‘Tough Love’ teach-In Smack Mellon


*This event is part of Smack Mellon/”RESPOND“, an exhibition about the continued failure of the United States to protect its black citizens from police discrimination and violence.*

In this participatory workshop we will look closely at various letters of protest by artist of color from 1960s to the present. Reading these primary sources allows us to hear their words without mediation from critics, the press, or public relations departments. Afterwards we discuss how we feel about these demands and consider developing new collective ideas for change in our cultural institutions.

Fueled by the Civil Rights movement, Black and Puerto Rican artists began organize themselves during the 60s and 70s. Spiral, and later the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition, The Puerto Rican Art Workers Coalition, Art Workers Coalition Black Bloc, among others all questioned the position of people of color in major New York museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions. Many demands were made to the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the MoMA The Museum of Modern Art. Some their demands were that more artists of color be included in all levels of the museum operation–from staff, directors, and curators, to exhibiting artists and permanent collections.

Within the past few years, more protest letters by artists of color have been written: Adrian Piper withdrawals from NYU exhibit; Chaun Webster, Jeremiah Bey Ellison, Arianna Genis, Shannon Gibney, and Valerie Deus write an open letter to The Walker Center before the opening of 12 Years a Slave; Yams Collective withdrawal from the Whitney Biennial.

Many of these protests have been left out of our art history books. Therefore it is important to collectively explore these letters of protest in order to better understand the current situation, and to insure a continued effort is made to improve our cultural intuitions in regards to class, race, and gender.