Last Friday, art collaborative Occupy Museums staged an unofficial graduation-style performance at the Whitney Museum in front of their contribution to this year’s Biennial, the installation Debtfair, 2017, a piece about the horrors of massive student debt, writes Julie Schwietert Collazo of Hyperallergic. The performance, titled An Evening of Counter-Commencement, was organized via social media, e-mail, and word of mouth. Kenneth Pietrobono, a member of Occupy Museums, said the group wanted the performance to cast a spotlight on the “speculative investment in art and culture and the privatization of both municipal and cultural institutions,” in addition to the fact that “art and artists have become vehicles of growth for the wealthiest of the 1%—whether we share in the profits or not.”
Visitors had the opportunity to listen to the “class of 2017”—participants who removed their traditional-looking graduation caps and gowns to reveal themselves covered in body paint and fake money—give speeches about carrying the burden of huge debt as cultural creators who will likely struggle for the rest of their lives trying to pay back education loans. About forty “students” at the event talked to the public for ninety minutes.
Noah Fischer, another member of Occupy Museums who took part in An Evening of Counter-Commencement, said, “Our goal at this point is to bring together a community of artist-debtors who are willing to break the silence around how a debt-based system negatively impacts the lives of less privileged people in the arts. Occupy Museum’s Debtfair project in the Biennial basically presents this US-wide community of artist-debtors as a challenge to the current privilege-based system of visibility that benefits the ultra rich . . . I think these aren’t issues that people are used to encountering directly from artists in the flesh, in the museum.”