ARTnews Presents ‘The Deciders,’ As Selected by Guest Editor Hank Willis Thomas
For the latest “Deciders” issue of ARTnews, we turned to the esteemed artist and activist Hank Willis Thomas as a guest editor to help identify and highlight individuals and institutions currently contributing to the cultural conversation in a pointed way—and moving that conversation forward. As Thomas explains in a Q&A about the project, he selected the Deciders featured in the list below as well as others featured in different ways in different sections of the magazine. Read on to learn more about the Deciders designees—and stay tuned as related features publish online in the weeks to come.
“Best Practices” with Derrick Adams
“The ARTnews Accord” with Legacy Russell & Adrienne Edwards
“Perspectives” by Jerica D. Wortham
Deciders are listed in alphabetical order. Illustrations by Adam Easterling/Courtesy Hank Willis Thomas Studio.
A version of this article appears in the December 2021/January 2022 issue of ARTnews.
Amplifier is a nonprofit design lab that commissions and distributes “free and open source” poster art with a mission of “reclaiming an American identity rooted in equality, dignity, diversity, truth, and beauty” while dispelling the “chaos and negativity of this polarizing time.” Founded by photographer Aaron Huey and led by CEO Cleo Barnett, the organization claims to reach 20 million viewers per campaign, using savvy ad buys, public placement, classroom mailings, and an open-source model that allows the public to use the art made available however they please—on social media, for example, or protest signs.
Amplifier’s 2017 “We the People” campaign distributed 700,000 images combating bigotry and hatred ahead of Inauguration Day for Donald Trump. The campaign featured work by activist-artists Shepard Fairey, Ernesto Yerena, and Jessica Sabogal, and raised $1.3 million on Kickstarter in eight days. Amplifier used its reach in 2021 to encourage viewers to get vaccinated against Covid-19 by releasing a series of free poster art to share on social media, and installing 12 public art works in communities with the lowest vaccination rates, in cities including Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Aside from public health efforts, the nonprofit partnered with activist Amanda Nguyen and asked artists to create posters denouncing xenophobia and anti-Asian rhetoric for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Image: Angela Nadine’s I’m Vaccinated for an Amplifier campaign.
Jodi Archambault grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota as a member of the Hunkpapa Standing Rock Sioux tribe before becoming an artist and policy adviser to former president Barack Obama. The beaded yoke dress she designed in 2005 using Adobe Illustrator featured prominently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2015 exhibition “The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” (and is now part of the museum’s permanent collection in the American Wing). “Adding our contemporary Native art to the American Wing is recognizing the people of today, the survivors of colonialism, and changing the narrative of how the Met sees America,” she said at the time.
During her tenure at the White House, Archambault worked in roles including Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs for the White House Domestic Policy Council and associate director of intergovernmental affairs.
The granddaughter of Israeli-American billionaire benefactors Ted and Lin Arison, Sarah Arison represents a new generation of philanthropists in the arts. Based in New York, she now runs the family-founded Arison Arts Foundation as well as YoungArts, an enterprise established by her grandmother in 2005 to provide funding and mentorship to teenage artists. Entrance into the organization begins with a competitive application process for U.S. high school students, who are selected by a panel of artists (many of whom were YoungArts recipients themselves).
In addition to heading the family organizations, Arison was appointed board chair of MoMA PS1 in 2020, adding to an already impressive resume of board memberships that include the Museum of Modern Art and Americans for the Arts. In her multiple roles on the MoMA board, she looks to fellow trustee Agnes Gund as the model for formative arts philanthropy. “You look at the lives she’s changed, and it’s countless,” Arison told the New York Times.
Also a collector, Arison has acquired work by many artists with whom she’s crossed paths, including Taryn Simon, Hernan Bas, Nicole Eisenman, and Lee Pivnik. She produced the featurette film Desert Dancer in 2015 and coproduced the art documentaries The First Monday in May and The Price of Everything.
Art for Justice Fund
Agnes Gund sold Roy Lichtenstein’s 1962 Masterpiece for $165 million to launch the Art for Justice Fund in 2017, an initiative with the Ford Foundation to end racial inequities in America’s criminal justice system. Since then, the project has directed more than $92 million toward ending mass incarceration through direct funding to artists and activist groups. Among the artists to partner with Art for Justice are Mark Bradford, Mark di Suvero, Paula Crown, and Stanley Whitney (whose gridded painting By the Love of Those Unloved, shown at left, Gund said she hung in her home in place of Masterpiece).
Julie Mehretu announced in May that she would be donating the full proceeds from the sale of her painting Dissident Score (2019–21) to the fund; created specifically for Art for Justice, the monumental work sold for $6.5 million, an auction record for the artist. The proceeds will support awards programs like the Activating Art and Advocacy grant, which funded the first artist-in-residence program at a U.S. district attorney’s office.
What does it mean to have the power of numbers? ARTNOIR is conscious of the power of collectivity and what a strong community and support system can signify to marginalized cultural producers like Black and Latinx artists. It takes a village to rectify the lack of diversity during a time of racial reckoning, and since 2013 this collective of seven friends has successfully united artists of color with collectors, curators, and their contemporaries, formulating a network that can be viewed as a sort of artistic family. Realizing the undeniable racial gap within the art world, the cofounders of ARTNOIR—Larry Ossei-Mensah, Carolyn “CC” Concepcion, Danny Báez, Isis Arias, Melle Hock, Jane Aiello, and Nadia Nascimento—took on the responsibility to bring visibility to underrepresented artists in their community. In the years since, what started as a group of friends traveling the globe and conducting art-centered field trips has become an essential support system for emerging artists of color.
ARTNOIR is aware that artists can’t necessarily sustain themselves on talent alone, so they developed education programs, scholarships, and funding opportunities both before and, even more so, during the global pandemic. As Covid-19 disproportionately affected the African diaspora, ARTNOIR launched the Jar of Love Fund, a micro-grant-making initiative seeking to reinvest in the community. The fund has raised over $100,000, which the collective dispersed to artists and cultural producers experiencing economic hardship.
Launched in 2001, the Artistic Pathways Scholarship Fund is devoted to MFA students at CUNY and SUNY schools in New York State. Since Covid-19, ARTNOIR has collaborated with Artsy to put together benefit auctions with proceeds supporting the collective’s grantmaking and funding ventures. These auctions feature works by well-regarded young artists—among them Larissa De Jesús Negrón, Raelis Vasquez, and John Rivas—whom the collective helped in the early stages of their careers. All the while, ARTNOIR remains determined to make tangible change in the art world, reshaping and redefining it by taking various approaches including a presence in art fairs, exhibitions, and educational programs.
Peering into a future we have since experienced all too clearly, Naomi Beckwith wrote, in a 2014 essay for Frieze, “the art world’s still-active fantasies of an ahistorical space—a white cube untouched by the social strife outside it—will be continuously disrupted by a recurring nightmare of violence and exploitation until we all do some serious social work.” Years before demands for accountability in museums broke through to the mainstream in the summer of 2020, Beckwith saw ahead to increasingly foregrounded demands for an overhaul of the art world’s exclusivity. Beckwith’s clairvoyant perspective reflected her attunement to how museum spaces are obligated to multiple publics, not simply an in-crowd, and articulated the convergence of the art world and wider social spheres that she has followed through every step of her graceful career.
After graduating from Northwestern University and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, Beckwith completed a curatorial fellowship at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, before being hired by the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2007. As the Studio Museum’s associate curator, she worked on exhibitions including the first American solo show for Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. In 2011 she began her tenure at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, where she was promoted to senior curator in 2018. There, she continued a curatorial practice that simultaneously looks to new generations of artists and senior artists left in the margins with exhibitions like “Howardena Pindell: What Remains to Be Seen” and “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now.”
Today, Beckwith is deputy director and chief curator at the Guggenheim Museum, a position she began this past June as the first Black person—let alone Black woman—to lead in her role. The position is well-suited for Beckwith, who cited the museum’s previous attempts to “disrupt art history’s mythologies” as a particularly appealing aspect of the job.
