After meeting last week with the Tacoma Action Collective, the Tacoma Art Museum has responded to calls for more racial diversity with commitments to staff training, community engagement and the work of more black artists at the museum.
The effort will begin with Sunday’s closing events for “Art AIDS America,” which spurred the collective’s initial protest.
“It was a productive meeting,” both parties said in a joint press release. “Not only has it shaped the discussion around the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but also the responsibility museums have to be inclusive.”
The collective protested in the museum’s galleries and meeting spaces Dec. 17 during ArtWalk.
The group pointed out that although nationally, African Americans have suffered 41 percent of all AIDS deaths and 44 percent of new HIV infections, they made up only 4 percent of the artist roster of the show, which is co-organized by the museum and is about to tour nationally.
The protest was supported on social media by several of the show’s artists, including Kia Labeija, who said in a Facebook statement that she was “extremely disappointed” by the show’s first incarnation in Los Angeles, where it was “mostly (images) … of gay, white men wasting away.”
After the meeting with collective members, museum director Stephanie Stebich and TAM board president Steve Harlow said that the museum is committed to actions to increase diversity going forward.
These included recommending to other “Art AIDS America” venues that they include more black artists, providing diversity training for TAM staff members and joint efforts to include more African Americans at every level from members to staff to board.
In addition to a possible public forum about diversity and more meetings, the museum will work with the collective to establish an advisory board for the upcoming fall show, “30 Americans,” a showcase of contemporary African American artists.
In the release issued after the meeting, the collective noted museum curator Rock Hushka had said he believed he had failed the black community with the exhibit.
“Yes, I think … we have acknowledged their valid comment,” Stebich said. “In selecting work for shows, curators have definite views, and also areas where they have bias and are less educated. Rock acknowledged as much.”
Artist Chris Jordan helped organize the protest and was at the meeting with museum officials.
“The museum’s tone shifted from previously rationalizing the exclusion to a thorough acknowledgment of what was done wrong and how it should have been done,” he said.
“That was really the turning point in all of our dialogue. … I think TAM has potential and there are some opportunities this year for a deepened commitment to equity to become visible. We're committed to share insights on this and support the growth as long as they continue to demonstrate follow-through.”
The collective said in the release that its campaign was about systemic changes, rather than one person or event.
“We are proud that (the museum is) setting an example for museums nationwide,” the group said.
Sunday’s closing of “Art AIDS America” will include a presentation by the Vashon performance duo Lelavision.
The group also will present a video of its dance work on HIV prevention by African American teens from Atlanta, accompanied by a gospel choir under the direction of Shaunyce Omar and a poetry performance by spoken word artist Charys Bailey.