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Rethinking Museums

In late 2022, Seattle Art Museum reopened its American art galleries to the public. SAM, like so many cultural institutions, has been working hard to reimagine not just what kind of art—and by which artists—it presents to its audience; Seattle's flagship visual arts museum is also rethinking what the curatorial process should look like, and who they're making exhibitions for.

On March 1, 2023, co-hosts Marcie and Vivian moderated a live panel conversation about the new American art exhibitions as well as the overall role of the museum in the 21st century. Our guests included SAM's American Art curator Theresa Papanikolas; writer and arts advocate Mayumi Tsutakawa, who served on SAM's advisory panel for the new gallery installations; and installation guest curator Inye Wokoma, who is a Seattle writer, artist, and co-founder of the Wa Na Wari art center in the city's Central District.

We recorded our discussion in front of a live audience in SAM's Nordstrom Lecture Hall.

Live podcast recording in front of an audience in a lecture hall featuring three guests, 2 women and one male and 2 female co-hosts
Guests Inye Wokoma, Mayumi Tsutakawa, Theresa Papanikolas join co-hosts Marcie Sillman and Vivian Phillips. Credit Hilary Northcraft



Dr. Theresa Papanikolas is Seattle Art Museum's Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art. Papanikolas, an expert in 20th-century American art, began her tenure at SAM in January 2019 where she oversees the development, research, presentation, and care of SAM’s collection of American art.

Papanikolas came to SAM from the Honolulu Museum of Art, where she served as Deputy Director of Art and Programs. She joined the museum in 2008 as Curator of European and American Art, where she led an innovative exhibition program, added breadth and depth to the permanent collection, and helped position the museum as the cultural hub of one of the country’s most diverse metropolitan areas. Her major exhibition projects include From Whistler to Warhol: Modernism on Paper (2010), Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: The Hawaiʻi Pictures (2013), Art Deco Hawaiʻi (2014), Abstract Expressionism: Looking East from the Far West (2017), and a comprehensive reinstallation of the museum’s European and American collections. She also collaborated with the New York Botanical Garden on Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawaii, a groundbreaking project that told the story of O’Keeffe’s visit to Hawaii through the lens of the landscape and flora she discovered there.

From 2006 to 2008, Dr. Papanikolas was Wallis Annenberg Curatorial Fellow at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She has also held positions at the National Gallery of Art; Rice University; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. She has expertise in 19th- and 20th- century art, and has published widely on Dada and Surrealism. She holds degrees in Art History from the University of the Southern California (BA) and the University of Delaware (MA, Ph.D.), and was a 2016 fellow at the Center for Curatorial Leadership.

Visit Seattle Art Museum's website

Mayumi Tsutakawa is a Seattle-based curator and writer. She has curated artwork by Asian/Pacific Islander American and other artists of color for Wing Luke Asian Museum and other cultural institutions.

She writes about arts and heritage subjects and is researching her parent’s histories as Kibei Americans. She co-edited two books focused on Asian/Pacific Islander American pioneer artists, including They Painted From Their Hearts.

She was formerly Grants Manager at Washington State Arts Commission and Executive Director of King County Arts Commission. Her bachelor’s degree in East Asian History and master’s degree in Communications are from the University of Washington.

You can read Mayumi's recent piece about her father, noted American Sculptor George Tsutakawa here

Inye Wokoma has been the Guardian of Estate for his grandmother, Goldyne Green, since 2016. He is instrumental in coordinating a site control vision between Wa Na Wari and the Green family. He is also the co-lead organizer in our work with Black homeowners. Inye's family has lived in the Central District since the 1940s. As a journalist, filmmaker, and visual artist, he explores themes of identity, community, history, land, politics, and power through the lens of personal and visual narratives. His work is informed by a deep social practice that prioritizes the utility of his art to the collective welfare of his community. Three of his most recent projects, A Central Vision, An Elegant Utility, and This Is Who We Are, represent prismatic explorations of the history, current experience, and future of Seattle’s African American Community. In addition to these projects, Inye has been working in collaboration with Seattle Public Library and colleague Jill Freidberg to create a catalog of oral histories of Seattleites reflecting on community history and current changes.

