Museums and Social Justice

A few weeks ago I attended the annual conference of the National Art Education Association in Baltimore, where the theme was Art and Social Justice. I must admit that I rarely pay attention to a conference’s theme, but this year was different because social justice is one of my personal passions. Carter educator Sara Klein and I had the opportunity to showcase the Carter’s accessible programs and programs for non-traditional audiences through sessions presented to museum educators across the country, and we gained inspiration by viewing the amazing artworks at the American Visionary Art Museum, which was founded on the principle that art and social justice are inextricably linked.

As an American art museum, I believe that we are perfectly suited to making social justice a priority. Our education programs at the Carter often serve to promote social justice (for example, by making our collection accessible to as many audiences as possible) or feature a social justice theme (like educator workshops centered on immigration). Likewise, many artists in our collection have created poignant visual responses to important social issues. Here are some of the works that strongly resonate with me:

Lewis Hine, Looking for Lost Baggage, Ellis Island, 1905

Lewis Hine (1874--1940), Looking for Lost Baggage, Ellis Island, 1905, gelatin silver print, P1981.80.1

Robert Glenn Ketchum, CVNRA, #125 (a toxic waterfall in a national recreation area), 1986

Robert Glenn Ketchum (b. 1947), CVNRA, #125 (a toxic waterfall in a national recreation area), 1986, from the project "Overlooked in America: The Success and Failure of Federal Land Management," dye destruction print, gift of Advocacy Arts Foundation, ©1986 Robert Glenn Ketchum, P1996.22.3

Reginald Marsh, Bread Line---No One Has Starved, 1932

Reginald Marsh (1898--1954), Bread Line---No One Has Starved, 1932, etching, 1983.83

James Karales, Passive Resistance Training, SNCC, 1960

James Karales (1930--2002), Passive Resistance Training, SNCC, 1960, gelatin silver print, © Monica Karales, P2008.18

Social justice is often achieved through dialogue. Make your voice heard about museums and social justice by posting a comment below.


Do you believe that Social Justice is a truth, an imperative, something we all should strive for; or is it a political position?

Isn't our nation founded on a belief in our ability to create a just society? If so, then the arts are an aid in seeing different perspectives that may help us to foster a more inclusive society - one that is at it's core - more just!

Personally, I believe that social justice should be an imperative! I completely agree that the arts can foster dialogue and show us different perspectives from those we typically consider. I believe that one of the ways to promote more inclusiveness is for us to become more educated about others who are different from ourselves, which, ideally, leads to more empathy. Artists of all media (dance, music, theater, visual art, and other art forms) often give us an opportunity to see things in a new way and transcend our own solitary experiences.

I hope that we achieve this partially through exhibitions and education programs at the Amon Carter, and I'd love to hear others' ideas about how we can better promote social justice here as well.

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