacific Islander community in Seattle throughout its inaugural year.

We’ll also be curating our first youth-focused gallery space downtown, featuring a Teen Arts Group-curated exhibition of youth artists for its premiere show. SAM is always working to extend and expand the accessibility and connections within our community and the updated Community Gallery guidelines are one way we can’t wait to share with you!

– Jenn Charoni, SAM Public Engagement Associate

Photos: Jen Au & Natali Wiseman

The Kimerly Rorschach Fund for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

In September 2019, Kimerly Rorschach, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, retired after seven years of leading the institution and an illustrious 25-year career in the arts. When Rorschach joined SAM in November 2012, she set her sights on creating a schedule of exhibitions and programs for the museum’s three locations that was compelling and timely and that would resonate with a rapidly growing and diversifying Seattle community. 

During her tenure, equity and inclusion also became top priorities. As part of a commitment to building racial equity, addressing institutional racism, and bringing forth real change, she led the museum’s participation in Turning Commitment into Action, a cohort led and funded by the Office of Arts & Culture in partnership with Office for Civil Rights in 2015. After taking part in this important cohort, SAM established a staff leadership team dedicated to these efforts, and hired Priya Frank as Associate Director for Community Programs in the museum’s Education department and also appointed her the founding chair of the newly established Equity Team.

Beginning in 2016, SAM established racial equity training for the staff, volunteers, docent corps, and Board of Trustees. The museum also created special exhibition advisory committees to ensure that diverse community voices are part of the exhibition, programming, and marketing planning processes. Equity was added to the museum’s official values statement and integrated into the institution’s strategic plan, which guides all departments’ goals. The Emerging Arts Leader internship was also established, a paid internship aimed at candidates who are underrepresented in the museum field. These are just some of the ongoing efforts that Rorschach led the museum in pursuing.

In honor of Rorschach’s extraordinary vision in guiding the museum’s dedication to equity work, the SAM Board of Trustees, along with friends of Rorschach, have created an endowment that establishes permanent funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at SAM. The Kimerly Rorschach Fund for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion helps ensure that these efforts will continue at the museum and paves the way for SAM to be a leader in this crucial area of the arts.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Scott Areman

Lauren Farris: Emerging Arts Leader Intern Look at SAM

“Vulnerability” has been a bit of a buzz word ever since Brené Brown’s TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” Having watched Brené’s TED Talk and read one of her books, I value vulnerability a lot, but being vulnerable myself can still feel fairly nerve-wracking. So when the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern and I were asked to lead a My Favorite Things Tour, little did I know that the next 10 weeks would also include a road trip down vulnerability lane. 

When I first heard about the tour, I thought this tour would remain in the realm of theoretical, academic concepts. To be fair, a large part of the process involved researching the history behind each piece, utilizing resources from SAM’s libraries (thanks, Traci, Jordyn, and Yueh-Lin!), and meeting with curators (thanks, Pam and Chiyo!). But along with the historical research, our mentors and colleagues, Rachel, Seohee, David, and Priya (thank you all!), encouraged us to delve vulnerably into our stories and weave them into each piece. 

Because of this, I began asking myself some questions about my story, including being mixed race. For a while, I’ve been nervous about my voice because being mixed race often feels like a grey area between two distinct points of view and voices in society. But as I worked on the tour, each of our mentors and countless people shared their time, insight, stories, and vulnerability to help me process, ask deeper questions, and craft the content of the tour. Without them, the tour and this blog post would look entirely different. 

Not to mention, I’ll always cherish the times the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern, Cat, and I practiced nearly 50 versions of our ever-evolving tour with each other. Because our tours delved into more personal topics, we became each other’s support and cheerleader through a lot of ups and a few downs. Together, we also arranged informational interviews with staff across many departments, assisted at events like SAM Remix, DragonFest, and Summer Institute for Educators, and attended department and equity team meetings. I learned so much from working with Cat (miss you!) and love the ways in which SAM values and integrates collaboration. 

Throughout this entire internship, I’ve learned so much about museums, equity work within museums, and about myself. The interdisciplinary focus provided the opportunity to learn about many of the departments that comprise SAM. All throughout and above the galleries, it’s inspiring to see how many dedicated individuals play a role – from fundraising to checking coats to communicating with the press to leading student tours—to make SAM the museum that it is. 

I also learned a lot about equity work in museums that I didn’t know before. I’ve realized that it’s not enough to know some terms or read some papers or books, but it takes the vulnerability to ask myself the same questions within these papers. And it takes the bravery to answer these questions honestly. 

SAM gave me a safe space to ask questions and come from a posture of growth and progression rather than perfection. More than ever, I’ve learned how crucial and empowering it is to connect with people who share both similar and different experiences. The ways that SAM strives for equity within education, programming, exhibitions, staff, and every part of SAM is inspiring. SAM is opening up dialogue, asking themselves, and others, critical questions, and aiming to lead and learn with each step towards furthering inclusivity and equity. SAM taught me that it takes vulnerability and guts to genuinely look at equity within ourselves in order to implement equity institutionally and beyond.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who made this internship so special. And guess what? I’m so grateful, honored, and thrilled to continue on with SAM’s amazing Development Team as a Campaign Assistant! See you around!

– Lauren Farris, SAM Campaign Assistant & 2019 Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Photos: Natali Wiseman.

SAM Connects Free Days to Flesh & Blood

Experience the fierce beauty of High Renaissance and Baroque art at the free Community Opening for Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum on October 17. From 5–9 pm, watch these artworks come alive as Palace Theatre & Art Bar takes the stage for a series of eclectic performances reflecting the darkness, drama, and human emotion of Flesh and Blood. Make a masterpiece of your own as you draw from live models during an art activity led by artist Barry Johnson. Seattle Opera singer will be in the galleries expressing love, devotion, and tragic suffering with pop-up performances. Living representations of the artworks will be embodied by dancers Mikhail Calliste and Michele Dooley. Flesh and Blood presents, as they say in Italy, il meglio del meglio—the best of the best.