Inye completed a degree in journalism and filmmaking from Clark Atlanta University before establishing Ijo Arts Media Group in Seattle. His work as a photojournalist has appeared in USA Today, ColorsNW, Washington Law and Politics, and Chicago Wilderness, among others. In 2004 and 2006 respectively, he received two awards for editorial photography from the Society of Professional Journalists Western Washington Chapter, for coverage of the communities of color in the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

Inye’s collaboration with journalist Silja Talvi on Washington State’s three strikes law won a 2004 National Council on Crime and Delinquency PASS Award for criminal justice reportage. These journalism awards were earned while shooting for ColorsNW Magazine under the editorial guidance of Naomi Ishisaka. His film Lost & (Puget) Sound, received a 2012 Telly Award and won Best Film for Youth at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival. In 2017, he participated in the visual arts group show Borderlands, which went on to receive an Americans for the Arts 2018 Public Art Network Year in Review Award, for its collective exploration of national identity, immigration, and belonging. Inye continues to serve his community from his home in Seattle’s Central District, where he currently serves as board president for LANGSTON. He was a founding board member and former board president for Got Green and also served on the board of Nature Consortium.

Visit Wa Na Wari's website




Hey, I'm Vivian Phillips.


And I'm Marcie Sillman. And, and this is Double


Is DoubleXposure <laugh>


DoubleXposure is a podcast where we plumb the deepest depths and the tiniest cracks of our world to understand how culture and creativity shape our lives.


Today, we're live at Seattle Art Museum.


Welcome to LiveXposure. It's a live recording of the doubleXposure Podcast. And today we are at the Seattle Art Museum. I'm Vivian Phillips.


I'm Marcie Sillman. We're in the Museum's Nordstrom Auditorium with a live audience.


A live audience. It is so wonderful to always be around live humans besides just the two of us, right? <laugh>.


It is indeed.


Today we're gonna talk about the ways museums are and are not changing to embrace and reflect their communities. Our jumping-off point is the Seattle Art Museum's permanent American Art installation. And last fall, the museum reopened these galleries to the public and they offer visitors a brand new way to thinkabout both the art and themselves in this museum context.


We can't do that alone. So we are joined by a trio of people who are instrumental in re-imagining how this museum thinks both about American Art and about itself as a cultural repository. Sitting right to my right is Theresa Papanikolas. She is SAM’s Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art. And from now on, I'm just gonna call you the curator of American Art, if that's okay. <laugh>


Theresa came to Seattle from the Honolulu Art Museum in 2019, so just at the cusp of the world pandemic. And she really is the person who helped spearhead the new installation. So we're so delighted that you could be with us.


And joining Teresa are two community members who've played active roles in both SAM’s American Art reinstallation and in general in Seattle's arts community. Mayumi Tsutakawa is an arts writer, curator and longtime advocate who's also worked with both the Washington State Arts Commission and the King County Arts Commission. And she served as one of the 12 members of the museum's advisory circle for the new American Art Galleries. Welcome Mayumi.


Very good to be here and to see all of you.


We’re delighted. Inye Wokoma is a journalist, a filmmaker, a visual artist, the co-founder of Wa Na Wari, which is an art center in the heart of Seattle's Central District. Inye was a guest curator for the American Art installation. That wasn't exactly the original plan, but we're gonna talk with Inye about the evolution of the role that he played. So, we're so glad that you could be here as well.


Thank you. I'm happy to be here.


We wanna thank you all for being with us. And before we dive into our panel conversation, we wanted to give our listening audience a sense of what the museum's reimagined galleries are like.


The exhibition is called American Art, The Stories That We Carry. And as a longtime visitor to this museum, for me, it really was a new way of looking at SAM’s collection. In fact, a lot of this art we haven't been able to look at because it's been in storage. The first thing that you see is what I, I only know how to describe it as sort of a collage of portraits of Native American women by Wendy Red Star. And I don't even remember being welcomed into the American Art Wing before. So this is at the entryway. And visitors know from the get-go, I think that they're gonna see art by and about people who maybe haven't been well represented in such prominent ways in institutions like this museum.


You know, when I was going through the exhibit, I actually got a little bit weepy because I don't think that there's ever been a time when I've been in a museum where I've seen myself reflected in such a positive way, but also from a geographical perspective, really acknowledging the Indigenous presence here in the Pacific Northwest. I also really appreciated that all of the artists were identified as American, even though, uh, many of them are born in other places. But that is very clear in the representation and the description. So I really, really appreciated seeing that. Theresa, let's start this conversation with you a few years back before the American Art Galleries reopened to the public. So you arrived at SAM in 2019, as Marcie said, when did the work to re-envision the museum's exhibition really begin?


