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Letter to 2020 from the University Art Galleries

January 20, 2021

Dear 2020:

In January of 2020, after the start of the new year, we had so many hopes and expectations –so many plans and things we wanted to do– things that would mean something. Much like an assessment of an optometrist telling us we have ‘perfect vision’, or the title of a late-night investigative news show, “20/20” to many meant ‘open eyes’ toward a better future, the prospect of seeing things more clearly, and ‘doing good’ for the betterment of our world.

Little did we know that you, 2020, would take us on this strange journey: In the last several months, we have experienced things we thought we never would in our lifetimes. An elusive remnant of 2019 took us over. COVID-19 dominated our lives in almost every way. It put millions of people out of work, closed restaurants and bars, shops and offices, theaters and libraries, museums and galleries, schools and universities, and as of now, killed almost 400,000 American residents, and more than 2 million people worldwide. It changed our homes into remote workplaces, while simultaneously, changing them into child care centers, home schools, elder care sites, and ‘household bubbles’. Going to the store became a weekly assignment to the (hopefully) healthiest member of the household to get groceries, not only for themselves, but for our elders, parents and extended families.

We began to use supermarket and restaurant apps for curbside pick-up, or home delivery, followed by a ritual of using mountains of alcohol-infused cleansing wipes to clean the exteriors of all our packaged goods, and soap and hot water to clean our raw fruits and vegetables. Many learned how to use nitrile gloves, hand sanitizer, wash hands to the tune of Happy Birthday (twice), and wear the “dreaded”, but necessary, life-saving mask. Masks evolved into a fashion statement for some, and political statement for others. We adapted. In the summer, we learned to have no more than ‘3-household, outdoor, family events’, with individually packed dinners; BYOF (Bring your own Food) / Not-a-pot-luck with our masks, face shields and social distancing “parties”; socially-distanced, front-door/porch “hello” visits; through-the-window-pane elder family visits; drive-by birthdays; Zoom holiday parties and happy hours; drive-in movies were revived for the first time in decades, along with the novelty of drive-in concerts and drive-thru holiday light shows. Most families celebrated their holidays apart, or on Zoom or Teams, in order to “stay alive to celebrate together another year.” Sadly, many did not.

We have been enlightened, 2020, by seeing the value of dedicated citizens within our communities that matter more than we have ever realized in the past: our nurses, doctors, EMT workers, janitors, elder-care workers, therapists, and all essential medical industry professionals have worked tirelessly to save lives; parents recognize more than ever the value of our teachers, professors, counselors, and child care workers, and acknowledge the symbiotic relationships these have in their children’s lives; US postal service workers, distribution center workers, shippers and transport site workers, and truckers, who without, we would not receive all the food and necessary household items we need to stay healthy, and happy; the members of the military, fire and police that keep us free and safe; our grocery store workers, clerks and re-stockers, factory workers and farmers and field hands, among countless others, all deserve our overwhelming societal gratitude. “Thank yous” and commemorative acknowledgements abound, but we now recognize the true value of people who we often have not given enough importance to. Their status of ‘essential worker’ is well-deserved, and needs continued notice and greater monetary consideration. 2020, you, at the very least, have made us understand this.

As though the repercussions of COVID were not enough, other events of social unrest and political divisiveness have permeated our lives. In the Summer, the harsh reality of unforgivable police brutality and long-term racial inequality ingrained in our society reared its ugly head. Centuries of racial injustice in our country is something we have to face. The senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others, has sparked necessary conversations about who should hold power in communities, and how to share our power, resources and funding more equitably.

Your US Presidential Election was also extremely contentious, 2020, and has led to the seemingly endless repercussions we see today and may have to deal with for the next few years, and possibly decades. The spread of misinformation, untruths and paranoia has led to distrust for some, and angry rage for others. All this, along with the unfinished business of the #MeToo movement, gender equality and “equal pay for equal work”, furthering LGBTQAI+ rights, DACA/Dreamers’ rights, humane immigration reform, environmental activism for reversing climate change, and the fight against a ‘War on Science’, along with the #BLM movement and defending the rights for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), and advocating for judicial and police reform, voting rights brought on by centuries of voter suppression and systemic racism.

As part of the fine arts and academic gallery world we have adapted to you, 2020, by positively focusing our time and energy on on-line gallery exhibitions, artwork highlights of our fond, but sadly shuttered shows, creating sound-enriched video walking tours of these shows, updated videos with closed-captioning for the hearing and sight impaired, and explored exciting new interactive technology by designing, be it for endless hours, downloadable interactive virtual exhibitions of current, future, and postponed shows. Our first virtual exhibition features the art and design work of our own Class of 2020 and “Best of” student work from the Department of Art! 2d3dplus2020.com and poly-kroma.com both feature access to this herculean faculty, student, and gallery staff collective effort!

