SPACES' First Artist-Member Exhibition of 2021 Leads to an Internal Conversation on Inclusion and Diversity

click to enlarge SPACES' First Artist-Member Exhibition of 2021 Leads to an Internal Conversation on Inclusion and Diversity
Courtesy SPACES

Kicking off 2021, SPACES will debut three exhibitions offering an impressive spectrum of work tackling politics, technology and the work of member artists.

All three open to the public on Jan. 29.

First: Leo Selvaggio’s deepfake brainchild “Apologize to America” is a ‘Participatory Augmented Reality’ project on view online only that's powered by a custom Snapchat lens. Through performative video recordings, the Apologize2America Lens will allow participants to issue an apology of their choice while having the image of Donald Trump mapped and overlaid onto their face.

Second: “Please Don’t Let it Be Too Close” by Alicia Grullón, commissioned by SPACES, looks at the 2020 elections from the point of view of workers. During her virtual residency with SPACES, Grullón interviewed participants from the Cleveland area and broader Midwest regarding the presidential election and their time in quarantine. These interviews formed the basis of her script visually supported with film, music, and theater techniques to conceive a narrative documenting the impact the election has had on peoples' lives. This was shot entirely in her home using a green screen due to COVID 19. The installation is punctuated with a selection of Grullón’s self-portrait series.

And last but certainly not least, SPACES’ 2021 Season Pass Members' Exhibition celebrates artist members with a juried show. This exhibition features 16 artists with memberships to SPACES.

It is here there was some internal disagreement that prodded a conversation on inclusion.

Season Pass Members' Exhibition juror David Ramsey says that he bowed out of the opportunity to be further involved with the exhibition after expressing dissatisfaction with the racial diversity of the members from what he saw of the submissions that were presented to him.

“When we were reviewing the artists' submissions, from what I have seen, there was not a single Black or brown artist that was in that show, and for me that’s a red flag," said Ramsey. “Not necessarily to suggest that SPACES does not want to work with Black and brown artists, but there is space for conversation around how they are engaging with Black and brown artists…that was a little alarming to me and was something that I didn’t feel comfortable continuing to work towards.”

Accepted artists included Dale A. Goode and Chi-Irena Wong, both of whom were selected from the list of artists Ramsey submitted to SPACES. However, the race of the members was not included in the information that Ramsey would have seen while reviewing the artists for this exhibition, as SPACES does not include racial identification to jurors. Also some of the members who submitted work chose not to identify their race.

The show is a members-only exhibition, which means that one would have to have a paid membership to be considered.

SPACES’ Executive Director, Tizziana Baldenebro, who is Colombian and Mexican-American, told me that once they were made aware of Ramsey’s concerns she reached out to let him know that she was open to any solutions that he might suggest and offered for SPACES to cover the membership fees for a few artists of his choosing. Before Ramsey chose to no longer participate in the exhibition, he sent SPACES a list of artists he suggested for the exhibition, all of which were accepted in the show.

“I had an opportunity to join a Zoom call where I reviewed some of the art work and very quickly in that review I realized that there wasn’t very much representation,” said Ramsey. “You know when I saw that I reached out to them and let them know that I had concerns. Their response was that they were open to other artists submitting if I had artists in mind. Which is certainly a noble gesture, the problem is that it requires a membership. Well if you are not actively engaging with minority or black and brown artists, you don’t have a high membership number within that community. So I reached out to them, I let them know how I felt. We had a little bit of dialogue. That dialogue did not verse the results that I thought were necessary and so after the first review of artists, I let them know that’d I’d be stepping back from the event.”

Angelica Pozo, who has been a SPACES board member for 31 years and who identifies as Black and Latina, said, “Our programing does reflect a large amount of artists of color.” She also said that SPACES’ representation of people of color had greatly expanded under the leadership of the previous executive director Christina Vassallo. Pozo recalls getting a report at a board meeting that SPACES had attained a level of around 56% of representation of artists of color within SPACES’ programing.

“For any number of reasons our artist-members of color applied in far fewer numbers than we would have hoped for the show,” Baldenebro said. “We hope to open a greater dialogue with our members to learn what these reasons were and how we might foster a more inclusive culture. SPACES has a diverse membership and we shared the application widely on social media, in our eNews, and I personally shared it with artists during in-person studio visits. It obviously wasn’t enough in this case to encourage applications from many members of color. Some of the actions we have taken and are taking to eliminate this gap include continually addressing aspects of our application process itself that may function as a barrier. We are hopeful that inviting and paying BIPOC jurors, offering non-Eurocentric approaches to aesthetics, might also encourage greater participation. My sincere intention is that these opportunities become more visible and available to artists of color and we will continue to put in the work to see that it happens.”
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