Make sure to RSVP, but if you can’t make it to the opening, don’t worry! There are many other ways for you to visit SAM for free or at a discount during Flesh and Blood!

  • Free community passes may be available for community organizations or colleges and universities.
  • Many of our programs include free admission to our special exhibitions on the day of the event. Keep an eye on exhibition-related events.
  • First Thursdays mean discounts to Flesh and Blood!
    Adult: $9.99
    Seniors 65+, Military (w/ID): $7.99
    Students (w/ID): $4.99
    Ages 19 & younger: Free
  • First Friday: Admission to Flesh and Blood is $7.99 for anyone 65 years and older.
  • As part of Museums for All, SAM offers free admission to low-income families and individuals receiving SNAP benefits when you show your EBT card.
  • King County and Seattle Public Libraries offer free passes to special exhibitions.
  • City of Seattle’s Gold and FLASH card program. If you have a Gold or FLASH card, your caretaker gets free admission.
  • Teen Tix pass program makes it possible for teens to visit for just $5!
  • Bank of America’s Museums on Us: On the first full weekend of every month, Bank of America cardholders receive free admission at SAM.
  • Blue Star Museums: free admission to military personnel and their families. Just show your military ID. The military ID holder plus up to five immediate family members (spouse or child of ID holder) are allowed in for free per visit (special exhibition surcharge may apply).
  • UW Art Students get free admission with the sticker on their student ID

SAM is for everyone and we’re here to make sure anyone can see the art they love! Don’t forget, entry to SAM’s permanent collections is always suggested admission! You can experience our global collection year-round and pay what you want.

Images: The Ecstasy of Saint Cecilia, 1645, Bernardo Cavallino, Italian, 1616–1656, oil on canvas, 24 × 18 7/8 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte. The Virgin of the Souls with Saints Clare and Francis, 1622–23, Battistello Caracciolo, Italian, 1578–1635, oil on canvas, 114 3/16 × 80 11/16 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte.

Cat Vallejo: Emerging Arts Leader Look at SAM

Very early on in my role as one of SAM’s Emerging Arts Leader Interns, our mentor, David Rue, asked us to write down three personal or professional goals we wished to achieve during our time here at SAM. To be completely honest, I was all over the place during the first few weeks, as I was struggling to find where I fit into the museum to be a successful intern. Despite feeling this way, the one thing that I was certain and hopeful for was to make SAM a place I happily call home: be a part of SAM and SAM be a part me.

As a student at the University of Washington Bothell, being my whole self and feeling at home is what truly made me happier than I ever imagined. In order to feel that same happiness at SAM, I tried to be fully present by having a positive mind and heart. I reminded myself to be my bubbly and kind self and to be comfortable with the people around me. This was way easier said than done.

On top of feeling like a lost intern, I was already struggling with adjusting to a lifestyle that was the exact opposite of what I was used to. I wanted to be a big fish in a little pond that everyone looked up to for guidance. However, being in a new, urban city where nobody really knew me meant this wasn’t the case anymore. I felt lost between the Cat that grew up in California and the adult Cat that lives in Washington. Where would I go? Who am I supposed to be? With all these new changes and heavy feelings, I thought to myself, “I don’t how I’m going to achieve my goal or if I’m even going to get there. Good luck.”

Priya Frank and Seohee Kim are the two mentors I give all my gratitude to for guiding me through my struggles. Talking to them made me realize that I was still a tiny fish in a huge pond that needed to be willing to grow and learn from others. This was a reminder to be humble and to remember that learning and growing never stops, even when you think you’re at the top. Growing only starts when you are uncomfortable, yet willing to feel and embrace that discomfort with an open mind and heart to learn something new. Their kind words of wisdom touched my heart.

After this realization, I started to feel like I could reach my goal. The big project we had the opportunity to do was the My Favorite Things Tour. For this project, I researched different art pieces, connected them to real-life experiences, centered everything around a specific theme, and proudly presented my work to the public. Wow! I will always remember our first practice of walking around and talking about the different artworks we had in mind for our tours. I knew I was on the right track in connecting the art to my personal journeys, but there was much more research and practice that needed to be completed.

After this practice I was motivated to reach out to the curators to learn more about the different art pieces, which was exactly what I did. It was so inspiring getting to hear from and learn from the curators and see how passionate they are. I also learned more on my own by reading books about the artwork and artist. Most importantly, completing all the work would not even be half of what it was without my fellow colleague and friend Lauren Farris, the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern. Working closely with her gave us the space to learn from each other’s personal and professional experiences, all while sharing this internship together. I remember practicing our tours in the galleries, just talking through them while sitting down, and always changing our art pieces and stories every time we practiced. Being by each other’s side allowed us to be vulnerable and really push through to make these tours happen.

When the day finally came, we were there for each other to see all our hard work come to life. That is just so amazing to me because there were so many people and experiences collaborating to create something great. Swimming with the big fish was not so scary after all. As I said during my tour when I was talking about Childe Hassam’s Spring on West 78th Street, “from this painting and my experience with my SAM family, I learned that home is not a place, but a feeling.” Saying these words with my whole heart, showed me that I was able to reach my one and only goal, despite being so lost in everything else. This internship was more than I hoped for and now that it has come to a close I can truly say that I was a part of SAM and SAM will always be a part of me. SAM is a place I happily call home.

Cat Vallejo, SAM 2019 Emerging Arts Intern

Photos: Natali Wiseman

SAM Connects Students to Art for Free

A new school year often welcomes crisp air, spiral notebooks, and pumpkin deliciousness. This school year brings one other exciting change: Seattle Art Museum school tours will now be free for all public schools at all SAM locations! Bus subsidies are also available for Title 1 schools. Offering free tours for public schools grew out of SAM’s mission and strategic plan to champion access and equity for all. The museum firmly believes every student deserves access to high-quality arts education and creative learning. 

Even though the arts remain a required school subject by Washington State law, arts education is often one of the first programs to be cut. According to ArtsEd Washington, “In Washington State, 75% of elementary students receive only two hours, or less, of arts education each week.” Not only that, but Create Advantage Seattle notes, “Race, family income, and home language are all predictors of a students’ access to arts education in Seattle Public Schools.” 

