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Artists Pull Out of Chicago MCA Exhibition in Protest of Worker Layoffs

Artists Pull Out of Chicago MCA Exhibition in Protest of Worker Layoffs

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Artists Pull Out of Chicago MCA Exhibition in Protest of Worker Layoffs

Six artists and a collective comprising dozens more have withdrawn their works from an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago to show their solidarity with the institution’s forty-one staff members who were laid off in January owing to financial concerns sparked by the continuing Covid-19 crisis. The show, titled “The Long Dream” after Richard Wright’s 1958 novel detailing legally enforced segregation in the American South, features the work of more than seventy local artists, including Candida Alvarez, Dawoud Bey, and Nick Cave, and was launched in November with the intent of providing a showcase for the city’s artists and of offering audiences “ways to imagine a more equitable and interconnected world.” The withdrawing artists are Sarah Bastress, Joanna Furnans, Max Guy, Aaron Hughes, Manal Kara, Damon Locks, and members of the collective Quarantine Times.A number of artists approached to participate in the show had initially declined after a group of former museum employees, organizing under the name MCAccountable, published an open letter to MCA director Madeleine Grynsztejn last summer expressing concerns that front-facing staff, who are typically among the lowest paid of any museum’s workers and many of whom are BIPOC, were being forced to return to work before conditions were reasonably safe for them to do so. Shortly thereafter, the museum drew additional ire by converting a number of part-time jobs to full-time jobs: MCA Chicago cast this effort as an attempt to offer job security and benefits to those working in the typically precarious front-facing positions, while some employees saw it as a way of pushing out those who could not or did not wish to work full-time.An open letter signed by withdrawing “Long Dream” artists and their supporters, which include artists continuing to exhibit in the show, was published on Saturday. The signatories contended that “the MCA has made the artists in ‘The Long Dream’ unwillingly complicit in their harmful behavior, and this betrayal of trust has ramifications, not only for our relationships with the MCA, but for all such similar institutions.” They went on to note that “forcing artists to choose between exhibition and the safety of their peers is unsustainable and unacceptable.”“We know that the MCA has more work to do to become an equitable institution,” acknowledged the museum in a responding statement. “A major step in this direction is re-examining how we address staff compensation, expanded health benefits, and well-being so that it reflects our respect for the people who work here. Museum employees, artists, and benefactors have been very vocal in demanding changes like these. We hear you.”

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