Creative Time Organized a Forum for 8 Illustrious Thinkers to Imagine How Institutions Can Do Better. Here’s What They Said
The first lesson of the Creative Time Think Tank? Listening is not enough.
As an organization nearing 50 years of working with politically engaged artists, Creative Time is continually challenged to evolve to the political conditions we live in. Following decades of groundwork laid by artists and activists calling for systemic overhauls of our institutions—art and otherwise—and 2020’s tipping point initiated by the pandemic and a resurgent uprising for racial justice and decolonization, we found ourselves questioning how to move past cycles of protest and reform and into long-term transformation.
Indeed, the extent to which nearly every issue we face today intersects with arts and cultural production—from gentrification and workers’ rights, to totalitarian violence and climate change—only proves that siloing the arts from the rest of society is an illusion. Arts and culture should be not only illustrators or illuminators of justice or injustice, but necessary points of intervention.
This once-novel belief of the avant-garde has now broken through to the general public: a recent survey found 76 percent of U.S. respondents saying arts organizations have a responsibility to tackle social issues. And so, in 2021, we launched the Think Tank to ideate how transformation happens, and the role arts and culture can play in this change.
Following an open-call process, the final group included writer and scholar Che Gossett; choreographer and Indigenous rights organizer Emily Johnson; professor and writer Hentyle Yapp; professor and disability justice organizer Kevin Gotkin; curator La Tanya S. Autry; educator, curator, and director of the Critical Craft Theory program at Warren Wilson College Namita Wiggers; social practice programmer and cultural organizer Prerana Reddy; and poet and cultural organizer Sonia Guiñansaca. Creative Time staffers Diya Vij and Alex Winters facilitated the sessions.
This week, we released the culmination of this labor, Invitations Toward Re-Worlding, in which we offer no easy answers or metrics for success, but instead a new framework for challenging the distinction between artistry and administration. It’s our position that administration—the process—can be just as creative, iterative, and generative as the art that’s made. We refer to our framework as administrative intervention. Here are a few examples of how this “re-worlding” might be approached.
Listening Is Not Enough
We hear a lot about how institutions and organizations are in “listening mode,” paying attention to their audiences and the communities they impact, including their staffers. Question-asking and dialogue are critical, but must be approached, fundamentally, as a search for actionable answers; simply hearing is not the goal.
Autry, the cofounder of the #MuseumsAreNotNeutral movement, argues that liberation only happens when individuals understand each other’s meanings. To combat violent structural forces rooted in anti-Blackness, dialogue must move beyond simple conversation and toward collective action. As she says: “I’m stirring up energy for changing conditions, creating more of a true sense of us, leaning more into ‘good trouble,’ to borrow that expression of the late Civil Rights activist John Lewis.”
Similarly, Gotkin advocates for accessibility as an ecology not just as a checklist or compliance act, but to benefit the whole of any space and its audience. This requires us to “release the hypothetical.” Instead of pursuing “endless circles of abstraction about access design,” we focus attempt “to know more precisely who is involved.” This requires us to speculate less about the needs of our communities, so that we actually discuss, adapt, and know their needs.
Time for a Settler Tax
Reddy calls on organizations to re-evaluate how their budgets provide for the needs of artists and workers as people, and not only as producers. Can the institution provide healthcare, childcare, and housing? If that’s not possible, how do budgets account for the “time, flexibility, and resources needed to support the artist as a person?” Does the budget allow for debrief and aftercare? Beyond budgets, what do overall salaries say about what and who you value?
This leads to changes beyond payments made for services rendered. In Johnson’s Decolonization Rider, which outlines some necessary steps for organizational decolonization, she puts forward the idea of using a standard operating document that forces the contractor and contractee to come to terms around a shared understanding of values.
To a wider point, Johnson pushes for true budgetary accounting for the violence of settler colonialism through land-use fees or taxes to support local Indigenous land back or land preservation efforts.
Down With Exceptionalism
Yapp suggests we reach beyond existing liberal paradigms that position the individual as the ideal subject for resistance and change. The art world, in particular, is steeped in the myth of singular greatness, though anyone working within it knows the legions of staff, studio assistants, and production and installation crews that accomplish any individual work.
Rather than dismantling this white supremacist myth of individual genius, a rare few “exceptional” individuals get identified as representatives of the well-beings of entire groups or communities. This allows institutions to continue perpetuating exclusionary, harmful, and demeaning systems under the pretense of progress and change.
Instead, we should work against rewarding exceptionalism at the expense of collective efforts, especially in long-marginalized communities, and instead promote holistic repairs with communities that have been excluded or under-valued.
This Is What Commitment Looks Like
Since concluding the Think Tank at the end of 2021, we’ve been working to develop and evolve our practices to better serve the artists we work with, and the communities we’re a part of.
Some of this takes the form of concrete plans: our commitments include (but are not limited to): staff cultural competency training; workshops with Indigenous and accomplice leaders; strategies to add Indigenous representation to Creative Time’s board, advisory councils, staff, and programming; continued prioritization of community-led safety and de-escalation services in place of the police; and working to implement a land-use fees or a land tax to fund local Indigenous and/or Black-led rematriation and reparation efforts.
Transformation demands continual and scalable action, so with the release of the Think Tank’s study, the work is just beginning. This is why the Think Tank cohort has named its recommendations “programming scores:” a score may be planned, but only in practice is it performed. Every performance will differ.
What you will see at Creative Time in the next year and beyond is a move toward transforming our most elemental practices to bring us in better relations with the communities we encompass and work in. Yet the Think Tank didn’t make Invitations Toward Re-Worlding for Creative Time, but for all of us. We are asking you to perform these scores with us, as a concrete step toward collective transformation.
Natasha L. Logan is the deputy director at Creative Time; Justine Ludwig is the executive director.
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