Art for Our Sake: Curatorial Activism and Cultural Institutions as Civic Assets


Senior Colloquium & Individualized Major,
NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study

In my academic work at Gallatin, I delved into social theory, arts anthropology, critical writing, and curatorial practice as a means to explore the relationship between the arts and social benefit. In my colloquium I drew on these studies and my experience working in nonprofit theatres and foundations to investigate the philanthropic framing of the nonprofit arts organization as it relates to contemporary activist art, shifting curatorial practices, and public policy in the cultural industry.


What are the ideologies and policies behind the contemporary arts organization?

How do the arts and their presenting organizations enrich our communities?

How do we transition from private, elite museum or theatre spaces to more democratic and equitable organizations which can more fully serve the public good?

What about the arts makes them a public benefit?

What is charity?

What kind of relationship does a donation create, and what power does that exchange confer upon the donor or the recipient?

How can we reconfigure the arts organization to better fulfill its role as a civic asset in our current cultural landscape?

How can organizations engage in curatorial activism and make the leadership changes necessary to build a more equitable cultural field?

How can public arts organizations push ideological boundaries while relying on funds from the donors and governments which they may criticize?

What are the shifting roles and influences of government funding, corporate sponsorships, arts patrons, foundations, and cultural institutions' leaders within this work?


  • Aeschylus. The Oresteia: Agamemnon; The Libation Bearers; The Eumenides. Edited by W. B. Stanford. Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics, 1984.
    • Focus on Part III: “The Eumenides”.
  • Aristotle. Poetics. Translated by Anthony John Patrick Kenny, Oxford Univ. Press, 2013.
  • Bharata, Muni. Nāṭyaśāstra: (Engl. Transl. with Crit. Notes). Translated by Adya Rangacharya, IBH Prakashana, 1986.
  • Donatello. David. c. 1420, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy.
  • Selected images from The Getty Apocalypse, Illuminated Gothic Manuscript, mid-13th Century, as seen in: Lewis, Suzanne. “Beyond the Frame: Marginal Figures and Historiated Initials in the Getty Apocalypse.” The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal, vol. 20, 1992, pp. 53–76.
  • Cathedral of Saint-Denis, Gothic Cathedral, 12th Century additions by Abbot Suger, in conversation with:  Maines, Clarke. “Good Works, Social Ties, and the Hope for Salvation: Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis,” 76-94. In Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: A Symposium, ed. Paula Lieber Gerson (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987).
  • Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Edited by Jay L. Halio, Oxford University Press, 2011.

  • Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Duke University Press, 2012.
  • Bishop, Claire. Radical Museology or, "What's Contemporary" in Museums of Contemporary Art? Koenig Books, 2014.
  • González, Jennifer A. Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art. MIT, 2011.
  • Reilly, Maura, and Lucy R. Lippard. Curatorial Activism: Towards an Ethics of Curating. Thames & Hudson, 2018.

Social & Natural Sciences
  • Cherbo, Joni Maya, et al., editors. Understanding the Arts and Creative Sector in the United States. Rutgers Univ. Press, 2008.
  • Brown, Adrienne M. Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. AK Press, 2017.
  • Odell, Jenny. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. Melville House, 2019.
  • Sansi, Roger. Art, Anthropology and the Gift. Bloomsbury Academic, an Imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2015.
  • United States, NYC Office of the Mayor, et al. “Create NYC: A Cultural Plan for All New Yorkers”, City of New York, 2017.

Area of Concentration
  • Broad, Eli, et al. The Private Museum of the Future. JRP Ringier Kunstverlag, 2018.
  • Long Soldier, Layli. Whereas. Graywolf Press, 2017.
  • Otake, Eiko. “A Body In Places.” 2014-present, Multiple Locations.
  • Salcedo, Doris. Installations:
    • Noviembre 6 y 7 (Palace of Justice, Bogotá, Colombia, 2000)
    • Installation at the 8th International Istanbul Biennial (2003)
  • Tuckey, Melissa, editor. Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. The University of Georgia Press, 2018.
    • Selected poems:
      • “summer, somewhere (excerpt)” by Danez Smith, pp. 32––38.
      • “Focus in Real Time” by June Jordan, pp. 111––112.
      • “Eagle Poem” by Joy Harjo, pg. 299.
      • “Culture and the Universe” by Simon J. Ortiz, pp. 306––307.

Courses Taken
Art History, Anthropology & Curatial Practice
Social Theory & Curatorial Practice

Art of the Anthropocene

Aesthetic Justice

Curatorial Activism (Tisch Art & Public Policy)

Women Activist Artists of the 21st Century (Tisch Art & Public Policy)

Gothic Art in Northern Europe

Renaissance Art (Florence, Italy Campus)

Writing & Criticism
Criticism’s Possible Futures (Advanced Writing Workshop)

Writing About Dance (Advanced Writing Workshop)

Language is/as Action (Tisch Art & Public Policy)
Arts Administration, Policy & Producing
Producing Essentials

Business of Nonprofit Management (Wagner Graduate School)

Public Policy & the Arts (Wagner Graduate School)

Quantitative Analysis for Public Policy (Wagner Graduate School)

Imagination & Change: Cultural Policy (Tisch Art & Public Policy)

Dance & Creative Workshops
Postmodern Dance

Making Dance

A Body in Places (Eiko Otake)

Art as/and Research (Tisch Art & Public Policy)

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