Fired Before Her Show Devoted to Police Shootings of African Americans, CSU Long Beach Museum Director Vows to Fight Her ‘Shocking’ Dismissal

Was Kimberli Meyer's firing connected to lauren woods's anti-racist artwork?

Former director of the University Art Museum at California State Long Beach Kimberli Meyer. Photo courtesy of California State Long Beach.

Ousted director Kimberli Meyer has vowed to appeal her termination from her post at the University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach. In what Meyer expected to be a routine monthly meeting with the College of the Arts dean on September 11, she was handed a severance check and escorted from the building.

From there, Meyer went to the airport as planned—to pick up artist lauren woods (deliberately spelled lowercase), who was set to unveil her anti-police-violence art piece “lauren woods: American Monument” at the museum later that week.

“It was shocking to be pulled away six days before the opening,” Meyer told Hyperallergic. “I asked, ‘why?’ and they said, ‘we don’t have to tell you.’” Meyer joined the museum in 2016 and began planning woods’s project shortly thereafter. She filed an appeal with the university on Monday regarding the decision to terminate her employment.

A monument to African Americans killed by police officers, the work consists of 25 record players on pedestals arranged in a grid, each poised to play audio drawn from police records, court proceedings, and footage captured by bystanders—or sometimes nothing at all, if there were no recordings available. The 25 men and women memorialized include Sandra Bland, Mike Brown, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, but woods envisions “American Monument” as an ongoing project that would grow with future iterations.

lauren woods, American Monument. Photo courtesy of the artist.

lauren woods, American Monument. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The university, however, appears to have had concerns about the nature of the work. There’s been a lot of anxiety at the university about Lauren’s project,” Meyer told ARTnews. “The timing of it was just really interesting to me—that it was six days before the opening. I don’t know what to say about that.”

Woods has speculated that the administration feared a potential backlash from the so-called alt-right community. “There was always constant concessions being made because of fear of what this work was going to do and who would be offended,” the artist said to the Long Beach Press-Telegram. One change was to have the recordings play only inside the galleries, nixing woods’s original vision of audio that could be heard outside on the museum plaza.

This year has seen female museum directors Laura Raicovich of the Queens Museum and Helen Molesworth of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles lose their jobs after championing politically progressive programming. But the museum insists American Monument was not part of the reason that Meyer got the ax.

“It is important for people to understand that the departure of Kimberli Meyer is unrelated to the exhibit’s contents,” university spokesperson Terri Carbaugh told the Los Angeles Times. “We view our campus as an ideal place for important—and sometimes difficult—discussions to take place. While Ms. Meyers’ artistic vision is supported by the college of the arts, the day-to-day and long-term operation of a university museum demands more.”

The American Monument opening took place as scheduled on September 16—but not as planned. The crowd reportedly interrupted dean Cyrus Parker-Jeannette’s opening remarks to ask why he was not thanking Meyer for her role in organizing the project. When it became woods’s turn to speak, she announced that the exhibition would be put on pause, turning off each of the 25 record players and later removing the vinyl records from the gallery.

“The University Art Museum, College of the Arts, and Cal State Long Beach, have kneecapped a project that is focusing on black lives and police brutality. They have killed a leadership initiative whose focus was to not only address white supremacy but to disrupt it,” she told the crowd in remarks now on display in the gallery and on her website. “With great disappointment and profound sadness, I hereby declare the process to continue building American Monument paused.”

lauren woods, American Monument. Photo courtesy of the artist.

In a statement announcing Meyer’s departure, Parker-Jeannette gave no reason for the firing, according to the Long Beach Post. He claimed that Meyer “has been an asset to the museum and to the university in so many ways, and I am grateful for her work that has helped expand the visibility of the museum in the community.”

Following the opening, Parker-Jeannette issued a second statement: “While I cannot comment on personnel matters, I can say this decision was part of a longer-term process. The ‘American MONUMENT’ project continues at the museum as directed by the artist lauren woods. The installation is designed to provoke open and free discussion. Our campus is a place for civil discourse and artistic expression. American MONUMENT is part of this culture.”

Despite Parker-Jeanette’s claims to the contrary, Bethany Price, the College of the Arts communications coordinator, told the Press-Telegram that the decision to terminate Meyer’s employment “happened very quickly.”

While the museum looks for an interim director, operations will be overseen by Parker-Jeannette and Chanel Acker, administrative services manager.

“lauren woods: American Monument” is on view at the University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, California, September 17–December 9, 2018. 

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