To our Speed Community:
Last week The Speed Art Museum reaffirmed that Black Lives Matter to us.
Today we also denounce the police violence that killed Louisville’s Breonna Taylor in her own home and David McAtee in the neighborhood he served. We mourn other recent killings, including those of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, and the many (too many) victims of racial violence who preceded them. We stand with our Black neighbors and colleagues in their justified anger, pain, and fear as we also reaffirm our commitment to serve this wounded world, with art that helps us understand and rethink racism; with a place that offers a safe refuge for all; and with a collection and exhibition program that allows artists, including Black artists like Bert Hurley, Sam Gilliam, Bob Thompson, Ed Hamilton, and Ebony G. Patterson, to show us a way forward.
Ongoing protests are changing us all, and in recent days I have felt both a call for justice and a turn towards a deeper conversation, one that acknowledges and works to heal the legacy of racism and violence that began with slavery in North America over 400 years ago.
All leaders should acknowledge that racism is a structural part of life in the United States and that its harmful impact requires change in policing and criminal justice. It also requires changes in workforce and economic development, in education, in healthcare, and – yes – in the arts. Your opportunities and your lifespan should never be determined by your zip code or the color of your skin. Not in Louisville. Not in Kentucky. Not anywhere.
For most of their histories, art museums like the Speed did not acknowledge their role in addressing these issues, and as a result they were often viewed as unwelcoming and irrelevant.
At the Speed, we have been working to correct that history. In the artists whose work we exhibit and acquire, in the people we hire and promote, in using art to address critical topics like racism, and in the growing ways we serve a mission to “invite everyone to celebrate art, forever.” This IS our work; it is never done; we will make mistakes along the way; and we will be learning from others.
I commit the Speed to regularly and publicly sharing both its goals and its progress in:
• Employing Black colleagues at all levels of our organization;
• Collecting and exhibiting art that reflects the full diversity of our community;
• Supporting and engaging Black families and children through our educational and community outreach work;
• Engaging Black artists, scholars, and performers in our public programming;
• Hiring and supporting minority- and women-owned vendors and partners;
• Regularly educating and training our teams on implicit bias and all forms of discrimination; and
• Supporting Brooke Brown Barzun and Roger Cude, Chair and Chair-Elect of our Board of Trustees, and Anna Tatman, Chair of our Board of Governors, as they continue to diversify both groups.
I will publicly present our goals and current metrics on these commitments no later than the end of July.
The Speed’s Founder, Hattie Bishop Speed, was also the largest benefactor of Louisville’s Red Cross Hospital – created by Black doctors, it was the only local hospital that gave Black doctors admitting privileges, and the only local hospital where Black mothers could give birth. I look to their examples, and to others, as the Speed continues to become a better ally, and I myself work to be a better leader and person.
Speed Art Museum
About the Image:
Louisville-born Bob Thompson (1937-1966) is one of the best-known artists of the 20th Century, represented in museum collections worldwide, but the Speed did not own an oil painting by him until 2017. I was proud that our first was a beautiful self-portrait, one where this young man from West Louisville claims his own space as one of the best painters of his time. This work will be on display in an exhibition called The World Turned Upside Down: A Contemporary Response when the Speed reopens in July. We acquired a second painting by Thompson last year and it will be on exhibit, for the first time, with other recent acquisitions when we reopen as well.