After coming up at a time when multiculturalism and identity politics dominated cultural life, Beckwith has taken lessons from the 1980s and ’90s to center artists from diverse backgrounds and attend to their artistic specificities. In a recent interview with Artnet News, Beckwith underscored her position with a set of questions: “[W]hat proposition is this artist putting in the world? And how can it change the way we think about our history?” In Beckwith, the Guggenheim has found a powerhouse aligned with its institutional mission, a desire to move forward, and a willingness to challenge the museum to raise its standards.
It has become exceedingly easy to appreciate Garrett Bradley’s tender moving-image films, thanks to their appearance not only in major art institutions but also on big and small screens around the world. At the Sundance Film Festival, Bradley made waves with her documentary Time (2020), which won the artist an award for directing, making her the first Black woman to take the prize. The documentary’s heartrending narrative about activist Fox Rich’s repeated attempts to get her husband out of prison struck a chord with critics—and distributors. Amazon Studios shelled out $5 million—an unusually large sum for a documentary—to release the film theatrically, and Time wound up getting nominated for an Academy Award. That same year, the Museum of Modern Art in New York gave Bradley a solo show.
Bradley’s work appeared in 2021 alongside pieces by Julie Mehretu, Glenn Ligon, and Nari Ward in “Grief and Grievance,” the final show organized by the late Okwui Enwezor at the New Museum in New York. Netflix also released a three-part documentary Bradley made about tennis star Naomi Osaka. This past July, Bradley signed to make a film adaptation of Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower. And it was announced that, in January, Time will be added to the Criterion Collection, making Bradley one of the few Black directors with a film in the boutique home-video release series.
Despite her ascendance in the film world, Bradley has remained committed to a style that many associate with museums and galleries. Of her lush images and avoidance of the talking heads so often seen in traditional documentaries, Bradley said, “I started off as a photographer, and so much of what brought me to filmmaking was the ability to think through—and share—my own curiosity through image-making.”
The images Bradley produces have been influential for a rising class of artists considering forms of resistance by Black Americans, who in her films are frequently shown pushing against centuries-long histories of erasure and disenfranchisement. Viewers of her work see activists call out the U.S. prison system’s stark racial inequities, and witness sports stars decry the unfair pressures that are placed on Black athletes. Violence, both physical and emotional, surrounds these melancholy narratives, though Bradley keeps the carnage largely implied. “What happens when you systematically separate Black and brown families for hundreds of years in our country?” she said. “What are the effects of those things?”
Along with what she does with a camera, deep research is a component of Bradley’s practice. To make America (2019), a video installation shown at MoMA, Bradley spent time in the Library of Congress researching the early years of Black cinema in the U.S. What she discovered was a lacuna: most of the first films by Black filmmakers with Black casts had been lost. Even the first feature-length film with an all-Black cast, Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913), exists now only in fragments. Bradley interspersed portions of that film in her installation and added to them her own footage of athletes, children at play, and more. Bradley also projected her work on a white sheet—a reference to the robes worn by Ku Klux Klansmen as well as a banner held by a contemporary division of the Buffalo Soldiers, an all-Black military group founded during the Civil War.
Rebecca Matalon, a Contemporary Arts Museum Houston curator who organized a traveling Bradley survey set to open at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles in 2022, said the artist’s films “emerge as a very specific kind of activism,” continuing, “there is a real power and poignancy to her works, particularly in the ways they examine visual culture and its complicated history as a tool for racial violence.”
The New Orleans–based organization BreakOUT! works in line with a mission statement that “envisions a city where transgender, gender non-conforming, and queer youth of color can live without fear of harassment and discrimination.” Taking cues from “the rich cultural tradition of resistance in the Deep South,” the group raises money for individuals—such as those helped by its Trans Defense Fund—while also partnering with fellow activist organizations and presenting programming, workshops, and coalition-building exercises—such as “healing nights and pillowtalks for LGBTQ communities” under the name Healing as Resistance Together (HART).
With more than two decades of nonprofit and private-sector experience, Isolde Brielmaier now brings her nontraditional and forward-thinking methods as a curator and scholar to the New Museum as the institution’s recently appointed deputy director. After having served on the museum’s board of trustees since 2016, Brielmaier started her new role in September with a charge to administer marketing and communications strategies as well as audience experience for the institution and its cultural incubator, NEW INC.
In addition to her work at the New Museum, Brielmaier has taught as an assistant professor of critical studies at New York University’s Tisch School in the Department of Photography, Imaging, and Emerging Media, and in 2020 she was named curator-at-large at the International Center of Photography. There, she curated “Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good,” the young photographer’s first U.S. solo exhibition, as well as “Inward,” a show featuring works generated via iPhone to illustrate the lived realities of five emerging Black artists during the time of Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, and the 2020 U.S. election. Brielmaier’s curatorial practice is timely and innovative.
In the fall of 2020, Brielmaier edited Culture as Catalyst, an anthology of writings and conversations among today’s influential thinkers concerning issues around migration, mass incarceration, and food justice. Another book, I Am Sparkling, which documents photographer N. V. Parekh’s work and collaborations with his distinguished subjects, is scheduled for publication next spring.
Rashida Bumbray is a curator, choreographer, and writer who, like so many of her distinguished peers, got her start as a curatorial assistant and exhibition coordinator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, before moving on to bigger roles (but not before establishing a jam-session event at the museum for tap dancers). She worked as
a curator at the Kitchen, the performing-arts center in Chelsea, where she contributed to projects with Simone Leigh, Kyle Abraham, and others, as well as Creative Time, for which she guest-curated the 2014 show “Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn.”
Bumbray is now director of culture and art for Open Society Foundations, a grant-making enterprise founded by George Soros that is active in more than 120 countries and focused on “work to build vibrant and inclusive democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens.” Since taking the role in 2015, Bumbray has organized the “Arts Forum: Art, Public Space, and Closing Societies” and launched the Soros Arts Fellowship, which in the past three years has awarded funding to Olu Oguibe, Nicholas Galanin, Firelei Báez, and Nana Oforiatta Ayim, among others.
Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute
Since its founding in 1976, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute has advocated for cultural equity, and racial and social justice for African descendants in New York and across the U.S. Founded by Marta Moreno Vega and presently under the management of executive director Melody Capote and curator-at-large Grace Aneiza Ali, the organization based in East Harlem has been a pioneer in advocating for historically marginalized communities through different kinds of programs and initiatives.
Since 2014, their Innovative Cultural Advocacy Fellowship has helped mentor and train a significant number of BIPOC curators and educators. Similarly, the Afro-Caribbean Art Curatorial Fellowship continues the center’s goal to diversify art institutions, increase cultural equity, and connect the African diaspora by fostering networks at home and abroad, with a group of fellows for 2021 hailing from locales including the Bahamas, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and the United States. In addition, their Curators in Conversation virtual talk series has brought Afro-Caribbean curators into critical debates, and digital exhibitions such as “On Protest and Mourning” have reflected on concerns touching on Black Lives Matter protests, ongoing grappling with unjust conditions, and avoidable catastrophe during a global pandemic.
Creative Growth Art Center
As Covid-19 forced California to close nonessential businesses, one of the most impacted arts communities was the one anchored at Creative Growth Art Center. The Oakland nonprofit is one of the world’s oldest art studios for artists with developmental disabilities, with more than 140 artists arriving routinely to paint, sculpt, draw, tuft rugs, and more. When it closed temporarily in March 2020, the center’s staff delivered supplies to artists’ homes and created virtual workshops while building accessibility, from providing A.S.L. interpretation to checking in with artists without computers or WiFi. Fostering an environment that nurtures creativity has been Creative Growth’s mission since its founding in 1974. In addition to giving artists stability in the form of materials, time, and space (in an airy 12,000-square-foot former auto repair shop), the center helps exhibit and sell their art in ways that avoid tokenization or exploitation. The Center’s “family” includes luminaries like Judith Scott and Dan Miller, who are represented in prestigious museum collections. Creative Growth also leads an annual symposium to share resources with those interested in starting similar programs.
