Contemporary Trends discussion

Contemporary Trends participant

Contemporary Trends participant

Creating safe spaces for people of all abilities and disabilities to connect with contemporary art

As part of the We.Construct.Marvels.Between.Monuments exhibition, community partner Public Annex leads a monthly Contemporary Trends Class that is free and open to the public. The class explores a different section of the Museum each month, creating a space for discovery and discussion amongst people who identify with and without disability.

Learn more about the Contemporary Trends Class and what it means from Public Annex members Dominic Amorin, Rachel Mulder, Larry Supnet, and Lauren Moran.

What was the inspiration or motivation for the Contemporary Trends Class?

Prior to Libby Werbel (curator of We.Construct.Marvels.Between.Monuments) inviting us to participate in her yearlong programming, we had envisioned a monthly “class” that would serve as a meet-up on First Thursdays. An intentional social gathering within contemporary art spaces around Portland that would help to expand access to artists who may not always feel comfortable or be able to explore Portland’s evening arts events individually. When the timing aligned for the class to run out of the Portland Art Museum, we recognized it as a fitting location to unpack issues around accessibility by physically being present and creating discussions around current exhibitions at the museum that are inclusive in their structures.
— Dominic Amorin

I think talking about art in a casual, freeform way, where there are no wrong questions, with a group is really exciting and important. Connections between people are made that way too. We are always trying to explore what accessibility means, and creating different entry points to experiencing art that aren’t already available to us, whether it be through a conversation or an activity. I think looseness, flexibility and support are all key elements to make this possible.
—Lauren Moran

What you do hope that participants gain from the sessions?

Art spaces can feel alienating and anxiety making. I want to make sure that people feel comfortable asking questions. I want to hear various people’s perspectives on what they see/experience/think about when experiencing different types of art. Lauren has done such a great job choosing exhibits relevant to our mission (focusing on inequality, different cultures, and new perspectives). Also, I think at Public Annex, since we are all so immersed in a group of friends/colleagues that have various experiences along the dis/ability spectrum. I often take for granted that people coming together in a public space, especially for neurotypical able-bodied people that have been culturally conditioned to ignore or be afraid of, or are afraid of messing up around people who are different from them, it is helpful to get away from said culture. And of course, I’m continuing to grow from making my own mistakes as an able-bodied neurotypical person. Everyone needs to see things from a new point of view.
— Rachel Mulder

I hope everyone feels welcome and comfortable in the spaces where we meet, and that we all have fun and learn together while having good conversations. We have gotten a wide range of participants at our classes at the Portland Art Museum so far, and I love when participants who might not otherwise know each other connect and get to talk about important topics together, like when we had our conversation about art and labor in January after watching the Rodrigo Valenzuela videos.
— Lauren Moran

How do you think organizations like the art museum can benefit from the kinds of conversations that are happening?

I think art museums could learn with and about artists and cultural workers and their different experiences, perspectives, and work in an ongoing and open way. They could learn strategies for collectively, publically, and critically examining aspects of foundations of colonization, what art they collect and how it is displayed, and to question how they are structured both physically and organizationally and better benefit and support artists and cultural workers that they have historically participated in marginalizing and making invisible.

In general, I worry that art institutions benefit too much from being able to claim these conversations that are happening within them, and the artists and folks having them aren’t benefiting enough. I want to see more evidence of institutions in Portland actually listening to these conversations and supporting artists and cultural workers in real ways, with long term plans and commitments. These conversations are a reminder that art institutions, historically and now, do not equitably support artists and cultural workers of color, indigenous artists, artists with disabilities, queer and women artists etc., and we are making our own spaces for ourselves, sometimes in institutions, and we are often doing it without a ton of external support. I think art institutions could learn a lot from the conversations that have been happening at the Contemporary Trends Classes, the way we structure things and the way we collectively think about and examine accessibility at Public Annex.  We at Public Annex are constantly learning too, and of course falling short, but we are critically examining the ways we can better listen and work with people, seeking advice and setting goals with timelines for how we can best benefit them.
— Lauren Moran

They’re (the Museum) respecting us. Public Annex is a priority. The visitors don’t know us that well, we tell them what we do and stuff, and we can ask questions and they can ask questions and it feel safe to ask questions there.
— Larry Supnet

What has the process of working with PAM been like?

Stephanie Parrish (Associate Director of Education and Public Programs) and Sara Krajewski (Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art) have been great to work with, and I love connecting with a few friendly museum staff that have taken the time to talk with us and welcome us in familiar ways. As visiting artistic director, Libby Werbel has really helped us navigate the museum in so many ways, through physical and organizational challenges. She is an amazing advocate and ally. I am excited to continue to work with PAM, connect with more people there and develop our relationships.
— Lauren Moran

It’s awesome! It’s great! I’m proud that I’m part of this group.
— Larry Supnet