Last week brought news that Laura Raicovich was stepping down from her position as executive director of the Queens Museum in New York. In response, 38 artists, curators, and editors have signed an open letter in support of Raicovich, who said last week that she had departed from the museum amid disagreement over the direction of the museum with members of its board.
The letter’s signees include the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’s chief curator, Helen Molesworth; the Dar al-Ma’mûn’s director and chief curator, Omar Berrada; the Van Abbemuseum’s director, Charles Esche; the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art’s director, Gonzalo Casals; and critic Lucy Lippard.
Raicovich has said that the board had disagreed with her over her decision to cancel regular programming at the museum on January 20, 2017, for the J20 Art Strike, in which various American arts institutions were to close for the day in protest of Donald Trump’s policies. Instead, Raicovich held workshops where visitors could make signs to be used at demonstrations. Controversy also also surrounded a proposed event related to the anniversary of the partitioning of Palestine to form Israel—an event that was at first cancelled but ultimately allowed. After allegations of anti-Semitism over the Queens Museum’s questioning of the political nature of the event, some New York officials publicly denounced Raicovich as the museum’s head.
In the letter, the signees conclude that Raicovich’s activist-oriented work at the museum was absolutely needed for today’s political age, and they call on museum boards to tolerate that brand of curating. “This is more necessary now than at any other point since the civil rights era in the 1950s and 1960s,” they note. (As of Friday, February 2, the letter has been made available on the website Ipetitions, where it can be signed by anyone.)
The letter follows in full below.
Laura Raicovich, as president and executive director of the Queens Museum, has galvanized the museum field: she has demonstrated how cultural institutions can responsibly and creatively embrace artistic as well as social and political matters crucial to their local constituencies while contributing to the field at large. We have been inspired by her work with art, artists, and communities relating to important cultural issues such as immigration, cultural diversity, education, and equity. The example she set will continue to inform our own work.
We are writing to affirm the leadership role of cultural institutions in advancing cultural and social as well as political public discourse. As stewards and advocates of contemporary and historical cultural expressions, we directors, curators, and staff members of cultural institutions, as well as the board members to whom we are accountable, have a particular obligation to facilitate the free and safe exchange of ideas about our contemporary world with art as the catalyst.
In times of political polarization, arts institutions must fully commit to our responsibility to act as empathetic forums in which we come to understand human history, creativity and society. Art institutions must respond to pressing issues facing our communities — this is not simply a right but an obligation, especially for those supported by public funds.
We call on the boards of our cultural institutions to embrace the civic role of our institutions by supporting and empowering courageous and caring leaders such as Laura Raicovich, regardless of their gender. This is more necessary now than at any other point since the civil rights era in the 1950s and 1960s.
Chloë Bass, Social Practice Queens
Omar Berrada, Curator and Director, Dar al-Ma’mûn, Marrakech, Morocco
Rashida Bumbray, Open Society Foundations
Harry Burke, Artists Space
Gonzalo Casals, Executive Director, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
Mary Ceruti, Executive Director and Chief Curator, SculptureCenter
Ken Chen, Executive Director, Asian American Writers’ Workshop
Charles Esche, Director, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Deborah Fisher, Executive Director, A Blade of Grass
Lynn Gumpert, Director, Grey Art Gallery, New York University
Jamillah James, Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Carin Kuoni, Director/Chief Curator, Vera List Center for Art and Politics, The New School
Lydia Matthews, Director, Parsons Curatorial Design Research Lab, The New School
Helen Molesworth, Chief Curator, MOCA, Los Angeles
Amanda Parmer, Curator, Vera List Center for Art and Politics
Sheetal Prajapati, Director of Public Engagement, Pioneer Works
Laurel Ptak, Executive Director & Curator, Art in General
Silvia Rocciolo, Curator, The New School Art Collection
Jay Sanders, Artists Space
Lucía Sanromán, Director of Visual Arts, Yerba Buena Center of the Arts
Paul Schmelzer, Managing Editor, Walker Art Center
Gregory Sholette, Social Practice Queens
Joshua Simon, former Director and Chief Curator, MoBY Museums of Bat Yam, Israel
Marvin J. Taylor, Fales Library, New York University
Joanna Warsza, Artistic Director, Public Art Munich 2018, Germany
Martha Wilson, Founding Director, Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.
Update, 6:55 p.m.: Details about events at the museum and Raicovich’s relationship with the museum’s board have been clarified.