Well, I'd have to say it actually began before I got here. When I was thinking about coming to SAM and visiting and, and especially interviewing for the job, I was, um, struck by how American art sort of lived within SAM. It was, um, do any of you remember how the gallery was before? So it was, it was very dark. It was, yeah. Um, very beautiful. It was focused on canonical works of American art that have great art historical significance. They were shown as masterworks for their greatness and their, but there really wasn't a narrative thread that was going through the gallery. And more importantly, the galleries did not talk to what was around them. I mean, surrounding the American Art Gallery, our, our Native American collections, our mesoamerican collections, our modern and contemporary collections, a gallery devoted to Chinese art, to Japanese art, to Australian aboriginal art. And the American Art Gallery really sat separate from these other galleries. And, um, coming from Honolulu where I had, I was coming off of a reinstallation of those galleries where we really were trying to create conversations among collections. Um, I really felt that this had to change. And so I kind of made that my platform that I ran on when I was, um, applying for and interviewing for the job. And then, um, started thinking about how that would transpire when I got the job.


I do remember those galleries and I remember them. I remember not going in them. So that, that's another conversation. They were dark and they didn't really invite you in. Maybe you wanna just briefly, for people who are listening and not hear, talk about the biggest difference between then and now in your mind.


Well, they're no longer dark <laugh>.




They're painted a much lighter color. They are, um, now you see the collections talking to each other. I mean, those masterworks are still there. They're still there, but they're in conversation with modern and contemporary art, with Native American art. They are not, the artwork is not arranged in a chronological fashion. We stepped out of that comfort zone almost from the get-go. And instead, the galleries are arranged thematically to bring out ideas and themes that are sort of central both to American art as, um, something that's happening, nationally, but also as something that's happening within our region. And so there are a lot of local artists on view in the galleries.


There's also, you know, like you see a Kehinde Wiley in the, um, exhibit. There's this representation or recognition that “American” has a really broad description to it. SAM, along with a lot of other museums, are opening up this curatorial process to communities in a greater way. And so I'm gonna ask Mayumi as a member of the community advisory group, what that meant to you. And I know you have an incredibly long history of going to museums mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So, I'm sure that there was probably an aha or two moment for you in this process.


Well, I was very, um, pleased to be included, um, on this advisory committee and, um, the, uh, selection or the range of people chosen. They represented every part of our community and, um, both people from who lived here and elsewhere, but art creators as well as as curators and, and so on. I, for example, um, I was so pleased to see Jake Prendez, who's the head of the Nepantla, um, gallery in White Center, which he just built up. And, and, you know, through the, the energy of the Latino people down in White Center has become really quite a, a wonderful, wonderful thing. So I, I wanna thank Theresa and SAM for including me. And we got a nice honorarium, which I think we deserve <laugh> as community people who are spending time, a good amount of time. And it, it kind of recognizes our, um, backgrounds. But it was, it was, it was really quite fun. And we went through several stages of looking at what, uh, has been in the collection and seeing the way that it was hung before, and remembering both specifically our own communities and then learning more about the other communities represented on this advisory committee. So it was, it was both fun and it was also quite educational for me.


How long did you spend doing that?


Oh my gosh. It was like two years


Like a couple years we met, we met every couple of months. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, and it was such an eye-opener for me to work with these folks because we were like, you know, really showed me what our collection didn't have. And it made Barbara and me, oh. And I have to say that, um, so I had a co-curator on this project, and that was my colleague Barbara Brotherton, who's our curator, emerita of Native American art. Um, she's since retired and we miss her, but she doesn't miss us cuz she's all off in California. But I digress. Um, it really, it showed us what we didn't have. It also raised a challenge that I didn't really anticipate, even though I probably should have or maybe I did deep down, which is how do you bring in communities who are not reflected in your collection? Like, how do you do that when you're, you're thinking about how you're presenting your collections to your audiences.


One of the things you did was commission artists to make work for this. And Inye originally you were asked to be one of those artists who were, was going to make work. So you, you’re now described as a guest curator. So talk a little bit about how you went from being asked to make something specific to making a gallery.

INYE WOKOMA (11:19):

Well, you know, that's funny because Theresa and I, well sometimes I joke because it's kind of a clerical error. <laugh>, well, because Theresa came to visit, uh, us at Wa Na Wari and, and talked a little bit about, you know, this project they're doing. And then, you know, I just kind of said, yes, uh, <affirmative> and then forgot about it, right?