Research reveals that consistent arts education improves high school graduation rates, empathy, motivation to stay in school, critical thinking, voter turnout, and even raises math scores. Arts Impact says, “Arts-infused learning in reading and math eliminates the achievement gap between children of color and poverty and their white upper/middle-class peers.” Also, SAM’s Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Engagement, Regan Pro, strongly believes in furthering arts education. “Everyone talks about how they value things like creativity and innovation. If we are saying that but aren’t supporting arts in schools, then how do we expect those muscles to grow?”

Typically, school tours at SAM start with a warm welcome from a trained docent or tour guide and a teaching artist. The docent or tour guide leads the group into SAM’s galleries where students and teachers might stare into the eyes of a giant mouse sculpture, learn the history behind Kwakwaka’wakw house posts, or discover a treasure chest lock in the Porcelain Room. With three locations and art from all over the world, tours can complement and enhance any curriculum.

After the tour, SAM’s teaching artists facilitate an art-making experience based on the works that students just saw in the galleries. Students walk away holding their own work of art, such as a three-dimensional sculpture, a two-point perspective painting, or a self-designed family crest. Plus, teaching artists provide students with an opportunity to view potential career paths in the arts.

“Being in the art museum was a new experience for many of my students. They were intrigued and, to my surprise, were able to connect with some artists. I feared they would find the museum too “high-brow,” but the variety of art allowed most to connect in some way.”

– Educator

In addition to free school tours, SAM has continued to develop school partnerships. One of those partnerships, called “Drawing from Nature,” is now in its fourth year. Through this partnership, SAM offers all second graders in Highline School District a chance to explore the Olympic Sculpture Park. Building off these field trips, SAM provides lesson plans and professional development sessions to teachers. Furthermore, SAM is partnering with Seattle Public Schools on a new program at the Seattle Asian Art Museum when it reopens in early 2020. This partnership supports third through fifth-grade teachers as they build connections between art and social studies.

“This was an amazing experience and many of the themes were continued to talk about and apply in other subject areas.”

– Educator

SAM’s Senior Manager of School & Educator Programs, Anna Allegro, says school partnerships provide students with a sense of ownership of SAM. “We’ll work with a school for five years, the kids will come every year, and they just have this sense of ownership and comfort. It’s so different from when they first walked in where SAM might have felt like an intimidating kind of space. Our goal is that students know they can be seen and heard here.”

With SAM’s partnerships and free school tours, the museum is honored to support arts education and creative learning for all young people whilst continuing the goal to promote equity and access for all. As much as art museums play a role in advancing arts education, this mission extends beyond our four walls to everyone in the community.

“Everyone can be an advocate for arts education. If you’re a parent, talk to your principal. Talk to your PSA. Ask them how they are supporting the arts. How is that a part of their classroom? If you’re a grandparent or if you live in a neighborhood, understand what the public school is in your neighborhood and how you can help support it.”

– Regan Pro

Learn more and book a free school tour at SAM before they fill up!

– Lauren Farris, SAM’s 2019 Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Photos: Robert Wade

SAM Connects Culture to Emerging Arts Leaders

Read all about Trang Tran’s experience at SAM as our 2018 Emerging Arts Intern. The Emerging Arts Internship at SAM grew out of SAM’s equity goal and became a paid 10-week position at the museum designed to provide emerging arts leaders from diverse backgrounds with an in-depth understanding of SAM’s operations, programming and audiences. We’re searching for our next Emerging Arts Intern! Does this sound like you? Applications are due April 1!

When I was asked to write a wrap-up blog about my experiences as an Emerging Arts Leader intern at the Seattle Art Museum, I asked myself, “Jeez, where do I even begin?” There are so many experiences, memories, and relationships that I have built at this museum, a place I now consider a second home, that it’s hard to summarize my journey in a paragraph or two.

As I was walking toward the museum on my first day of the internship, the word “anxious” wouldn’t have entirely encapsulated my emotions. I was also thrilled, grateful, and honored to be working at one of the best art institutions on the West coast. My first week flew by as I met staff members who were inclusive, welcoming, supportive, and helpful as I tried to find my way around the maze of the administrative office. Over the next weeks, I began conducting informal interviews with staff members, working on projects with the curatorial, communication, and educational departments, and I ran around the museum trying to find meeting rooms but repeatedly ending up on the wrong floor (“M stands for Maloney”– David). I also toured the Olympic Sculpture Park (Thanks, Maggie!), made multiple trips to the galleries and library as I began research for my December My Favorite Things Tour, spiraled down the rabbit hole in art storage (Thanks, Carrie!), attempted to write a press release for an upcoming exhibition (Thanks, Rachel!), participated in many events hosted by the museum, and more!

One event I was especially honored to participate in was the Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodpur, India Community Opening Celebration. I had the opportunity to interact with the community by greeting them at the door and answering questions about the evening’s programs. Instead of running around the administrative office or staring at a computer screen, I was able to engage with the museum’s audience. It was amazing to witness the enthusiasm, anticipation, and joy radiating from everyone I met at the door. Even though I ended up losing my voice that night, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

I was also fortunate to spend the day with my little brother, Kevin, at the Diwali Family Festival. Diwali, or the “festival of lights,” is one of the most important celebrations in India where people celebrate the triumph of good over evil. The museum’s annual Diwali Family Festival included a vibrant fashion show, numerous art activities, dance performances, live music, and tours of the special exhibition, Peacock in the Desert, as well as tours of SAM’s permanent collections and installations. By attending this event, I hoped to show my brother that art is not just about color pigments on a white canvas on the wall or a sculpture encased in glass that you forget about as soon as you walk away. Art has the effect of bringing people together. People of different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds come together to celebrate, learn about, and appreciate a culture. Art also has the power to encapsulate political struggles, social changes, cultural values, and art movements. These are the reasons why I love, and am passionate, about art. I hope that if I can help the youngest member of my family see how powerful art can be, maybe one day my parents, as well as the wider Asian-American community, will learn to accept and recognize the existence of the art world.

