AN OPEN LETTER FROM PICA LEADERSHIP
June 1, 2020
Portland Institute for Contemporary Art is committed to the continued work against anti-Black violence, racism, settler-colonialism, and intersecting oppressions and inequities in the world, and more specifically the art world.
We admit that we are inherently part of a systemic history of racism, exclusion, and unequal power in the art world. That the land PICA rests on is not our own. That the neighborhood we inhabit has a rich history of Black life that has been forcibly displaced by gentrification, actively anti-Black policies and policing, and suppression of Black creation and success. That our city, state, and people have been responsible for violence against Black, Indigenous, immigrant, trans and queer bodies.
While we are actively engaged in the work of equity and inclusion, working to support Black artists and communities, and continue to do this work, we acknowledge this is not enough, and is never perfect, and can even do harm. We acknowledge that as we grow a more diverse staff and board, we do not currently have any Black staff members, nor have we ever had Black leadership. We understand that as individuals who work at PICA, in this community, and in the broader art world, and as an organization that tries to be more visible and explicit about our work – that we also gain cultural capital through Black, Indigenous, Brown, queer, trans, and femme artists’ work. We are committed to continuing to direct financial and other resources to these artists in exchange for the gift that is working with them, their labor, and contributions to culture at large.
We pride ourselves on our quick response in times like these…we have admittedly been slowed down by both personal and professional self-preservation in the wake of COVID-19. We are not making excuses; it has just taken us a moment to find our voice. PICA is an organization made of people, each of us with our own lived experiences and personal perspectives, who are grieving and acting alongside you. We appreciate being invited into conversation with our community, some of whom have called us in/out due to a lack of response. We are listening to all sides, those that say silence is violence, and those that say virtue signaling is not what is needed at this moment. We believe both are true. We believe that statements in the moment are not necessarily indicative of long term commitment to change. We have witnessed many organizations say the right thing publicly without acting on or implementing it, and we have made that mistake, too. We are most concerned with figuring out how to live out our values in tangible ways, which requires deep, systemic work beyond Instagram posts or emails. We believe change will come slowly, methodically, and with intention, and that examination and shifts around our own and others’ power and privilege is inherent to this process. We believe we can be agents of this change and will work within our organization and through our mission to do so. We also know that the issues and concerns we speak to here are urgent and dire, and that they require immediate action in addition to long-term work.
We work within the context of Contemporary Art, and while we are not a social justice organization, we believe that themes of social justice, inequity, global oppression, and anti-capitalist sentiment is at the core of the work we present. We will continue to provide space, time, financial support, and resources that help center, amplify, and materially support Black, Indigenous, and other artists of color, and to help artists and communities come together to grieve, celebrate, learn and unlearn.
We acknowledge that Black artists do not share a monolithic politics and do not always want to position their work or interactions with organizations and the public in a political way, nor see it framed by institutions as a moment for performative justice. We pledge to work with artists and our community directly and let their voices rise above our own.
This is work we did before the murder of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, James Scurlock, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, and the many others that came before. This is work we will continue doing.
We condemn the violent, racist, and militaristic methodologies of police departments across the United States and specifically in Portland, Oregon, as well as the move to increase funding for inherently violent policing in our city when it is rather a time to defund. We will actively work to dissolve our own connections to these systems. We challenge our city, state, and national government, our partner organizations, our audiences, our donors and funders, and our own organization to do better.
Erin Boberg Doughton