28 Ways to Change the Art World for the Better
Experts say that we should start with the market.
Last year around this time, artnet News’ former Editor-in-Chief Benjamin Genocchio penned a heartfelt and highly personal list of 25 ways to change the art world for the better. This year, in the wake of the presidential election and close to the eve of Thanksgiving, artnet News has turned to respected colleagues and friends to crowdsource opinion on how to improve the practices, values and aspirations of art’s expanding and restless international community.
Below are 28 of our respondents’ alternately pithy and expansive submissions. We have chosen to publish their comments pretty much as we received them. Their original voices, we believe, matter today as much the content of their proposals.
1. “Let’s end the retrograde conversations around censorship (and self-censorship). Engage your enemy. Stop trying to drive them into hiding.”
—Adam Abdalla, President, Cultural Counsel
2. “Lessen the power of the market.”
—Cecilia Alemani, Director and Chief Curator of High Line Art
3. “Fund marginalized communities directly and in significant amounts (how many times have we seen people of color used for funding, but not one person in the organization has been to the communities they supposedly serve?). Listen to the people most affected by injustice. Funding leadership does nothing if organizations aren’t hiring people of color to start with. I’ve known quite a few terrible leaders of organizations that went through leadership training. Not to mention, that none of that leadership training has brought about more inclusiveness because—here we are. As the popular activist adage goes: ‘When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” There’s no equality in the arts because the status quo doesn’t want it. THAT is what needs to change.'”
—Donnamarie Baptiste, Arts Director and Producer
4. “Arts education cannot afford to solely be the province of the well off. And it cannot afford to be circumscribed solely by the market centers of New York and Los Angeles. A truly democratic nation demands that our culture reflect a diversity of ideas, that artists come from all walks of life, and that we artists model the critical and poetically nuanced dialogue we seek for civilization at large. In other words, artists need to help each other.
We need to share ourselves—our passions and our intelligence—with artists we don’t know already, with artists that don’t look like us, that don’t live where we do. Heck, we’ll even pay you to do it! BHQFU is partnering with ArtCenter/South Florida to recruit five artists from anywhere, at any stage in their trajectory, working in any discipline to live and work in Miami for three months while they help us to develop a free arts curriculum for the future. You can find out more and apply here.”
—The Bruce High Quality Foundation, Artists and Educators
5. “MAKE MUSEUMS FREE! In Houston, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, The Menil Collection, the Blaffer Museum of Art, Project Row Houses, and Diverseworks are among the many cultural institutions presenting world-class exhibitions that one can visit without paying admission. This has been the case for generations, with the result that our local communities take pride and ownership of culture in a way I’ve not experienced in any other city. We are “their museums”! With audiences who are incredibly diverse in terms of age, ethnicity, economic ability, and museum-going experience, we’re all the richer for it!”
—Dean Daderko, Curator, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
6. “Language is going to be important as we move forward. There needs to be an embargo on bad language in poor press releases, as well as ambulance chasing titles for exhibitions. In 2017, let’s not see the art world casually dropping the term “post-truth” into every press release. Ditto with “temporality”—let it go. Please no more “notions of” or “traditional parameters.” Keep the language direct and clear.
Reclaim “clear eyes, full hearts”… and try not to lose.”
—Dexter Dalwood, Artist
7. “Firstly, I think Fluxus actions should be incorporated into physical education classes. I would love to see a P.E. curriculum by, say, Yoko Ono. Secondly, I’d like to propose required trust exercises between collectors and their art advisors. Better yet, these should be required for the completion of every transaction. Lastly, no more click bait.”
—Ingrid Dudek, Director of Contemporary Art at Bonhams
8. “I suggest all visitors (including collectors, curators, advisors and dealers as well as the public at large) to art museums, art galleries and art fairs spend as much time looking at works of art as they do taking pictures, texting and phoning.”
—Michael Findlay, Director, Acquavella Galleries
9. “What if the art world was a lot more integrated into the world world? What if the art world and the world world existed in a state of mutual accountability to one another? What if art was valued as a shared cultural transmission that brings people together despite difference, instead of as a luxury good that promotes class division? What if artistic process was valued as concretely as art objects? What if the art world’s purpose was to increase net creativity, and expand the options and vision of a population? What if artists were able to value their own artistic products, processes, and outcomes? What if artists felt comfortable working beyond the affirmation of the art world?”
—Deborah Fisher, Executive Director, A Blade of Grass
10. “One way to make the art world a better place is to substantially raise the wages for curatorial and other staff at museums to reflect the rapid cost of living increases in major metropolitan centers. Without living wages for curators, museums will no longer be able to attract the best and brightest talent.”
