What can a white Yale professor tell us about the #BlackLivesMatter struggle?
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Last month, Susan Cahan, Yale University associate dean for the Arts at Yale College, released a book detailing the significant absence of black artists and curators in American art museums. Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power explores how black artists and museum professionals powered through discriminating institutions, specifically in New York City
Mounting Frustration could be viewed with a side-eye. Maybe she understands the struggle, but what could this white Yale professor know about black frustration? As it stands, the book relies heavily on artist interviews and her examination of actual museum documents. Just as Kevin Liptak might cover what’s happening with Black Lives Matter, Cahan is simply an internal museum correspondent. Mounting Frustration is likely a report more relevant than any CNN production
According to the Art History Publication Initiative, the work of black artists was featured in less than a dozen museum exhibitions prior to 1967 — outside of those on the campuses of HBCUs. While the book explores struggle and growth, it also addresses the obvious disproportion of black art in American museums
There’s no doubt that the deficit of black art in New York City is directly related to the disparity of black curators, but Cahan explores how elitist museums and institutions deliberately kept it out. Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power reveals how black artists and curators became activists in their own right by working to push out these social injustices
Aside from simply telling a story, Cahan spent five years working as a senior curator and arts program director for the Collection of Eileen and Peter Norton and Peter Norton Family Foundation. There, she assisted the Nortons in their mission to support emerging black artists. She has also done more written work and service related to social inequalities in the art community