Ryan N. Dennis
Ryan N. Dennis started her curatorial career working at prominent institutions including the Menil Collection and the New Museum, but joining the community-arts platform Project Row Houses (PRH) in 2012 was the move that allowed her practice to truly flourish. In her hometown of Houston, Texas, Dennis worked on more than a dozen “Artist Rounds”—a biannual event for which artists and community members in the Third Ward neighborhood collaborate on installations and programs—over her eight-year tenure as a curator and program director at PRH.
Dennis started a new role in March 2020 at the Mississippi Museum of Art as chief curator and artistic director of the Center for Art & Public Exchange. Her first major project there, scheduled to open in April 2022 (and then travel to the Baltimore Museum of Art in October), is “A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration,” an exhibition that will present 12 newly commissioned works by artists with ties to the South, among them Mark Bradford, Steffani Jemison, Carrie Mae Weems, and Robert Pruitt.
Dennis also cocurated the 2021 Texas Biennial, on view in Houston and San Antonio, with Evan Garza, suggesting her influence in Texas may endure despite her move to Jackson, Mississippi. That influence extended well beyond PRH: Dennis’s dedication to community and equity-centered arts programming has been invaluable for Houston’s art scene, which contains plenty of large cultural institutions but fewer opportunities for emerging and self-taught artists. Her work follows a long legacy of socially engaged Black arts leaders in the city that includes the collective Otabenga Jones & Associates, PRH founder Rick Lowe, and John Biggers, the late social realist muralist and founder of the art department at Texas Southern University.
Ceyenne Doroshow & GLITS
Ceyenne Doroshow likes to say that GLITS (Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society) is all about “community taking care of community.” Doroshow founded the organization in 2015 as a grassroots hub to connect transgender people and sex workers with crisis support and health and housing services—fundamental needs that many LGBTQ+ nonprofits are unable to fill quickly. During the pandemic, the urgency of these requests only grew, and in turn the compassionate, charismatic Doroshow redoubled her efforts to provide care for her community, raising money on social-media platforms to bail LGBTQ+ people out of prisons overwhelmed by severe Covid-19 outbreaks.
The initial success of the bail campaign soon snowballed into unprecedented visibility and support for GLITS, and by the time Doroshow took the mic at a widely attended Brooklyn Liberation rally in June 2020, the group had raised more than $1 million in donations. By the end of that summer Doroshow was able to realize a dream 30 years in the making by purchasing a 12-unit apartment building in Woodhaven, Queens, that now provides safe, stable housing for Black trans women—a community-controlled model used by groups in several other cities. Though she has long been a venerated figure within the New York trans and sex-worker communities, 2021 saw Doroshow enjoy wider recognition for her work, thanks to her appearance as the Grand Marshal at NYC Pride, her participation in a MoMA PS1 panel on Black Trans Liberation, and her role as guest of honor at the iconic annual drag festival Bushwig.
If you love art and spend any time online, you know Kimberly Drew, who, for close to a decade, has cultivated her singular voice as @museummammy. A writer, curator, and organizer, Drew has been a forceful proponent of Black cultural production since the heyday of Tumblr, where she amplified Black artists on her blog Black Contemporary Art. As the former social media manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she advocated for greater accessibility, equity, and community representation.
Drew left the institutional world in 2019 to work on her own terms. She published This Is What I Know About Art in 2020, a youth-focused guide to art, protest, and empowerment. Then came Black Futures, a vital collection (coedited with Jenna Wortham) of texts and images about Black culture that asks: “What does it mean to be Black and alive, right now?” Drew’s work serves as resistance in an overwhelmingly white field, enacted with generosity, empathy, self-awareness, and uninhibited imagination. A self-described “quintessential Leo,” she is also an advocate for trans rights, sex workers, and people with disabilities.
Elvira Dyangani Ose
The Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) is an imposing structure, with a large glass facade and a spacious concrete plaza in front. But as the newly appointed director of Spain’s most important museum for contemporary art, Elvira Dyangani Ose wants to make MACBA more welcoming. Known primarily for surveys of European conceptual artists whose works go heavy on documentation, MACBA, as Dyangani Ose envisions it, will become more global in its scope by presenting offerings intended for new and wider audiences. “We are being extremely self-critical of the way that the apparatus of the museum works,” said Dyangani Ose, who is the first woman and the first Black person to lead MACBA.
Prior to joining MACBA this past summer, Dyangani Ose led the Showroom, an alternative space in London where she boosted emerging talents like Lungiswa Gqunta and Em’kal Eyongakpa. Having held positions at Tate Modern, the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, and Creative Time, she brought to the Showroom a sense of internationalism that will likely be seen at MACBA. And though she arrived at MACBA at a tumultuous moment—just as she was hired, the museum laid off its chief curator and head of programming, shortly after the museum’s previous director left amid disagreements over expansion plans—Dyangani Ose believes she can turn the museum around and open it up to surrounding communities. “We need to offer them something that they take ownership of, that they feel that they want to go back to,” she said.
In her roles as an independent curator, cultural strategist, artist, and organizer, Ashara Ekundayo creates spaces that invest in the artists she works with in the public and private sectors. These have included galleries in Oakland—her hometown for more than a decade—like the now shuttered Omi Gallery and Ashara Ekundayo Gallery, which between 2017 and 2019 exhibited works by Black women artists. Ekundayo also runs Artist as First Responder, a platform that supports artists whose practices heal and save lives. Through AAFR’s monthly online forum called Blatant, Ekundayo engages with cultural workers and archives their care solutions in zines.
Ekundayo also cofounded Black [Space] Residency, a space for creatives from the African diaspora housed in the San Francisco Minnesota Street Project. By building infrastructure for those often working on the margins, Ekundayo underscores artists’ roles in society and the economy as fundamental. Her work is particularly significant in Oakland, where gentrification has uprooted cultural ecosystems and disproportionately harmed artists of color. Embracing an intersectional, intergenerational, and Afrofuturist framework, Ekundayo’s vision is one of collective thinking and restructuring, and of community abundance over competition.
Fairchain is a New York–based startup that uses blockchain for title management, art authentication, and transaction documentation. Founded in 2019 by Charlie Jarvis and Max Kendrick, it allows buyers to track the provenance of art using the digital ledger and sellers to avoid disputes, while artists receive a percentage of
secondary sales and galleries organize exhibitions of digital works that are registered on the blockchain. Fairchain sees its technology as a step toward a “more secure, trustworthy, and equitable art ecosystem.”
While the technology has existed since 2019, open enrollment is planned for this winter, with artists such as Carroll Dunham, Eric Fischl, Ludovic Nkoth, Duke Riley, Laurie Simmons, and Hank Willis Thomas listing their work on the platform. “We’ve all seen what it looks like when people get it wrong, but we continue to believe in the power of tech, applied thoughtfully, to break down the barriers to entry facing underrepresented communities in the art world,” Fairchain cofounder Jarvis told ARTnews. “It’s great that we’re applying some of the best concepts underlying NFTs to the domain of physical art, but what’s more important is that we do so in a way that is structured for social responsibility from day one.”
When Nicole Fleetwood’s exhibition “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration”opened in 2020 at MoMA PS1 in New York, the show seemed to be all that anyone was talking about. Critic Johanna Fateman was among the show’s biggest fans, writing in the New Yorker that it was “hard to imagine a show more essential.” And the exhibition and a related book published by Harvard University Press figured in Fleetwood’s winning a MacArthur fellowship in 2021.
Though “Marking Time” included some non-incarcerated artists, Fleetwood, who is now a professor at NYU, organized the show with the aim of highlighting an often-invisible crop of artists who have produced creations while in prison. Many of the artists Fleetwood featured—among them Jesse Krimes, Ronnie Goodman, Tameca Cole, Russell Craig, and Gilberto Rivera—were not widely known before the show.
Fleetwood has described being humbled by the experience of organizing “Marking Time,” and often mentions others when she receives praise. “This project was produced because so many people were willing to collaborate, provide access, and share resources,” she told ARTnews in 2020. “It’s a very different sense of how to foster an art community than what often happens in more monetized, established art circles.”
