Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fereshteh Toosi

Dear Mr. Hoone,

As the newly appointed Faculty Fellow in Arts and Civic Engagement, I openly admit that my relationship with art institutions has been one of critical skepticism. Although I sometimes choose to create and exhibit the first stages of my work on the sidewalks or with the participation of city bus riders, I still rely on non-profit art galleries to house the documentation of my projects. I also rely on these institutions to share a diversity of art works and to act as a library and archive for the kind of projects that need institutional support because they cannot survive in a commercial environment.

It is with this self-interest that I write in regards to the recent changes that are taking place at The Warehouse Gallery. Not because I have some hope of exhibiting in this space, but because I don't want to move to Brooklyn just to find this work. I don't want to move to LA, I don't want to move to Toronto, I don't want to move to Berlin, I don't want to move to London.

In my three years of teaching interdisciplinary art, I have regularly shared the provocative work of The Yes Men with my students. I was looking forward to exploring this exhibit with my CAS 100 first-year writing students through visits and writing exercises designed around the exhibition. It's particularly disappointing because it is a challenge to find traditional resources, much less gallery exhibits, dedicated to the kind of contemporary, socially engaged art work that my course addresses. I was also looking forward to the future exhibitions of Nina Katchadourian and Walid Raad, whom I had the fortune to curate for a lecture series at my graduate alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University.

I don't know why changes are happening at The Warehouse Gallery. I do know that I have seen too many university art galleries with conservative exhibitions of pretty work that has no content, or dull work that represents socially acceptable neo-liberal politics. There are far fewer that take advantage of their academic resources to program work that can challenge the sensibilities of audiences in their urban neighborhoods and the intellectuals in their halls.

If you are concerned that community members in Syracuse won't be able to relate to the work that has been programmed and was scheduled to be exhibited in The Warehouse Gallery, then the solution is not to cut back staff. This is the art that is important right now. This is the art that will be representing my generation in future art history textbooks. The solution is not to eliminate curatorial leadership. The solution is to provide, as most successful arts institutions do, full-time staff for education and community programs with school children and town residents. Not to replace curating with education, but to find a way for them to work in support of one another.

To deny the residents of Syracuse of the important work of our time for the sake of being more accessible or less esoteric assumes that "everyday working-class people" are not capable of understanding contemporary art, which is insulting and untrue. If thorough educational programming is provided, contemporary art can engage diverse audiences. U.S. culture has already neglected visual and cultural literacy far too long. By removing Astria Suparak and the kind of curatorial vision she represents, you are only contributing to that deficit.


Fereshteh Toosi
Ford Faculty Fellow in Arts and Civic Engagement
College of Arts and Sciences
Syracuse University

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Syracuse has lost one its greatest assets. Astria Suparak, Inaugural Director of The Warehouse Gallery of Syracuse University, was removed from her position as of Sept. 30th, 2007, despite widespread support from community members, students, faculty, and the international art community. This decision was made unilaterally by Jeffrey Hoone, Executive Director of the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers (CMAC).

At the time of Suparak's dismissal, Hoone also canceled her forthcoming exhibitions, including "Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men," due to open in November 2007.