The University Art Galleries have also delved into hosting artist lectures that represent diverse voices, and launched another collaborative effort by networking with our ‘sister’ CSUs across the State of California by starting the ConSortiUm of Art Galleries and Museums. Our first collaboration was a six-part, virtual, guest speaker event series that actively engages students, faculty, staff, and communities through visual arts-based dialogue with contemporary artists, collectives, and curators whose work is critical to current re-imaginings of the art world, and the world at large. The success of these Zoom-based events has been a joyous, enlightening and unifying experience! Event Recordings are available at platform-csu-art-speaker-series.

Early at the start of the first ‘stay at home’ orders, we spearheaded The Artist’s Challenge campaign with new hashtags that all artists and creatives can use to show their work and activities during this challenging time by adding #TheArtistsChallenge2020 to any IG, FB or TW posts. When doing so, these automatically post to an archive from which we curate our The Artist’s Challenge Facebook Page and feature selections in all our gallery social media platforms. In 2021, we have already launched this year’s #TheArtistsChallenge2021 hashtag and many artists have already begun to actively use it!

On-demand publications and downloadable exhibition catalogs have also been our focus. Jim Morphesis’ catalog of our 2018 show Passion and Presence, Memento and Myth was finished and is available on Amazon. We also have finalized our new re-designs for our past two Ink & Clay catalogs which are available for download at our websites: inkclay43.com and inkclay44.com. Our University Art Collections database has seen improvements, and the development of new gallery websites for both the Kellogg and Huntley Galleries are on the horizon. We look forward to launching those soon!

Adapting to change has been forced on us by the pandemic. But how we have adapted has shown us how creative, resourceful and resilient we can be when we choose to not allow ourselves to be swallowed up by negativity and, at times, ineffectual leadership. But adaptation is tantamount to action. We need to act in order to change the system that has suppressed certain voices, while over-empowering others. Thus, actions must be taken at every level to dismantle white supremacy, misogyny and historically perpetuated ignorance, and to uplift voices that are disproportionately affected by these.

The team at the Kellogg University Art Gallery and Huntley Gallery recognize our responsibility to advocate for art that honors history, facts, truth and science, while also representing the art and voices of people of color, women, LGBTQAI+ communities, and stand in solidarity of those who strive for justice, peace, and racial, ethnic, gender and identity equality. Bringing diverse and multicultural exhibitions to the art community, and building platforms for the empowerment of marginalized groups have always been a part of our mission. Conjoining the Visual Arts to other disciplines –such as science and technology, regenerative, ethnic and women’s studies, sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science, and more– via our programming, events and through aesthetic collaboration. Art and culture in the United States has been undoubtedly shaped by the influential voices of multicultural diversity, and work that demonstrates the relationships and intersection between disciplines within our academic fields, and industrial sectors within society. We must take initiatives that reflect that.

As part of taking those necessary steps, our social media will highlight artwork by artists of diversity in order to amplify their voices. If anyone would like to submit an artwork to share on our social media feeds, please use the #TheArtistsChallenge2021 hashtag whenever you post.

Future art exhibitions are currently being planned and curated to represent these voices of color, gender, race and identity. We look forward to: Black, White & Shades of Grey featuring the work of Mark Steven Greenfield, Mariona Barkus, and Brian Ida, just to name a few; and Women’s Rights are Human Rights curated by Elizabeth Resnick of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

As we start a new year, it is so important for all of us to stay diligent by practicing the CDC pandemic recommendations, staying positive and proactive, and consider taking part in things that help move our society forward together –be it by signing petitions, taking action through safe, non-violent protest, donating to causes that matter to us, voting and supporting voting rights for disenfranchised groups, continuing to invest more in our children and teachers, and producing and displaying art that matters and represents who we are as a people. We look forward to seeing the return of our students and faculty audiences, and public communities as soon as it is safe to do so. It is also our commitment as part of the State and University’s mandates to the commitment to a safe return to campus and operations. For more information about our campus “Safer Return” protocols go to: https://www.cpp.edu/safety/safer-return/index.shtml.

Good-bye 2020! You were a tough year, but also taught us a lot about ourselves, and proved we are strong, and in what areas we need improvement.

Hello 2021…we are ready for you! Please be kinder to us. But also help us envision better ways of bringing goodness to our world, setting things right, working better together, listening, understanding, being respectful and kinder to one another.

Land Acknowledgement: 

We at Cal Poly Pomona respectfully acknowledge the original caretakers of this land, the Tongva peoples, and all of their ancestors, elders, and descendants, past, present and emerging. We also recognize this land known as Los Angeles County today is also home to many Indigenous peoples from all over, and we are grateful for the opportunity to live and work here as guests on these lands, the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Tongva.