INYE WOKOMA (11:40):

And then later on she said, are you ready to start? And I was like, okay, yeah. What are we doing again? <laugh>, right. That type of thing. So, um, but you know, I, I understood the nature of the project, understood the nature of the thing. So I think, um, just given my role at Wa Na Wari, I think I was thinking more on that level as opposed to my practice as a visual artist. And so I, you know, when I came in, I entered with that disposition, right. And, uh, and we had a conversation early on about creating an original work, but I was just really fascinated by the collection itself and the possibilities of diving into that.


Your particular gallery. I love it. There's a statement on the wall and you describe it as a lyrical reflection of our collective history. And very specifically, you're talking about our Northwest History. I mean, this is, this gallery is about this place and the original people and all the community there that were in there. So mm-hmm. <affirmative>, how do you start? I mean, I don't, were you, did you just get to thumb through what wasn't hanging and pick what you liked?

INYE WOKOMA (12:47):

<laugh>? Uh, well, I mean, I started with the whole collection, or as much of the collection was available digitally that, uh, Teresa gave me. And I think the, the idea of, of really narrowing it down, you know, to being something that spoke to, um, sort of our regional existence, I think it was more of a process. Right? I don't know that I actually started there. Right? There are some points that I started that probably would've indicated that I would land there. You know, for example, you know, my attraction to the Albert Bierstadt piece, right? Although, you know, Bierstadt was not like a regional Northwest artist. That piece is, is very much about our region, right. You know. But as I began to go through the collection, you know, I was looking at things and, and the way that I look at art, um, I look at it as art, but I'm also looking at it from the lens of someone that, you know, has a real interest in history, right? And the social history right. Of places. Um, and so, you know, a lot of times I'm looking at things that remind me of like the labor history of our region or the environmental history of our region, and a lot of those things, you know, speak to me through the art. And I, so I think there were certain things that just resonated with me, certain pieces that resonated with me, that began to make sense together. And so that was just a, a ongoing conversation with Theresa, Barbara and I about that.


Before we take a break, I do wanna go back to the concept, two things. One is the collection itself and how this reinstallation, this community engagement process may change the way in which the museum collects in the future, but also for you Inye and Mayumi as well. Um, when you talk about some of the members of the community advisory group, what do you think that means to people who have traditionally been left on the other side of the process?


Well, I like to think that they, um, jumped on it as a great opportunity. Some, uh, there were varying levels of, um, experience or understanding of the processes and, uh, methods that the, that major art museums go through. But I think that there was a lot of, um, enthusiasm and, and friendship and, uh, real process of, you know, starting from here, down here and, and getting to up here in terms of recognizing our differences, but also kind of enjoying our differences in that group.


And Theresa, what about how this shifts, how the museum approaches collecting art in the future, if it does?


Well, in this case it definitely did because it, you know, really encouraged, I mean, Barbara and I, through the process, felt very encouraged to, to be more nimble, to, you know, kind of put aside our collection strategies or else make, make this community input part of our collection strategies and really drive what we were going after. And an example is, um, in one of the early meetings of the advisors, Jake Prendez, um, was asking why we had no Chicano artists on view in the museum. And he lists off a, you know, like a list of artists who are missing from the collection, are not present in the museum, who he wanted to see, who he felt were representative of his community. And, um, one of them was Alfredo Arreguín. And this is an artist who I didn't really know a lot about. You know, come to find out, you know, I'm a new person here, came from Hawaii, um, and, you know, come to find out he's like really one of the most important artists in our region. And he was not represented in SAM’s collection. And so that became my collecting project was to add a work by him in the collection. And so, looked at a lot of paintings, went to his studio, and we acquired the first work by him to come into the collection.


That is very exciting.


So that's an example of, you know, this collaborative process really having an impact on institutional decisions.


I hope other museum leadership is listening <laugh>. They are, they are good listening. We're gonna take a short break when we come back, more of our conversation at Seattle Art Museum with Theresa Papanikolas, Inye Wokoma and Mayumi Tsutakawa. You're listening to DoubleXposure. Our music is courtesy of Big World breaks. Many thanks. <clapping>


And this year we welcome our sponsor, LANGSTON, cultivating Black Brilliance from their home at Seattle's Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in the historic Central District.


Welcome back to LiveXposure, a recording for the DoubleXposure Podcast. I'm Vivian Phillips with Marcie Sillman and a live audience at Seattle Art Museum. <clapping>


They're getting good at that. Well, we are talking about museums in particular. We're interested in whose voices, whose stories are represented in a large cultural institution like Seattle Art Museum, and how the museum can reflect everyone's experience and welcome everyone into this environment, which hasn't necessarily been an open-door kind of place in the past.


