Cultural institutions have been at the nexus of many conversations about their role in appropriation and extraction. They serve as a perpetual reminder of the lasting effects of colonialism, racism, and capitalism when BIPoC community members engage with institutional content, experiences, and are gate-kept from accessing or creating in these spaces. However, they have also been described as conduits for cultural exchange, preservation, and educational incubators that spark conversation, inspire calls for action, and provide artists with platforms for creativity and expression.
These contradictions briefly highlight the complicated history and relationship between BIPoC community members and our cultural institutions, but it also provides an opportunity for both groups to examine, intervene, and dismantle the underlying causes of these systems of oppression within cultural institution contexts.
My thesis specifically explores how space activation can encourage and foster stronger and healthier collaborations between BIPoC artists and cultural institutions in Portland, and what it can look like through design justice and participatory frameworks. The space activation projects I engaged my stakeholders in helped with the development of new coalitions, increased the number of meaningful, fun, and inspiring artistic collaborations across multiple institutions, and contributed to a more nuanced understanding of how designers and cultural institutions can approach multi-scalable and strategic interventions and solutions with a systems and people-centered approach.
Despite some of the challenges I faced while conducting my research, I remain steadfast in the belief that cultural institutions can and have an obligation to dismantle these oppressive systems and structures, and as a result contribute to a shifting arts and cultural landscape that centers the wellbeing of communities of color.