arts

We Tagged Along With Florie Hutchinson, San Francisco Arts Expert, to View FOG and Much More


If you want an expertly guided crash course in the San Francisco art scene, look no further than Florie Hutchinson, a mother of four and arts publicist extraordinaire with her finger firmly on the pulse of Bay Area arts and culture.

A passionate advocate for artists and feminist causes—she conceived of and successfully campaigned for the adoption of an official emoji of a women’s ballet flat—Hutchinson has a keen eye for data and numbers, which she believes makes a strong case for San Francisco as a major art market capital.

”A lot of people don’t realize that San Francisco has under a million people. The population is 815,000. But our GDP—I was looking this up today—is $577 billion,” Hutchinson told Midnight Publishing Group News. “That’s a lot of punching power on a per capita basis. So there’s no question that the disposable income is here, there’s no question that the intellectual capital is here, and where there’s intellectual capital, there’s curiosity, and curiosity and contemporary art are natural bedfellows!”

When I touched down at the San Francisco airport the afternoon of the first day of FOG Design and Art, the city’s pre-eminent art fair, Hutchinson was there to pick me up in her Tesla Model X, with a full day’s itinerary of art activities to squeeze into the few hours before we were due at the opening gala.

Florie Hutchinson and Micki Meng at "Omari Douglin: The People of New York City." Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Florie Hutchinson and Micki Meng at “Omari Douglin: The People of New York City.” Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Hutchinson has lived in Palo Alto down on the San Francisco peninsula since 2014, when her husband, Ben Hutchinson, founded a financial tech startup. At the time, their daughters were two and five months years old. Two more girls have since joined the brood, and the family has purchased and renovated a historic, beautifully appointed Joseph Eichler home that has been featured in the London Times, Elle Decor, and Wallpaper.

Prior to settling on the West Coast, the couple had previously lived in London (he is British), where Hutchinson (Swiss-American) had spent three years running an agency with Carrie Rees (who now runs the London arts communications firm Rees and Co).

But while Hutchinson had a built-in group of close college friends who lived on the peninsula, she had to build out her professional network in her new home from scratch.

Omari Douglin, <em>Birkin Sermon Manifestation</em> (2022). Photo courtesy of Micki Meng Gallery, San Francisco.

Omari Douglin, Birkin Sermon Manifestation (2022). Photo courtesy of Micki Meng Gallery, San Francisco.

Our first stop of the day, coincidentally, was with the first contact she made, curator Micki Meng. They met when Hutchinson went to visit the Wattis Institute at the California College of the Arts in the hopes of buying a limited edition work, and, when she couldn’t find anyone at the front desk, poked her head into the back room.

“I introduced myself to Micki, and that conversation turned into three hours, and immediate friendship!” Hutchinson recalled.

Meng was waiting for us with sandwiches and dill-flavored potato chips in the Bayview location of her gallery, which she opened in Chinatown in 2019. The second space, housed in an old woodworking studio, is currently showing a selection of new diptychs by Los Angeles artist Omari Douglin, inspired by his native city of New York.

Koak with two of her paintings at her solo show at Altman Siegel in San Francisco. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Koak with two of her paintings at her solo show at Altman Siegel in San Francisco. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Then it was off to Altman Siegel, one of 15 galleries at the Minnesota Street Project. (Owner Claudia Altman-Siegel was another early Bay Area connection—the two bonded over both having young children when the dealer spotted some spit-up on Hutchinson’s shoulder at a gallery opening at Jessica Silverman.)

The gallery had just opened a pair of exhibitions, including one of cartoon-like paintings and vaguely Seussian sculptures by local artist Koak. She was there to give us a tour of the show, which she described as being about “stress, anxiety, and human disaster.”

The other show was the gallery’s first time working with the estate of Beth Van Hoesen, who was born in Boise, Idaho, in 1926, but spent much of her life living in a former firehouse in San Francisco’s Castro District.

