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The Department of Art and Art History is committed to fostering a culture and climate that is inclusive and welcoming of students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints. The department recognizes the power of scholarship and creative work in combating the forces of racism, and the ethical imperative of striving to create and sustain an anti-racist community. The arts should never be intransigent on issues of social justice, but a platform through which we strive to be better, more just, and more compassionate.
Following the path laid forth by the Fine Arts Diversity Council, the Chair of the Department of Art and Art History Susan Rather mobilized faculty, staff, and both graduate and undergraduate students in the formation of an Anti-Racism Committee over the course of 2020. The committee’s mission was to strategize ways to advance the department’s prioritization of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). In response, the committee quickly established key areas for examination and improvement within the areas of curriculum, recruitment and programming. Ongoing efforts to prioritize DEI are threaded within and outside the work of the committee, joining work from the College of Fine Arts and The University of Texas at Austin.
We draft this mission statement bearing at the forefront of our mind that the arts—its practice, study, and pedagogy—are no less complicit in systemic racism than any other field. The narrative of art has privileged few and silenced many. This exclusionary narrative continues to inform our ideas of what constitutes artistic merit and hierarchies of visual culture. Through work within the areas of curriculum, recruitment, and programming, we seek to achieve the following:
We must confront the truth that the field of Art History is one which has been founded upon pillaging and theft; its continued relevance predicated on the protection of that history. We must acknowledge that many of the objects which museums acquire for a narrowly defined public are actively disrespected when displayed behind glass, stripped of their intended context. Our goal must be to redefine what it means to train museum professionals, academics, and educators to serve a broader public and present a more complex, global history of visual culture.
We must deconstruct long-standing binaries within Studio practice that no longer serve to advance our field. Divisions of “high” and “low” art, “fine art” and “craft,” or any number of classifications that seek to dismiss lived experience or exploratory process no longer serve us or our students. We must recognize that the ways by which we define art and approach practice are still victim to a mythology that idolizes a singular, often white, genius trope and discounts collective work.
In teaching past histories of learning about and through the arts, we acknowledge that arts pedagogies have historically reinforced hierarchical notions of knowledge and learning. We must embrace more inclusive, constructivist pedagogical frameworks to teach about present issues and current practices in art, art history, and art education; arts curricula must be reexamined and revised in order to support an anti-racist, inclusive approach to teaching and learning.
We must contend with the reality that our means of ascribing value to scholarship is founded on discriminative notions of authority and elitist understandings of merit. Collaboration, credit, and open access to scholarship have been devalued by an institutional system that attempts to divide us while packaging and selling the products of our academic labor. Our goal must be to find ways to resist those systems or circumvent them; for ourselves and for our students.
It is past time that we actively listen to and elevate voices white supremacy has excluded. This active listening must begin with a framework which deconstructs pre-existing hierarchies within art and academia. As an Anti-Racism Committee, we will be self-critical, operate under the conditions of reciprocal respect, and commit to deprogramming colonial conceptions of beauty and worth across The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Art and Art History.
If you have ideas, feedback, or resources that you would like to share with the committee, please fill out the following form.
Megan Hildebrandt, Clare Thoman
Eddie Chambers, Enrique Figueredo, Donalyn Heise, Kristin Lucas, Susan Rather, Dawn Steinecker, Ariel Wood
Tabitha Burke, Bee Cortez, Jennifer Villanueva
Interested in joining the committee? Submit your contacts to be considered.