Maia Chao brings to this work a background in ethnographic research on culture and technology. Before pursuing her MFA in RISD’s Digital + Media and Glass Departments, Maia worked as an ethnographer chronicling the use of broadcast technology in indigenous Guatemalan communities. She studied how these communities leverage technology to vitalize political, linguistic, cultural practices. Maia went on to serve as editor for Media-N, a new media journal on art, design, and techno-science in Latin America, as well as a research for NOVA’s documentary film series on PBS, Building Wonders.
She co-directed an international activist film festival in Northern Spain to address growing xenophobia in the region, leading a documentary video production workshop for local migrants, whose films debuted at the festival and went on to win international awards. Maia brings to her work an enduring commitment to media technology as a democratizing tool for authorship, redistribution, and collective imagining.
Josephine Devanbu is an interdisciplinary artists who draws upon her background in Science and Technology Studies to fight knowledge inequity: the systematic de-valuing of embodied, spiritual, indigenous knowledge and the misrepresentation of western legal and scientific knowledge as “objective” or “universal.” She has worked extensively to map the decision-making frameworks of patients and healers in rural Tamil Nadu, the South India state where her father grew up. She pioneered methods for bringing drawing into the interview process as a way to make visible values and apriori beliefs of both interviewer and interviewee.
She coordinates research development at the Rhode Island School of Design where she helps faculty and students hone their ideas into fundable projects. She works with the Associate Provost to elevate the profile of artists and designers as knowledge producers at RISD and beyond. She is the first artist to serve on Brown University’s Institutional Review Board for research ethics.
We, Maia and Josephine, are two artists from upper-middle class, interracial (Chinese/White and Indian/White), immigrant households with teaching artist parents. The value of art and art museums was a given. But we recognized that this assumption was firmly rooted in the intersectional privileges of our identities. So we set out to engage the politics of knowledge as it intersects with value, money, power, and visibility, challenging the status quo in which cultural value—as it exists in dominant cultural institutions—is determined by the elite. We landed on a shared question: What is the value of art in today’s political moment?
We embrace our role as artists to valorize the strange, seemingly illogical, and fleeting to imagine another world with different terms and assumptions: What would happen if working class folks were paid to look at art? What would it take to facilitate an art experience that does not depend on the assumption that art, and viewing it, is inherently valuable to all? What if the labor of experiencing implicit and explicit institutional racism/discrimination were named and compensated? Through this city-wide, cross-institutional project, we ask the public to imagine new structures of power, new forms of exchange, new kinds of conversations, and alternatives to the way things are.
We challenge reductionist narratives of “institutional critique” that situate art in opposition to, or outside of the institution, examining how we can use our privilege and access to engage—as opposed to disengage from—the institution. We position ourselves in collaboration with art museums, working at the border of the institution and the public, with hopes to support and supplement direct forms of resistance.
From this position we aim to: creatively address inequity and interrupt closed hierarchical structures; exercise our bureaucratic fluency to redistribute money; develop practices that center marginalized voices without requiring them to assimilate; destabilize conventional ideas of expertise; and contribute to knowledge production in a way that shifts policy.
We build upon the advocacy of the Art Workers Coalition and Guerilla Girls, and institutional critiques by Hans Haacke, Andrea Fraser, Fred Wilson, and Tania Bruguera. We also look to data equity initiatives like Miho Kim’s Research Justice Framework and Data for Black Lives.
We’re developing the program in dialogue with Monica Montgomery (Museum Hue Founder), Laura Raicovich (independent curator), Keonna Hendrick (Brooklyn Museum), as well as artists and organizers from Decolonize This Place, Artists of Color Bloc, W.A.G.E. (Working Artists in the Greater Economy), Defend Boyle Heights, and the People’s Cultural Plan.
Capacity to enact social change
How is LAAGP different from a school program, a focus group, or a consulting project? Many museums run paid teen programs for under-resourced youth. We focus on adults who aren’t addressed by school programming. Many museums host focus groups and pay participants a stipend. We set up an imaginative scenario where folks are centered as experts and honored as art critics—not simply research participants. Rather than providing the stipend of a research study, we pay critics an hourly rate of $25. We emphasize that this payment goes beyond the time and costs of participation: it compensates the critics for the many forms of labor and risk (emotional, physical, psychological, cultural, political, social) involved in crossing boundaries to spend time in—and criticize—a historically white, affluent space.
As our list of interested institutions suggest, many museum workers feel LAAGP addresses a need that is not currently met within their institutions. LAAGP puts forth a way for museums to respectfully involve underserved audiences in their strategy process, thereby increasing community buy-in for next steps. We challenge art museums to confront racism, classism, and eurocentrism. We ask them to enact their missions and close the gap between theory and practice. Throughout the program, museum staff will connect with critics, advisory council members, and local artists, seeding relationships for future collaboration.
ARTISTS, ACTIVISTS, CURATORS: Laura Raicovich (Former ED, Queens Museum), Charmaine Jefferson (Former Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture), Decolonize This Place, Artists of Color Bloc, People’s Cultural Plan, Museum of Impact, Museum of Capitalism, The Incluseum, Working Artists for the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.). Monica Montgomery (Museum Hue Founder), Margaret Middleton, Dr. Porchia Moore, Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell (Curatorally), Aletheia Wittman (The Incluseum), Janeen Bryant (Facilitate Movement).
UNIVERSITY PARTNERS: University of Illinois Chicago (Museum and Exhibition Studies Program), Haverford College’s Hurford Center for the Humanities, Brown University Public Humanities Program, NYU Steinhardt Visual Arts Administration MA.
MUSEUM INTEREST: National Gallery of Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Phillips Collection, Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate Modern, the Queens Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and MASS MoCA.
FUNDING: Mellon-funded residency through Haverford College, National Arts Strategy Fellowship, Creative Capital Finalists (Award Pending), A Blade of Grass (Pending), Rubin Foundation (Pending), Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, Providence Art Culture and Tourism.
NEWS AND PRESS
2018 The Whitest Cube, “We Love Museums,” Palace Shaw and Ariana Lee (See episode below)
2018 Paper Magazine, “One Groups Mission to Halt the Met’s New Pricing Model,” Claire Valentine.
2018 Haverford College, Hurford Center for Humanities, Lecture
2018 NYU Steinhardt Visual Arts Administration Visiting Artists, Lecture
2018 Museum as Site for Social Action (MASS Action), attendee
2018 Open Engagement at Queens Museum, Look at Art. Get Paid: Sustaining a Socially Engaged Practice, Panel
2017 International Conference on the Inclusive Museum, Manchester, UK, The Unfamiliar Place: Latinx Communities and the Museum, Panel.
2017 Visitor Studies Association Conference, Look at Art. Get Paid: Accessibility and Cultural Critique, Panel.
2016 Seattle Design Festival, Designing Systems for Economic Equity, Panel.
2016 New England Graduate Media Symposium, Shapes of Violence, Panel.