Introduction

We (the undersigned) write to you as a coalition of graduate students and alumni from curatorial programs across the United States, including the MA in Curatorial Practice, California College of the Arts (CCA); the MA in Curatorial Studies, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College (CCS Bard); the MFA in Curatorial Practice, Maryland Institute College of Arts (MICA); and the MA in Curatorial Practice, School of the Visual Arts (SVA). 1 We address you in the midst of a historic reckoning with systemic inequity across arts institutions, made all the more urgent by continued state-sanctioned anti-Black violence, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and rapidly worsening economic immiseration. We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the widespread calls for a radical reimagination of the cultural sector. We believe that the fight for Black liberation is a collective and intersectional project bound up in the liberation of all historically oppressed populations.

From this position, we ask the individuals in our educational institutions—including faculty, administrators, students, and alumni—to make a long-term commitment to end practices that uphold white supremacy, and to adopt equitable and anti-racist administrative and pedagogical frameworks. It is with a deep underlying respect and optimism for the future of the curatorial field that we write this letter, grounded in our conviction that educational institutions have the potential to instigate cultural change. 2 The professionalization of curatorial work through academic training is a relatively recent development, and the field therefore has a unique opportunity to transform.

We see these pre-professional programs as pipelines into, and complicit in shaping, an art world that is built upon systemic racism and white supremacy. Curatorial graduate programs (including, but not only, those we are affiliated with) implement explicit policies and informal norms that uphold inequality through racism, ableism, sexism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia, and transphobia. Their curricula and values are inheritors of the colonial projects of Euro-American museums and arts discourse. These programs select cohorts, determine what knowledge is necessary to succeed in arts spaces, and control entry into networks of capital and access. We write this letter as a coalition of students and alumni across institutions because these exclusions are systemic, not singular. Changes are required in all graduate programs, and together, our schools can yield enormous influence in addressing these inequities.

We call upon our institutions to move beyond promises of equity towards policy-oriented anti-racism and to take the following actions in relation to admission and funding; faculty, staff, and administration; governance and leadership; accessibility; pedagogy and curriculum; professional development; student, faculty and staff welfare; and external and community relations. Our proposals are grounded in the fundamental belief that the pursuit of racial justice is inextricable from the work of dismantling all intersectional oppressions. We urge each administration to take concrete steps to commit to these policies and practices by one year from the receipt of this letter, and to sustain them indefinitely.

By signing this letter, we recognize ourselves as stakeholders in the work of anti-racist and anti-oppressive change within the curatorial field. Acknowledging that each of our schools are at different stages of implementing change, we call upon these distinct administrations to enter into a dialogue with their students and interested parties. Our call for immediate action is an enactment of solidarity across CCA, CCS Bard, MICA, and SVA, to hold ourselves and our programs accountable. We consider this work to be a vital step in reshaping the infrastructure of curatorial education, and creating transformative, lasting change within the arts.


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  1. CCA, CCS Bard, MICA, and SVA are all located within the United States and exist within the context of American settler-colonialism and white supremacy. Our response therefore focuses on structures, institutions, and language particular to this country. ↩︎

  2. Inspired by the thoughtful, critical responses of art workers in the United States and around the globe, we have been spurred to consider how the curatorial studies field perpetuates racial and social inequalities. Within this, we draw on the work of other cultural workers in crafting open letters addressed to cultural various institutions across the nation in recent months, including: Bard MFA Adhoc Working Group; Black Artists for Freedom; Black Art Conservators; Boston Arts and Cultural Workers in Demand of Racial Equity and Social Transformation; Cooper Union; #ForTheCulture. ↩︎

Eight Point Plan

Section 1. Admissions and Funding: We want a change of current admission practices, including application fees and limited financial resources for BIPOC students, in order to close the racial gap in access to higher education.

Section 2. Faculty, Staff, Administration: We want radical, Marxist, Black, Indigenous, queer, trans, non-binary, dis/abled faculty and staff.

Section 3. Governance and Leadership: We want a diverse governance, senior administrative staff, and board beyond the optics of Diversity Equity Initiatives (DEI).

Section 4. Accessibility: We want a commitment to accessibility, moving beyond ADA compliance and legal frameworks, in order to practice accessibility as a continual, collective, and changing process based on the needs of each community.

Section 5. Pedagogy and Curriculum: We want a decolonized curatorial pedagogy and curriculum that decentralizes the White, European and Western art historical canon, theory, and practices.

