The Latina/o Art Forum’s logo (courtesy Latina/o Art Forum)

The U.S. Latina/o Art Forum has just put out a call to action for all its members, urging them to “increase the representation of Latinx art at the 2017 Annual [College Art Association] Conference by submitting a proposal to present a paper.” The appeal was made by the associate director of the Forum, Rose G. Salseda, and a student member, Mary Thomas. Salseda and Thomas founded this call on their analysis of Latino/a representation at the Annual Conference of CAA between 2012 and 2016. They found:

a) On average, the yearly meeting features only 1.4 sessions and 7.2 papers on Latinx art per year; and

b) Most recently, in 2016, Latinx art represented just 1.04% of all sessions and 1.04% of all papers at the conference.

In order to create a reference point for these statistical findings, they comparatively studied participation in the conference programs of the American Studies Association (ASA) and the Latina/o Studies Association (LSA) (though this latter analysis only consisted of the sample size of one year’s conference sessions).

The conclusions they drew from that work indicate:

a) ASA, which will also hold its annual meeting this fall, will provide the highest representation of papers on Latinx art at 15.76% of all papers on art and visual culture, 6.31% more than LSA and 14.72% more than CAA; and

b) LSA also included 7.96% more sessions on Latinx art than CAA. In other words CAA is far behind ASA and LSA in representing art and scholarship from the Latino/a communities.

(The PDF is available here.)

Four of the forum’s leaders during their business meeting held at the Latino Arts Now! Conference in April 2016. (From left to right) Rose G. Salseda, Associate Director; Sonja Gandert, Social Media Manager; Josh T. Franco, Membership Coordinator; and Sam Romero, Creative Director and Web Developer

This situation requires remedy because, according to the authors, the CAA is the largest visual arts organization in the world, and the meager number of papers and sessions representing Latina/o scholarship won’t create the conditions for having a public conversation on Latinx art. They argue that reating this active, discursive space, benefits everyone. The CAA can become a more inclusive and representative organization and, as a result, it will be able to aid in recognizing the art historians and museum professionals who comprise CAA’s membership, instead of alienating these members.

Mary Thomas, the student member of the Latina/o Art Forum who co-wrote the call for greater participation. (Photo by Ethan Samuels)

I spoke with both Salseda and Thomas briefly to ask them about this solicitation. Thomas said, “the primary hope is to increase the number of paper proposals to the CAA on the topics of Latinx art and visual culture to expand the possibility that these papers will be selected for presentation.” Currently, the U.S. Latina/o Art Forum membership stands at 163, so only a fraction of that number is needed to submit proposals to the CAA conference to have a major impact. Thomas hopes that this increased participation can “create a groundswell … and grow this community of scholars.”

Salseda says the call was made now because the Forum’s leadership realized that time was ticking away for the CAA meeting next year. However, for her this “is not the end of the road.” Salseda says they want to “expand the project to look at how black artists and historians are represented, and look at other marginalized groups.” Such examination she continues, “would incorporate the analyses of representation at other scholarly organizations.” Salseda also plans to meet informally with members of CAA’s board next week to discuss these issues.

For me, the discussion of levels of ethnic representation in key institutions within the art community is a critical one to have if that institution is to move toward becoming more representative of the culture at large. We have to first become aware of just how imbalanced representation currently is, and this is the pivotal work that the Forum is now doing. For those who are committed to creating the conditions of equality it makes sense that the work begins with those clamoring for change. As Salseda and Thomas charge, the Latina/o Forum members have to be active; they cannot be complicit in their own marginalization.

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Seph Rodney

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a senior critic for Hyperallergic and has written for the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and other publications. He is featured on the podcast The...

One reply on “Group Calls for Greater Latinx Participation in the College Art Association Conference”

  1. I think, as productive as discussions of ‘ethnic representation’ could be, one reason they aren’t productive is no one seems to have any idea of what proper representation would even look like. It will never exist for people who don’t know what it is, even for themselves. Here are some possible definitions of ‘ethnic equality’ in the arts.

    1. The ethnic demographics of people in ‘leadership’ positions in the arts should match the demographics of the American population.

    2. The ethnic demographics of people in ‘all the arts’ (e.g., gallery artists, museum directors, art handlers, art critics, gallery owners, art historians, etc.) should match population demographics.

    3. The ethnic demographics of people in ‘leadership’ positions in the art would should match the demographics of people qualified for the job (i.e., if 2% of art history masters degrees are held by black people, 2% of jobs that require an art history masters degree should be given to black people.)

    4. The ethnic demographics of people in ‘all the arts’ (e.g., gallery artists, museum directors, art handlers, art critics, gallery owners, art historians, etc.) should match the demographics of people qualified for the job.

    5. The ethnic demographics of people in ‘leadership’ position should match the demographics of people (a) qualified for the job and (b) apply for the job (which means, employers must reveal the demographics of the applicant pool).

    6. The ethnic demographics of people in ‘all the arts’ should match the demographics of people (a) qualified for the job and (b) apply for the job. (Commercial business owners are exempt, less Native Americans be forced to buy or start 1 art gallery for every 99 that exist.)

    These are just six options, each mutually exclusive. We could come up with many more. If we pick one, then a conversation can be had about the implications of what it would mean to achieve it. (Expect absurdities of all kinds.) This, of course, would also require a timeline, in order to keep track of hard numbers.

    My guess, and forgive my cynicism in advance, is nobody demanding ‘equal representation’ in these conversations would take up a meaningful criteria by which their demands can be met (and seen to have been met). Much less would they be prepared to defend or persuade others to take up their stated definition to ensure mutual goals are recognized and achieved.

    Seph, do you want to go first? Pick one of the six. Or offer another. Or just explain to us what what equal representation would look like in quantitative terms, anything that can be seen as objective and measurable. (Please, please, please don’t let us down by saying equality is subjective.)

    EDIT (1/2/16): I hereby acknowledge total failure in my attempt to have “discourse” with the most discourse-demanding cry bully of low-brow identity politics.

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