Museums must embrace activists or face irrelevancy, former Walker museum director warns in an op-ed.

Isaac Kaplan
May 3, 2018 4:18PM, via the New York Times

Olga Viso took to the pages of the New York Times to argue that to stay relevant, museums must embrace and address the criticisms leveled against them by groups traditionally excluded from institutional structures. And to do that will require gradual but significant shifts in the makeup and perspective of those museums, “especially among donors and museum boards,” Viso writes. She concludes the piece by laying out the stakes:

Art can illuminate the fissures in society and in return offer opportunities for healing. But should artists be the only ones to bear the brunt of this responsibility? If museums want to continue to have a place, they must stop seeing activists as antagonists. They must position themselves as learning communities, not impenetrable centers of self-validating authority.
If they do not, museums run the risk of becoming culturally irrelevant artifacts. Now is the time to be open to radical change. The next wave of decolonizing America’s art museums must succeed, because to lose our capacity for empathy in a democracy is not an option.

Viso left the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis following the controversial construction and then removal of Sam Durant’s Scaffold. The sculpture resembled a gallows and was meant to bring to light an erased history of state violence against indigenous peoples, but garnered criticism from indigenous groups who said it was insensitive to the 1862 hanging of 38 natives of the Dakota tribe in Minnesota. In response, Viso and Durant quickly agreed to remove the work, giving it to the Dakota people to dispose of as they wished.

Isaac Kaplan
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