“I always swore that I would never open a commercial art gallery,” Adam Shopkorn, the founder of Fort Gansevoort gallery, recently recalled. “Building a gallery is tough, and I think the traditional model is lousy.” Just over six years ago, though, the opportunity presented itself in the form a space calling to be transformed into a gallery in New York’s Meatpacking District. “The impetus was to have a funnel to accelerate creative ideas—we don’t run with the pack,” Shopkorn said of his focus on artists whose work has been underrecognized and undervalued.
Since its founding in 2015, Fort Gansevoort has mounted shows by Sadie Barnette, Cheryl Pope, Deborah Roberts, Michelangelo Lovelace, Christopher Myers, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, and Vanessa German. Fort Gansevoort opened a second space, in Los Angeles, in 2019. And its founding mission remains, Shopkorn said. “There’s no shortage of amazing artists in the world. If we’re good at what we do, artists won’t stay with us forever. Fort Gansevoort today isn’t what it’s going to be tomorrow.”
Image: Winfred Rembert, Dinnertime in the Cotton Field, 2011.
Guild of Future Architects
Founded by philanthropist, entrepreneur, and architect Sharon Chang, the Guild of Future Architects calls itself “a home, refuge, and resource for people collaboratively shaping a kind, just, inclusive, and prosperous world.” Chang created the Guild to develop and further the emerging discipline of “future architecture” using the four frameworks: “Imagination/Narrative/Embodiment”; “5C: Curiosity, Curation, Coordination, Commitment, Creation”; “Agnostic Contextual Design”; and “Story/Rule/Money.” In order to “establish future architecture,” the Guild says, one must “first understand what it means to be a future architect.” With its 100-year plan, the Guild hopes to foster that understanding far and wide.
The Guild sponsors annual meetings, local gatherings, and digital programming. There are also two separate incubator programs (a retreat-style “Flagship” incubator and a partnership-based “Specialty” incubator), learning programs including a Futurist Writers’ Room, workshops, and a meditation series. The Guild plans to launch a digital platform to organize all its open data, research, and creative media content.
After making his name as a curator at the storied Los Angeles nonprofit space LAXART, César García-Alvarez set out with artist Glenn Kaino to create an alternative model to support artists that led to the creation of the Mistake Room, which opened in 2014. “We’ve always thought about our program as creating exhibitions for an audience that doesn’t yet exist, that people will appreciate in retrospect,” said García-Alvarez, who serves as the Mistake Room’s executive and artistic director and has also been a cocurator for the Made in L.A. and Desert X biennials.
Among pivotal Mistake Room exhibitions are early showings of Vivian Suter and Ed Clark, years before major galleries began to represent them. And the Mistake Room’s curatorial team aims to explore thematic questions over an extended length of time. The organization will present a series of shows and programs over the next two years looking at Latinx art that will culminate in a biennial-style citywide show titled “Wetlines.” García-Alvarez explained that “before we could do this big show, we felt that building context for it was important. It’ll look to make the claim that we shouldn’t have a consolidated genre of Latinx art but rather a framework through which to engage varying practices with different kinds of relationships to Latin America.”
Theaster Gates & Rebuild Foundation
Chicago native Theaster Gates has spent the last decade injecting new life into the vacant and underutilized spaces scattered across the city’s South Side. Since launching the Rebuild Foundation, an organization focused on sustainable cultural development and neighborhood revitalization, in 2010, the artist has worked with local communities to redefine their neighborhood as a hub for art. The area now plays home to such projects as the Stony Island Arts Bank, a disused community savings and loan that Gates repurposed for an exhibition space, library, and artist residency program; the Black Cinema House, which hosts screenings and discussions; and the Dorchester Art and Housing Collaborative, a former derelict housing project that now offers affordable housing for artists and their families. Even more projects are in the works, including an arts incubator in a former Catholic school and a community garden.
Allison Glenn joined the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) as senior curator and director of public art in May, a move called “a watershed moment for the museum at a time [when] we are moving swiftly beyond our walls to truly engage the civic life of our community and city” by CAMH board chair Dillon Kyle. Prior to CAMH, Glenn was associate curator at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, where she worked on shows including the 2019 outdoor sculpture presentation “Color Field,” “State of the Art 2020,” and “Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal….”
Glenn is also known for organizing “Promise, Witness, Remembrance,” a presentation honoring Breonna Taylor’s life and commenting on erasure, state violence, and the fight for racial justice. The powerful exhibition on view this past spring and summer at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, included Amy Sherald’s portrait of Taylor (which appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair), as well as other works, among them Nari Ward’s We the People and a Glenn Ligon neon commemorating the day after the 2020 election.
Greenwood Art Project
The Greenwood Art Project in Tulsa, Oklahoma, originated as an initiative of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, which oversaw a number of cultural programs to honor the 100th anniversary of the massacre that decimated an area known in its prime as Black Wall Street. Funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the initiative commissioned more than 25 artists to create public art installations focusing on “the rich history of Oklahoma and Black Americans,” as described by Centennial Commission project director Phil Armstrong.
Rick Lowe and William Cordova served as the lead artists, and individual projects include an outdoor installation by Sarah Ahmad at a nature center under the title The American Dream as well as What If Tulsa: Story-Gaming App by Candace G. Wiley and The 1921 Historic Black Wall Street Online Business Directory, a digital database compiled by Mikeal Vaughn and his students at the Urban Coders Guild. During the centennial, there were also spoken-word performances by poets such as Phetote Mshairi, and jazz by former Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO Chuck Cissel.
Lowe elected not to use the funds to erect a monument for the massacre, choosing instead to start a conversation in Tulsa and beyond. “By this community having a conversation,” he told The Oklahoman, “you can kind of work towards setting the tone for the rest of the nation.”
Image: Crystal Z. Campbell, Notes From Black Wall Street: Soft, Receptive, and Absolute, 2019.
Since her time as a curator at the Whitney Museum in the 1980s and ’90s, Thelma Golden has been instrumental in helping usher a generation of Black artists to the fore, simultaneously honoring the plurality of Black art and refusing the peripheral attention offered by too many institutions. Since joining the Studio Museum in Harlem as deputy director in 2000 and director and chief curator since 2005, Golden has been almost peerless in continuing to shape the increasing centrality of Black modern and contemporary artists. Alongside Lowery Stokes Sims, Golden’s mission in her early years with the museum focused on diasporic inclusivity, highlighted by the inclusion of numerous young artists from the United States and abroad. But rather than reading Golden’s impact solely from the perspective of championing Black expression, it is important to note how she has invested in ideas around how Black artists are incorporated into a more comprehensive understanding of modernism writ large. Looking over what reads like a rock-star roster of contemporary Black curators, artists, and writers who have been associated with her over the years, working with the Studio Museum seems like a rite of passage—all guided by Golden’s touch.
Linda Goode Bryant & Project EATS
Linda Goode Bryant—who several decades earlier founded the legendary New York gallery Just Above Midtown—got to thinking in 2008 about a food crisis that impacts the whole world. She didn’t know much about how to grow food herself, but she knew she wanted to get involved. The result was Project EATS, a New York–based organization devoted to distributing edible resources in underserved neighborhoods.
Working within a tradition more closely associated with activist groups, Project EATS has in the past year brought food to residents in the predominantly Black Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville and the largely Latinx Belmont district in the Bronx. The project’s offerings tend not to look like art, though they have periodically been exhibited as such. In his “Social Works” show at Gagosian gallery earlier this year, Antwaun Sargent included an installation by Bryant titled Are we really that different? (2021), featuring a line of herbs and vegetables along with IV tubes bringing nutrients to them. Visitors were invited to pick from the plants and take the food home with them. In an essay accompanying the show, Sargent placed the works in a lineage that includes Rick Lowe, Lauren Halsey, Noah Davis, and other artists who “provide badly needed material goods in their local communities.”