Throughout this 10-week interdisciplinary internship, I found myself learning about the numerous operations that keep the museum running on an everyday basis. Such operations range from researching artworks in the curatorial department to fundraising in the development department, from promotional strategies in the marketing department to writing press releases in the communication department, and from preserving artworks in the conservation department to engaging the public in the educational department. But if I were to selected one main lesson to take away after this internship, it would be that a museum is not just about the artworks in the gallery; it’s also about people coming together to successfully bring these artworks to the public. For an artwork to be displayed in the museum, for a sculpture to be standing in the gallery, or for an exhibition to be showcased for three months, it takes cooperation from every department in the museum. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who has welcomed, accepted, supported, challenged, and encouraged me throughout this internship. Thank you for all the hard work that you are doing, not only for the world of art, but also for the public community.

– Trang Tran, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern 2018

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

Object of the Week: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after Delivering His “I Have a Dream” Speech

This black and white photograph, taken by photojournalist Dan Budnik in 1963, is one of a series that Budnik had hoped to publish in a Life magazine photo-essay. His subject is none other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., photographed minutes after delivering a speech that would forever be defined by four indelible words: “I have a dream.”

The image is unrelenting is its focus, framing Dr. King’s face so that he takes up over half of the composition. King, glancing down and to the side, bears a calm demeanor—stoic and pensive. Surely he would have been surrounded by a large group of friends and colleagues, or even a crowd of fellow activists, but Budnik denies us any context in which to situate King. Without the title of the photograph, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after Delivering His “I Have a Dream” Speech, August, 1963, we would have no way to know that this image portrays him after one of the most important speeches in American history.

King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is arguably his most famous, but in the spirit of honoring his legacy and rhetorical dynamism, I share below an excerpt from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, given one year after this photograph was taken, in 1964.  King’s continued call for racial equity, social justice, and religious tolerance—delivered with unfettered optimism—is, I believe, an urgent and important message for our present time:

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “is-ness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “ought-ness” that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today’s motor bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. . . .

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collection & Provenance Associate

Image: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after Delivering His “I Have a Dream” Speech, August 1963, 1963, Dan Budnik, gelatin silver photograph, 11 x 14 in., Gift of Getty Images, 2000.34 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

An Ethos of Equity: Learn About SAM’s Exhibition Advisory Committees

Over the years, SAM has from time to time brought together a group of community members from diverse backgrounds and affiliations to advise on the presentation of a special exhibition. In 2009, SAM met with leaders of the city’s South Asian community when a set of exquisite royal paintings from Jodhpur would be presented at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. A group of fashion designers and instructors advised the museum—and helped create a fashion show featuring local designers at the museum—for SAM’s fall 2016 exhibition celebrating the work of the legendary Yves Saint Laurent.

These, and numerous other examples, signify the importance to SAM of connecting with people outside of the organization to fulfill its mission of reflecting the community it serves. This ethos guides much of SAM’s work already; for example, the Education & Public Engagement Division nurtures ongoing relationships with local artists, performers, writers, and other culture-makers in presenting dynamic programming and events.

Now it’s official: going forward, the museum will bring this community-centered process to the development of all major special exhibitions presented throughout the year, convening Advisory Committees who will meet and advise the museum throughout the planning process.

A major impetus for making this process official? The deeply rewarding experience working with an advisory committee for Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson (June 14–September 9, 2018). As plans for this major exhibition came together, it was clear that the complex subject matter would require thoughtful execution at every step.

The exhibition would be held for the sesquicentennial of the birth of photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952), but far from a celebration, SAM would present a richly nuanced re-evaluation of his legacy. “While Curtis made many contributions to the fields of art and ethnography, his romanticized picture of Native identity has cast a lingering shadow over the perception of Native peoples,” noted Barbara Brotherton, SAM’s Curator of Native American Art. “Today, Indigenous artists are creating aesthetic archives reclaiming agency over their visual representation.” Brotherton worked with three contemporary Indigenous artists—Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, and Will Wilson—to conceive of Double Exposure, an exhibition that would thread their works in conversation with Curtis’ iconic photographs, as well as objects from SAM’s collection.

This collaboration between curator and contemporary artists also included the advisory committee, whose feedback helped make space at the museum for a reckoning with Curtis’s legacy. With Double Exposure, SAM took a big step in its efforts to decolonize the museum. We’d like to acknowledge the committee members once again: Dr. Charlotte Coté (Tseshaht / Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation), Jarrod Da (San Ildefonso Pueblo), Colleen Echohawk-Hayashi (Pawnee Nation / Upper Ahtna Athabascan), Andy Everson (K’ómoks First Nation), Jason Gobin (Tulalip Tribe), Darrell Hillaire (Lummi Nation), Madrienne Salgado (Muckleshoot Tribe), Lydia Sigo (Suquamish Tribe), Asia Tail (Cherokee Nation), and Ken Workman (Duwamish Tribe).

To bring together the advisory committees, invitations are sent to leaders, artists, and thinkers whose own work and communities are reflected in the particular themes of an exhibition. These selections are drawn from SAM’s already-rich network of partnerships and more importantly provide opportunities to create new connections with community leaders and organizations in the region. Reflecting the value of this work, and ensuring that the opportunity to serve is accessible to everyone, SAM offers a stipend to all committee members. Each committee meets with a cross-divisional group of SAM staff who are charged with taking the feedback and guidance of the members back to their colleagues. Interacting with each step of the exhibition-making process over the course of multiple meetings—including curatorial, marketing, education, and more—the committee’s input contributes to the development of exhibition content, communication, and interpretation.