And today we're speaking with Theresa Papanikolas American Art Curator here at SAM, writer, curator, and arts advocate, Mayumi Tsutakawa and journalist, artist and co-founder of Wa Na Wari art center Inye Wokoma.


We started this podcast conversation with a very specific focus on the newly reimagined American art galleries here at SAM. I wanna take a step back. You know, we hear that term American art, which seems self-explanatory, art made by Americans, but I guess Mayumi, Inye, Theresa, any of you can answer this. Who are the Americans who've traditionally been part of these collections and who are the Americans who have not?






Bostonians. I mean, it's like, I've always found these spaces in museums to be very East Coast-centric and, um, you know, so I went to graduate school on the East Coast and I was, I just felt like even my people from the West Coast were not represented. So, you know, it's, it's,

MAYUMI TSUTAKAW: that she means white males, I mean, it's, it's very obvious that was the, the face…


…that was the face and their wives and, and their farms and their, you know, and their ridges and who they displaced. Sorry. And we can go on <laugh>. Yeah. So that was, I mean, that was really the story that, I mean, that was the subtext for American art, you know, just that, that history in all its complexity. And I think, you know, right now, museums really want to embrace that complexity to really be honest about it. And in order to do that, you know, you really do have to say like, well, what is American art? And that's a deceptively simple question with no straight answer.


For Mayumi. You know, I I'm alluded to the fact that you have a long history with museums, because I know about this story of you visiting the, uh, Seattle Art Museum at Volunteer Park forever ago and always. So, when you were younger or even at this particular stage in all of your museum visits, what were you noticing wasn't there? And how did you bring that sensibility into this process?


Well, it's true that, you know, full disclosure, my dad is a, was a well-known artist, and one of his pieces is in this, this collection. So, I'm very proud to say that his, uh, sculpture of seaweed, uh, really speaks to us in the Pacific Northwest, but it's a bronze sculpture. So, we, we did, uh, attend, uh, visit a lot of different, uh, museums when we were younger. It was the chance to see the major museums, whether it's Chicago, Washington DC, uh, Kansas City, the, the major museums in New York, of course. But over time, with my activism and being involved in progressive politics and Asian American community culture, I came to really want to delve more into the history. And I have studied, for example, I mean, it's almost a parallel path that Asian American artists, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Korean in the Pacific Northwest have always had a, a movement, an organized set of exhibitions and, um, inclusive African American community showing in the International District.


This has been really going on for 20, 30, 40 years. So it's, it's been my pleasure to, to research and write about these, um, movements, um, of other communities, other meaning the not white community. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So nowadays when I'm going to, I was just in New York this, this past week, and of course, you know, I want to see the, the major museums which are open. They're not all open, but I really seek out the, the particular shows that we haven't had the chance to see before. And for example, the Studio Museum of Harlem is closed right now, so they are curating shows in other museums. And I was introduced to this really wonderful and historic photographer, Ming Smith. Mm-hmm. Yes, yes. And her, her wonderful, um, portraits of the community. And another one comes to mind at the Tate Museum, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, a Ghanaian British citizen, and they're, these are voices that are so essential to so many people and their communities.


And when I was at the PS One Museum in, in Queens, there were a number of exhibits that had been curated by the Studio Museum of Harlem using that space. So there were so many people there. I mean, there were loads and loads of people visiting and seeing these shows, which were not your, you know, longtime modernist white male stars mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which I still love their work. Sure. You, you know. Yeah. Rothko and Pollack, and I've studied their work. I've seen it. It's, they're beautiful. But so many, I mean, as you see the Augusta Savage piece here, we need to see her even more, you know, just love to see her work.


Inye, I came to the media preview for this, uh, exhibition, which I thinkwas in October of ‘22 last fall. And you said to us, assembled journalists, I never came in this gallery. I never came in here before. And it, uh, it really stuck with me, uh, because of a, it didn't invite you in, but I'm wondering, in thinking about, you looked at all this art and you, we have what you ended up with, which is stunning and artwork in the museum's holding that, you know, I was wondered where it's been for 90 years. I'm not 90, but the 40 years that I've been looking at art here. So I'm wondering how you thought about Mayumi’s just talking about the dynamic audience and community response to these smaller museums. How were you thinking about audience or were you, were you thinking about audience?