Lauren Halsey & Summaeverythang
Throughout her career, Lauren Halsey has maintained the aura of her humble South Central Los Angeles upbringing based in a grassroots concern for her neighborhood while carving out a new space in the art world. As her gallerist David Kordansky said, “The DNA of her practice is the notion of the local. She embraces regionalism but as a positive connotation. Lauren is exploring L.A. as a place, a site, a demographic, a geography.” Like Ed Ruscha, who has chronicled the city since 1956, Halsey is a documentarian of shared experiences in her community, and she has encapsulated the language, energy, and emotionality of the place in her artwork as well as the service work she is doing as an outgrowth of the love she has for her home.
With her Summaeverythang community center, Halsey has taken on the daunting task of feeding her beloved South Central and Watts areas by making sure they have access to freshly sourced organic food from Southern California farms. Halsey and her crew, consisting of what she has called “little cousins, best friends, people from the neighborhood” plus studio assistants and her partner, Monique McWilliams, have distributed boxes filled with items such as collard greens, kale, cilantro, rice and beans, fingerling potatoes, apples, bananas, blueberries, and more, with Halsey personally subsidizing much of the cost.
As for her artwork, after earning her education from the California College of the Arts and Yale University, Halsey was part of the esteemed artist-in-residency program at the Studio Museum in Harlem, where she further developed a practice that sees symmetry and a commonality of purpose in everything from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs to urgent issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. Her work makes the point that, if the world can appreciate the beauty, innovation, and cultural relevance in Ancient Egypt, then certainly the world can appreciate the beauty, innovation, and cultural relevance in South Central and Watts. She is establishing an African historical connection while elevating marginalized communities of color, queer populations, and the working poor—communities that are too often invisible in plain sight.
As her star continues to rise, Halsey will be featured in the inaugural show for David Kordansky’s new gallery in New York this spring. Even with the roster of well-established names he represents (see: Sam Gilliam, Huma Bhabha, Rashid Johnson, Derek Fordjour, and others), Kordansky said that going with Halsey was an easy choice. “Lauren is one of the most important artists of her generation, and we are bringing the L.A. energy and vibe to New York City—so she has got to be the one,” Kordansky said. “She is deserving of a real moment. This is her time to shine.”
—Melvin A. Marshall
Naima J. Keith & Diana Nawi
Another reason to love a city already so rich in culture, Prospect New Orleans is a contemporary art triennial that has been hosting world-class artists since the opening of its first edition in 2008. This year’s “Prospect.5: Yesterday we said tomorrow,” which opened in October and runs into January, was curated by artistic directors Naima J. Keith and Diana Nawi, both of whom were already important figures in their own right. Keith is the vice president of education and public programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and previously worked as the deputy director and chief curator at the California African American Museum. Nawi was an associate curator at the Pérez Art Museum Miami before becoming an independent curator; she has worked on exhibitions for artists including Nari Ward, John Dunkley, and Haroon Mirza.
“Prospect.5: Yesterday we said tomorrow,” with a title referring to New Orleans jazz musician Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s 2010 album Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, features 50 artists in more than 15 spaces throughout New Orleans. The artists were prompted to examine how history informs the present, and together, Keith and Nawi created an inclusive, impactful, and socially minded model for a metropolitan art show—all with a stated mission goal of “one voice, one creation, one daring question at a time.”
Christine Sun Kim
Christine Sun Kim’s Instagram profile image is a simple black-and-white icon: <0/. It’s a clever rendering of the sign for “deaf power,” representing a person covering an ear with one hand while the other forms a fist raised in the air. Inspired by the powerful simplicity of <0/, Kim and fellow deaf creative Ravi Vasavan (describing themselves as “passionate about Deafness and everything connected to it”) launched an online project in 2020 to promote it as a symbol of unity among deaf
communities, using a website and Instagram page—both under the mantles deafpower.me—to share resources and build solidarity with the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements.
As Deaf Power has become a burgeoning movement of its own, Kim has served as one of its main faces. The Berlin-based sound artist has been featured on popular mainstream platforms like TED Talks and performed songs in American Sign Language at the 2020 Super Bowl, later publishing a New York Times op-ed criticizing Fox for omitting her performance from its broadcast. Kim doesn’t accept big invitations for self-promotion, though—her activism, like her art, advances the idea that access is a collective project, and that differences in ability can be a rich source of knowledge and relational possibility.
Christine Y. Kim
Christine Y. Kim began her career as a writer in the education department at the Whitney Museum of American Art alongside fellow heavyweights Franklin Sirmans and Lisa Dent. In 2000 she rose up the ranks from curatorial assistant to associate curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem under the tutelage of Lowery Stokes Sims and Thelma Golden. While there she worked on seminal presentations including “Freestyle” (2001), “Black Belt” (2003), and Henry Taylor’s first solo museum show (2007).
Later, working between New York City and Los Angeles, Kim worked on exhibitions for Kehinde Wiley, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Otobong Nkanga. During this time Kim also established the Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND), a nonprofit that orchestrated temporary public art projects. By 2009 she was an associate curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she has worked on notable exhibitions including a retrospective for James Turrell and a highly regarded mid-career survey for Julie Mehretu. In November, she was named a curator-at-large for the Tate museum network.
Kim has spent her career advocating for more representation and equity for Black artists and artists of color. She has been instrumental in the development of the Stop DiscriminAsian movement, and in 2020 established a discussion series about racism as a public health issue with speakers including Rashid Johnson, Dolores Huerta, and Ava DuVernay.
Cameroonian curator Koyo Kouoh was appointed executive director and chief curator of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2019 after a successful stint as a curator on her own. Previously, she was the founding artistic director of the women-run independent art space RAW Material Company in Dakar, Senegal, and curator of the education program for London’s 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair.
Kouoh was born in the port city of Douala, Cameroon, and moved as a teenager to Switzerland, where she went on to study business administration and banking. She started working as a curator, writer, and editor in Senegal in the 1990s.
At the Zeitz, Kouoh tends to focus on the work of individual artists as opposed to group shows, which have often been a sort of default mode for showcasing African art. “The curatorial and exhibition practice we want to bring to MOCAA is of course one that looks at the continent—but through the practice of individual artists,” she said at a symposium about the work of William Kentridge in October 2020. “We are convinced that when it comes to contemporary African art, there have been so many ideas and positions lumped into group shows, and not enough work has been done on individual voices.”
In October, Kouoh participated in an Africa-France gathering in Montpellier, where she pressed French president Emmanuel Macron for reparations beyond repatriation of African art taken by France during the colonial era. “Africa has been … in a forced marriage [to France] for at least 500 years,” Kouoh said, according to a report by the Associated Press, adding pointedly, “[o]ur imagination was violated.”
The Laundromat Project
Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood has been a social and cultural hub for Black communities for nearly a century. Though Bed-Stuy has experienced serious gentrification since the early 2000s, it remains defined, and strengthened, by Black diasporic culture, the kind that thrives at the intersection of Kingston Avenue and Fulton Street. It’s a lively corner full of barber shops, beauty supply stores, and plenty of Caribbean food options—as well as the Laundromat Project, a “Black-rooted and POC-centered” community arts center in a storefront sandwiched between an eyebrow-threading salon and a liquor store. A recently installed window mural by the Brooklyn-raised Destiny Belgrave, of African American and Bajan descent, greets pedestrians on Fulton Street with a peaceful depiction of an ancestor embracing a small, brown figure, surrounded by the moon and stars.
The Laundromat Project signed a 10-year lease on its current space in 2020, launching a new chapter after 15 years of programming from bases in Harlem and the South Bronx. The move represents a kind of homecoming too. Founder Risë Wilson was living in Bed-Stuy in 1999 when she first conceived of the project, with the vision of using a functioning laundromat as a site to host community art programs. Though Wilson wasn’t actually able to purchase a laundromat, funding from the Echoing Green Fellowship and the Brooklyn Arts Council in 2005 allowed the Laundromat Project to begin hosting community art events around New York. That year, Wilson led the organization’s inaugural program, a fabric mural workshop, at the Stuyvesant Heights Senior Center in Bed-Stuy. Current executive director Kemi Ilesanmi joined the board in 2006, when the “Create Change” artist residency program became the project’s core focus; it provides funding and support for “artists, activists, neighbors, designers, organizers, healers, storytellers, and cultural producers” across New York to develop creative projects in close collaboration with communities of color. At first, the resident artists staged these projects in laundromats, though libraries, community gardens, and a range of other spaces have since been enlisted.