Beth Van Hoesen, <em>Sister Zsa Zsa Glamour</em> (1997). Photo courtesy of Altman Siegel, San Francisco.

Beth Van Hoesen, Sister Zsa Zsa Glamour (1997). Photo courtesy of Altman Siegel, San Francisco.

The gallery is donating a portion of the sales of her delicate drawings of her friends and neighbors, which form a poignant portrait of the Castor’s queer community in the 1980s, to the Rainbow Honor Walk, a nonprofit that celebrates LGTBQ history with bronze sidewalk plaques throughout the neighborhood.

Next door to Altman-Siegel was the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, a space dedicated to the private collection of Nion McEvoy and his family.

“He’s a beloved figure in the Bay Area. That generation cares deeply about keeping the arts ecosystem here alive and thriving,” Hutchinson said as we took in the current group show “Color Code.” Curated in celebration of the foundation’s fifth anniversary, it featured new commissions by Bay Area artists Sadie Barnette, Angela Hennessy, Clare Rojas, and Zio Ziegler, as well as other selections from the collection.

Sadie Barnette, <em>Family Tree II</eM> 2022. Photo by Henrik Kam, courtesy of the artist; Jessica Silverman, San Francisco; and McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco.

Sadie Barnette, Family Tree II 2022. Photo by Henrik Kam, courtesy of the artist; Jessica Silverman, San Francisco; and McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco.

As the day continued, it became clear that Hutchinson is a never-ending fount of knowledge about who’s who in the Bay Area, and what connects them. We didn’t have time to pop in the Minnesota Street Project’s main gallery campus, but as we drove by, I mentioned that I had loved one of the shows I had seen on my last visit to the Bay—Gay Block’s “Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust” at Jack Fischer Gallery.

The show was spearheaded and funded, Hutchinson informed me, by Pamela Hornik, a Palo Alto art collector and arts philanthropist. Hornik had seen some of the photos, taken in the late ’80s, and was captivated by the story they told, of ordinary men and women across Europe who risked everything to hide Jews from the Nazis.

Later at the gala, Hutchinson would introduce me to Hornik, who is such a booster of the local art scene that she literally volunteers to greet visitors at the front desk of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, where she is a board member.

“It’s my favorite thing to do,” Hornik told me.

Artist Sarah Meyohas was walking by and I enlisted her to join this photo with Florie Hutchinson and Lisa Ellsworth outside "Kija Lucas at the Guardhouse." Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Artist Sarah Meyohas was walking by and I enlisted her to join this photo with Florie Hutchinson and Lisa Ellsworth outside “Kija Lucas at the Guardhouse.” Photo by Sarah Cascone.

But before we got to the fair, we stopped first at the entrance of the venue, the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, to check out the Guardhouse. The tiny, 100-square-foot building dates to 1926, not long after the site, now administered by the National Park Service, opened as an army base.

This week marked the opening of the first in a new series of artist takeovers of the diminutive space, responding to the site’s natural and cultural history, organized by the FOR-SITE Foundation, an art nonprofit founded by San Francisco art dealer Cheryl Haines in 2003.

Local artist Kija Lucas had covered the walls with a gorgeous botanical wallpaper featuring plants like fennel and English ivy—familiar to any Bay Area resident, but actually invasive.

“These plants suggest home for a lot of us, but they have complicated histories,” curator Lisa Ellsworth told us during a tour of the show, which can only be seen through the Guardhouse windows.

Installation of "Kija Lucas at the Guardhouse." Photo courtesy of FOR-SITE Foundation, San Francisco.

Installation of “Kija Lucas at the Guardhouse.” Photo courtesy of FOR-SITE Foundation, San Francisco.

It also features Lucas’s framed photos of native species like the endangered Franciscan manzanita, and of the tools used by staff at the Presidio Nursery at Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy to propagate and tend to these indigenous plants.

