Dangerous Ideas: Negotiating Controversy in the Stewardship of Culture
The arts can heighten our appreciation of the world around us and disrupt quotidian routines with aesthetic experiences. They are a reminder of the ingenuity of the human spirit and unite communities through a shared vision for a better future. The arts ask us what it means to be human in the world today, and challenge us to confront difficult questions, interrogate our assumptions, and reconsider alternate possible truths. They are a catalyst for inquiry and initiate conversations around social, political, and cultural issues, even when debate might not be welcome. Arts create controversy when works are perceived as an affront to ideas, norms, and values that they explore. Responses to provocative works can come as demands for censorship and escalate into threats or acts of violence. Arts administrators, curators, presenters, and artists find themselves on the front lines of a war over images, ideas, culture, and identity. While cultural organizations have an obligation to protect and present our tangible and intangible heritage, they also grapple with practical concerns about the safety of staff and audiences. Compounding these challenges is the need to manage the interests of numerous stakeholders, including the public, funders, and the media. This session will explore case studies of controversial works and examine the ways in which institutions negotiated the risks associated with presenting these works. Through these examples, this session will examine the role of institutions as stewards of cultural heritage and frameworks for understanding those responsibilities when faced with a variety of risks.