—Ben Genocchio, Executive Director, The Armory Show
11. “It’s painfully clear that the art world, like so many other cherished enclaves of liberalism, utterly failed us in November. It’s now time for a wholesale reconsideration of the role art (and the art community) plays in society. Is it zone of Callimachean complexity, referentiality, and obscurantism, like the Library of Alexandria before Caesar burnt it to the ground? Or is it a place where profound and important ideas are given the rhetorical wings to reach a widespread audience beyond the tower? Is now a time to épater les bourgeois above all else? Should art about art about art be more valued than art about our time, and pushed by a runaway marketplace into every facet of our institutions and public spaces? These are questions we should be asking ourselves.”
—Andrew Goldstein, Chief Digital Content Officer of Artspace | Phaidon
12. “Ban all “special exhibitions” in museums for a year. Return art lovers to the old-fashioned joys of digging deep into a permanent collection.”
—Blake Gopnik, Critic at Large, Artnet News
13. “Artists’ re-sale right should apply to all works sold at auction within seven years of leaving the artist’s studio. If the maker is not alive, cannot be reached or is not interested in the extra coinage, the money should be used to fund young artists or art education. Effectively, this is a flip tax.”
—Dave Harper, Independent Curator and Consultant
14. “Find your trusted news sources and consult them everyday.”
—Danielle Jackson, Co-Founder, Bronx Documentary Center
15. “After returning from my exhibition “Castles Built From Sand Will Fall” in Dubai, I want to say that if we can’t keep the sustained optimism we will fail as humans and as artists.”
—Khaled Jarrar, Artist
16. “For those in the nonprofit sector: Present work that speaks truth to power and work that speaks for the disenfranchised. Respect artists who have a point of view by allowing them to articulate it. Don’t be gratuitous. Be thoughtful. And most of all, remember change is a marathon, not a sprint.”
—Harry Philbrick, Director Philadelphia Contemporary
17. “Changing the art world is not really a different proposition than changing the world at this point. In the face of a Republican President and Congress, change is going to have to come from us, if we are talking about making the art world a better place. I think we need to seriously consider unionization, both pragmatically to address the shared conditions of our labor, and at the symbolic level to demonstrate political solidarity with the working class.”
“Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.) is currently working on proposals for that union building, and they need whatever we can donate right now to make it happen. My concrete suggestion is to make a donation to W.A.G.E. immediately. My less concrete suggestion is to start thinking less about the role of the artist as an exceptional individual and more as a shared group identity.”
—William Powhida, Artist
18. “Initiate difficult conversations with people who may be different from you or with whom you may disagree. The art world, at its best, points to pressing issues in our world and in our lives. It’s time for the art world to continue to extend its reach beyond its familiar and comfortable confines, to engage with communities in diverse ways, and engage with one another, especially where conflict lies.”
—Yael Reinharz, Executive Director, Artis
19. “Less art fairs, more focus on exhibitions. Art fairs should not use young galleries as curator fodder, forcing them into showing unsellable “project” sections at the fairs’ periphery to give these fairs credibility while the big boys rake in millions at the center. The big galleries should pay an extra five percent extra to subsidize the younger galleries booths so that they don’t go broke even if they sell out. Criticism should have a voice again, and collectors should take advice based on real critique not auction records.”
—David Risley, Director David Risley Gallery
20. “Here’s my list of suggestions to improve the art world:
- Ten collectors should forego the purchase of one $20 million work of art by Christopher Wool, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, Wade Guyton, Rudolph Stingel, Gerhardt Richter, that guy Adrian Ghenie, or any of those artists—great and terrible—in the parallel art world of high-priced auctions. The $100 million should be used instead to buy a building somewhere in New York. The spaces in said building should be rented at cost to gallerists and to artists for studios.
- Sotheby’s should use the profits from the sale of three Picassos, a Modigliani, a de Kooning, and two Richters to sell its York Avenue building at cost to Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital and vacate that neighborhood, to help further the tremendous work Slone Kettering does for so many in pain.
- Galleries should make a pact to deny sales to any collector who self-proclaims support for Trump. (I know this could break the bank and put us all out of business, but I feel foul.)
- Boycott Mnuchin Gallery as long as Steven Mnuchin is associated with president-elect Trump.
- Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war come January 20.
- Art blogs should stop continually reporting auction news (except for our wonderful art-world market maniac, Kenny Schachter). They only matter to 125 people, none of them artists, and have nothing to do with the inner life of art.
- Don’t post food pics on Instagram anymore.”
—Jerry Saltz, Senior Art Critic, New York Magazine
21. “Dear Art World,
Stop facilitating the tax evading habits of wealthy art collectors. You’re robbing your communities of much needed revenue to improve infrastructure and social services.”