INYE WOKOMA (24:49):

Yeah, I was, I was absolutely thinking about audience. You know, I mean, I think even just to think about the idea of audience, um, I think I was thinking, I was thinking about several things, and even just to sort of run the reel back little bit into kind of really connect with something that Mayumi was, was saying, we have a shared history going all the way back to the seventies <laugh>. Um, because my mother, you know, is a lifelong artist. And, uh, she was a member of, uh, arts co-op that was located in Chinatown, International District called Cicada. Right? And so I actually grew up as a child running around Chinatown International District. It feels like a second home for me, right? And so, and also being a co-founder of Wa Na Wari, but also being someone that's been, um, very much involved in, uh, community organizing and activism over the course of my life, these things are all very much intertwined in my consciousness.

INYE WOKOMA (25:44):

And so when I'm thinking about this, I'm thinking about my relationship to all of those things. I'm thinking about my relationship to all the communities that I'm a part of, and how what I do, how I enter this space can be a reflection of those relationships, right? So it's, for me, it's not so much a question of audience as much as it is a question of relationality, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, and how do I, I authentically bring all of that to be embodied in this space, right? I think the challenge is that I'm working with an existing body of works, um, that I have to interpret in a way that gives voice to that reality, right? Um, and so one that was the challenge that I was leaning into, um, that informed, um, not only the selection of works, but even as I began to investigate each individual piece, you know, how do I enter into it with a sense of relationality, right? And I, and I think that that disposition, even if, um, the work or even the narrative of an individual work is new, I think, um, the approach is something that I hope that, uh, people in my community are familiar with the way of approaching a thing.


I wanna talk a little bit more about audience Theresa, and ask you, you know, the history of museums in America has pretty much had a curatorial practice that's paternalistic. So it's like we as curators know what you all should be looking at. That seems to be changing, but when it starts to change in a way that broaden with the intention of broadening the audience, then how does the museum revisit this identification of who their audience really is?


That's a really good question. Lot of answers to that question of how you define audience, like, and how you determine who your audience is. I mean, certainly there are the, the more, you know, mechanical ways, like keeping track of who comes through the door, being mindful of the demographics in the region. Um, at SAM, you know, we really, you know, we're the Seattle Art Museum, right? And so we define our audience at the baseline, or one of the definitions of our audience is our local community and our northwest community. And so that community is very important to us. And then you kind of break down that community and you, you know, you think of who is in the community, who do you want your audience to be? Who's coming in the door, but then who's not coming in the door? Yeah. And how do you reach those, those people?


And these are the conversations that, you know, we're having internally at every level within the museum, we're revising, you know, how we reach out to prospective members who we target. We are, you know, dreaming up and activating ways to make the museum more, more accessible. Like our new community pass program where we're partnering with local nonprofits to who have traditionally faced barriers to the museum, to gain access to the museum through free tickets for their staffs and their stakeholders. Um, and this work is ongoing. You know, we know it's not finished. We know it's changing. And this is my, um, you know, this goes back to what I was saying earlier about really being nimble in response to the community and really, you know, acting upon what, what our community expects of us. Because, you know, really ultimately at the end of the day, that's who we are. You know, we serve our community.


I just wanna, uh, interject that, you know, earlier in our season, okay? Last year, <laugh> in our season, um, we had a conversation with Amada Cruz, who is the, uh, Director here at Seattle Art Museum. And one of the things that we talked about was this fat, the fact that museums tend to be these big ships that are hard to turn, you know, in, in, in a quick way. So being more nimble feels like it's the direction that we all must be going in order for all audiences to feel comfortable here.


This museum is just about 90 years old, this


The Same age as you.


Yeah. <laugh>, I feel almost 90 sometimes <laugh>. Um, but not quite. And I, it got me to thinking, you're talking about being more nimble. Yeah. We're talking about community access. And it makes me wonder, listening to Mayumi a bit earlier, talking about these very dynamic community museums. Like what is a museum in 2023? I mean, what it, you are no longer a place where things are necessarily stored out of sight. What do you think of when you think of that word museum? Mayumi?


Well, let me just jump in here please, because I'm so, so proud of some of our individual, um, curators such as Delbert Richardson. He has a fantastic com, uh, collection of African American artifacts that he has made into a museum in his own garage, uh, and now taking it around to, to school groups and having tours. In fact, I I, I was lucky enough to sit on, on one of his tours where he explained everything. Another example is the Sea Mar Community Clinic, which serves the Latino community. They're flat out, they are a health center, but they found it necessary to set aside a wonderful amount of space for actual artifacts from their own Mexican American and Hispanic American community right there in White Center. So, these things, I mean, even the Wing Luke Museum, which started as more of a heritage history kind of museum of, of Chinese American history, has really evolved by, by engaging young artists and, and curators to bring out the artistic sense of, of the very many different Asian Pacific Islander communities in Seattle. So it can come from an individual, it can come from a community group, but doesn't have to start with a really big building to start with as, Volunteer Park.


