Just As I Was Wondering About How Things Turned Out

Last week I was flying into to Indianapolis to attend the Midwest Arts Xpo conference and I idly wondered how things had turned out at Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields after their job posting controversy back in 2021.

If you don’t recall/weren’t aware, the job description said the museum was ““…seeking a director who would work not only to attract a more diverse audience but to maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.’”

The implication that diversity efforts would be limited to activities that didn’t alienate the existing white audience was not well received by the greater arts and cultural community.

Coincidentally to my musing, last week the museum announced that Belinda Tate who had served as executive director Kalamazoo Institute of Arts since 2014 would be the new director starting in November.

According to the article, even after the 2021 controversy saw the resignation and replacement of the CEO & President, an uncomfortable culture remained which hopefully Tate and current CEO/President Colette Pierce Burnette, who started in August 2022, can successfully work together on shifting.

Since Venable’s departure, Newfields has also faced allegations that it had facilitated a “toxic” and discriminatory work culture at the museum, according to an open letter from Kelli Morgan, its former associate curator of American art. In the letter, Morgan described a “racist rant” from one board museum member.

Tate must contend with the legacy of Venable’s polarizing vision for the museum’s programming which, according to his critics, prioritized blockbuster exhibitions. Oft-cited examples include a show devoted to Bugatti cars and the Winterlights festival, which involved stringing flora in the garden with colorful lights during holiday time and charging $25 for entry.

Stuff You Don’t Think About – Relation Between Insurance And Ability To Hang Art

Lately I have been seeing articles in The Guardian that are calling attention to overlooked aspects of creative practice that have big impacts if conditions start to change. A couple weeks ago it was the impact the dwindling number of piano tuners and technicians can have on the ability to present live performance. More recently, I saw an article about how changes in policies by Australian insurer, QBE, may limit and prohibit visual artists from painting murals and even hanging art in galleries.

This is a subject you don’t normally think about in relation to creative practice, but it seems pretty obvious that artists probably want to be protected from injury when they climb into a scissor lift or scale scaffolding.  I don’t know anything about Australian law so there may be stricter requirements to have the insurance than residents in other countries may imagine.

The article notes that in the last decade that the  National Association for the Visual Arts has been providing the policies through the insurer QBE, there haven’t been any public liability claims related to working at heights.

QBE will no longer cover artists working at heights of more than five metres, and those working at lower heights face extra premiums of up to $600 per annum.

The carve-outs would effectively prevent artists doing public art and mural projects or installing their own work in galleries, according to Penelope Benton from the National Association for the Visual Arts (Nava).


The carve-outs would also affect professional art installers, and emerging artists and curators, who generally install their own work.

I would be interested to know if anyone sees the possibility of a similar situation emerging in their country.

Bad Enough Having Computers Making Hiring Decisions, Are Grants Awards Next?

A couple weeks ago Vu Le wrote about how useful AI can potentially be in the process of writing grants. So often granting organizations essentially ask for the same information, with some variation in what they want answered when and the word/character limits they have set for each response.

Given that grant awards can tend to favor organizations with the resources to employ a professional grant writer who knows how to employ terminology and language that funders seek, under resourced groups and those who are not comfortable or facile at employing the preferred vernacular could benefit from the use of AI.

Unfortunately, Le notes, some funders are using AI to detect if an organization is using AI to write their grants. Le writes:

“Grants are not college essays or news articles, where it matters who actually does the writing. Grants are a tedious mechanism for delivering answers about an organization and its work. AI just makes it less tedious. Punishing nonprofits for using AI is petty and paternalistic.”

He also says some funders are moving toward having AI evaluate the grant proposals which is even worse for a number of reasons.

“Funders who use AI to write grant RFPs, read proposals, eliminate applications, come up with a list of grant finalists, or whatever, should be aware that AI engines, which are mostly designed by white dudes, will likely favor white-coded proposals. It will be interesting to see the dynamics between AI-generated grant proposals and AI-supported grant review and selection. To keep it from reinforcing inequity, both funders and nonprofits need to be aware of biases that are built into these tools.”