Advisory Committees for upcoming exhibitions are already at work. SAM is grateful for their dedication—and eager to experience how this community-centered model contributes to SAM’s mission to connect art to life.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair

Photo: Natali Wiseman. Pictured, L to R: Ken Workman (Duwamish Tribe), Jarrod Da (San Ildefonso Pueblo), Dr. Charlotte Coté (Tseshaht / Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation), Curator of Native American Art Barbara Brotherton, Double Exposure artist Tracy Rector, Asia Tail (Cherokee Nation), Lydia Sigo (Suquamish Tribe), Madrienne Salgado (Muckleshoot Tribe). Not pictured: Colleen Echohawk-Hayashi (Pawnee Nation / Upper Ahtna Athabascan), Andy Everson (K’ómoks First Nation), Jason Gobin (Tulalip Tribe), Darrell Hillaire (Lummi Nation).

 

Dovey Martinez: Emerging Arts Leader Look at SAM

As I walked towards the Seattle Art Museum to begin my Emerging Arts Leader internship, I was excited. I knew I would be working with the education and curatorial departments, but had only the minutest idea of what the internship would entail. At the staff entrance, I saw the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern for the summer nervously sitting on the couch. As Seohee Kim and I began to get to know each other, it was apparent we had many similarities. We are both passionate about immigrant rights and we both originally intended to take a law career track but found ourselves working in the arts, despite the initial backlash from our parents. I didn’t know it then, but Seohee and I would become an inseparable and fierce duo.

Everyone we met was genuine, welcoming, caring, and passionate. I honestly could not believe my eyes, it seemed almost suspicious. The education department glows with kindness and a love for the Seattle Art Museum’s mission to connect art to life. I went to college in Connecticut, and although I was raised in Seattle, I didn’t have many friends or connections with the arts community. This quickly changed. I could share with you about how I gained professional experience using The Museum System to research and organize objects. I could tell you about the meetings I sat in on where my voice mattered and my opinions were valued. I could tell you how I learned about the behind-the-scenes work that most people don’t know about. I could tell you how this internship opened my eyes to a possible career path that I would’ve never known about prior to this summer: exhibition design. I could write about each of these topics, but I want to focus on the amazing events that allowed me to get involved with the Seattle community and touched my heart with the amount of support and healing that took place at these events.

Three events, in particular, had a strong impact on me; the [Black] Power Summit, the Creative Advantage, and Remix. The Power Summit was a health and wellness conference for Seattle’s Black community. The first panel was one on mental health and mindfulness. The panel spoke about generational trauma and the stigma behind mental illness within the Black community. I could relate to these trends within the Latinx community. Often times, our parents work so hard to provide for our families that they dwell in survival mode. When we are raised in households where mental illnesses are stigmatized, we feel as if we are a burden to our family if we bring up issues we may be facing. As we keep hiding, the marble-sized issue becomes a bowling ball. One panelist suggested that we sit with our discomfort and strip it of its power over us. The trauma may still be present in the form of memories or thoughts, but it will no longer have power over our ability to thrive.

If you’ve never been to Remix, just know you’re sleeping! Remix is a beautiful event in which many people come together to share the dance floor, art activities, tours, drinks, as well as their most fly outfits. I loved the art activities, but what really impacted me was the dancing. With performing artists such as the Purple Lemonade Collective, Bouton Volonté, and Randy Ford, the dance floor was throbbing with presence and beauty. When the dancers dipped, catwalked, and, yes, even twerked, a semi-circle formed around them of mainly white allies. Space was created for queer and trans people of color to exist, express their passion, make art, and share joy. As they created magic with their bodies, the viewers cheered and recorded, but mainly they yelled words of encouragement and awe. This wonderful space for marginalized groups to feel at ease within a large group of white folks didn’t feel uncomfortable or unwelcoming though. At that moment, race, gender, and sexuality were being praised and we were allowed to take up space with the knowledge that our allies are there to support us. If I wasn’t so busy sweating through my orange romper from all the dancing, I probably would have shed a tear of joy and love.

The Seattle Art Museum is a highly inclusive environment that truly values racial equity. The institution is not building inclusive spaces or challenging our thinking because it is the trendy thing to do. The Seattle Art museum genuinely values equity work, from the director of the museum to interns like me and Seohee, and in between. This experience was one of healing for me after graduating from an institution on the East Coast that lacked passion for equality and often protests had to occur to demand visibility for underrepresented groups. The Seattle Art Museum is taking a stand and a leadership role to highlight and welcome all identities. When the mission statement says that the Seattle Art Museum connects art to our lives, I understand that they connect art to our lives because they know that our lives matter and want to be a space for healing, learning, and unity.

– Dovey Martinez, SAM 2018 Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Photos: Natali Wiseman

 

SAM Field Trips: Native Art You Need to See Now

During Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson, the SAM social team took a few Friday afternoon field trips to visit other museums in Washington that are currently exhibiting work by Native artists. If you missed our Instagram stories, here’s a quick round up of a few exhibitions currently on view around the state that are not to be missed.

Museum of Northwest Art

In Red Ink
Through September 23, 2018

Curated by RYAN! Feddersen and featuring art by Asia Tail and Fox Spears, we just had to stop by for more creative output from these artists who have also been involved with SAM during Double Exposure. The collection of art on view offers a range of styles from contemporary Native artists in a variety of mediums by artists hailing from tribes across the extended Pacific Northwest and beyond. Feddersen is the mastermind behind the Post Human Archive, the social media activity that was installed at SAM.

Asia Tail, also a curator (we can’t wait to see yəhaw̓ at the King Street Station opening in January 2019) is the hand behind the words on the Double Exposure website but we hadn’t seen her art previously! Fox Spears is one of the teaching artists offering free Drop-In Studio workshops at SAM (there’s one more workshop on Sunday led by Sondra Segundo before the exhibition closes) and it was so nice to see this work after learning so much about his process!

Tacoma Art Museum

Native Portraiture: Power and Perception
Through February 10, 2019

 

The lens we look through changes everything. In Native Portraiture, Tacoma Art Museum asks the question: What is communicated when an outsider portrays someone from another culture?

In the galleries you will have the chance to see contemporary Native artists representing Indigenous cultures for themselves. These works are interspersed by a few examples of depictions by non-Native artists that romanticize, stereotype, or appropriate Native people and cultures. We recommend spending at least an hour or two in this gallery to fully absorb the impact of this contrast.

