The Mildred Lane Kemper Museum expresses its solidarity with Black communities in the United States and around the world. The current violent eruption of systemic racism and police brutality is appalling and horrendous. It continues a long history of racism that traumatizes this country through these repeated manifestations. As we mourn the deaths and honor the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Michael Brown, and countless others, we are also very aware that, in this time of acute crisis, political action matters most. It is not enough to listen and talk, although we certainly need to do that too. We have to demonstrate responsibility as members of a democratic society.
Operating from within a university art museum, we have to ask ourselves, How can we—even on a micro level—change racist injustices and inequalities and the abuses of power? For one, we have to act. We must diversify our staff and our audiences, we must examine and modify priorities and policies, and we have to conceive of narratives about art and culture that are inclusive as well as reflective of this divided nation and world, past and present. Importantly, we must wrestle with uncomfortable truths to confront the realities of racism, including our own prejudices and ignorance of others.
At the core of what populates the walls and floors of an art museum is art. How might it help us build bridges, even if we find ourselves in situations of isolation? Art, as we know, brings to visibility parallel universes through which we can engage with models of a world where individual and collective freedoms are possible. Politically activist art in the tradition of the documentary directly condemns the restriction of civic rights and antidemocratic action. Still, artworks do not supply easy or straightforward answers, and in this way they challenge us to take responsibility for society in its full range.
Black Lives Matter.
William T. Kemper Director and Chief Curator