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Adding equity to the arts scene in Northeast Ohio, museum curator tackles lack of diversity

Posted at 5:28 PM, Feb 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-06 17:56:00-05

CLEVELAND — One Cleveland woman is taking on the status quo to make museums more representative of the communities they serve, creating a more equitable space to celebrate the arts in Northeast Ohio.

La Tanya Autry is pulling back the curtain and exposing the lack of diversity within the walls of museums.

"A lot of times we like to celebrate our museums and that's nice. It's also kind of a lie to not highlight the problems within them. There's a lot of racial exclusion, there's a lot of sexism," Autry said.

Autry grew up going to the Detroit Institute of Art.

"I don't think I ever even saw other kids like us when we would be together in that space," Autry said.

Inspired by what she saw, or really didn't see, she decided to try and spark change.

"If we are saying that we're a community institution, then we should really represent that and be that fully," Autry said.

Autry said that starts with who’s creating exhibits and experiences.

"Almost 90 percent of the curatorial positions and the positions that make decisions in institutions are white. It's a shame that there aren't more curators of color in the field and we're not shaping the discussions, we're not shaping how people understand the art," Autry said.

Autry is getting the chance to do that with her new exhibit at Cleveland's Museum of Contemporary Art.

Temporary Spaces of Joy and Freedom features works by indigenous and black authors.

"We don't see that dynamic between those two groups,” Autry said.

The interactive installation is an invitation to members of the community who may not always feel welcome.

"We need to be out there, out front. People need to see that we're here. We need to work where we're speaking to our community, and when people see that's there then they know that something is for them," Autry said.

Autry is also trying to change how decisions are made with her Museums Are Not Neutral online campaign.

"The hashtag has put them in dialogue with other people and is helping generate energy, helping people plan, organize, how they can make them be the spaces they want them to be," Autry said.

Until there's more balance, Autry said she has no plans to stop.

"I feel like more people need to push harder, so that in 50 years we won't be in the same position. I'm going to try and make sure that all the work I do is going to keep falling along this vein, going to focus on equity, it's going to have a focus on community, just going to keep being me."