Activists publish open letter to the Walker concerning Steve McQueen talk

Activists publish open letter to the Walker concerning Steve McQueen talk
12 Years a Slave

When an organization hosts an event that might be of importance to a community outside of its regular patronage, how much responsibility falls on that group to handle the publicity and ticketing of that event differently? This is one of the questions being addressed in an open letter to the Walker published recently on local blog Opine Season.

The event triggering the discussion is this year's Walker Dialogue Series featuring Steve McQueen, a black filmmaker who is receiving great critical acclaim for his latest feature,

12 Years a Slave

. Each year, the museum screens a handful of films that lead up to a talk with a director. Past participants have included Terrence Malik and Michel Gondry. As is often the case, this year the film premiere and artist's dialogue are sold out.

Who exactly will be in the audience -- or, rather, won't be -- has been brought up as a concern in the open letter, penned by Chaun Webster, Jeremiah Bey Ellison, Arianna Genis, Shannon Gibney, and Valerie Deus:

We are concerned that though this film is being shown, that peoples of African descent, whose ancestors' lives and histories were disrupted by the slaveocracy, will be largely underrepresented in the audience. Our position is that equity is not just about the diversity in the art being shown but the material work of creating greater access to exhibitions to ensure that audiences are representative of the subject matter.

We understand that these events were publicized to members of The Walker and on The Walker's website. As you may or may not know, when marketing strategies are limited in media and points of origin, the race, class, gender and other layers of social location are also limited.
Over the years we have become acutely aware of the way that art institutions are guided by an exceptionalism that will welcome works of art by select artists of African descent and other historically marginalized groups but will largely have little to no relationship with members of those communities. This in no small way contributes to the issue of representative audiences.

The letter, which can be read in its entirety here, offers a variety of potential actions that could open up discussion and increase community engagement, such as offering more tickets to the event and giving them to reputable organizations, hosting another screening (and potential talk with the director) at another space, and hosting a panel talk between the museum and community on social responsibility concerning arts institutions.

While distribution rights will keep the Walker from hosting another screening (the film's wide release date is this Saturday), the museum's response to the letter, both on Facebook and in an article by the Star Tribune, has been positive and suggests that they are open to discussion:

The Walker appreciates and respects the voices of concern expressed by members of our community regarding questions of access to and representation of diverse audiences. We agree that this is a worthy and important topic for broader discussion within our arts community and we welcome this dialogue.

What are your thoughts on the issue?

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