De Nichols, a St. Louis-based multidisciplinary designer, civic leader and “artivist,” talks about:

Getting her job as the community engagement manager at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, which evolved into a position dedicated to determining how an institution becomes a better neighbor to its community; the controversy(ies) around Kelley Walker’s show “Direct Drive” at CAM St. Louis, which opened in early Sept. 2016—everything from De’s take on the artworks beforehand and what she liked vs. what she found distasteful, and how she felt offended by the notion to come from how pieces featuring black women were going to be displayed, which she shared with the curator; to the climactic event of the artist lecture Walker gave alongside the curator, which in the Q&A session went remarkably wrong, and included gaslighting which left many in audience cold, disconcerted, and/or upset…and in De’s case, livid; how the curator, rather than helping Walker to communicate what he was unable to in response to various questions about race and misogyny, instead protected the artist and in turn shut the conversation down; how after the talk, De felt ashamed for being somehow complicit – as a museum educator – in a toxic experience; how as a community engagement person on staff, she got flak from both sides: the museum people and the people in the audience who wanted her to apologize for things getting so tense; how, through the fallout from that event she faced an internal crisis which led to her eventually leaving her post at the museum, and the thought process that led her to finally resign; the positive aspect of the effect on CAM, in the form of greater sensitivity and strategy going forward in a period where it’s going to be needed even more; she offers both advice and suggestions for artists to be culturally sensitive about the work they make and where they show it, and how they can become active in this changing political climate, including 100 Days of Action, the artist-run PAC For Freedoms, and The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (which is not a government organization despite what it sounds like).  While a video of the Kelley Walker artist talk and Q&A is not available, you can view a panel discussion response to that event, which took place at CAM as part of the series Critical Conversations, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhFClenTaL4


In Part I of II, Nato Thompson, Creative Time artistic director, and author of Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the 21st Century, talks about:

when he became “radicalized,” on two occasions:  one being the alt globalization movement that began during the WTO protests in Seattle in November, 1999, and the other living in a collective/cooperative in Berkeley, which enlightened him to self-empowerment, an entirely different way of living; taking the Creative Time Summit to the Venice Biennale, which Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman came along to cover, where she was able to interview artists Emily Jacir and Mariam Ghani, an example of Nato connecting the ‘activist left’ with the ‘art left’ (far left-wing artists); the realities of social and cultural capital, as far as how it’s gained (being with the right people, telling the right jokes, dropping respected names, etc.) and how by calling it out, as he does in the book, it has to be addressed as opposed to just taken for granted; how he grew up broke and always had anxiety about rich people and these New York City kids who went to fancy private schools and how it’s taken time to work through that anxiety, which to some extent is still there; how those living in a social bubble (the bubble of rich people) lack perspective on much of what’s going on with people around them; how board members of museums tend towards supporting work that has an air of glamor, as opposed to activist-based, the latter which you wouldn’t see at Miami Basel; the influence of former director and creator of Creative Time Anne Pasternak, who set up a system that allows for a flexible board with more open-mindedness toward selections; how certain think tanks, which rely on public perception, and which claim objectivity but are really just covert lobbying arms, are vulnerable to attack (especially ones without plans of defense) my outside forces in challenging that ultimate lack of objectivity; the critical left community of the art world, which both tends to hate the art world and yet knows how to navigate power well enough to get into important exhibitions (Documenta, etc.); how great it is that pluralism is reaching a critical mass, thus diluting the contemporary canon in the process; “if what makes things historically relevant has something to do with where the conversation is at, then the art market is a gigantic bubble”; the impact of social media (Instagram) in terms of becoming prominent new sources; and the events on the docket for this year’s Creative Time Summit coming up in October in Washington, D.C.

In Part I of II, Nato Thompson, Creative Time artistic director, and author of Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the 21st Century, talks about:

Being on the radio (the Leonard Lopate Show) with Vito Acconci; living in Philadelphia, a city he loves (and can afford to own a home in), commuting to NYC from there, and how and why he left New York as a residence 6 years prior; also, how he gets perspective on the art world/the arts by living outside of it, in a very scalable, civic-oriented community; as a child, living with his parents in the dorms at CalArts, where his father was in grad school as a painter (memories include the entirely naked pool, and playing D & D with then-undergrad actor Don Cheadle); his book touring for Seeing Power, including a Facebook chat w/New York Cultural Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl; the reality that the market portion of the art world produces luxury goods for the ruling class, and how for even experienced visitors to art fairs, “it’s hard not to be hypnotized/repulsed” by it, and how it’s a hard thing to overcome to be sympathetic to the arts; the urgency of certain activism, as best exemplified right now (as we spoke) by Black Lives Matter, and how things have changed in the political arena even since Nato’s book came out—including the fact that you can’t have Bernie Sanders’ candidacy without Occupy Wall Street; the ‘crucible’ of gentrification, and how it forces us to think about equity in all sorts of areas; two shows he curated while working at MASS MoCA, Becoming Animal and The Interventionists, and the complex and even confusing takeaways from those shows in terms of audience-artist relationships, as in, what does a typical museum-goer want to see/experience? Who are the people (demographics) going to see shows?, and how people in the art world underestimate art audiences; how, after being raised in a greenhouse of an advertising-based culture, we are naturally paranoiac of cultural material, to the point where people’s paranoia becomes their truth; the differences between the small scale, community-based projects and communities of his young adulthood and the large scale works he works on with Creative Time (including Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, which had an attendance of 135,000 people; the Creative Time Summit, which is art and social justice-based, and includes smaller-scale roundtables; the importance of DIY, and making things/making things happen instead of waiting around for other people to make them happen.