Yep. That was the first building. Let me just follow up a second. Is there a different responsibility that an institution like Seattle Art Museum has than the Sea Mar Community Clinic when it comes to being a repository or a collector? Any of you want to tackle that one <laugh>? No.


Well, I would just say that there's room for every kind of museum, right? I mean, some museums started as art galleries serving a given community, for example, in Tacoma, the Asia-Pacific Cultural Center, that was another, uh, basically social service center. And they have a, a wonderful rotating exhibit of real masterful Asian-inspired artwork there. So, it can start from a number of different places.


Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think of the Mayo Clinic, you know, which also has a museum and has an art collection. So you have, you know, there are a lot of different models for being a repository and a displays a display space for art. And, you know, when we think about museums changing, um, I always like to think that we're expanding. You know, we're changing, but we're expanding. We're still, you know, we still have collections. We still have storage. We still take stewardship of these collections very, very seriously. So, we're there to preserve collections for future generations. You know, that's really a big part of our mission. But, um, what the change that people are seeing right now is, I think museums are also becoming much, much more aware and serious about our responsibility to accessibility. So it's that balance between stewardship and access that is really bringing about these visible changes in museums. And make no mistake, you know, we at museums, and especially we at SAM embraced this, you know, we want this as much as our communities do.

INYE WOKOMA (33:42):

I, I just want to unpack that a little bit more. I'm gonna tell a story, right, <laugh>, um, only because I think it's, when it's interesting and it, and I think it leans into something that's a bit more loaded, right? So a couple years ago there was, um, kind of a rogue sort of media hijacking of SAM’s collection, right? Where a letter went out to the community saying that SAM was divesting its entire collection and its entire power base and distributing it to all of these arts organizations. Right? Now, of course, this was this, this, this sort of, you know, sort of flash Moby sort of provocative action had actually nothing to do with what SAM was doing, but it actually spoke to the historical relationship to art museums as actual repositories of power. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And the collections actually represent, you know, the accumulation of artifacts that represent, you know, military, economic, and political and geographic power, right?

INYE WOKOMA (34:48):

And the retention of those collections represents the maintenance of that power throughout time. I just want to take a moment to say, if we're talking and citing something like Sea Mar we need to actually parse out how Sea Mar exists in the landscape, um, in present tense and historically in relationship to an institution like SAM or, you know, or The Met or any of these larger, you know, national institutions or The Louvre, right? Right. I mean, these are fundamentally different ways of collecting and, and they have different historical context and different present context. I wanted to throw that into the mix just to say that as we're looking at, um, re-imagining something like the American Art Collection, making it more expansive, making it more inclusive, you know, a big part of that is, is at least attempting, you know, on the front end to hack some of that power base. Right? Absolutely.


You know, well, just because we have, I think just a little bit more time <laugh>, we're gonna add some time. Um, one of the things that I think we talked a little bit about, we talked a little bit about in our pre-conversation, is about this, uh, pirating versus collecting and actually the act that we see happening around the world these days of museums returning artifacts that have been…


Forced to return.


Okay. They've been forced to return artifacts that were stolen from, um, their rightful owners, and how that shifts the dynamic with community. I guess just, I'm putting that out there because one of the things that I think is happening at SAM is not only do we see a re-imagining of what a collection should encompass, we're also seeing a re-imagining, I believe, of what the institution as a facility as a building should mean to the community. And I'm curious what you all would think about that as well.

INYE WOKOMA (36:51):

Uh, since I jumped in the deep end, I'll, I'll stay there. The fact that I said, oh, I never came to this gallery has everything to do, with my understanding of the power relationship of tho the pieces. And when I walked past the entrance of that, of the, the old version of the American Art Gallery, what I saw communicated to me, that historical power relationship mm-hmm. <affirmative>, yeah. Right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I just was like, I didn't come here to, to have a conversation with that thing today. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, right. You know, so I'm going to, to go do something that's gonna be a bit more edifying. Nevertheless, I'm in a building that I know, you know, is an embodiment of all of those things. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And even as I'm, you know, sort of negotiating, you know, a relationship with a Carrie Mae Weems or a Kehinde Wiley or, or anyone else that I might come and see, I know that I'm coming to see that under the providence of this powerful institution that is also sort of vacuuming up these things and providing a certain kind of access to them. Right?

