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Does the Art World Have a Demographics Problem?
In story after story after story, one powerfully persistent meme of the 2012 American presidential election was that the GOP faced a significant “demographics problem” in which the growing numbers of former minorities such as African-Americans and Latinos threatened to make the Republican Party itself a minority. ARTINFO executive editor Ben Davis recently raised a very interesting question as to whether the art world today has a similar demographics problem. In “Diversify or Die: Why the Art World Needs to Keep Up With Our Changing Society,” Davis worries that the future of art museums in America looks as bleak as future Republican electoral chances unless the whitening trend is reversed. Does the art world have a demographics problem and, if so, what can be done to correct it?
“Would it surprise you to know that, on this score at least,” Davis asks, “the liberal-leaning art world has more in common with Republicans than Democrats?” The idea that NEA-cutting Republicans and their typically liberal art opponents can be affected by the same population shift seems unlikely, but demographics makes strange bedfellows. Davis taps into the Center for the Future of Museums’ 2010 report “Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums” to find a whole slew of troubling trends, which Davis sums up in one quote from the report: “This analysis paints a troubling picture of the ‘probable future’—a future in which, if trends continue in their current grooves, museum audiences are radically less diverse than the American public, and museums serve an ever-shrinking fragment of society.”
The basic problem is that the audience for most American museums is blindingly white in composition. Citing another study, Davis writes, “Among those who frequented art museums, a stunning 92 percent identified as white, and only 16 percent identified as a minority (in this survey, respondents were allowed dual identification). Compare: 87 percent of registered Republicans are white.” Why does the art establishment fail to see this growing problem? Because it’s centered in New York City, Davis answers. “Cosmopolitan New York is a majority minority city, and has been for as long as anyone can remember,” Davis suggests. “But walk from the subway towards any gallery opening or museum party, and watch the color drain away.” “[T]oday’s art world looks more like Boise than NYC,” Davis quips.
This demographic problem reaches all the way into the museums themselves. “Some 80 percent of museum studies graduates are white,” Davis adds. Until people of color begin walking through museum doors, people of color will never believe they can be part of that world and contribute to the discussion. As much as museums strive to be multicultural and ethnically diverse and conscious in their exhibitions, all too often in the world of Dead White Male Blockbuster shows, art museum studies look a lot like Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (shown above, from 1632): a bunch of live, white males dissecting a dead, white male.
But what lesson should museums learn from the Republicans’ and their own quandary? Davis helpfully adds that “you also have to stress that the problem isn’t just the lack of good will or general cluelessness.” There’s no need to blame the victim in this problem, but also no need to coddle the patient. Ultimately, racial lines in museum attendance follow economic patterns. People of lower socio-economic status rarely patronize museums for a host of monetary and educational reasons and their children rarely get much arts exposure beyond the occasional school field trip, so the cycle of racial disparity not only continues, but increases in magnitude as those population groups increase.
As with so many other problems in America today, the root of the problem is education. Better education equals better economic opportunity for the individual and their children, thus reversing the negative cycle and, we hope, starting a positive one. Solve the disparity there and you strike at the cause rather than merely treat the symptoms. “These are political matters, not things that good arts policy can turn around,” Davis writes, anticipating those who ask what the art world can do. “The art world could, however, at least have something to say about them. Otherwise, it cannot help but become more and more removed from the living experience of the population in our increasingly diverse and still troubled nation.” Perhaps it’s time for art museums to advocate actively for a place in the national educational curriculum, not just for their own selfish survival, but to save culture itself as a important part both of our heritage and of our future as a coalition of creatively, critically thinking citizens. Clearly there are centuries of Dead White Male art (and thinking) to contend with, but if the future of America will look different than that fast-shrinking demographic, then it’s time that art museums and other cultural institutions swallow the medicine Davis prescribes or else die on the table—an exquisite corpse with little relevance to the country and people it exists to serve.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.