For years there have been conversations about the job seeking process and how dispiriting it is to have a computer program evaluate your resume and cover letter before summarily rejecting those materials before a human ever gets to see them. Many have discovered how to game the system by using keywords in their materials, sometimes resulting in stilted or nonsensical content which nonetheless sees their application advance.

The grant application process is bad enough as it is without incentivizing cynical attempts to game the system. What would it say if an AI awarded a grant to an AI constructed application that no one ever seriously evaluated over an impassioned application written by a human? Should funding for homeless projects be determined solely by algorithms conversing with each other?

If funders are trying to detect grants written by AI out of concern about possible fraud, that is certainly valid. But that is also an indication that funding decisions should never be entirely made on the basis of polished prose. Vu Le suggests that just as AI can free applicants up to concentrate on delivering their core services, so too can it free funders up to focus on more directly interacting with those they fund to learn more about the work they do. Likewise, they can work on re-evaluating the criteria and processes they employ as part of their funding decisions.

There is an opportunity to double check the AI. Are its recommendations poor to middling in quality? Are those it rejects doing a better job than the AI indicates?  AI can certainly be useful in removing some of the subjectivity a person brings to information, but for every example of how it is better than humans, there are examples of gaps, some times so glaring a five year old would have avoided them that AI fails to fill.

More Reasons Not To Use Contextomy

I recently saw an article in The Guardian about a controversy that arose from misrepresenting reviews of a book by Jordan Peterson through the use of selective editing.

The Times columnist James Marriott tweeted an image of the cover featuring a quote from his review that appears to endorse the work. In the now deleted tweet, he wrote: “Incredible work from Jordan Peterson’s publisher. My review of this mad book was probably the most negative thing I have ever written.”

The quote attributed to Marriott read: “A philosophy of the meaning of life … the most lucid and touching prose Peterson has ever written.” The actual phrase from Marriott’s review is: “one of the most sensitive and lucid passages of prose he has written”, a description specifically about one chapter in an otherwise almost entirely negative review.

Other reviewers were likewise quoted out of context. The issue is causing one publisher to create a best practices document for their staff.

Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the SoA (Society of Authors), said that “quoting lines out of context isn’t clever marketing”, calling the practice “morally questionable”. Readers and authors “deserve honest, fair marketing from publishers. We can’t get that by undermining and misrepresenting one writer to boost the sales of another. It puts off reviewers from reviewing and readers from buying,” she told the Bookseller.

Solomon is later quoted as noting that this sort of editing of quotes likely qualifies as a criminal act under an English consumer protection regulation from 2008.

It may still be the case, but at one time this sort of creative omission was widespread in relation to movie reviews. I wrote a post about the practice, which is called contextomy, back in 2007. I basically wrote along the same lines as Nicola Solomon that the practice undermines confidence.

It also occurred to me that the growing push to use marketing language focused on the audience experience and needs is another reason to avoid using out of context reviewer quotes…or reviewer quotes at all. Quoting reviews that focus on the excellence of the artist and their achievements is often less helpful in making a decision to participate than customer focused language.

In the process of searching for my post on contextomy, I came across a 2006 post I made about how an obsessive focus on perfection can create an environment where anything less is viewed as a failure.

In there I quote a Juilliard professor:

“…an average graduate of law school or medical school can still have a decent career. But it is not possible, he said, for a successful artist to be only average.”

Shortly after, I quote Artful Manager author Andrew Taylor about the language used in arts marketing materials and grant reports:

Perfection, triumph, success, and positive spin. Their performances are always exceptional. Their audiences are always ecstatic. Their reviews are always resounding (or mysteriously missing from the packet). Their communities are always connected and enthralled. In short, they are superhuman, disconnected, and insincere.

In 2006 arts professionals were saying this sort of language comes across as disconnected and insincere, but it took another 10-15 years before this concept was embraced and repeated often enough for it to gain traction. Hindsight being what it is, that is nearly a decade of what could have been constructive marketing messaging that has been lost.

Though to be fair, social media platforms which are so useful in disseminating these conversations only became publicly available around 2006 (Twitter & Facebook) Linkedin was 2004 but wasn’t really hosting these conversations then.