Will American museums have any decent docents?
For as long as I can remember, and for a lot longer than that, the backbone of many museums across America has been the docent, a knowledgeable volunteer who gives out information and guides tours at the museum. Mostly, these docents are White women who have retired from work or have a spouse or other partner who earns enough so that the lady can volunteer. White, though, is bad, so the latest news from the leftists' race wars is that the Art Institute of Chicago has fired all its (mostly White) volunteers.
The Art Institute once had a huge cohort of volunteers — around 150 or so — almost all of them White women who did the job with knowledge, verve, and passion. However, the Chicago Tribune's digital edition reports that those days are over:
Anyone with some tread on their tires who's been fired by email can recognize the protocol. The writer blathers on about your years of dedication to your job, their gratitude for all you have done for all this time, and then hits you with some self-justifying jargon: the need to "update systems," maybe, or the need to "rebuild" or "better serve" someone or some group. These days, perhaps even in the name of "equity" or "inclusion."
By then you know what's coming after all the disingenuous paragraphs: You're canned, most likely in favor of a newer model.
Just such a weaselly letter was sent out Sept. 3 by Veronica Stein, the Woman's Board executive director of learning and engagement at the Art Institute of Chicago. The recipients were the museum's 150 or so volunteer docents, a beloved mainstay of the venerable cultural institution for decades and the main providers of fine, learned tours to Chicagoans, tourists, students from Chicago Public Schools and myriad other visitors to our great museum.
Once you cut through the blather, the letter basically said the museum had looked critically at its corps of docents, a group dominated by mostly (but not entirely) white, retired women with some time to spare, and found them wanting as a demographic.
When the docents learned in March 2021 that Veronica Stein, a young Black woman, was hired as the "Woman's Board executive director of learning and engagement," they should have seen the writing on the wall. In the press release about her hiring, Stein isn't so much interested in art as she is in effecting social change:
"I am delighted that the Art Institute shares the priorities that have guided my work throughout my career: designing culturally responsive programming and anti-racist curricula, cultivating fully accessible spaces, and ensuring staff wellness and learning," said Stein. "Setting the newly enhanced Ryan Learning Center in motion, and further strengthening partnerships with the Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools, and BIPOC cultural institutions, will be central to my work."
The docents do have the consolation of being in good company. Last year, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art forced out its senior curator because he thought the museum, while opening itself more to artists of different races, should still show works from White artists. Being a leftist himself, instead of castigating the museum for its George Wallace approach to art ("segregation today...segregation tomorrow...segregation forever), he groveled apologetically for his race crimes.
The curator, in any event, must have recognized a trend when he saw it and realized that his day in the sun was done. Already back in 2013, a writer named Seema Rao wrote a whole jargon-filled post about the fact that Whiteness and privilege go hand in hand in museums.
By 2018, NPR's "Code Switch: Race. In Your Face." — a taxpayer-funded venue for racial supremacy "news" — published an article entitled "Not Enough Color in American Art Museums," which reported about the Brooklyn Museum's grave racial offense when it hired a White woman to oversee its African art collection. I find this story especially funny because my second cousin, a Jewish White woman, was one of the museum's important Africana contributors and left her collection to the museum when she died.
One year later, the site Art Museum Teaching reflected on "Interrupting White Dominant Culture in Museums." And in 2020, another writer was angry about "Uncovering White Supremacy Culture in Museum Work."
For many decades, people of all races and cultures were invited into America's museums to see art from all over the world. In many cases, it was White collectors' passion for indigenous art and architecture that saved these things from being recycled or ignored into oblivion in their own lands. And of course, Western art reached a height of sophisticated technique that few other cultures (if any) matched.
Henceforth, though, museums will be niche places, for and about non-White people. It's just another piece of evidence that leftist revolutions never build; they only destroy.
Hat tip: Peter von Buol.
Image: The kind of White Privilege art people see at the Art Institute of Chicago. YouTube screen grab.
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