An “Open Letter from Boston Arts and Cultural Workers in Demand of Racial Equity and Social Transformation” being circulated online calls for Boston area museums and other cultural institutions to become “anti-racist, abolitionist and decolonial” by changing hiring and decision-making processes, ending relationships with police and military, stopping development that creates gentrification, and returning looted objects.

These are just some of the demands in the online petition dated June 12 that is addressed “To the leaders, boards, and patrons of our cultural institutions and workplaces.” The website lists more than 400 people have signed as of tonight–including staff from the Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, Institute of Contemporary Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Harvard Art Museums and numerous other visual arts organizations and schools.

Abigail Satinsky, curator at the Tufts University Art Galleries, writes by email that she co-authored the letter with Michelle Millar Fisher, curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts; Anni Pullagura, a curatorial assistant at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and Anthony Romero, an artist and professor of the practice in performance at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts. She says they began circulating the letter on Monday, June 15.

“We were fully cognizant that a letter can never be enough, it is only the beginning of a process, and institutional letters can often feel empty and obligatory without structural change behind them,” Satinsky emails. “And so following these examples of NYC and Philly which were essential steps towards organizing the arts as a field to meet this moment, we thought of this letter as a set of provocations that can help us imagine the transformations of our institutions that need to occur in this radical time of reckoning with white supremacy. That we must not reform only, we must unmake. And so hopefully it’s a tool to hold ourselves accountable, to do the work.”

Eva Rosenberg, interim director for Arts & Culture at The Boston Foundation, says via email that she signed the letter because “I am aligned with and in support of the core messages of this important letter, and want to be held publicly accountable to using my privilege and positional power to work for racial equity in our arts and culture sector (including within philanthropy). I particularly appreciate the visionary demands, which acknowledge that reform has failed and transformation is urgently needed.”

"Open Letter from Boston Arts and Cultural Workers in Demand of Racial Equity and Social Transformation," June 17, 2020.
“Open Letter from Boston Arts and Cultural Workers in Demand of Racial Equity and Social Transformation,” June 17, 2020.

The letter calls for the “unmaking of power and exclusionary practices as necessary first steps for all historically white and white-dominant arts and cultural institutions in Boston.”

It continues, “As a living relic of empire, the museum as we know it exists because of its dependency on and complicity in the workings of settler colonialism and racial capitalism. … There is no place in such a future for the museum as we know it now; we must create another.”

The letter says, “Boston’s historically white and white-dominant institutions strive above all else to preserve white supremacy in the hoarding of wealth, resources, and ways of work. Gestures of change in the arts are too often symbolic and performative in nature, address symptoms over root causes, and remain devoid of self-critique or meaningful weight.”

The 15 demands in the letter are extensive, detailed and difficult to summarize, but they include:
• Terminate contracts with military and police.
• Acknowledgement of Indigenous land rights and land reclamation and “immediate repatriation of all looted, stolen, and abused objects and works.”
• Divestment from prisons, fossil fuels industries, weapons and securities manufacturers…
• End development that creates gentrification, displacement, and housing insecurity
• “Dissolve hierarchical and exclusionary governance; impose term limits at the board, director, and senior staff levels; and restructure decision-making power with priority input of junior, part-time, and precarious staff.”
• “Equitable and transparent pay structures at all staff levels,” full benefits for all, an end to unpaid internships….
• “Center community voices and decenter institutional voice…”
• Hire Black, Indigenous, and people of color…

“We fight for a future of Boston that is abolitionist, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist,” the letter says. “We reject unequivocally the conditions of impossibility for such a future. We will no longer allow our arts and cultural museums, institutions, universities, and organizations to impede, slow, or defer the realization of a just world.”

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Categories: Art