INYE WOKOMA (37:51):

Um, and so I, I think, you know, there is a responsibility to continue to be very candid about that. Yes. Right? Yeah. Um, and not in a way that is like guilt-inducing mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but one that is clarifying and one that opens up opportunities for new, for folks to come in and, and to have access to the center of, of the institution and understand how to, to begin to shift how it actually operates.


Very good.


Could I just jump in for a second on Sure. This whole issue of repatriation of, I mean, not all the works were stolen. They were handled through sales of, uh, between people who are not so legal, um, in other countries and, and selling them for big money. Well, okay, my point is that we have collections from different countries, different parts of the world, and what do we think about that? Where did they come from and who made it possible for them to be here? Some of the pieces clearly should be returned. There's a large Cambodian collection that right now is actually going back to Cambodia from a major, major, major museum. But when you, you know, when you love, okay, in my case, when I love to see the Asian art at the Asian Art Museum, the beautiful treasures, but also the handmade more kind of fine craft pieces, then you do, or you could, you should wonder where did they come from? Sure. And why? And clearly after World War II, so many of the pieces were brought home by us military people from Japan, because people were poor. They were so poor after that, that bomb, uh, the bomb, the bomb, but also the military bomb the heck out of the entire country that people were selling things for pennies or for a few yen. Um, so it does bring you the question of enjoying African art, enjoying art from other countries, and also where did it come from and, and should it be returned?


If you go upstairs, um, in the museum to our fourth floor, there's a small display of, um, our collections from the Kingdom of Benin. And that is, you know, that's all about repatriation. And right now we're having conversations internally about what to do with those objects. Our curator of African art, Pam McCluskey, is very much involved with repatriation efforts of Benin work. Um, the, one of the big questions is where do you send them? Do you send them to Nigeria or do you send them back to the palace where they were stolen from? So, so these questions of provenance of, um, the history of ownership, you know, who lays claim to this ownership and what's happened along the way is something that's very, very, um, it's a very big question within the museum right now. And now if we're going to accession something, it has to have a clear provenance, so we can't even bring anything in that's of questionable acquisition.


Well, this has been an incredibly enlightening conversation and I, obviously it's the beginning. Yeah. And we have a lot more to talk about, but we can't do that today. But, um, just wanna make sure that every part two, part two, okay, fine. See, you called it, you called it this time, so you laugh when I said we're gonna add time <laugh>, and now you've called part two. Um, just wanna make sure that our listeners know that SAM’s American Art Galleries are permanent exhibitions, although it will be refreshed in April. So, if you wanna get a chance to see what we've been talking about, you need to get to SAM before that refresh happens. You can visit these galleries absolutely anytime the museum is open, you absolutely do not need a special ticket.


We've been talking about museums, and clearly we'll have a continued conversation. But this museum in particular with the Seattle Art Museum, American Art Curator, Theresa, Papanikolas, uh, writer, curator all around, arts advocate, and activists, Mayumi Tsutakawa, and journalist, artist, and Wa Na Wari co-founder Inye Wokoma. Thank you three so much for slicing a little bit off of what is really a big conversation. We'd also like to thank Seattle Art Museum for making this live recording event possible. In particular, we wanna thank Rachel Eggers, who facilitated the event. Yay, Rachel! Kitt Boyer, who is SAM’s AV Production Manager and today's engineer, Buddha Demelanta, who is making it sound good.


We also wanna make sure that you know that this conversation was part of SAM Talk series, whose major sponsor is Amazon. Lead funding for the exhibition, American Art, The Stories We Carry came from the Mellon Foundation. Major support is from the Terra Foundation for American Art, along with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Estate of Christian Herman Hesseman.


And many thanks to our doubleXposure producer, Hilary Northcraft, and most of all, to our live audience here in Seattle Art Museum's Nordstrom Auditorium. Woohoo. <clapping> I'm Marcie Sillman.


And I'm Vivian Phillips. Thank you for listening.


DoubleXposure Executive Producers are me, Marcie Sillman,


And me Vivian Phillips. We get production support from Hilary Northcraft, Randy Engstrom and Calandra Childers.


Support for doubleXposure comes from Pyramid Communications,


And we're especially proud to support Crosscut Media's Black Arts Legacies Project, highlighting the role of Black artists and arts organizations throughout our cultural landscape.


If you like what you're hearing on this episode of DoubleXposure, be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app and check out our website, doubleXposure pod dot com.

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