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Artists Advocate for Changes at New Orleans Museum of Art

By Jslon - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

(By Hakim Bishara for Hyperallergic) Ebony G. Patterson, William Powhida, and Xaviera Simmons have joined the call for art workers “to place strict conditions on their collaboration with NOMA,” which is being accused of bigotry and discrimination.

In June, a group of former staff members at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) accused the institution of enabling a “plantation-like culture” in an open letter that described instances of surveillance and discrimination of Black and LGBTQ workers at the museum. Backed by hundreds of supporters, they launched the initiative #DismantleNOMA which calls on the museum to fundamentally reform its work environment and to immediately separate itself from its current leadership.

These demands are amplified in a new open letter released today, October 12, by a wide group of artists, art workers, and organizers from across the country. The letter, signed by more than 150 supporters to date, calls on NOMA to “take the first step toward restoring its relationship with the New Orleans community it claims to serve by immediately implementing the thirteen changes put forth by #DismantleNOMA.”

Symbolically released on Indigenous Peoples Day, federally recognized as Columbus Day, the open letter follows the opening of a new exhibition at NOMA this past weekend. When asked about the timing of the letter, its authors told Hyperallergic: “In the United States EVERYDAY holds the potential for resistance. Our interest in Indigenous Peoples Day extends only so far as its meaning encourages colonial institutions like NOMA to reflect on the persistent and ongoing nature of their settler violence.”

“Every day since this country’s inception we have seen violence enacted on Indigenous and Black people,” they continued. “We could have released this letter today, tomorrow or any day of the month. We stand firmly against white supremacy every day of the year.”

#DismantleNOMA has accused the museum administration of ignoring and perpetuating the use of racial slurs, wage discrimination against Black workers, violence by staff against Black visitors, and surveillance of targeted workers. The authors of the initial letter in June — Jennifer Williams; Dr. fari nzinga; Ifátùmínínú Bamgbàlà Arẹ̀sà (formerly known as Kelsi Brooks); Jonathan Serrette; and Jane Kate Wood — also decried the museum’s decision to permanently install a recreation of a plantation parlor at a museum that serves a majority-Black population.

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