The rapper and social activist is one of three fresh faces shaking things up at the High Museum of Art.
Museums have been getting a lot of grief recently for not being diverse enough. As we reported on back at the beginning of the month, the announcement that Klaus Biesenbach is set to become the new director of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, was met with questions over appointing another white male to represent an institution in an area where whites are the minority population.
So it was a breath of fresh air when last week, Killer Mike was announced as one of three fresh faces to the 85 strong Board of Directors of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. In an interview with Art News, the other-half of Run the Jewels said he wanted to increase African American and working-class attendance at the High: “I’m a product of the High Museum. I’m a product of Atlanta. I’m a product of the Atlanta public school system. The Atlanta public school system and the High, in my day, were partnered; we took field trips there, and to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the Center for Puppetry Arts. The arts movement in Atlanta used to be more closely aligned with the working-class and middle-class kids in public schools, so I would like to reactivate that.”
Rarely apolitical, museums are the gatekeepers of culture—both historical and contemporary. More than a mere vessel of objects, knowingly or otherwise they drive our understanding of our values and goals of that time and place. It’s why artists and audiences want to see their own experiences reflected in curatorial decisions behind their collections.
Back in March, Nan Goldin organized a march to protest against the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Sackler Wing, donated by one of the world’s most philathoric families—who also happen to have made part of their considerable fortune from Purdue Pharma’s manufacturing opioids.
In the New Yorker‘s The Family That Built An Empire of Pain, journalist Patrick Radden Keefe outlined a strong case for why the Sackler family knowingly perpetuated the country’s opioid crisis, after bankrolling the drug OxyContin. Then, in Guardian article from February, a widow of one of Purdue Pharma’s founders said the heirs to OxyContin fortune have a “moral duty to help make this right”.
It’s causing artists like Andrea Fraser to take matters into their own hands. Last week, Fraser published an exhaustive analysis of the political affiliations of trustees, after seeing several museum board members had strong affiliations to the Trump administration, causing her to question the impartiality of the characters setting the tone for the country’s top collections: “It’s a physical manifestation of this sort of scale of the intersection between campaign finance and cultural patronage and governance.”
In the current climate of ignoring the tenuous links between museum board members and the communities they represent, Killer Mike’s appointment is a strong move from Atlanta’s High. Let’s see if other institutions will follow suit.