Suquamish Museum

Ancient Shore, Changing Tides
Ongoing

Do yourself a favor and enjoy the ferry and short drive that it takes to get to Suquamish Museum. Well designed and chock-full of information, the permanent installation tells a detailed and important story through movement, textures, the forest environment and the symbolic movement of the tide. The objects on view, many never before exhibited, are a combination of works owned by the Suquamish Museum and on loan from Suquamish families and other museums. The way these objects are arranged creates an environment where you will want to spend some time. The museum describes their goal  as an attempt to “displace the modern way of historical contextual understanding. Culture is more than historical events strung together.  The passing of knowledge and values, generation to generation, is the core of Suquamish culture.” Based on our visit, the Suquamish achieves their goal, and then some!

Where your day trips take you, SAM recommends you make the time to visit the wealth of museums in Washington featuring work by Native artists!

My Favorite Things: C. Davida Ingram on Sonny Assu’s Breakfast Series

“I think the value of Sonny Assu’s piece, Breakfast Series in SAM’s permanent collection, has a lot to do with righting the wrongs of history.” – C. Davida Ingram

Consider the value of contemporary Native art through the perspective of Seattle-based artist, curator, educator, and writer, C. Davida Ingram. Visit SAM’s Native Arts of the Americas galleries and the Art and Life Along the Northwest Coast installation to contextualize Sonny Assu’s Native formline design elements in his representation of Tony the Tiger or the “12 essential lies and deceptions” in his box of Lucky Beads. How does your perspective on food and access to land change as you consider the serious history behind this seemingly lighthearted artwork?

Artwork: “Breakfast Series,” 2006, Sonny Assu (Gwa’gwa’da’ka), Kwakwaka’wakw, Laich-kwil-tach, Wei Wai Kai, born 1975, five boxes digitally printed with Fome-cor, 12 x 7 x 3 in. each, of 5, Gift of Rebecca and Alexander Stewart, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2006.93, © Sonny Assu.

Object of the Week: Needlework Sampler

“What does it actually truly mean to be educated? And what would it mean to decolonize the idea of being educated?” – Chris Jordan

Every artwork has a story. For our Object of the Week Tacoma-based artist Chris Jordan shares Charlotte Turner’s story and asks us to question what education looks like in the face of the violent history of the slave trade. Consider this and more when you visit SAM’s collection and see Needlework Sampler in person. Want to hear more from local artists and creative community members? Check out our My Favorite Things playlist on YouTube for more perspectives on SAM’s collections.

What do you want to do when you grow up? SAM can help with the answer!

Remember when you were in school and everyone nagged you about what you wanted to do when you grew up? You may have known, you may not have known, you may have thought you knew and ended up changing your mind. SAM’s High School Career Day programs differ from others by rejecting the notion that 15 and 16 year-olds need to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Instead we explore the vast career options within a museum whilst creating a space for students to feel okay with the unknown.

SAM’s Equity Team’s Career Days center the interests of aspiring youth while involving staff from across departments and shedding light on the real people who navigate the creative, interesting, and sometimes odd, world of nonprofits, art, and museums. Students have heard from folks in SAM’s Education, Curatorial, Security, and Development departments, as well as from teaching artists, and more!

Our last Career Day on April 25, 2018 was with Mount Rainier High School and 85% of students said this experience helped them better understand their future career interests and plans for after high school. Nearly 70% of students said this experience helped them think about school in a new way, or motivated them to do better in school. Some of the students shared their thoughts with us after their visit!

“I thought about how it would be an interesting job but it made me realize I need to do better in school to become what I want.”

“Learning about the history of some of the art made me understand and find a deeper appreciation for history in school I don’t enjoy.”

“We saw a figures in history exhibit where old paintings had been re-imagined to represent a larger modern community. I’d like to work harder to later represent youth and help educate about identity expression at school.”

Our next Career Day is in November and we will continue to offer this program in the future. If you would like to bring your group to the museum for a Career Day experience, please email us!

– Rayna Mathis, School and Educator Programs Coordinator

Introducing SAM’s 2018 Emerging Arts Leaders

“SAM connects art to life.”

These are the first five words of SAM’s mission statement. Staff and volunteers read these words on the wall every day when arriving at work. It’s the lens through which we view everything we do.

One crucial part of that mission is to work for equity and inclusion within our own walls, knowing that the museum must reflect the community it serves. In 2016, SAM launched the Emerging Arts Leader Internship, a paid internship aimed at candidates who are underrepresented in the museum field. It’s an interdisciplinary internship that allows the intern to interact with diverse aspects of museum work and contribute their unique insights and perspectives. Members of SAM’s Equity Team, representing several departments at the museum, make up the hiring committee for this important internship that is just one way SAM is working to create points of entry into the museum field.

This summer, two more interns begin their work. Near the end of their internship, they’ll lead a free tour in the galleries focusing on some what they’ve learned while contributing to SAM.

Introducing SAM’s 2018 Emerging Arts Leaders:

Dovey Martinez

Born and raised in Seattle, Dovey is triumphantly returning to the city after completing her Bachelor’s in Studio Art at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. As a Honduran American and the child of immigrants, Dovey initially explored becoming an immigration lawyer. Fortunately for the arts and for SAM, she turned her focus to art: to the formal qualities of paint, to depicting the lives of marginalized communities, and to working for equity and inclusion.

Dovey was a member of Rainier Scholars, a Seattle-based college access program. One of her mentors there said this about her work:

“Her paintings convey the real struggle and sacrifice of her family and the millions of other amazing families working in agricultural fields and cleaning houses in order to create opportunities for the next generation of children hoping to benefit from the American promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Thanks to her interest in contemporary art and with working with the public, Dovey will be working primarily with the Curatorial department and with the Education department on public programming.