—Jonathan Schwartz, President/CEO Atelier4
22. “The art world is not an entity apart from the real world. If it were so, art would develop in a vacuum. In my opinion, one way to make the small microcosm of the art world better and hopefully connect with the real world is to keep enough room for art’s essence—for its questioning processes, for the way it opens new doors into our understanding of ourselves and the world, for its understanding and acceptance of the Other, for its ability to think outside the box.
“As in the larger society, no one can deny the current predominance of the almighty market (at least for the moment), which has opened up a blatantly large dichotomy between the significance of art and its monetary value. But we must find a way to allow true art to thrive in the shadow of this art market.
“How can this be achieved? For the art world’s stakeholders—artists, teachers, curators, gallerists, collectors, museum directors, critics, journalists and art lovers in general—it means considering art less as an accessory and more as a set of principles that need to be defended, together, and across class and ideological lines.”
—Alain Servais, Art Collector
23. “Erase the lack of social commitment from the art world.”
—Bosco Sodi, Artist
24. “Remake art education! The high cost of art school continues to define who makes the visual culture that becomes visible in the country; in other words, who can enter into the elite spheres of both institutions and the market and further influence future generations. While some measures are taken to create balance, by and large the cost of an art education at the institutions that open doors is prohibitive to all but a few.
Pay art faculty better. Both private and public schools pay their predominantly part-time faculty too little to live on, let alone give them the benefits they need to teach and bring their voices and practices to education
Foundations should fund operational expenses (staff and rent) at small to medium-sized arts organizations, particularly those outside of the main art centers, so that they can do the important work of representing underrepresented artists, media and ideas in regions with less robust arts institutions.
Foundations should fund artists directly and make grants renewable.
Stop normalizing art as a luxury good.
Work for diversity, equity and parity in the arts.
Celebrate the work of education departments. Write about it, talk about it, attend it. These are the alternative organizations within our institutions doing some of the best work in the arts.
Put artists in leadership positions, not just in art organizations but in civic organizations. Within the arts, recognize artists as the experts in their fields, before curators, collectors, foundations, and critics, and respect their knowledge by putting them on boards, in leadership positions and in other positions of influence.
Deconstruct the entirely white, cis and predominantly heteronormative staff in charge of administrating and directing culture.”
—Shannon R. Stratton, William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator, Museum of Arts and Design
25. “I’ve been thinking a lot about Orhan Pamuk’s “Modern Manifesto for Museums.” This passage in particular seems especially relevant to me now: “We do not need more museums that attempt to construct a historical narrative of our society and community as a narrative of faction, nation and state. We all know that ordinary and everyday stories are richer, more human and above all more joyful.” We need to pay attention to the art that art expresses the humanity of these ordinary, everyday voices, and it is imperative that museums provide a safe place in which they can be heard.”
—Lisa Sutcliffe, Curator of Photography and Media Arts, Milwaukee Art Museum
26. It is now even more urgent to work together to champion and protect inclusive spaces for all people, in particular people of color, people of non-binary gender, and folks of diverse backgrounds—any and all voices who have been marginalized from the mainstream. Given the weight of our new political climate, we must take this responsibility very seriously and get to work creating the world we want to live in.
—Vanessa Thill, Curator at Large, the Knockdown Center
27. “We are continuously, and oftentimes precariously, working for the bettering of the world through culture. Even though children are the future world we’re building, they’re not included in our supposedly progressive worldviews and the professional structures we navigate and create. So this would be my challenge to art workers internationally: Is it possible to devise new ways in which children are nurtured through the cultural activities we devise, not as an afterthought through strictly formatted educational programs, but in ways in that shape and feed the content and structure of cultural activities? Think about it.”
—Niels Van Tomme, Director, Die Appel
28. “To change the art world for the better, artists and art institutions can support collective efforts by providing space, resources, and critical reflection. Great art allows people to communicate across differences of opinion, experience, and expertise. Artistic practices of listening, healing, analyzing, envisioning, creating, and celebrating make interdisciplinary models for economic justice possible. We would not have community safety initiatives, tenants rights organizations, community land trusts, or freedom schools without the imagination and dedication of many artists.
“As white people wake up to the reality that white supremacy threatens public health on a daily basis, we must follow the lead of black and brown artists and organizers who have been under siege for centuries and who have always been leaders in the solidarity art economy. In New York City, this means following the lead of groups like El Puente, Fourth Arts Block, The Laundromat Project, THE POINT, Urban Bush Women, and groups affiliated with the Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts of NYC.
“To change the art world for the better, we can start by realizing that another economy in the arts is not only possible—it already exists. By supporting the long-term work of arts groups that nurture equitable, place-based initiatives, we can strengthen and connect to an art economy of solidarity in New York City and beyond.” (The previous text is a “summary” of a presentation given by Woolard on Friday, November 18, 2016, to the National Endowment for the Arts on the occasion of its 50th anniversary celebration)
—Caroline Woolard, Artist and Organizer
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