Reflecting on the whirlwind day, the exhibition almost seems like a metaphor for San Francisco during FOG. By which I mean local artists and art organizations—carefully tended by the area’s dedicated art enthusiasts, such as Hutchinson—still in bloom amid transplants from all over the world.

Omari Douglin: The People of New York City” is on view at Micki Meng, Bayview, 1720 Armstrong Ave #1A, San Francisco, California, December 16, 2022–January 27, 2023.

“Koak: Letter to Myself (when the world is on fire)” and “Beth Van Hoesen: Punks and Sisters” are on view at Altman-Siegel, Minnesota Street Project, 1150 25th Street, San Francisco, California, January 17–February 25, 2023.

“Color Code” is on view at the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, Minnesota Street Project, 1150 25th Street, Building B, San Francisco.

Kija Lucas at the Guardhouse” is on view at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, Festival Pavilion, 2 Marina Boulevard, January 14–March 12, 2023.

FOG Design and Art is on view at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, Festival Pavilion, 2 Marina Boulevard, Landmark Building C, Suite 260, San Francisco, California, January 18–22, 2023.

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The U.K. Government’s Decision to Slash Arts Funding in Higher Education Is Short-Sighted. We Must Remind Our Politicians Why Art Is Essential


With the news that the U.K. government will be progressing with their brutal 50 percent cuts to arts and design courses across higher education in England, you might ask why, in the 21st century, the year 2021, the culture sector has to keep defending its obvious value to society.

It is certainly not that the U.K. government does not understand arts and culture’s economic worth, when it adds more than £10.8 billion to the economy, and creates hundreds of thousands of jobs every year. The government acknowledged this value when it established protective measures for the sector through the Culture Recovery Fund during the pandemic. However, when workers in our sector—especially independent art workers, artists, curators, producers and academics—are barely surviving, it is clear that the government still doesn’t understand the essential role our industry plays in society.

Halving subsidies to all arts courses in higher education will save the government just over £20 million while causing long-lasting changes to the face of one of the U.K.’s most important and vibrant industries. With the ratification of these cuts, the Conservative government has made an incredibly short-sighted decision that betrays its lack of overall vision of arts and culture in our society.

To begin with, that £20 million saved is a drop in the ocean considering the GDP impact of the arts sector. Research has shown that for every 10 jobs in creative industries, a further seven are supported through supply chains.

Further, the department for education has made a decision that sets sciences and the arts at opposite poles, and fails to recognize the important interdisciplinary experimentation that has helped to inspire, progress, and innovate both industries for centuries.

Arts education is not exclusive to artists. Being arts educated means you are a critical thinker who can distil, question, challenge, and strive for change. These are transferable attributes that benefit many sectors. Challenging ideas, constructs, and the way our society works, is what makes for innovative enterprise, which is why this country can thank its art schools for nurturing some of the most recognized innovators of our time—with figures from James Dyson having studied at the Royal College of Art to Apple designer Jonathan Ive, who studied art and design at Northumbria University. By cutting funding in this way, we risk extinguishing the talent of tomorrow.

The impact of the cuts on both students and institutions across the country will be vast. On top of the financial devastation of the pandemic on specialist art schools and colleges across the country, this will see higher education provision shrink. Not only does this devalue the sector at the academic level; it creates inequality for people who are marginalized, and will have less access to high-quality arts education on their doorstep.

“Levelling up”—referring to investment in improving life beyond the capital city of London—is the key buzz word of this government, but it has failed to recognize that arts colleges and universities have been truly levelling up their hometowns and making vital contributions to placemaking and investments through sports and culture for generations. Ensuring regional hubs such as Plymouth, Southampton, or Coventry have a future post-industrial age or disinvestment has historically been a core role of their universities and arts colleges. It has changed many people’s real-life experiences in these places: both social and economic. So, if a regional university cuts its art course, it cuts its value in that place.

