Curating Racially Sensitive Content in an Era of Reckoning over Race Relations

30 March 2021

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CIMAM is pleased to co-organize and host this workshop conducted by the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and offered exclusively to CIMAM members. This session follows CIMAM's spirit and commitment to provide our members with a space for debate and exchange, for sharing and connecting, for learning, and encouraging cooperation.

Thursday 13 May at 11:00 ET (17:00 hrs. CET). Space in the workshop is limited to 25 participants.

Please send a statement of interest and a brief bio, as well as a proposed case study (preferred but optional) to members@cimam.org by April 20th. Participants will be notified of acceptance by April 26th.

Curating Racially Sensitive Content in an Era of Reckoning over Race Relations

Controversies over art exhibitions and cultural programming dealing with race are complicated by a tense and polarized political climate globally and a reckoning over racial relations of power.

Social justice and anti-racism protests are often accompanied by calls for the cancellation of exhibitions. The instantaneous and wide reach of social media, which involves groups that may not be traditional museum-goers and may have different agendas further exacerbates the potential for conflict. All this creates an explosive mixture that may put curators and other arts administrators in positions for which they are not always prepared.

Taking curatorial risks is becoming difficult. And yet, art institutions offer a much-needed space where difficult subjects can be explored in all their complexity.

The workshop, designed to provide practical tools to curators, will offer a space to share – and learn from – peer experience in handling the challenges of presenting difficult subject matter today.

We will use as a starting point one or two recent cases of controversy, present the positions of various stakeholders and invite participants to develop alternative scenarios. A veteran in the field will share their experience and lead the program. To ensure an open discussion, we will ask participants to respect the confidentiality of the conversation.

Some possible questions for discussion:

How should an art institution balance the demands of social justice and those of showing art that may be open to a variety of interpretations, some of them problematic? How can you control interpretation in a world where de-contextualized components of a show can quickly circulate to fuel activist agendas? How do you encourage real debate about sensitive issues and allow for experimentation, even mistakes? Should institutions respond to social media criticism and where and how can institutions find the support to do so effectively?

The workshop will be lead by Svetlana Mintcheva, Director of Programs at the NCAC, and will take place on May 13th at 11:00 ET (17:00 hrs. CET).

Svetlana Mintcheva, NCAC Director of Programs

Dr. Mintcheva has written on emerging trends in censorship, organized public discussions and mobilized support for individual artists, curators, authors, teachers, and librarians. She is the co-editor of Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression (The New Press, 2006) and of Curating Under Pressure: International Perspectives on Negotiating Conflict and Upholding Integrity (Routledge, 2020). An academic as well as an activist, Dr. Mintcheva has taught literature and critical theory at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria and at Duke University, NC from which she received her Ph.D. in critical theory in 1999, as well as at New York University. Her current research focuses on the challenges to the concept of free speech posed by social media, social justice movements, and political polarization.

The National Coalition Against Censorship

This workshop is part of a series of events organized by the Arts Advocacy Program at The National Coalition Against Censorship over the last few years in partnership with universities and arts and professional organizations. As part of the initiative, AAP also conducted a qualitative and quantitative study on the many forms art censorship can take in cultural institutions. The resulting publication, SMART TACTICS: Curating Difficult Content examines the internal and external pressures curators must navigate when considering potentially controversial material. The publication includes both a report on what happens behind the scenes in art institutions and a handbook for confronting the challenges of curating difficult content.

CIMAM has been collaborating with the NCAC in specific projects and facilitating access to CIMAM members to the books SMART TACTICS: Curating Difficult Content and Curating Under Pressure, published by the NCAC. CIMAM officially endorsed the Museum Best Practices for Managing Controversy co-authored by the NCAC’s Arts Advocacy Project and six collaborating national arts organizations in 2018.