Myths of Professionalism, Value, and Diversity in the Art World / by Brian Howe


A couple of weeks ago, something remarkable happened at Articulating Value, the symposium that capped the yearlong series of conversations Culture Mill spearheaded among local artists and art professionals about the relationship of art and value in economic, social, and ethical senses.

Unlike many arts symposiums, which are dry and self-protective, an emotional outpouring of the sort I have seldom seen transfigured the event into a searching referendum on white privilege and supremacy in the arts, which came into outline as a structure that must be dismantled before the question of "value" can be coherently approached.

There were courageous, unflinching, powerful testimonials from artists of color, such as Saba Taj and Monet Noelle Marshall, who faced an audience of predominantly white faces that exemplified the very constructs they and others so eloquently explained. And there were courageous, unflinching, powerful confessions from white artists, such as Laura Ritchie and Tommy Noonan. I wish I could publish all of it in Indy Week, but luckily, I don't have to, because much of it is available in a free book you can download at Culture Mill's website.

I wanted to publish Tommy's piece because it so clearly anatomizes three fundamental assumptions about worth, diversity, and professionalism in the local art scene and then so clearly overturns them. Culture Mill has enacted a process that stands in witness of the process's own failings, which are structural and all-encompassing, rather than trying to sweep them back under the rug, where we usually keep them.

As an embodiment of that principle, I think this piece is really important for white artists and presenters across the state--across the country, really--to read, and to confront it in their own practices, as I know everyone who was at the symposium that day must have been compelled to do. Find it here.