It seems this policy decision has been based solely on the graduate income and the repayment of student loans. But a creative career does not follow a linear path. This process of discovery and development is part of the nature of the arts, and it should not compromise our ability to maintain excellence in our arts education system. The high standard of culture in the U.K. has been taken for granted by those in leadership, and while they may sit on the boards of our national galleries and museums, these cuts demonstrate their disregard toward those who have brought the U.K.’s art sector to the world-leading position it occupies today.

To unite the sector and advocate for ourselves as an industry during the pandemic, my organization established the #ArtIsEssential campaign, supported by a newly formed Visual Arts Alliance. Our discussions have brought people together, and revealed some of the tough challenges colleagues face in managing the weight of the pandemic financially and emotionally with loss of income, community, future projects, and a lack of support. More than 4,000 people contributed to our online campaign inviting people to share visual representations of why art is essential in their lives.

Our campaign has now evolved to a vocal protest against the devaluing of the arts by our own government. The higher education arts sector is concerned that further considerable policy challenges will damage a world-class higher education system, without involving the sector itself in any discussion or democratic role in this step change to our industry.

When the education secretary Gavin Williamson first proposed to reduce subsidies for art and design students in higher education by 50 percent, we activated the network. Leaders of galleries, universities, museums, and institutions across the country from the Tate, Serpentine and BALTIC to Goldsmiths, Central Saint Martin’s, and the Slade signed an open letter decrying the move.

The Visual Arts Alliance will be challenging this decision, and there will be a rebuttal. We urge people across the U.K. to keep talking to your local representatives explaining why Art Is Essential. We need leaders across industries to continue to articulate and reinforce why the arts are so important to society, and remind those in power that culture is for everybody, and must never be taken for granted.

Paula Orrell is the director of the Contemporary Visual Arts Network, England.

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Arts Philanthropists Need to Change the Way They Think About Disability. Let’s Start by Collaborating With Disabled Artists


Traditional thinking tends to frame disability in the arts as a deficit of one form or another. It acknowledges a lack of disability visibility, a lack of professional and training opportunities, a lack of support, and a plenitude of longstanding, seemingly unsolvable problems. It recognizes that the challenges disabled creatives face, from employment to access to resources, have been laid bare and made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Americans for the Arts’s pandemic research, disabled creatives are anticipating lower annual income ($16,000 total annually) and higher full unemployment (67 percent) than their nondisabled peers.

But these data points are only part of the story. And if, as a culture, we allow this information to be the primary determinant of contemporary philanthropic and artistic practices, it risks further compounding inequity. 

<i>Hi, Are You Single?</i> (2017). Production still from Ryan Haddad's solo play Hi, Are You Single? Photo by Michael Bernstein. Image description: Under cool stage lighting, Ryan Haddad sits at the end of a bed beside his metallic walker. He wears square glasses, a teal polo, patterned shorts, and lower leg braces.

Hi, Are You Single? (2017). Production still from Ryan Haddad’s solo play, “Hi, Are You Single?” Photo by Michael Bernstein. Image description: Under cool stage lighting, Ryan Haddad sits at the end of a bed beside his metallic walker. He wears square glasses, a teal polo, patterned shorts, and lower leg braces.

The Real Problem

Framing disability in this way—as a series of deficits—adds to the problematic thinking that interprets access as questions of patron services, facilities, or technology. Disabled artists have been identified as absences, and, with the best will in the world, some organizations with the means to do so have sought to address this absence by welcoming select disabled artists. But inclusion or the presence of a few disabled artists does not redress years of inequity and inattention. Such gestures are performative and tokenizing.   

If we focus on disability as a problem, we will never know the artistry, ideas, and pure brilliance of a large part of the creative world. The question is not how to include disabled artists. The fundamental question is, how do we build our cultural spaces and aesthetic frames in such a way that we move towards equity and adopt a Disability Justice framework? 

