Occupy Museums interviews: Inclusivity

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I am in a Museum Studies program and I am writing a paper about inclusivity in museums, therefore I am very drawn to your movement.  I was hoping you can give me some feedback.  I thank you in advance for your time and input.

Best regards,


What would the movement like to accomplish?  

Max L: Occupy Museums has the same goals and issues as the larger Occupy movement: we would like to call attention to, and end, the marriage of corporate money and government, and the disproportionate amount of power, money, and decision-making held by the 1%. OM concentrates on how this inequity manifests in cultural, historical and artistic institutions. We would like to end the rein of powerful, wealthy board members and institutions that disenfranchise artists, art workers and arts professionals.

Noah: for the first stage, we want every cultural institution to feel deeply embarrassed about all the donor names everywhere, the kind of exhibitions they are showing with obvious conflicts of interest visa vis the art market, and they way they are treating their workers, and even artists who show there. We want people to keep making them feel the heat until they change.

Maria: We want to liberate art and culture from the stranglehold of being in service to the wealthiest members of society. The ultimate goal is to restructure how our common property, institutions and resources are cared for. Currently, a very small percent of people are able to exert great influence on our pubic institutions, from public television and radio, to libraries, museums and cultural centers. Part of OM’s work is to point out how this works and the repercussions, so that together we can begin to resist, call out for reform and develop better models. For artists and cultural workers the result is that we have to focus our creative energy on projects and products that suite the needs and desires of the 1% and the capitalist priorities. For society at large, we experience art that is deeply affected by a market-driven, commodifiable priorities. Creativity and arts are separated out from peoples lives, professionalized and compartmentalized.

We want a society in which the arts provide creatively diverse opportunities and the freedom to create arts and culture is done in the service of all people not just the wealthy.

Maraya: We want art and culture to be woven into all aspects of society instead of being a separate entity where only a select facet of society understand the importance of art and culture. We want the museum to become the powerful tool it can by becoming more accessible to the masses through creativity and collaboration with the public and with artists.

What are the strategies for the movement?  

Max L. OM is currently at an awareness-raising stage for the most part. We are brining attention to specific institutions whose funding, use of public space, and collections reflect the inequalities between their boards and directors, and wider artist, worker and public communities. As time goes on, I think that most of our strategies either ought to bring more of the 99% into the fold, or challenge the 1% for their actions.

Noah: Museums claim cultural authority over our shared narratives and symbols. By Occupying Museums, we are taking these symbols back and reminding people that art and history and dinosaur bones are everyone’s– they are no owned by David H Koch.

In terms of our direct action, We often assembly in front of cultura institutions, using the OWS general assembly tools such as “people’s mic”, facilitators, and the hand signals to attain a horizontal forum.  Anyone can speak their truths- often from their own experiences- about how the 1% controls and abuses our cultural commons. When the police try to stop our assemblies- as they often do, we succeed in showing that these institutions are not as open as they claim to be.

Maria: Much of the work that is being done in the larger occupy movement is creating small models of a new structures, for working and learning together. The movement recognizes that the current system does not work, and has identified the main culprite- money and the accumilation of power. That has shaped the entire system we live in, the way we look at others and the way we look at ourselves. We are now trying to create systems that work outside the assumputions of the current system  that money is nessecary that power and hierarchy are nessecary. We are now working on systems that are based on creating a better society, not making money or gaining individual recognition or power. Occupy Museums is a group of artist who are learning together through planning actions, this is a small system we are creating- perhaps it could be called an art project on its own. We share ideas and resources and skills, we support each other with both praise and critiques. We are learning to talk with each other, listen to each other email effectively, and call out problems and work to deal with them together. We are building trust between each other, learning to work together, learning to listen and learning to participate in new ways.

Actions are a great way to push up against the boundries of the system, out in a public way to call attention to our ideas and critiques and put ourselves out to receive the ideas and critiques of others. Actions invite people in, to think and react to the challenges and obstacles we see. We ask for dialogue with people in musuems to better understand the system they are working in and how it can be changed, at this point it is hard to tell perhaps they are allies, perhaps not. I think it best not to be oppositional, we want to work together, we want people to join us, we don’t want to exclude anyone, not even the 1%, we want a better system that leads to better art and culture.

Maraya: Movement takes time. OWS and OM is about igniting collective consciousness within society and giving people the courage to use their voice.


What would be an ideal museum, if any?  

Max L: I am partial to artist-run centers that can show art that is not necessarily economically viable, such as performance art, video art, installations, and other ephemeral work– their strength is not that they need to show this kind of work, but that they can. These museums need to pay artists (for art) or communities (for artifacts)  a fee when they show, and cover all shipping, insurance and PR costs. This relationship changes the power dynamic endemic in the United States; galleries/museums tell artists that we need them, while in artist run centers, the Center needs artists or, ideally, they need each other and can collaborate. This is similar to the artist-run culture in Canada, though this culture is also currently threatened by government spending and resource allocation.

Noah: Erase the connection between big money and art in the museums, give culture greater autonomy.  This obviously means a whole new funding structure- perhaps from the government like in Europe and Canada,  although that seems a long way off now.  But do you know how much money we put into fighting multiple wars at the same time? Americans are bound to wake up sooner or later.  If museums can leave the 1% private art market behind, they can blast off into the unknown- detaching themselves from old associations with the upper class tastes and find relevance for our current day.  More open minded art education that has nothing to do with the colonial/racist/sexist canon we’ve been sold. Experimental collection remixes.  Branches all over the city.  Every museum should have mobile units. More support for real  fund public art- non plop art. Museums should host radio stations and online discussion channels.  Art objects from the past are highly relevant and can be a consciousness tool. The idea of an ideal museum might be misleading because it sounds centralized.  It’s time to branch out in many different directions, challenge the tyranny of advertizing, luxury, and entertainment and make our culture- the symbols and experiences that give our lives meaning- feel vibrant again.

Maria-Now is too early for me to give a final answer as I want to talk, read, think, share, create, act and talk a great deal more on this subject. We have only been working together for a short time and always in different configurations of people and projects, so the ideal is currently in the process of getting to an ideal. It is the potential of potential. It is limiting to think that we need to have museums or that museums actually have anything to do with art. Museums have been created in a world of art and culture that is based on objects that can be accumulated. Museums are places to store stuff. They create the idea that art can be removed from the daily lives of people and separated it out as if art and creativity was not present in every part of our lives. As if it was not to be shared openly and widely but to be sectioned off and on display, separated out into specific categories and power structures. So the question would be how can art and culture become a fluid and open concept that is integrated into everyday life shared through the commons.  It is very likely that we might come to realize that museums are part of the problem, that they are imprisoning our arts and culture, and that what we need to do is set it free.

Maraya: Art as well as the  museum needs to be demystified for the general public. Although, most museums strive to be inclusive by offering free days and education, the museum itself is “stuffy” and big money reigns, making these institutions benefit those of the 1%, while the 99% is excluded. Art has lost it’s meaning,it’s time to re-invent the meaning of the idea of museum and what it can be.

The museum is too centralized. It is time for the museum to think outside of the box. it should start by collaborating with artists and the general public. Big museums need to collaborate with small towns and communities to bring art to the places where art and culture is not as accessible. Museums should be utilizing all major media resources such as television and radio. They should also have traveling museums and pop up spaces,utilizing the millions of art objects in storage,instead of allowing them to collect dust.

Museums are the key holders of art and culture, it is time they open up and start acting like it. It is the 21st century, old ideas are dead. It’s time to envision a museum that will ignite culture into society so that it can flourish to it’s fullest potential and where all feel included.

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