That was a message I heard often during my years in the museum world. It could be a NATO – No Action, Talk Only – environment where diversity on all fronts – museum staff, artists in the collection, programming – was often faux aspirational rather than intentional. Ignoring the obvious, many of my colleagues were baffled by the fact that we could not attract more diverse audiences.
I felt a flicker of hope when I read the New York Times’ Night Out with Jerrod Carmichael article about the young, African-American comedian’s recent swing through the Whitney Museum of American Art. Though he was not represented in the works he saw, his take on the art was refreshing. He viewed it on his terms, relating to what could have been the un-relatable because art that reflects who he is and where he’s from still seems to be missing. Hopefully other people of color, young and old, will visit museums the way Jerrod Carmichael did. Even though they often won’t find their experience represented in a collection they can appreciate what they see by making of it what they will. If museums – who use everyone’s tax dollars – saw a broader audience, would they begin to collect and staff for a broader audience? If they come, will they build it? It would be interesting to find out.
Comedians seem to be the sages of these times (think Jon Stewart, Larry Wilmore and earlier, Dick Gregory and George Carlin) so perhaps Jerrod Carmichael can use his sense and sensibilities to help un-pucker the art world a bit. Diversity of color, shape, size, subject, perspective, ideas and intent are what make the arts wonderful – the audience should also reflect that.