The collaborations between artists and community members are intended to be valuable for both parties—a horizontal exchange. Often, artists take on the role of historian or archivist, recording oral histories and mapping or otherwise documenting a community they’re connected to. Lizania Cruz, a resident in 2017–2018, recorded and transcribed the stories of immigrant and first-generation Black residents in Bed-Stuy, printing them in colorful zines distributed via a mobile newsstand. The project, which remains ongoing, is called We the News. The collective Chinatown Art Brigade launched a “place-keeping” mapping project in 2019 as part of their efforts to protect longtime Chinatown residents from displacement. Xenia Diente and Jaclyn Reyes, residents in 2020, intended to map the Filipino-American community in a part of Woodside, Queens, called Little Manila, but when the pandemic drastically altered the social rhythm of the area, they added a new component to their work: a mutual aid project that provided frontline hospital workers with meals from Filipino restaurants.
The “Create Change” program is unique even among New York’s community art platforms in that it doesn’t require, or even suggest, that the artists it funds create discrete works or stage an exhibition. That’s part of why the Laundromat Project should be a model for other art spaces that aspire to be a counterforce to gentrification in historically Black and brown neighborhoods rather than a vector for it. By promoting new creative approaches to preserving and growing community ties, the Laundromat Project helps us appreciate, in the words of former artist resident Rasu Jilani, that “a neighborhood is a living archive.”
Image: A project by Destiny Belgrave for the organization’s storefront.
After being named creative director of UTA Artist Space in 2019, Arthur Lewis, an avid collector of work by emerging and in-demand artists, set out to build an ecosystem in Hollywood supportive of incisive storytelling. One of the first shows he orchestrated, in collaboration with Mariane Ibrahim, was “Disembodiment,” which introduced then rising stars Vaughn Spann, Marcus Jahmal, Jonathan Lyndon Chase, and Clotilde Jiménez. The lauded exhibition has since been followed by Pamela Council’s buzzy installation Blaxidermy Pink and a digital presentation by Osaze Akil Stigler.
A former merchandising executive for the Gap clothing brand, Lewis now helps budding collectors build their own holdings around young local and international artists. As a board member at the Studio Museum in Harlem, he’s also positioned to influence policy decisions at one of the country’s most-watched art institutions. Meanwhile, he and his partner, Hau Nguyen, still find time to expand their collection, which includes figurative paintings, video installations, and sculptures by Genevieve Gaignard, Elizabeth Catlett, Kerry James Marshall, Titus Kaphar, and Tschabalala Self, to name just a few.
Sarah E. Lewis
An associate professor of art history and African American studies at Harvard University, Sarah E. Lewis has been a key figure in rethinking how photography and other kinds of imagery inform the way people—and Black people in particular—navigate the world we live in today.
Her thinking manifests in her scholarship but also through her groundbreaking Vision & Justice project, an expansive, education-focused initiative that has taken many forms. Among those is a course she teaches at Harvard and a special issue of the photography magazine Aperture that came out in 2016 and will soon become a book series to be coedited by Lewis, Leigh Raiford, and Deborah Willis for Random House’s One World imprint. The volumes in the series, to be published beginning in 2024, will “consider all the different ways in which representational justice expands our notion of belonging for everyone in the United States,” Lewis said. “The aim is to set a foundation for other works that will come.”
Creating the book series had been a part of Lewis’s vision for the project that intensified as she was editing an entry into MIT Press’s “October Files” series on Carrie Mae Weems. “Artists of color, specifically Black artists, have been exhibited widely in ways and at a rate that doesn’t match the number of publications or the breadth of scholarship about their inventions and contributions to the larger discipline,” Lewis said. “That asymmetry is extraordinarily significant to reckon with. To not have a record of what we sense and know robs us of the ability to frame this historically for those to come—50 years from now, 100 years from now.”
Lewis is also finishing other new books to be published in the next two years: Caucasian War: How Race Changed Sight in America (2022), which evaluates the use of the term “Caucasian” as a stand-in for whiteness in the U.S., and Groundwork: Race and Aesthetics in the Era of Stand Your Ground Law (2023), about “artistic engagements with anti-Black violence” in the work of contemporary artists including Mark Bradford, Hank Willis Thomas, Kehinde Wiley, Amy Sherald, and others. About Groundwork, Lewis said, “It’s a way to show impactful extrajudicial work that artists perform in the social arena, because these artists are asking questions that lawyers have not, that activists even have not.”
When Kabelo Malatsie was named director in 2021 of the Kunsthalle Bern, a storied museum in Switzerland, the news was regarded with some degree of surprise, given Malatsie’s unusual path to one of Europe’s most beloved contemporary art museums. Unlike most leaders of European Kunsthalles, who cut their teeth in experimental art spaces and gradually rise up the ranks by organizing international biennials, Malatsie got her start in the gallery world. From 2011 to 2016, she worked at Stevenson, a prominent South African gallery with spaces in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Then she completed a master’s degree at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where she focused on independent South African art spaces, and went on to lead the Visual Arts Network of South Africa, an artists’ rights group with 6,000 members.
When she begins at the Kunsthalle Bern in April 2022, Malatsie will inherit an institution that will always be associated with Harald Szeemann, who during the 1960s helped define the practice of curating with his avant-garde shows there. She will also be the first non-European to lead the museum, and one of the few Black directors of a major museum in the Continent. Malatsie plans to draw on the museum’s outré spirit with exhibitions based in concepts that unfold over a span of years. “Szeemann seems like he had lots of fun,” she said. “I’m hoping that I can have fun as well.”
When Danyelle Means was named executive director of the Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this past summer, she became the first Indigenous person to lead the multidisciplinary institution that mounts exhibitions and hosts a renowned film program. She also established an elemental goal. “I want to come up with exhibitions that foster a sense of inclusivity rather than a narrow vision of what contemporary art can be,” Means said of her vision for CCA. “The position will allow for me to change things from within.”
An enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Nation of South Dakota, Means grew up on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Several of her family members were involved in the American Indian Movement in the 1970s. “Activism was a way of life for me as a child,” she said. At 14, however, Means was sent to a boarding school in Connecticut—an experience she described as a “culture shock” between “two worlds that rarely came together.”
Means spent a year in England after boarding school and then attended the University of South Dakota, where she majored in French and anthropology, and wrote her honors thesis on drag queens working in South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Though Indigenous people historically have a fraught relationship with the field of anthropology, Means wanted to approach it from a “subversive” point of view that would “turn it back on the colonizer.”
She began graduate study in anthropology in 1991 at the University of North Carolina but left after a year. She soon moved to New York to stay with a friend, and started working at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), shortly after it became part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1989. Growing up, she had been aware of Indigenous artists like R. C. Gorman, T. C. Cannon, and Oscar Howe, but Means described her time at NMAI, where she worked for more than 20 years, as a transformation akin to “taking a fish to water. It was second nature. It combined my interest in anthropology with setting out to make a difference for Native people in the museum field.”
Means followed up her stint at NMAI as director of institutional advancement at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, a leading art school for Indigenous people, and executive director of the institute’s foundation. In 2019, she cocurated “Survivance and Sovereignty on Turtle Island: Engaging with Contemporary Native American Art” at the Kupferberg Holocaust Center at Queensborough Community College in New York. And now her hope at CCA, an institution she imagines as a collaborative place “that strips away the silos [of various disciplines] and looks at art from all aspects,” is to make people “feel like they can always find something here that they haven’t seen.”
New York City is one of the world’s cultural capitals because of people like Margaret Morton. After joining as a program officer in 2015, Morton is now the director of creativity and free expression at the Ford Foundation, where she has recently been instrumental in the expansion of the Disability Futures initiative, a fellowship established in partnership with the Andrew Mellon Foundation that provides disabled artists, filmmakers, and journalists with $50,000 unrestricted grants.
