Tacoma Museum Meets with Protesters Who Staged “Die-In” to Protest Lack of Artists of Color in AIDS Exhibition

On December 17, protesters staged a “die-in” at the Tacoma Art Museum to protest the lack of artists of color included in the museum’s exhibition “Art AIDS America.” Done during the regular Third Thursday Art Walk at the museum, the artists and activists’ protest displayed posters and stickers with the words “Stop erasing black people.” They take issue with the lack of black representation within the exhibition as well as the systemic racism they see within the museum’s operations. Organized by the Tacoma Action Collective, they detailed their motivations for the protest with The New Inquiry’s Ted Kerr.

They also take particular issue with the curator of the exhibition, Rock Hushka, who has since met with the organizers of the die-in. According to the collective, “the curator said that he feels like he failed us with the exhibit, and if he could go back and do it differently, he would. Reality is that he can not go back. But, the museum is committed to making changes going forward.”

The museum has since made three promises as a gesture towards making amends, according to the collective’s Facebook page: working with the other venues that will be showing “Art AIDS America” to include more black artists in future editions, continuing the discussion of the HIV/AIDS epidemic beyond the Tacoma exhibition’ closing date on January 10, 2016, and investing money and time in staff-wide diversity training. The exhibition will travel to the Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kennesaw State University in February, and then will arrive at the Bronx Museum in June.

According to the collective, there were four black artists included in the exhibition out of 107 artists total (others have since counted five black artists total). The group objected to the lack of representation of black artists particularly because—according to the Centers for Disease Control—of the more than 600,000 people who have died from AIDS in the United States, more than 270,000 have been black.

The collective also told, “In response to our campaign, Derek Jackson, one of the few Black artists in the show said, ‘I’m speechless. This is a testimony to the strength of collective action... HIV / AIDS disproportionately affects black folks and yet our voices were erased on every level of the planning and presentation of this show. I’m so tired of being an accessory / novelty / token - something to add a little ‘spice’. For the first time in a long while, I feel less alone.”