Iowa Arts Council
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Iowa Arts Council

Making Art More Inclusive

Here’s a quick preview of one of the sessions planned for the virtual Iowa Arts Summit on Aug. 7. Check out the full lineup and register today!

In a session called “De-Centering Whiteness Through Inclusive Arts Practice,” Iowa State University cultural studies scholar Nancy Gebhart will advocate for art exhibitions that respond to cultural change.

In the past, most art exhibitions in the United States have represented artists who are white and male, and they still do. Shows that focus on underrepresented communities are typically presented with special labels — Women Artists, African American Artists, LGBTQ Artists, etc.

Gebhart’s discussion plans to draw upon Critical Race Theory to provide evaluative tools to de-center whiteness in art spaces and make exhibitions more inclusive. The session is intended for Iowa arts professionals who already use art to promote social justice — or want to start — and Gebhart encourages participants to come with their own upcoming projects in mind. (There will be some time to discuss challenges and workshop solutions.)

Gebhart suggests that even arts programmers with the best intentions often place whiteness at the center of their programming. The arts system as we know it is built on power, dominance, and colonization. So without true systemic change, it’s up to individuals to promote social justice and defy racism and white supremacy.

Gebhart hopes participants in this session will learn at least two how-to’s:

  1. How to evaluate an exhibition (or program or artwork) in its formation, early enough to recognize and eliminate white bias.
  2. How to evaluate the institutions where they work, in order to recognize and eliminate white bias in policy and practice.

Gebhart is a PhD student in social and cultural studies of education at Iowa State University, where her research focuses on how arts experiences influence critical thinking and cultural empathy. She is also interested in the intersection of art and social justice education.

She has more than 15 years of professional experience in art museums, including museum education and contemporary art curation. From 2008 until 2018, she was the educator of visual literacy and learning at Iowa State University Museums and, before that, worked at the Saint Louis Art Museum and Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

Montana Smith, Iowa Arts Council

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Empowering Iowans to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by cultivating creativity, participation & learning in the arts.

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