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 the 2nd half of our conversation with Los Angeles-based provocateur Mat Gleason of Coagula and Coagula Curatorial, he talks about:

The benefits of having interns, and people he didn’t hire because he knew they’d graduate too quickly to even have them start; how he ‘punches up, not down,’ meaning going attacking bigger fish, not smaller ones (MFA shows); why gallery staff at the desk act the way they do, and how Mat trains his staff to act towards visitors, while Deb argues that it’s a service to their community, but that visitors have misconceptions about what gallery staff are doing (not just greeting), and Mat refers to the ‘bozos’ and ‘yahoos’ who come into the gallery and how inappropriately they act; he talks about his litmus for leverage (at openings/parties), the ‘Peter Frank’ point; the obscurity of artists in relation to celebrities (and which Mat put in context of the pyramidal hierarchy); speaking of celebrities, Mat shares a great anecdote eavesdropping on Loni Anderson talking to Burt Reynolds at an art opening (at maybe Ace gallery); his most recent episode of getting in trouble for writing in a recent Coagula issue, and how he needs to report significant episodes even though now that he’s known he’s more likely to be heard from by his subjects; who he’s against in the art world, in particular those who are pretentious, social ‘practicers,’ people who speak to you as a child, and academia; how he taught at Claremont Graduate School not having a college degree himself, to many students’ chagrin, and yet years later students told him how much he told them how it is in the art world; how he realized he was a Foucault-ian after years railing against him; the controversy around the Kelley Walker show at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, which Mat has very strong opinions about, including his analysis of the repercussions of the botched artist talk, his hope for change in a private club-culture art world as well as his vehement disapproval of the artist and curator in question; and lastly we discuss the gentrification scenario in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, particularly the area where galleries have moved into commercial spaces (around Mission and Anderson Streets)…Mat, having been a lifelong Angeleno and having friends who have galleries in the neighborhood, offers various provocative but thoughtful angles on the situation, including that the protesters won’t go after the government entities that have brought on the gentrification –that would be biting the hand that feeds them – or big businesses like Warner Bros., which is moving into a big building nearby, so they go after galleries, the easiest target, and how the protesters started getting media attention by doing so, what Mat calls ‘gold’ for their cause.