We want to consider intersectional disability in the arts in all of its raw, conflicting, and provocative multiplicity, and draw attention to our history of cultural production, our artistic sensibilities, and aesthetic intuitions. The wisdom of disability and expertise of disabled artists are in part that we are not monoliths subject to single cultural narratives.

What might the future hold if we commit to disability as an artistic and generative force? What does it look like if artistic, disability, and philanthropic communities work together? 

Time is something disabled people experience expansively, and dreaming our future should not have to be a radical act. 

We’re writing this together, as an artist and a funder, to invite you to dream big with us. We’re a part of Disability Futures, a new fellowship initiative funded by the Ford Foundation and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by United States Artists. The learnings of the first year of this fellowship could offer a template for change that would transform the practice of support for disabled artists. 

Alice Sheppard. Image description: A Black woman leans forward and smiles brightly, teeth showing and eyes closed, as she rests her chin in her palm. She has light brown skin, curly shoulder-length hair with subtle highlights, and wears a black blouse and sleek gold necklace.

Artist Alice Sheppard. Image description: A Black woman leans forward and smiles brightly, teeth showing and eyes closed, as she rests her chin in her palm. She has light brown skin, curly shoulder-length hair with subtle highlights, and wears a black blouse and sleek gold necklace.

Nothing Without Disabled Creatives

There is a mantra, “nothing about us without us,” coined by disability advocates in South Africa in the 1980s. Reframed by contemporary activists as “nothing without us,” this principle attests to the fact that disabled people know what is best for ourselves and our communities. When it comes to the arts, this means reimagining everything about the way that business has been done. 

There are some easy recommendations: employers must hire disabled staff. Boards must elect disabled members. Funders must invite disabled creatives to join advisory groups and the panels that decide funding allocations, and compensate us for our time. 

But even before we arrive in these places, there must be space and willingness to transform. Adding disabled staff does not create change unless an organization and its people are willing to change. Deep structural transformation is necessary. Deep reeducation is necessary. Complex re-envisioning of the very things that seem unchangeable is necessary. Now is not the time for stopgap measures or window dressing.

Lane Harwell. Image description: A nondisabled presenting white person with short blond hair and blue eyes behind black rim glasses smiles at the camera. They are wearing a white collared shirt with a light blue bowtie and a dark blue blazer against a red background.

The Ford Foundation’s Lane Harwell. Image description: A nondisabled-presenting white person with short blond hair and blue eyes behind black rim glasses smiles at the camera. They are wearing a white collared shirt with a light blue bowtie and a dark blue blazer against a red background.

To build a new future, funders must collaborate with disabled creatives to reimagine such fundamentals as application and review processes, restricted and unrestricted funding, time, process and product, as well as other creative support structures. Nothing can be assumed. Nothing should be left unexamined. Everything is—and should be—open to reimagination.

Disability Futures is for, by, and with disabled creatives on many levels. Each of the 20 inaugural fellows received an unrestricted grant. For the Disability Futures Festival, which runs July 19–20, Ford and United States Artists employed a “nothing without us” curatorial approach, inviting the fellows to spotlight their artistry and saying yes to the production, access, and financial resources they need. The result is a disability-led dance party, performances, and conversations that could spark a new kind of dialogue between creatives, funders, and gatekeepers.

 

Understanding What Access Really Means 

Transforming support for disabled creatives may start by looking inward. We need to educate ourselves about ableism and audism, be vulnerable, and understand how our personal relationships to disability have influenced our public work. 

For Lane, the work has shifted them from identifying as nondisabled to claiming their disability identity and anxiety and depressive disorders, and mining how this identity is bound up with their white privilege, queerness, and gender expression. Showing up is an ongoing process; it can be joyous, it can be painful. Everything that we learn will affect the ways we work.   

(do not) despair solo (2018). Performance, Abrons Art Center. Image credit: Ian Douglas. Image Description: On stage, Perel leans across their cane in front of an X-Ray projection showing screws and a rod inside of a hip socket. They wear black leather pants, and a golden sleeveless top lit up by a pink light from the side.

