Letter from the Executive Director

Letter from the Executive Director

By Michele Carlson May 1, 2018

The Art Practical team can often be heard saying, “Build the art world you want to see.” The enterprise of increasing equity and access in the art world, while rightfully very present—or dare I say, popular—is not just about content or public-facing initiatives. It is not enough to simply program “diversity” or have a diversity program. Art institutions need to change the shape of leadership so that expansive perspectives and positionalities are in decision-making positions that are paid with parity and benefits not honoraria, stipends, or good will. Equity flows from the top down, not muscled from the bottom up by those who also happen to be the focus of said diversity initiatives. These voices should determine outcomes, be held accountable, and be given credit for successes, and failures—not just be leveraged for institutional equity strategies.

At Art Practical, I have the exhilarating and humbling job of learning from and supporting a team that teaches me everyday what exactly a just, equitable, and accessible art world is and can be. This year is one of major transition and growth: we are now led by a leadership and editorial team consisting primarily of artists and writers of color, queer-identified, and gender non-conforming positionalities from wide backgrounds. Our flagship publication artpractical.com, was entrusted to the dynamic vision and unwavering Editor in Chief Vivian Sming, which sees fifteen thousand unique readers per month—a number that has increased as we made the significant move last fall to open up our coverage region past the Bay Area to include the expanded West Coast. Based in the SF Bay Area we don’t presume to speak for other local art communities so we brought in regional editors Ashley Stull Meyers, Gelare Khoshgozaran, and Vanessa Kauffman Zimmerly in the Pacific Northwest, Southern and Northern California respectively to steward the dialogs of those regions and amplify conversations already in motion. In a moment when perspectives are narrowing, we have made it a priority to open up and build bridges with other regions outside of the Bay Area to share knowledge and strengthen collectivity.

This year, in Public Sense, our yearly thematic issue, steadfastly led by Editor in Chief Kara Q. Smith we interrogate the broad scope of artistic public practice. We created free public programs to discuss decolonial art practices, Black arts leadership, and cultural districts amidst rapid gentrification. We participated in the national ART+FEMINISM Wiki-Edit-a-Thon, co-hosted a recorded conversation with former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther’s Emory Douglas and the students of color coalition at California College of the Arts, in addition to creating new pedagogical initiatives and partnerships.

When I came on as Executive Director in 2016, it was crucial that we expand our content forms to create more access and widen the scope of our audience. This past year, we officially launched two new channels: AP Audio and AP Books. Podcasts (un)making hosted by artist Weston Teruya and what are you looking at? co-hosted by artist Jay Katelansky and writer Elena Gross see over one thousand listens per month and create space for dialog on art and culture from the perspectives of people of color, intergenerational, and queer practitioners with Audio/Video Editor in Chief Leila Weefur at the helm. Art Practical published our very first book Decolonizing Culturea collection of essays from four years of Anuradha Vikram’s column #Hashtags which originally appeared our sister publication Daily Serving. Decolonizing Culture has been collected by libraries of major institutions such as Harvard, Goldsmiths, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Getty Research Institute. We are thrilled this important work and Anu’s critical perspective is finding a second life on syllabi, holding space on library shelves and permanently intervening in the canon. 

Working in multiple forms mean that our work doesn’t solely exist in the digital and textual realm.  We will work even harder next year to consider the concept of access more expansively. We ask ourselves what it means to exist largely online in a virtual space that requires access to technology, digital literacy, and that reinforce normative expectations around seeing, vision, and hearing. These aspects of access are just a few of the questions our staff will be considering this summer in addition to continuing our work to expand the political and cultural landscape of Art Practical.  

While our work is not perfect, nor by any means complete I am blown away writing this letter at what can be accomplished in a short amount of time. I am reminded that as a Director, if you put those who are historically underrepresented in decision making positions, open doors and get the hell out of the way that creating a just, more equitable, and more accessible art world isn’t an initiative or a focus, it is quite simply the norm. I am eternally grateful for everyone who built Art Practical’s legacy and those who have joined us in our recent journey, toils with us, and works hard and passionately to respond to the world we are. We fundraise for 85% of our operating budget and all funds go directly to produce Art Practical’s writing, podcasts, programming, and books. Please share widely and give now.

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