Section 6. Professional Development: We want sustainable, long-term professional development—going beyond short-term performative identity-driven opportunities. A system built on social capital is a white supremacist system.

Section 7. Welfare: We want classrooms, lecture halls, galleries, and offices that prioritize wellness for all students, faculty, and staff.

Section 8. External and Community Relationships: We want policies and practices that are centered around supporting local communities and fostering valuable external relationships.

Call for Change

Section 1. Admissions and Funding

  1. Conduct and publish the findings of a public and transparent audit of ethnic, racial and geographic demographics for alumni, students, staff, and faculty.

  2. Elimination of administrative fees (e.g. application fee, facility access fee, maintenance of status fee, etc.) for BIPOC and low-income students.

  3. Creation of student representative positions during the admissions process in order to enable and encourage leadership and peer mentorship among students. 1

  4. Enable BIPOC students—prospective and enrolled—and alumni to submit feedback on admissions criteria, and use this feedback to meaningfully inform policies that serve to end disparity in student representation.

  5. Creation of BIPOC equity funds dedicated to supporting BIPOC students with financial needs through:

    1. The creation of a BIPOC scholarship with clear objectives and details pertaining to the scope of funding.

      1. Eligibility criteria should be clearly outlined.

      2. The administration of this fund should provide accurate, publicly available information and statistics pertaining to the sources of scholarship funds, and how they are distributed.

  6. Commit to transparency as it pertains to the availability of funding for BIPOC candidates from the outset of the admissions process.

    1. Information pertaining to additional funding, support, and resources for BIPOC students at local, state, national, and international levels should be readily available.

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  1. This could serve as an opportunity to create a fellowship-model or paid work-study opportunity for students. ↩︎

Section 2. Faculty, Staff, Administration

  1. Proactively recruit, retain, and hire BIPOC and disabled administrators, staff, faculty, librarians, visiting lecturers, and scholars, with full access to institutional benefits. 1

    1. Create retention opportunities for BIPOC visiting faculty to become tenured.
  2. Eliminate disparities between white and BIPOC artists and scholars in the hiring process and the negotiation of salaries.

  3. Hold bi-annual, mandatory anti-racist seminars that are inclusive of disability justice for all staff, faculty, and administration in order to implement anti-racist and anti-ableist work relationships.

  4. Require all faculty to participate in yearly professional development seminars that address ethical pedagogical practice, and decentralized learning strategies.


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  1. This open letter uses “disability” and “disabled” as inclusive of d/Disabled, chronically ill, Sick, d/Deaf, Mad, and crip people. ↩︎

Section 3. Governance and Leadership

  1. Take steps to diversify and democratize institutional power in the board by ensuring at least 50% of the board governance consists of BIPOC womxn. 1

    1. Institute term limits at the board, directorial, and senior staff level to ensure space for new ideas.
  2. If the program is also a collecting institution, increase acquisition funds for artworks and other forms of cultural production by BIPOC artists.

  3. Compensate and adequately credit the input of independent cultural workers and create recruitment and staff policies that reduce the precarity of junior and part-time staff.

    1. Provide health insurance for part-time staff members.

    2. Commit to transparency around salaries, wages, and benefits for junior and part-time staff.

  4. Create student representation in program and faculty decision-making.

    1. Make notes and agendas from meetings accessible as they pertain to program decisions and student life, with the exception of sensitive and privileged information. 2

    2. Create a town hall-style forum each semester for student evaluation of institutional goals around democratic, equitable, and efficient operations.


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  1. The term “womxn” is employed here to resist patriarchal language and foreground transgender, nonbinary, and other marginalized identities. ↩︎

  2. This could serve as an opportunity to create a fellowship-model or paid work-study opportunity for students. ↩︎

Section 4. Accessibility

  1. Identify manifestations of ableism particular to the culture and community of the program, and undertake an accessibility audit of the academic program, exhibition program, curriculum, and physical buildings that goes beyond ADA compliance.

    1. Center the experiences of staff, faculty, and students with disabilities and equitably compensate them for their labor and contributions to developing accessibility plans.

    2. Provide the option to hire a professional or organization that offers access auditing services to assist with audit and strategic planning.

  2. Create a plan based on the findings of the audit to increase access, while understanding that accessibility is a continual, collective practice.