(do not) despair solo (2018). Performance, Abrons Art Center. Image credit: Ian Douglas. Image Description: On stage, Perel leans across their cane in front of an X-Ray projection showing screws and a rod inside of a hip socket. They wear black leather pants, and a golden sleeveless top lit up by a pink light from the side.

Disability intersects with every contemporary issue, from abolition and education to healthcare, policing, transportation, and climate justice. Through Disability Futures, Ford has had to learn to think of access as a language, not a solution, and work through how it impacts the institution as a whole. 

Access is fundamental to our human connection with one another. If funders cannot invest in that, there is no point.

Investment and innovation in this space, including disability-led technology, is one way to connect disabled creatives and audiences. But we cannot rely on technology as a fix; access is more than a matter of compliance, checklists, or technologies tacked on to make creative work accessible to patrons. Instead, we must put aside our assumptions about what works and prepare for a time of artist-led discovery. 

Disability Futures was conceived prior to COVID-19, but the meaning, the configuration, and experience of the fellowship took place during the pandemic. The virtual festival of conversations and gatherings invites audiences to meet a powerful group of Deaf and disabled artists in a format well-known to the disability community even before the pandemic. And so it’s with the intersection of the festival, funders, the pandemic, and disabled artists that we begin.

 

Lane Harwell is a program officer at Ford Foundation. Alice Sheppard is a choreographer and an inaugural Disability Futures Fellow.

The Disability Futures Festival will take place online from July 19 to 20.

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Anti-Black Discrimination and Toxic Workplaces Are All Too Common in the Arts Administration Field


For the last 15 years, I have been creating artwork about systemic racism and have shown it in major museums across the country. I gave a TED talk on the topic that’s been viewed almost 2 million times. I’ve given lectures, been on panels, and led workshops on the long-term impact of enslavement in this country and its racist legacy. But I’ve never publicly shared my personal experience with racism until now.

Ten years ago, I couldn’t afford to tell my story. People who speak out about workplace harassment rarely come out of the situation well. They are labeled as troublemakers, often blamed for what happened, retaliated against, or are blacklisted or blackballed. I am fortunate to be at a place in my career where I can speak the truth.

I’m telling my story now because it appears to me that little has changed in the bureaucracy where I worked. As far as I am concerned, it remains a hostile work environment. It seems that there aren’t consequences, and there are even rewards, for such behavior, while there are no “safe” mechanisms for reporting.

In 2007, I was hired as the Community Arts Liaison at the Office of Arts & Culture for the City of Seattle. I was responsible for two grant funding programs and a festival. I enjoyed connecting with communities across the city, and I loved seeing how small grants could assist individuals as well as neighborhood community organizations achieve their goals for an art project, festival, or event. I was the first Black male program manager in the office’s 35-year history, and felt a great deal of pride in breaking that barrier.

I enjoyed my job up until 2011, when Michael Killoren, director of the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, left for a job at the National Endowment for the Arts. With the arrival of the new director, Vincent E. Kitch, I felt the dynamic in the office quickly shift. Kitch’s style was to be very hands-on, and he sought to expand his authority to include regulating the activities of artist-employees outside the office. When I was asked to design the official poster for a local festival, Kitch wanted me to turn down the opportunity, citing a perceived conflict of interest. The Ethics and Elections Office found no conflict, however. I accepted the commission.

Paul Rucker designed posted for Bumbershoot 2011.

Paul Rucker-designed posted for Bumbershoot 2011.

Kitch apparently wasn’t satisfied with this outcome (in fact later he would attempt to draw up a new policy restricting outside work). A coworker, Kathy Hsieh, formerly my peer, was promoted above me as a supervisor. There was no open hiring call (internal or external) for her position. After four years of employment with excellent performance reviews and no disciplinary actions, I suddenly received a series of write ups and “personnel notes” that served to create a record of negative behavior. This technique is called “papering your file.” My new supervisor wrote me up multiple times over a very short period of time, sometimes including more than one date on a “personnel note” to suggest that the issues were repeat offenses. Routine requests for vacation or leave suddenly became outright confrontations.

