Unity (detail), from the mural series The Creation and Preservation of the Union, 1911-20, by Violet Oakley. Senate Chamber, Pennsylvania State Capitol (Photograph by Darryl Moran) By William …
By William Valerio
It is abundantly clear across the nation that we have a long road ahead with regard to urgent matters of equality and racial justice. It is a time of anger and sadness, but also of action that comes from self-examination.
I spent time this week reflecting on my 10 years as Woodmere’s director. Now is not the time to describe successes or failures. But I am proud that the museum has served as a platform for explorations of ideas that contribute to the character of our social contract. Art comments on the living issues of our times.
Through the week, I revisited the ongoing conversation about art and social issues as recorded in Woodmere’s podcast, Diving Board. I have been energized by the great diversity of voices gathered there over the past three years. Our partner in producing the podcast is Stephanie Marudas of Kouvenda Media, an organization dedicated to creating narratives for social change. Together, we just completed a new episode that includes a montage of voices from the podcast and describes a new direction we are calling Diving Board 2020. You can listen here.
We will be reaching back to past conversations and asking our speakers: What happened? What has remained the same and what has changed since we last spoke? And importantly, what is the museum’s role in helping to achieve racial justice and equality? How do we all participate in building a better future?
Please subscribe from the home page of Woodmere’s website (or on iTunes or SoundCloud) and join our conversations over the coming months. Our intent is that the dialogue will help us all move forward together.
Woodmere’s history is filled with figures whose actions would fall on different sides of the ethical standards of today. But let me offer a few words about Violet Oakley, one of the artists most deeply embedded in our collection and our institutional history.
The more I learn about Oakley, the more she inspires me. She was a bold activist for world peace as well as gender and racial equality. Born in the aftermath of the Civil War, she lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. She would not accept the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, subjugation anywhere on the basis of race, Jim Crow, disenfranchisement, Fascist authoritarianism, or the horrors of the Holocaust.
She knew good fortune and financial ruin, and experienced both the fulfillment of love and more than her fair share of personal tragedy. Steadfast in her faith that art makes the world a better place, she maintained that if we believe in the idea of a “golden age,” we should not seek it in the past. Instead, she challenged her contemporaries with the proposition that the golden age is yet to come and that we all share a responsibility in striving to attain it. We include an audio clip of Oakley in our new episode of Diving Board.
I join Violet Oakley in embracing hope for the future. I promise that I, personally, and Woodmere, as an institution, will listen and respond as we redouble our efforts to achieve a more fair and just society.
William Valerio is the director and CEO of the Woodmere Art Museum.