  3. Include accessibility funds in all essential budgets (exhibitions, courses, public programs, operations, transportation, etc.)

  4. Post an accessibility statement on the program’s website describing the available modes of access currently offered for visitors.

  5. Include image captions and/or alt-text for all images used on program websites.

  6. Adopt, practice, and teach accessible exhibition design strategies and modes for student and special exhibitions including, but not limited to: hang and plinth heights that are accessible for people who are Blind and/or have low vision, little people, and people using mobility devices like wheelchairs; pathways that are accessible for people using mobility devices like wheelchairs; content notices; flashing/strobing light notices; ample and different seating options with wheelchair access; captioning and/or transcripts available for all sound and video work; audio guides which include audio description of primarily visual work; large print and braille options for text; and touch objects when possible.

  7. Adopt, practice, and teach accessible public program strategies and modes for programs including, but not limited to: sliding scales for ticketed programs and free programming; fragrance-free environments; ASL and/or Real-Time Captioning at all programs; audio description for strongly visual programs; content notices; flashing/strobing light notices; live stream programs and/or making documentation available; pathways that are accessible for mobility devices like wheelchairs; ample and varied seating options with wheelchair access; and touch and audio descriptions in exhibition tours.

  8. Provide multilingual resources for text-based materials (e.g. exhibition texts) and public programs. Offer, at a minimum, text-based materials in Spanish-language versions and Spanish interpretation at public programs (to include audio, sign language and/or Communication access real-time translation (CART).

Section 5. Pedagogy and Curriculum

  1. Commit to transparency as it pertains to the core, elective, and cross-listed courses in the curriculum by:

    1. Integrating a peer-reviewed curriculum design process that prioritizes underrepresented voices, theories, and concepts (e.g. intersectional queer theory, disability justice, crip theory, critical race theory).

    2. Including decolonial theories that focus on eliminating simplistic, reductive, and extractive modes of engaging with the ideas and curatorial production from marginalized identities.

    3. Developing a yearly review of this core and elective curriculum in consultation with students. 1

    4. Communicating rationale behind the design and intention of core, elective, and cross-listed courses included in the curriculum.

  2. Ensure the curriculum pertaining to the development of curatorial thesis projects is transparent, including exhibition requirements, funding, and development possibilities.

    1. Increase funding for student exhibitions and student-run gallery spaces so that adequate artist fees can be paid, for instance in accordance with W.A.G.E. standards.
  3. Offer a minimum of two electives per year that focus on issues of racial, economic, and gender-based justice.

    1. Support these elective programs with additional talks, panels, and group study where possible.
  4. Commit to decentralized modes of learning:

    1. Support active student participation in discussion and seminars by allowing varied forms of participation that cater to the different learning styles of each student.

    2. Encourage feedback from students both in the classroom and at designated end of semester forums.

  5. Adopt an academic accessibility policy for all students that does not require medical documentation and/or proof of diagnosis to use access modes and/or request and receive accommodations. This policy should be transparent and shared with all students; it should welcome students to share their access needs with the program. This could include, but not be limited to:

    1. Offer extensions, and multiple assignment formats, when possible.

    2. Offer printed course readers and/or eliminate printing costs; offer large print versions of readings and texts.

    3. Implement a method for gathering course-specific access needs at the beginning of each semester (such as welcome questionnaires, and/or asking for chosen name(s) and/or pronoun(s)).

    4. Provide content notices for potentially triggering materials discussing rape and sexual assault, suicide and self-harm, incest and child abuse, and gendered and racialized violence.

    5. Create options for remote and/or asynchronous participation via video platforms and recorded class sessions and/or other course materials for all courses.

    6. Ensure all course readings are posted to a central platform (like Google Classroom), made with OCR, and be screen reader-compatible.

    7. Offer breaks for long class and program sessions, whether digital or in-person. Create an environment where all participants are welcome to move, stretch, stand, and make noise within the space, or leave.

    8. Offer varied seating options for in-person classes.


...
  1. This could serve as an opportunity to create a fellowship-model or paid work-study opportunity for students. ↩︎

Section 6. Professional Development

  1. Create recurring post-graduate fellowship opportunities for BIPOC and low-income students. This can be within the school or through partnerships. Prioritize opportunities for international students, who often require additional support to pursue work placements; and for Black trans students who are at high risk for institutional and physical violence.

