“Neutrality is a fiction.”
On January 26, Laura Raicovich—one of the most progressive art museum leaders I know—resigned as president and ED of the Queens Museum after just three years, citing a lack of support from the board in her vision of the museum as a platform for advancing public discourse around pressing issues in culture, community, and politics. Less than a week later, 38 top museum professionals—I'm among them, along with ICA LA curator Jamillah James, Lucy Lippard, artist Chloë Bass, and Vera List Center for Art and Politics Director Carin Kuoni—penned an open letter in support of Raicovich, affirming the obligation of art institutions "to facilitate the free and safe exchange of ideas about our contemporary world with art as the catalyst."
While it's a good start, I concur with artist and editor Sharon Louden, who tweeted:
It's very unfortunate @LauraRaicovich did not receive support from the board @QueensMuseum. As much as I think this letter is admirable, it's going to take a lot more to encourage boards to be current & progressive. Ultimately, funders need to take notice.
Open Letter on the Resignation of Laura Raicovich from the Queens Museum
Laura Raicovich, as president and executive director of the Queens Museum, has galvanized the museum field: she has demonstrated how cultural institutions can responsibly and creatively embrace artistic as well as social and political matters crucial to their local constituencies while contributing to the field at large. We have been inspired by her work with art, artists, and communities relating to important cultural issues such as immigration, cultural diversity, education, and equity. The example she set will continue to inform our own work.
We are writing to affirm the leadership role of cultural institutions in advancing cultural and social as well as political public discourse. As stewards and advocates of contemporary and historical cultural expressions, we directors, curators, and staff members of cultural institutions, as well as the board members to whom we are accountable, have a particular obligation to facilitate the free and safe exchange of ideas about our contemporary world with art as the catalyst.
In times of political polarization, arts institutions must fully commit to our responsibility to act as empathetic forums in which we come to understand human history, creativity and society. Art institutions must respond to pressing issues facing our communities — this is not simply a right but an obligation, especially for those supported by public funds.
We call on the boards of our cultural institutions to embrace the civic role of our institutions by supporting and empowering courageous and caring leaders such as Laura Raicovich, regardless of their gender. This is more necessary now than at any other point since the civil rights era in the 1950s and 1960s.
Chloë Bass, Social Practice Queens
Omar Berrada, Curator and Director, Dar al-Ma’mûn, Marrakech, Morocco
Rashida Bumbray, Open Society Foundations
Harry Burke, Artists Space
Gonzalo Casals, Executive Director, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
Mary Ceruti, Executive Director and Chief Curator, SculptureCenter
Ken Chen, Executive Director, Asian American Writers’ Workshop
Charles Esche, Director, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Deborah Fisher, Executive Director, A Blade of Grass
Lynn Gumpert, Director, Grey Art Gallery, New York University
Jamillah James, Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Carin Kuoni, Director/Chief Curator, Vera List Center for Art and Politics, The New School
Lydia Matthews, Director, Parsons Curatorial Design Research Lab, The New School
Helen Molesworth, Chief Curator, MOCA, Los Angeles
Amanda Parmer, Curator, Vera List Center for Art and Politics
Sheetal Prajapati, Director of Public Engagement, Pioneer Works
Laurel Ptak, Executive Director & Curator, Art in General
Silvia Rocciolo, Curator, The New School Art Collection
Jay Sanders, Artists Space
Lucía Sanromán, Director of Visual Arts, Yerba Buena Center of the Arts
Paul Schmelzer, Managing Editor, Walker Art Center
Gregory Sholette, Social Practice Queens
Joshua Simon, former Director and Chief Curator, MoBY Museums of Bat Yam, Israel
Marvin J. Taylor, Fales Library, New York University
Joanna Warsza, Artistic Director, Public Art Munich 2018, Germany
Martha Wilson, Founding Director, Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.