Seohee Kim

Seohee is preparing to graduate this June from the University of Washington with a degree in Communications and a minor in Diversity. A first-generation Korean American, she grew up in a predominantly white community in the American South. A self-described Third Culture Kid, Seohee had to balance the divergent rules and codes of school and home. It was at college where she learned to “embrace both cultures equally, and to value the challenges as learned opportunities to wield as tools in assisting those who similarly feel wedged between cultural identities.”

Embracing her multifaceted identity and experience is what guides Seohee’s interest in communications, in which she’s excelled. One of her former professors shared,

“Seohee has a longstanding interest in visual cultural production as a medium for communicating about racialized difference. Her schoolwork and previous experiences have long focused on the simultaneous negotiation, power, and disconnections between her various identities.”

Because of her passion for storytelling and multilingual and intercultural fluencies, Seohee will work primarily with the Curatorial and Communications departments, researching and writing about art.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair

Image: Left, Dovey Martinez. Right, Seohee Kim.

Poet Morgan Parker on Mickalene Thomas, Beyonce, and Figuring History

As National Poetry Month comes to a close, if you’re not sure what to read, visit the library inside of the exhibition Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, closing May 13. While there you’ll notice a book of poetry by Morgan Parker titled There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House, 2017). It’s a recent favorite read of this particular copywriter and the cover of the first edition (now sold out) featured a Mickalene Thomas artwork. More importantly, within the pages of this smart, irreverent, and deeply personal collection of poetry is a piece inspired by Thomas, reprinted below! Morgan Parker simultaneously brings great depth to listening to Drake and immense weight to racial discrimination as she fearlessly invokes generations of social injustices within her powerful and playful prose. Parker stopped by the exhibition while visiting Seattle and shared some thoughts on Figuring History as well!

We Don’t Know When We Were Opened (Or, The Origin of the Universe)
after Mickalene Thomas

By Morgan Parker

A sip of liquor from a creek. Saturday syndicated
Good Times, bare legs, colors draped like
an afterthought. We    bright enough to blind you.
Dear anyone, dear high-heel metronome, white
noise, hush us, shhhhh, hush us. We’re artisinal
crafts, rare gems, bed of leafy bush you call
us           superfood. Jeweled lips, we’re rich
We’re everyone. We have ideas and vaginas,
history and clothes and a mother. Portrait-ready
American blues. Palm trees and back issues
of JET, pink lotion, gin on ice, zebras, fig lipstick.
One day we learned to migrate. One day we studied
Mamma making her face. Bright new brown, scent of Nana
and cinnamon. Shadows of husbands and vineyards,
records curated to our allure, incense, unconcern.
Champagne is how the Xanax goes down, royal blue
reigning. We’re begging anyone not to forget
we’re turned on with control. We better homes and gardens.
We real grown. We garden of soiled panties.
We low hum of satisfaction. We is is is is is is is is
touch, touch, shine, a little taste. You’re gonna
give us the love we need.

SAM: Reading We Don’t Know When We Were Opened there’s a lot of assonance that creates repetition and fragmentation that feels to me like a sonic equivalent to Mickalene’s visual fragmentation. What in Thomas’ work inspired you and this poem, formally or thematically?

Morgan Parker: I’ve always loved Mickalene’s work, for the glitter and the color and the attention and the audaciousness. Her work is a celebration, and it’s also a politically intentional decolonization of the art history canon. She builds new worlds and revels in those worlds. I wanted my poem to reflect her work and add to it, translate it in my own words.

How do you think the persona poem and the way that Mickalene Thomas casts her models as art historical figures and tropes relate? Mickalene’s figures are looking right at you and this alters their role—makes them dimensional, such as in a painting like Tamika sur une chaise longue avec Monet. Where do you think that same dimension lives persona poems?

God I love this painting. I like to think of all my first-person poems as playing with dimensionality. I’m interested in using the singular figure, or voice, to call up cultural figureheads and historical tropes. Persona poems are an extension of that—they have two first-person speakers.

What stuck with you from your visit to the exhibition? Any lingering or new thoughts?

Kerry James Marshall’s Souvenir I always makes me cry. It was also fantastic to see Robert Colescott’s work in person, as I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I love the way it engages stereotypes and recasts history so playfully and comically. In a different way than Mickalene, there’s trickery in acknowledging the audience’s gaze—that’s something I’ll be thinking over for a while.

 

Morgan Parker is the author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé and Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night. In 2019, a third collection of poems, Magical Negro, will be published by Tin House, and a young adult novel will be published with Delacorte Press. Her debut book of nonfiction will be released in 2020 by OneWorld. Parker is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, winner of a Pushcart Prize, and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. She is the creator and host of Reparations, Live! at the Ace Hotel. With Tommy Pico, she co-curates the Poets with Attitude (PWA) reading series, and with Angel Nafis, she is The Other Black Girl Collective. She lives in Los Angeles.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager

Images: Photo courtesy of Morgan Parker. Photo by Nina Dubinsky. Video: Tamika sur une chaise longue avec Monet, 2012, Mickalene Thomas, Sydney & Walda Besthoff, Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, © Mickalene Thomas. Photo courtesy of Morgan Parker.

Figuring History: The Joy and Exuberance of Black culture

What thoughts has Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas inspired in you? Hear from Seattle artist Benji Anderson, a featured artist in Off the Walls: After Dark at the Seattle Asian Art Museum this past September. We love sharing thoughtful community members’ writing, so please reach out if you would like to send a piece for consideration to be published on the SAM Blog!

In February, as I prepared to enter the Seattle Art Museum for the Community Celebration for Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, what seemed like endless thoughts swirled around in my mind. It was Black History month and opening weekend for the movie Black Panther— the joy and exuberance of Black culture was palpable in the air.

This was in stark contrast to just over a year earlier, when the collective anguish and discontent of Black society was reeling in the wake of the latest barrage of Black bodies murdered in the streets and broadcast in ‘real time’ for all to view. I still recall the gut-wrenching emotion of watching a Black father, murdered in his vehicle, minutes away from where my own father lived. I remember this pain so vividly because it was not the first time I’d felt it. It was not the first time the Black community watched their brothers, fathers, and sons murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. It was not the first time we were dehumanized in the public theater. It was not the first time we were criminalized for being. It was history repeating itself.