Previously, Morton was both deputy commissioner and general counsel to the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. There, she supervised arts and cultural program funding, restructured grant programs, and designed new models to support arts administrators. Morton has also managed capital campaigns for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and BRIC arts and media center.
She holds a law degree from Georgetown University, which led her to serve as counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, working on civil rights and immigration legislation. A founding member of the East Harlem School at Exodus House, she also participates on the Art Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association.
Nasher Museum of Art
Named for Raymond D. Nasher, a 1943 graduate of Duke University and a collector of modern and contemporary sculpture, the Nasher Museum focuses on building a permanent collection of contemporary art by artists traditionally excluded from more mainstream institutions. The collection includes some 13,000 works, with recent acquisitions including pieces by Korakrit Arunanondchai, Reggie Burrows Hodges, and Wangechi Mutu. In 2013, the Nasher organized the first survey of Mutu’s work in the United States, and it has played home to notable showings of work by Barkley L. Hendricks, Nina Chanel Abney, John Akomfrah, Naama Tsabar, and Ebony G. Patterson, among many others.
In March 2020, to join a team led by revered young director Trevor Schoonmaker, the Nasher named Lauren Haynes as senior curator of contemporary art. She previously worked in the curatorial departments at the Studio Museum in Harlem (where she co-organized an Alma Thomas survey in 2016) and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, where she worked on a presentation of “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.”
After a high-profile run as the head of Creative Time, a public art organization that during her reign presented such works as Kara Walker’s A Subtlety in a disused sugar factory and Paul Chan’s Waiting for Godot in post-hurricane New Orleans, Anne Pasternak took her current position as director of the Brooklyn Museum. Since 2015, the historic institution inside a grand Beaux-Arts building has played home to some very contemporary and otherwise unorthodox shows, such as “KAWS: WHAT PARTY,” “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams,” “Studio 54: Night Magic,” “Jacques-Louis David Meets Kehinde Wiley,” “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” and “Something to Say: Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, Deborah Kass, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Hank Willis Thomas.”
Located in a former iron works factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Pioneer Works is an interdisciplinary art space and social hub founded in 2010 by artist Dustin Yellin for the “creation, synthesis, and discussion of art, science, and education.” Its emphasis
on intellectual cross-pollination allows artists, scientists, and creative thinkers to work together on projects that fall “outside the boundaries of traditional institutions,” where such thinkers are too often expected to specialize at the expense of innovation.
Core Pioneer Works offerings include a residency program that engages different disciplines (visual arts, music, narrative arts, and technology) through selections from an open call. Locally, the center is known for its robust programming and events calendar. Its signature “Second Sundays” series occurs on the second Sunday of every month, inviting the public to visit residents’ studios, view exhibitions, and avail themselves of live music and food. Janna Levin, an astrophysicist who serves as the Pioneer Works director of sciences, hosts a series called “Scientific Controversies” that has experts from all fields exercising their wide-ranging scientific and creative curiosity, and there are workshops on topics like risograph printing, book launches with artists and academics, and cosponsored events with partners such as the Paris Review and Scientific American. Plus, Pioneer Works hosts a lot of parties.
In March 2020, the feminist activist-artist Michele Pred issued a call to female-identifying artists everywhere to permanently raise their prices by 15 percent as part of the ambitious initiative called the Art of Equal Pay. A data specialist working with the project placed the current price differential between male and female artists on the primary market between 14 and 19 percent, so Pred settled on 15—with encouragement for the price increase to go into effect on March 31, Equal Pay Day, a day that indicates how far into the following year women must work in America to earn what men take in by December 31.
Pred had planned for a year of public activations and fundraising, but only weeks into the initiative, the world went into lockdown. So programming pivoted to online forums cohosted by feminist writer Carmen Rios and creative producer Autumn Breon. Some participants pointed out that many artists lacked the clout or representation to raise their prices, while others highlighted even greater pay gaps faced by Black and Latina artists. With the full scope of the issue emerging, the Art of Equal Pay adjusted its approach. Pred now invites artists to raise their prices up
to 15 percent, and according to the project’s website, some 100 artists have pledged to raise their rates, including Yvette Molina, Ann Lewis, Deborah Kass, and Michelle Hartney. Collectors such as Jean Chadborne, Sonia Marie, and Diane DiMenna agreed to acquire works at their increased prices, while several galleries—such as Nancy Hoffman Gallery and Jasmine Wahi’s Project for Empty Space—also joined the cause.
“For this to be possible, we need support from collectors and galleries,” said Pred. “We need them to be willing to spend more money on women artists.”
Pred is focused now on spreading awareness of the project further. She made the rounds at Frieze London in October, brandishing one of her signature artworks: a vintage bag turned into a sort of micro-billboard stamped with the words “EQUAL PAY.” Full-size billboards inviting artists to join the mission also appeared in New York and Houston, with more planned. Meanwhile, Pred is encouraging artists to share their experiences with pay discrepancy through a survey available on the project’s website. “What we discovered was that many female artists have a hard time talking about raising their prices,” she said. So the survey offers a safe, anonymous forum to share hopes and concerns. As for how long the project will last? “I thought this project would be a one-off thing,” Pred said, “but I know now that I’m in it for the long haul.”
E. Carmen Ramos
Over the past decade, E. Carmen Ramos has been quietly—and then with a crash and a bang—altering and reconstructing notions of what constitutes American art. From 2010 until earlier this year, she was a curator focusing on Latinx art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., where she presented two landmark exhibitions: 2014’s “Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art,” highlighting important artistic contributions of Latinx artists to art-making in the U.S., and 2021’s “¡Printing the Revolution! The Rise and Impact of Chicano Graphics, 1965 to Now,” a testament to her having expanded the museum’s holdings of Chicanx works on paper by some 300 percent.
Then, this past May, Ramos was appointed the chief curatorial and conservation officer for the National Gallery of Art. “We’re deeply committed to being a museum ‘of the nation and for all the people,’” she said of her new posting. “That’s a bold vision, and deeply felt for our times right now.”
Ramos said she sees her role as chief curator as that of a “facilitator, someone who can marshal and collaborate with our whole museum” while fostering connections between curatorial departments, education, and more. Ramos got her start as a public programs educator at the Brooklyn Museum. She left there to go earn a Ph.D. in art history at the University of Chicago, and then worked as an assistant curator for cultural engagement at the Newark Museum in New Jersey.
As for her new post at the National Gallery, she hopes to “reflect and engage the art of the past and to see works and eras in conversation,” Ramos said. That idea will figure in the museum’s exhibitions as well as its permanent collection displays, as evidenced by the installation this year of recently acquired works by Carrie Mae Weems in the same gallery as Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s The Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial from the 19th century. “As we expand our holdings with milestone works by BIPOC artists, those pieces will eventually be presented in our galleries where they will be the catalysts of conversations,” Ramos said. “I want our curators to think about each area that we collect and what it means for these areas to be in communion. Part of it is building collections, and part of it is how we interpret collections to better understand how to meet our audiences where they are and explore the bounds of humanity that connect us all.”
Working at the intersection of art and journalism, Josué Rivas describes himself first as a storyteller. Being intentional about who controls the narrative is fundamental to his approach as an Indigenous Otomi and Mexica photographer, especially as he often documents movements as an outsider, from Black Lives Matter demonstrations to the Sioux-led Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
Rivas works to resist centuries of harmful representation of Indigenous communities, advocating in his roles as an artist and educator for Indigenous authorship. His photobook Standing Strong, which won the 2018 FotoEvidence Book Award, reflects a seven-month stay at Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock, North Dakota, during which he connected with Indigenous leaders to portray their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline as not just a protest but also a spiritual awakening. More recently, through his media agency Indígena, Rivas launched LANDBACK.Art, a billboard campaign designed by Indigenous artists that urges support for the landback movement. As cofounder of Indigenous Photograph, a database of Indigenous visual journalists for hire, Rivas also advocates for Indigenous authorship in everyday stories as critical steps toward decolonial futures.
