Beth Chandler speaks at Museum of Fine Arts “Women Take the Floor” Opening
On September 12, 2019, YW Boston President and CEO Beth Chandler spoke at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) for the opening of their exhibit Women Take the Floor. Women Take the Floor, which opened September 13 and will run until March 2021, draws “attention to the contributions of women artists of the Americas in the past 100 years—their powerful work, their narratives and perspectives, their struggles for self-determination and their commitment to their own practice.” Beth Chandler spoke about the long-lasting impact of excluding the perspectives of women, especially women of color, and how this exhibition is a step in the right direction.
The speaking program for the morning event featured:
- Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Azi Djazani, Chair-Elect, Board of Advisors, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Diane Kaneb, Senior Relationships Manager, Bank of America
- Beth Chandler, President and CEO, YW Boston
- Makeeba McCreary, Patti and Jonathan Kraft Chief of Learning and Community Engagement, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Nonie Gadsden, Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- Performance by Porsha Olayiwola, City of Boston Poet Laureate
Each of the speakers from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, spoke about their excitement going in the institution’s 150th year in 2020. Matthew Teitelbaum emphasized their values of inclusion, community, and transparency and Azi Djazani spoke about their goal for more Bostonians to feel at home at the museum. Makeeba McCreary spoke in response to the incident that occurred at the museum in May, in which a number of students were the subject of unacceptable acts of discrimination by museum staff and patrons. As she stated, their 2020 goal is to deepen engagement with all Boston communities, seeing an uptick in every day engagement, in addition to planned events. She explained that they have created an introduction to the MFA for students, including a questionnaire for school groups to get a sense of their needs, a video made by teens to help students get to know the museum, and assigned MFA staff members ready to help students and teachers problem solve during their visit.
Beth Chandler spoke about her experiences as a young girl who did not see herself represented at the museums she visited. During her speech, she asked the crowd “Why does inclusion matter in the arts?” stating that “The omission of perspectives inhibits our ability to challenge ourselves and our understanding of the world around us.” She praised the MFA for pushing “itself and viewers to explore our own biases and role in supporting systems of oppression towards women artists.” After touring the exhibit, Beth remarked that the gallery “Women Depicting Women” was particularly striking in its range of viewpoints and stories.
To close out the program, Porsha Olayiwola performed her original poem, “What is the Suffrage Movement to a Black Woman?: An Anthem.” It was her first public performance of the poem, which she wrote specifically for the Women Take the Floor exhibit. As she stated before her performance, she is excited as a Black, queer woman artist to disrupt and interrupt the balance of power in the museum.
Don’t miss the Women Take the Floor exhibit, which features seven thematic galleries and over 200 pieces of art.
Below find images from the event and exhibit, as well as a full transcript of Beth Chandler’s speech.
The photos above feature Beth Chandler, Porsha Olayiwola, the quote wall at the entrance of the exhibit, “Bamian” by Sheila Hicks, “Floe IV” by Helen Frankenthalter, and “Mother and Daughter” by Rosalind Solomon.
The following speech was presented by Beth Chandler on September 12, 2019:
Thank you Matthew and members of the MFA community for inviting me to speak this morning.
As the godchild of a painter, my godparents went to great lengths to develop my appreciation for the arts. They took me to museums, symphonies, plays and artist studios. While I enjoyed participating in these activities with them, I often wondered why we were there. Rarely did any of the works seem to reflect me and my experience. As I got older, I attended these things less because it didn’t seem like they were for me. I began to wonder what that meant about my experience and the experience of others like me. If art is supposed to be a reflection of the human experience and there is nothing that looks like my own, what does that say about my experience?
Far too often, the perspectives of women and especially women of color have been systematically marginalized across all fields, with the arts being no exception:
- A comprehensive study of 2000-2017 auction data from the Artnet Auction Database found that women made up only 5% of the total number of artists in the auction market. In the list of the top 25 women artists by value of sales, there was only one woman of color.
- Nearly 46% of visual artists in the United States identify as women yet,
- Women artists earn 76-cents for every dollar made by male artists
- One recent survey showed that only 13% of artists represented in major museum collections in the United States are female
We know inclusion matters as both a moral and business imperative. Studies by McKinsey and other institutions show the economic benefits to organizations that have gender and racial diversity in leadership positions. Why? Because diverse voices bring richer perspectives that improve decision-making and represent market demographics. And when organizations perform better, all employees win. At YW Boston, we focus on helping organizations create more inclusive environments for women, people of color and especially women of color. By increasing people’s understanding of inclusion and supporting lasting behavioral change, we help organizations in Boston thrive.
Why does inclusion matter in the arts? I believe that part of the role of art institutions is to reflect important moments in civilization. Yet, if only certain people are allowed to have a voice, it means other important perspectives are excluded and suggests that their role and contributions to society are less than. For far too long, the decision about who or what is valuable was decided by white, heterosexual, cisgender men often of European descent. While their perspective is important, it isn’t more important than any other groups’ perspective. The omission of other perspectives inhibits our ability to challenge ourselves and our understanding of the world around us. And given our country’s rapidly changing demographics, museums must diversify their predominantly older white, straight, cis demographic in order to secure patronage and continued community engagement well into the future. Their exhibitions, spaces, and workforce must be intentionally inclusive in order for constituents to see themselves reflected in this space and continue to support it.
For these reasons, I applaud the MFA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion through the “Gender Bending Fashion Exhibit” and the “Women Take the Floor Exhibit.” Through this newest exhibit, the MFA pushes itself and viewers to explore our own bias and role in supporting systems of oppression towards women artists. The exhibit also shows the resilience and strength of women artists who persevered despite the sexism and racism that stood in their way. Take Carmen Herrera for example. She didn’t receive her first significant exhibit until she was 101 years old.
One of the most powerful aspects of the “Women Take the Floor” exhibit is the main gallery, where the portraits on display provide an opportunity for almost every woman and girl to see themselves reflected. This is inclusion. I look forward to witnessing future efforts as part of the “MFA2020” commitment to inclusion.