 

The weight and memory of historical trauma accompanied me into the museum, tugging at my coat with each breath of Black excellence I inhaled. As I stood in gratitude for Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, and Robert Colescott, I also stood in sorrow of the circumstances that produced such beautiful stories and art. In each historical work I found traces of my own story. In Colescott’s Matthew Henson and the Quest for the North Pole, (pictured at the top of this post) the images of Black bodies being simultaneously brutalized and fetishized depict the story of my great-great-grandmother who was raped by her oppressor, giving birth to my great-grandfather who would later be praised for his “passable” complexion, wavy hair, and light eyes. Marshall’s Souvenir II portrays a cloud of witnesses, prominently featuring Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, hallmarks in the home of my own, and many other Black grandmothers across the country, and emblematic of the complicated socio-political relationship we share with this nation.

In Thomas’ Resist, the Civil Rights era struggle of my parents was laid in front of me through a collage of violent vignettes. As I watched this piece I saw my uncle’s resistance, which left him brutally beaten and jailed for having the audacity to seek a human existence. I also saw my father and his siblings, the first to integrate the school systems in North Carolina. I felt the collective fear and courage he carried with him as the only Black student in his school. And as my chest tightened, breath shortened and fists clinched I remembered where I stood—rooted in the past, squarely in the present, carrying my portion of the mantle of Black excellence. As I gathered myself, I walked out of the museum breathing in the joy and exuberance of Black culture. Each breath gradually healing the wounds of my genetic trauma.

– Benji Anderson, Artist (@benjipnewton)

Benji Anderson is an artist, theologian and philosopher. Three identities that suffered separate existences for much of Benji’s life. Born in the South and raised in the Mid West, his early cultural learnings taught Benji that it was not only prudent, but necessary to compartmentalize his identities. Surprisingly it was through his academic journey that Benji began to fully exist as a being capable of complex, and seemingly contradictory identity. As a Master of Divinity student, Benji embarked on a process of deep self-excavation, which, upon completion of his degree, provided Benji with the license to live authentically.

As theologian and philosopher, Benji is concerned with the quality and depth of life. As artist, Benji concerns himself with the creative expression of his theosophical existence. Using a variety of mediums Benji endeavors to create multi-sensory pieces that thrust the viewer into the experience of the artist – not simply as a voyeur, but as a participant.

 

Images: Installation view of Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photos: Stephanie Fink, Natali Wiseman. Resist, 2017, Mickalene Thomas, rhinestones, acrylic, gold leaf, and oil stick on canvas mounted on wood panel, 84 x 108 x 2 in., © Mickalene Thomas, video: Natali Wiseman. Photo courtesy of Benji Anderson.

Object of the Week: Study for the Munich Olympic Games Poster

I always loved running—it was something you could do by yourself and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.

— Jesse Owens

One of 29 artists commissioned to design a poster for the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Jacob Lawrence chose to highlight the achievements of Black athletes.[1] In his Study for the Munich Olympic Games Poster, five runners, depicted in Lawrence’s characteristic graphic flatness, recall the figurative style of Greek vase painting—an apropos homage on the occasion of the Games of the XX Olympiad.

The iconic colors of the five interlocking Olympic rings—blue, yellow, black, green, and red—recur throughout the study, from batons and jerseys to shorts and shoes. Framed by the curvature of the track, the runners’ physicality and strength are difficult to ignore. Together, their musculature, movement, and form encapsulate the excitement and competitive finish of the relay—where gold, silver, and bronze are determined by mere tenths of seconds.

Known for his stylistic experimentation and depictions of African American life, Lawrence’s commission also has special importance within the context of the Civil Rights Movement and history of the modern Olympic Games. Created only four years after the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics, and on the occasion of the first Olympics held in Germany since 1936, his representation of Black athletes is especially meaningful.

In the 1968 Olympic Games, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos respectively won the gold and bronze medals in the 200 meter race.[2] Upon climbing the podium, with the Star Spangled Banner playing behind them, both Smith and Carlos, donning black gloves, raised their right and left fists and bowed their heads—a symbol of protest and strength on an international stage.[3] Though interpreted by many as an explicit demonstration of Black Power, for Smith, it was a human rights salute: “It was a cry for freedom and human rights. We had to be seen because we couldn’t be heard.”[4]

Just 32 years earlier, in 1936, the Summer Olympics were held in Berlin. Though Germany had won the bid in 1931, prior to the rise of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler’s rhetoric of white supremacy and antisemitism was already well established. For Hitler, the Olympics became a stage upon which Germany could prove his theories of racial superiority. It was within this Olympic setting—in which athletes of color and Jewish heritage were openly discriminated against—that Owens won four gold medals, set two world records, and came away the most successful athlete of that year’s games.

For Smith, Carlos, and Owens, these Olympic victories allowed them to transcend—and publically challenge—the political divisions and discrimination taking place in the United States and abroad. Similarly, Lawrence’s Study for the Munich Games Poster, depicting all Black athletes, is an important work that finds its place within this complicated history of the Olympic Games.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

[1] Other artists included Hans Hartung, Oskar Kokoschka, Pierre Soulages, David Hockney, and Josef Albers, to name just a few.
[2] Tommie Smith won the 200 meter race with a world-record time of 19.83 seconds.
[3] It is believed that Smith raised his right fist, and Carlos his left, to represent Black unity, forming “an arch of unity and power.” BBC News, “1968: Black athletes make silent protest,” http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/october/17/newsid_3535000/3535348.stm.
[4] Rick Campbell, “An Olympic moment—from 1968,” Houston Chronicle, August 5, 2008, http://blog.chron.com/40yearsafter/2008/08/an-olympic-moment-from-1968.
Images: Study for the Munich Olympic Games Poster, 1971, Jacob Lawrence, gouache on paper, 35 1/2 x 27 in., PONCHO, 79.31 © Jacob Lawrence. Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) extend gloved hands skyward during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner in Mexico City on October 16, 1968. Jesse Owens running at 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

 

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