Kristin Sakoda is ushering the cultural sector in Los Angeles into a new era after overseeing the Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s recent transition to a full-fledged department, for which she serves as director. With a law degree from New York University, the attorney-turned-arts-executive has brought to L.A. experience as commissioner and general counsel at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the largest municipal funder of the arts in the U.S. It was there that Sakoda led a range of strategic and policy initiatives in New York City’s cultural circuit, including spearheading capital campaigns for cultural facilities, commissioning public art, and securing affordable working spaces for artists.
In L.A., she is now leading the city’s initiatives around issues relating to access and inclusion as well as recovery from the pandemic. Earlier this year, under Sakoda’s direction, the department got approval to allocate $12 million in Covid-19 relief funding to arts organizations around the city. In a roundtable with the nonprofit Americans for the Arts, Sakoda said that building goodwill with arts stakeholders in the city was a crucial task for the department she now heads. “Every arts agency serves and is reflective of the region in which it resides,” Sakoda said. “So it is important to think about the needs, strengths, and opportunities within that region.”
See Black WomXn
In 2019 the San Francisco Arts Commission selected artist Lava Thomas’s design for a public monument to the poet Maya Angelou—only to have the proposal rejected by the project’s legislative sponsor, Catherine Stefani. For many community members, the about-face exemplified the systemic suppression and erasure of Black women’s voices in service of whiteness. A movement formed to demand accountability, led by See Black Womxn, a collective of artists, activists, and writers raised on Black feminist theory.
Founders Tahirah Rasheed and Angela Hennessy launched a campaign to “Abolish White Supremacy at SFAC” and issued calls to see, hear, trust, love, protect, and pay Black women. These values figure in the imperative mantra of See Black Womxn, which has continued to advocate for the well-being of Black women artists. In March 2020, the collective launched a five-part virtual discussion with the de Young Museum in San Francisco to honor the legacies of Black artists and center Black perspectives on art and the art world. In a time of institutional reckonings, See Black Womxn has been a vital presence, demanding fundamental protections amid the swelling rush toward allyship.
American lawyer and activist Chase Strangio has been at the center of recent milestones advancing trans rights in the United States. A staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, Strangio has served on the legal teams for landmark cases that have led to impactful decisions on LGBTQ issues. He was among the lawyers in October 2019 who represented Aimee Stephens, a trans woman who was illegally fired from her job at a funeral home, in the U.S. Supreme Court case R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He was also on the legal team for a case involving Gerald Bostock, a gay man terminated from his job as an official in an Atlanta juvenile court system over discrimination on the basis of his sexual orientation. Ruling in Bostock’s favor, the court stated that is it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender identity under Title VII.
Strangio’s efforts in liberating vulnerable groups from state backed oppression extend beyond the legal field. He was a contributor to In Plain Sight, an L.A.-based coalition led by artists Cassils and rafa esparza dedicated to abolishing immigration detention in the U.S. For the group’s #LookUP campaign launched over July 4th weekend 2020 in coalition with 17 immigrant justice organizations, 80 artists were commissioned to participate in a project that saw planes disseminate skywritten messages across the country calling attention to the immoral criminalization and engagement of immigrant communities for profit. The initiative led to such messages as #FreeThemAll and #DefundHate sailing across the sky over detention centers and former internment camps nationwide.
Third Wave Fund
Responding with outrage in a 1992 Ms. magazine article to Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the Supreme Court after his being accused of sexual misconduct, Rebecca Walker coined the term that would come to identify the movement known as “third wave” feminism. Later, alongside Catherine Gund, Amy Richards, and Dawn Lundy Martin, she founded an organization in its name to address injustices faced by BIPOC women and LGBTQ communities, and from there was born the Brooklyn-based Third Wave Fund, which dedicates itself to liberating those oppressed by gender-based discrimination. The fund relaunched in 2014 with a new model to address gaps in philanthropic giving around the U.S. allocated to gender justice efforts.
Since then, the Third Wave Fund has launched some of the most visible funding initiatives in the feminist movement’s decades-long evolution. Led by activists and codirectors Ana Conner and Kiyomi Fujikawa, the organization has grown to become one of the most active funders of youth gender–justice groups in the U.S., placing more than $2 million in grants in 2020, with 97 percent of funds going to BIPOC-led organizations. As of October, its grants had provided assistance to hundreds of beneficiaries across the country and served as a catalyst for activists on international stages—with recipients including the Oakland, California-based Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, Community Estrella in Atlanta, Assata’s Daughters in Chicago, Trans Queer Pueblo in Phoenix, and the Reproductive Justice Action Collective in New Orleans.
Image: The Third Wave Fund staff in 2019.
Funded by real-estate mogul Frank McCourt, Unfinished is an organization that mobilizes a network of partners in technology, academia, social-impact enterprises, and the arts to build a better internet in hopes of improving civic life. For its first project, Unfinished Labs developed an open-source protocol called the Decentralized Social Networking Protocol that powers Project Liberty, an initiative to build a shared public infrastructure for the web using blockchain. The idea is that the blockchain ledger would contain users’ social connections, so social media companies wouldn’t individually own the data relating to those connections.
“I never thought I would be questioning the security of our underlying systems, namely democracy and capitalism,” McCourt told Bloomberg of his $100 million investment. “We live under constant surveillance, and what’s happening with this massive accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a few, that’s incredibly destabilizing. It threatens capitalism because capitalism needs to have some form of fairness in it in order to survive.”
Aside from building a decentralized internet, Unfinished oversees a programming slate called Unfinished Live, which has hosted both online and in-person events and discussions with internet-savvy leaders such as Abigail Disney, Alicia Garza, Julián Castro, and Krista Tippett. This past September, Unfinished Live took over the Shed in New York for two days of digital and IRL programming, including “The Project Liberty Experience,” an interactive exhibit that asked visitors to imagine a world in which they owned and controlled their own data. The presentation featured Refik Anadol’s multimedia work Machine Hallucination, which comprises more than 100 million publicly available images of New York.
As part of the Walton Family Foundation, Olivia Walton has been instrumental in all the art activity that has made Arkansas a major hub for what classifies now as American art. Married to Tom Walton, a grandson of Sam and Helen Walton, she is the new chair of the board of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and chairperson of The Momentary, a satellite space for contemporary art in Bentonville, Arkansas. She is also a cofounder of the Heartland Summit, an event geared toward promoting economic growth in the American heartland, as well as the founder and managing partner of Ingeborg Investments, a venture capital portfolio focused on early-stage investment in women-led businesses.
Mabel O. Wilson
Despite its reputation as a bastion for architectural experimentation, the Museum of Modern Art in New York had never in its history organized an exhibition specifically devoted to Black artists working in the field until 2021. One person to thank for that change is architect and historian Mabel O. Wilson, who, with MoMA curator Sean Anderson, curated “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America.” With works by Walter Hood, V. Mitch McEwen, and Amanda Williams, the show spotlighted various approaches to community-building in areas populated by African Americans and members of the African diaspora, and was labeled a breakthrough by figures such as architecture historian Jay Cephas, who remarked in Artforum that the show “stands to play a pivotal role in the critical discussions of race.”
Wilson’s first thought for “Reconstructions” was to mount a collection-based survey of Black architects. But, gradually, “we realized, unlike most MoMA shows, which rely heavily on the collection, we didn’t really have a collection to mine,” said Wilson, who teaches at Columbia University. Considering this erasure, she began to ask questions of the sort that typically guide her work: “What are Black spaces like? How do we have architects address Black space in their work?”
Amid a larger reconsideration of the role that race plays in art, architecture, and design, projects like the one Wilson helped undertake for the University of Virginia in Charlottesville have been considered. Known as the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, the work is a circular structure with a rising wall inscribed with the names of enslaved people, each with slash marks intended to recall the marks left behind by whips. Wilson was part of a team selected to collaborate on the work in 2016, and the memorial was dedicated this year. “It was important to humanize [the enslaved laborers] and to show that this was a community and not just chattel listed on a ledger,” Wilson said.