Tue December 1st
A couple of days ago, James McAnally shared an essay on Hyperallergic entitled “A Call for a Collective Reexamination of our Art Institutions.” He fuels this provocative plea to action by calling into question the Kelly Walker exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) in St. Louis and the subsequent (lack of) institutional response to public outcry. Beyond this one example — of many — of institutional insensitivity, McAnally reminds us that institutions are created by people and nurtured by structures.
In his essay, McAnally is pointedly saying that what is really needed is a radical reinvention of the institutions, structures, and systems that exist and are publicly funded to nurture art, culture and creativity in our country. Not only do I enthusiastically agree, I would take it further and say that this century has to be about the reinvention of institutions of all kinds and arts and cultural institutions are uniquely poised to lead the way.
Current public discourse, dominated by discord, disharmony, and even vitriol, affirms that our institutions and systems are failing. A recent reportpublished by the National Endowment for the Arts with the Center for Cultural Innovation reflects a rapidly changing environment for artists and arts organizations. It also suggests that our challenges mirror those of the world around us — “structural inequities within the artists’ ecosystem mirror inequities in society more broadly”.
Yet, despite our challenges in the arts, we are still the sector that is driven to create and inspire radical acts of imagination; to follow the boldest artists as they remind us of our creative and compassionate capacity as human beings; to gather people together to behold and respond to beauty and provocation; to instigate cultural movement.
At Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, we have committed to interrogate the role of art centers in civic and public life and to pioneer a new model for citizen institutions that exist to ignite the public imagination. These are institutions that catalyze change.
Throughout our organization, YBCA is acting on the questions: What role do cultural centers play in activating public life and creative citizenship? Who gets to shape the dialogue and inquiry within our institutions and beyond? How can arts organizations become cultural incubators — the places where art and creativity activate cultural movement and lead to positive change?
Indeed, in my vision of the future, our cultural centers will lead the way. They will function to cultivate mobility and movement. They will infuse our streets, our sidewalks, and our communities with compassion, connection, and inspiration. They will make it possible for all kinds of people to collide and come to know one another. Empathy will become the norm, collaboration the essential tool. We, the people, will be brazen about the power of art and creativity to change everything. We will, at last, comprehend and put to action the real potential of our own strength as creative souls.
In other words, people made these places — these institutions of art and culture — and we can and must make them anew.