Arts community shares virtual support for Black Lives Matter protests

A tribute to lost black lives was set up in front of Ridgefield Community Center by the Compassionate Ridgefield organization.

A tribute to lost black lives was set up in front of Ridgefield Community Center by the Compassionate Ridgefield organization.

Byran Haeffele / Hearst Connecticut Media

Social movements and the arts community often go hand-in-hand, as illustrated by arts institutions across the country calling for change and calling for justice over social media.

In a show of support for the Black Lives Matter protests that have erupted across the country, many local arts organizations participated in the #BlackOutTuesday social media campaign on June 2. As part of the campaign, individuals and organizations posted black squares on their social media feeds in a sign of solidarity for Black Lives Matters. Museums across the country have called for action and theaters in New York City have opened their lobbies to shelter protesters and offer them a space to rest.

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, ACT of Connecticut, Ridgefield School of Dance, Ridgefield Theatre Barn, Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County, Ridgefield Guild of Artists, Greenwich Historical Society, Wilton Historical Society, Danbury Museum, Quick Center, Keeler Tavern Museum, Silvermine Art Center, Thrown Stone Theatre Company, the SONO Sidewalk Gallery and Western Connecticut State University’s School of Visual and Performing Arts also posted in solidarity for #blackouttuesday. The Pequot Library, The Bruce Museum, the Fairfield Performing Arts Studio and Long Wharf Theater have also posted statements about how they stand against racism. The New Canaan Museum and Historical Society has shared photos from a peaceful protest in New Canaan on June 5. The museum also previously posted photos and a link to a news story about the New Canaan Experiment, where a group of black student teachers from the South interned and taught at the predominately white school in New Canaan in 1968 in an effort to teach tolerance.

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, theaters and museums are closed, however that hasn’t stopped them from pledging to do more to promote social change. Locally, some posts offered a hashtag, while others pledged to do more. The Aldrich stated that it was cancelling its virtual programming for the first week of June.

“The Aldrich stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and protesters across the nation. We mourn the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and countless others. We realize that it is not enough to simply post on social media: anything other than action is unacceptable. As such, our first step is to cancel our virtual programming this week to encourage our community to focus on the urgent matters of social justice,” the Instagram post stated. “ We firmly believe that art has a role in making positive change and that we can support this change through the amplification of artists’ voices, particularly those who have been denied recognition due to systemic discrimination. We are also renewing our commitment to equity and inclusion across all aspects of our work, from our exhibitions and public programs to our leadership and staff.”

The Westport Country Playhouse’s post offered to listen and share stories. “As a nonprofit regional theater, our mission has always been to hold a mirror up to nature and to provide opportunities for constructive dialogue around diverse stories, to be a center for people to come together in a world where divisions have primacy,” the theater stated in the Instagram post. “Our community, Fairfield County, is among the most diverse and the most segregated in the United States; part of our role is to dismantle the systemic racism that drives that segregation and many other challenges faced by communities of color. Our hearts break as Black communities continue to suffer at the hands of those in positions of authority and privilege, in the national news and locally. We stand with you. We see you. We are listening. And when we return to the stage, we pledge that your stories will be told here.”

The Arts Council of Greater New Haven condemned police brutality and called on artists and arts institutions to fight against systemic racism in their social media posts. “The Arts Council of Greater New Haven stands for justice and liberation of Black and Brown people in our community. We condemn police brutality of any kind. We also recognize the specific anti-Blackness on which this country and many of its enduring arts institutions were built. That violence has defined the last week of our lives, but it has also defined the last 400 years.

“We cannot, in good conscience, be silent any longer. We hope many of our colleagues and member organizations and artists will do the same,” the Arts Council posted on Instagram. “We mourn 400 years of white violence against Black and Brown bodies, before which came white violence against Indigenous bodies. We support protestors and movement builders who are leading this fight.”

The Arts Council went on to acknowledge the importance of recognizing privilege and speaking out. “We are a white-led, predominantly white organization serving a sector that benefits enormously from white privilege. We have an ongoing commitment to antiracism and also a deep debt to pay specifically to artists of color in our region.

“The artists and arts institutions in our community must not only join in the fight against police brutality, but also white supremacy itself. Silence or indifference fuels the oppression.

“We challenge and invite you to rethink what true diversity, transformative equity, and radical inclusion looks like in your offices, classrooms, studios, and on your stages. Even, and especially now, during the coronavirus pandemic, your creativity, resources, and power are needed to imagine a future where our Black and Brown sisters and brothers are truly free.”

The Arts Council also shared images from the Black Lives Matter protest in New Haven captioned, “We are thinking about how artists, arts leaders, and arts orgs must be part of this fight.”

Artspace New Haven reposted a quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu stating “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor” from the gallery director and curator, Sarah Fritchey’s personal account. Fritchey’s post provided information about Artspace New Haven’s “Revolution on Trial” podcast and links where people can donate to support the protesters.

The Katonah Museum of Art (KMA) posted the black out square with a joint statement from the museum’s executive director Michael Gitlitz and the board of trustees president Debbie Mullin which called for the arts community to play a role in confronting racism.

“We stand with those who seek to undo institutionalized forms of oppression and those acting to lead our communities towards healing and unity by building more equitable institutions. We also believe that the Katonah Museum of Art, other museums, the art community, and artists play an important role in confronting and exploring these issues. We have a role in both provoking dialogue and in creating a community space in which to engage.”

The statement also reminded followers about the museum’s ongoing Bisa Butler exhibit, which “explores racism, identity and the experience of African Americans.”

The KMA also posted an image of Butler’s piece “Basquiat - Black Lives Matter” a quilted portrait which features the names of black people who have been rallying points with the BLM. The KMA currently has a virtual exhibit of Butler’s work available on its website.

Ridgefield’s Thrown Stone Theatre Company also offered a message of grief and solidarity with Black Lives Matter and chose to postpone its “Acts of Fate” performance.

“At Thrown Stone, we are acutely aware of our privilege and the hard work we need to do to live up to our ideals. We are determined to use this moment to face our shortcomings, and recommit to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our board, staff, and offering,” Thrown Stone said in its post.

ACT of Connecticut shared an image of Compassionate Ridgefield’s memorial on Ridgefield’s Main Street and pledged to take a stand against systemic racism. “Theater has the unique power to unite us in common experience, to remind us that amidst our differences, we are all human. We are taking a stand against systemic racism and the ongoing police brutality that the Black community has endured for far too long. ACT is committed to doing the work to ensure our theater is an anti-racist space where all people feel welcomed and empowered. We will continue working as an institution to foster equality, dignity and respect for all people, and we stand in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter.”