It took weeks, and many requests, to actually get copies of my files from Hsieh in order to find out what had been written. When I finally received them, I was stunned. The negative documents included a written reprimand, three personnel assessment notes totaling thirteen pages, and a mid-year performance review that included misinformation, misspellings, and ramblings. One of the most concerning sections involved the supervisor portraying me as a troublemaker and suggesting my behavior and mental state were related to my history as a descendant of enslaved people, using the idea of “post-traumatic-slave-syndrome.”

Referring to the Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), the City’s commitment to eliminate racial disparities and achieve racial equity in Seattle, she wrote, “My honest assessment is that he is exhibiting signs of what in RSJI lingo is referred to as post-traumatic-slave-syndrome. When he perceives that he is a target is [sic] reacts defensively and does not act reasonably.”

As a Black man in the US, I’ve always proactively cared for my mental health. During the height of the tension in the office, I experienced anxiety, loss of sleep, and panic attacks. I once loved going to work; now I felt sick at the thought of entering the office. At one point, I had to take a few days off and sought medical support. I took vacation rather than medical leave, because to take medical leave I would have needed to provide a note from my doctor and this was no time to share information about my mental health to the people who were causing harm to my mental health.

I have had great career success, but I caution anyone against using me as an example of “how you can make it” because my story is not the norm. Finding no success in stopping the harassment, I decided it was time to move on. Fortunately, before I left I was granted a prestigious award from Creative Capital, an organization that supports “innovative and adventurous artists.” Just seven months after I left, in January 2012 and only 16 months after his arrival, Vincent E. Kitch resigned as Director of the Office of Arts and Culture without giving a reason.

As a Black employee you’re scrutinized more than others. As someone who moved to Seattle and worked his way up from being a janitor at the Seattle Art Museum, I’ve seen firsthand the structural barriers that are put in place that don’t allow equitable access to employment. It’s not only explicit acts of racism. It’s conflicts of interest, cronyism, protectionism, pay inequity, and fraud, often enacted by people in leadership who are the very ones in charge of policing others. Gatekeeping practices are what keeps systemic racism in place.

Unfortunately, my experience working for the City of Seattle was not unique. In 2017, a group of courageous women formed the Seattle Silence Breakers, sharing stories of sexual harassment working for Seattle City Light, Seattle’s public utility company. Extensive reporting by outlets such as Crosscut found a “toxic” environment in Seattle government, even quoting four former employees of color about the abusive environment and saying that their experiences were “‘bellwethers’ for deeper issues.”

In response, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan ordered a study of workplace climate among city employees. The findings were released August 1, 2018, and revealed racial and gender discrimination. Particularly noteworthy to me was the finding that 32 percent of Black city employees who responded to the survey said they had experienced different treatment based on race. “I’ve experienced it,” one woman, Tia Jones, told the Seattle Times. “The same question I ask and get labeled a troublemaker for, being a woman of color… when [other employees] ask that, there are no negative outcomes.”

Recurring themes from the report included mistrust of HR, mistrust of management, and fear of retaliation. Among the recommendations provided in the report, the need for a safe reporting mechanism seemed to me especially relevant. In preparation for this piece, I spoke with an official currently in Human Resources. They noted challenges in dealing with bad actors including the fact that the thousands of employees in Seattle government was a lot of people to supervise, and that there had been an increase in reports of harassment since the Silence Breakers broke the ice. When asked about improvements, they could not point to any policy changes since the 2018 report.