  2. Commit to mentorship support for BIPOC students that utilize alumni networks with paid mentorship opportunities.

  3. Create a central resource personnel to collate and initiate job opportunities for recent graduates. Extend this resource to international students for their work-study programs.

  4. Provide funding for students to propose new BIPOC-centered initiatives.

  5. A total and complete abolition of unpaid internships or work arrangements.

    1. Identify and end any institutional partnerships or relationships with parties that support unfair labor practices, including board members, graduate and admissions committees, visiting faculty, or guest speakers.

    2. Refuse to advocate or suggest unpaid labor for students and alumni.

Section 7. Welfare

  1. Provide information about mental health resources for students, staff, and faculty available through the program, or services available from organizations within the local community.

  2. Hire a dedicated staff member with knowledge of the legal, psychological, and administrative support systems that are available to students.

    1. This unbiased employee will be responsible for recording grievances from students, and can provide support to students in negotiating with the program. They will offer impartial and confidential listening and recourse services.
  3. Create administration-facilitated support networks for incoming and current international students to ensure their emotional and physical needs are met.

    1. Familiarize all students, particularly international students, with resources for housing, transportation, and health services.

    2. Create a system for checking-in with students to ensure they are adjusting at home and in the classroom.

  4. Normalize conversations around care, empathy, and solidarity within the program beyond moments of crisis. Offer immediate support to students who are struggling with personal issues, mental health, and grievances with the program.

  5. Develop an ethical guideline that screens how BIPOC students are represented in publicity communications and marketing. Initiate consent authorization forms requiring permission from students, alumni, and faculty for ethical, non-exploitative representation.

  6. Practice food access at any cafes or restaurants inside the program buildings by clearly labeling foods with known allergies and irritants, and offer regular and gluten-free products, and foods with simple ingredients.

  7. Welcome Personal Care Assistants (PCAs) and service animals into all buildings. Enable PCAs to accompany disabled people without paying extra admission to programs and events.

  8. Provide all-gender restrooms that are clearly labeled as such and marked with available amenities; remove body icons from any gender-segregated restrooms and replace with signage showing available amenities. If necessary, make signage that welcomes people to use whatever restroom most closely aligns with their gender identity or expression.

Section 8. External and Community Relationships

  1. Build relationships with Indigenous advocacy organizations working to further Indigenous land rights and land reclamation.

  2. Create meaningful relationships with tribal nation representatives, when appropriate, and invest in institutional programs and curatorial practices that reflect these Nations’ self-expressed needs and priorities.

  3. Incorporate land acknowledgements into program websites, public events, and external communications in consultation with local Indigenous groups.

  4. Build relationships with BIPOC leadership and collaborate with local culturally-specific institutions. Support and amplify the work of these institutions and integrate their histories and contributions into the curriculum of the program.

  5. Build relationships with disabled communities and organizations and invest in institutional and curatorial practices that reflect their self-expressed needs.

  6. Increase public access to the institution’s resources (e.g. collection, archives, facilities, programming, events). Engage with local residents by instigating community membership cards and community-focused programming.

  7. Investigate the institution’s role in directly or indirectly contributing to gentrification, displacement, and housing insecurity due to development and expansion projects. Create dialogues with community members and local affordable housing advocates working towards equity in housing.

  8. Launch a transparent internal audit of all institutional ties, including labor, funding, and vendor relationships that are linked to exploitative industries which contribute to the destruction and dispossession of BIPOC communities and the environment.

  9. Divest from institutional relationships with exploitative systems including police, prisons, private correctional facilities, fossil fuels industries, weapons and securities manufacturers, and speculative real estate development.

Signatories

This letter has been signed by people. To add your name, sign here.

Website Information

This letter and website is initiated by a coalition of graduate students and alumni from the MA in Curatorial Practice, California College of the Arts (CCA); the MA in Curatorial Studies, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College (CCS Bard); the MFA in Curatorial Practice, Maryland Institute College of Arts (MICA); and the MA in Curatorial Practice, School of the Visual Arts (SVA). The Spanish and Mandarin transcriptions were translated by members of the aforementioned coalition.

This website was built for and with the coalition by N. Weltyk. The website’s contents are managed with help from Sassolino and Parsedown Extra. The names of signatories are gathered with Google Forms and a Javascript written by Agnes Cameron initially for the Arts Workers for Black Lives website.

Background image: A line drawing of an empty interior space animates according to the webpage’s vertical scroll position.