In my own case, I had reached out for help to Human Resources and Personnel. Both of these departments often stalled or ignored my requests for information, documentation, or basic assistance. It seemed to me that “losing” information was also a problem, possibly even a tactic. I had one meeting with human resources and asked for a copy of our talk only to find that no record of our talk had been kept, even though the person I talked with took notes. In one case I had to hire a lawyer to get a report that should have been public information. Not everyone can afford legal fees in order to get justice. I wrote a letter to then mayor Mike McGinn alerting him to what was happening in the office and asking for assistance but got no response. I shared information with a few Seattle City Council members and members of the Seattle Arts Commission before realizing that there was nowhere to turn for help.

Why am I speaking out now, years later? Recent events have made it clear how important telling such stories is. I hope this article encourages folks to speak out, but the truth is, the system in place is designed to ignore and bury calls for help. While there are protections for union members and civil servants, these policies or procedures can unfortunately also be abused by delaying or preventing the termination of those that engage in harassment. I saved and documented my own harassment, without knowing if I’d ever have the need or opportunity to share it. This abuse of power occurs far too often.

We must move beyond the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion template. Many of the people who escape accountability use DEI language as a disguise. It is used to write the same statement over and over again, while little to no action is taken to ensure a safe working environment. This experience of systemic racism is not unique to Seattle, or the arts; it’s everywhere. It’s not just a few bad apples, but whole trees in the orchard. We can fix this, but we need the courage, and the will to acknowledge what we’ve accepted as regular human behavior for years is truly harmful.

Paul Rucker is Curator for Creative Collaboration at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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Sculptor Alex Da Corte Brought a Bright Blue Big Bird to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Rooftop—See Images Here


In the 1985 film Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird, Big Bird gets kidnapped by a traveling circus. Its owners paint him blue, cage him, and force him to sing the song “I’m So Blue” for their audience.

Thankfully, Big Bird seems to have made his escape in Alex Da Corte‘s new roof garden commission for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He perches in all his feathered glory atop a crescent moon and clutches a ladder as he floats through space, balanced atop a fully functioning Alexander Calder-style mobile. The ladder suggests that he is not stranded, and that he has the ability to end his isolation.

“It’s a surrogate for where we are collectively at this moment, kind of contemplating a future and not knowing what we’re facing—really, a sense of vulnerability,” Shanay Jhaveri, the museum’s assistant curator of international Modern and contemporary art, told Midnight Publishing Group News. “It’s about this idea of looking out at new horizons.”

The sculpture, As Long as the Sun Lasts, is named for a Italo Calvino’s short story about intergalactic travelers searching for a planet to call home.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“Alex began the project at the height of the pandemic,” Jhaveri said. “He thought the work should speak to the future and also encapsulate our own sense of vulnerability and confronting uncertainty.”

The 40-year-old artist chose to paint Big Bird’s feathers blue not only because of the Sesame Street film, but also in reference to the Muppet’s Brazilian cousin, Garibaldo, which Da Corte watched as a child in Venezuela, as well as the color’s traditional associations with sadness.

The piece’s melancholic feel is offset with a sense of whimsy, with the base of the mobile built to look like the interlocking plastic walls of a Little Tykes Outdoor Activity Gym—another ’80s relic. It’s signed with Da Corte’s take on Calder’s signature monogram, and the number 69, in reference to the year of the moon landing, the first episode of Sesame Street, and when Da Corte’s father immigrated to the U.S.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“Alex wanted to touch upon the liveliness and the unpredictability that is so much at the heart of Calder’s practice, but also the playfulness,” Jhaveri said.

Fabricating the piece was a challenge, from producing Big Bird’s 7,000 individually placed aluminum feathers to achieving the perfect balance of the mobile, which spins gently in the breeze.

“It was very important that it had to move, but not be mechanized,” Jhaveri said. “It had to be something that  responded to the air currents and moved intermittently, because in life, things happen intermittently—it’s not instant.”

See more photos of the work below.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Anna-Marie Kellen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view. Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts for the 2021 Roof Garden Commission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, installation view (detail). Photo by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“The Roof Garden Commission: Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts” is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, April 16–October 31, 2021. 

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