Students, artists, and professionals met at Intuit: the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave., as part of the Chicago Community Trust's On the Table initiative on May 16.
The topic involved fostering LGBTQ inclusivity at Chicago's cultural institutions. Filmmaker Dan Rybicky hosted the hour-long conversation, and began by connecting the gallery's missionpresenting the work of outsider artiststo the conversation's focus.
"I've always found the term 'outsider"' to be a fascinating, loaded term," Rybicky said. "As a gay artist, growing up, I felt like an outsider." He then asked the assembled group what they thought LGBTQ inclusivity looked like and what variables it incorporated.
Many participants pointed out that while the trans community is gaining visibility, historically it's been shunned by other members of the acronym. According to Allie Stephens, a film composer who teaches at SAIC, marriage equality "pushed the trans community into the background." Trans filmmaker Andre Perez agreed with Stephen's assertion that inclusivity often looks like tokenism, questioning why trans employees often languish in entry-level positions. Members of Whitney Young's Pride Club echoed that feeling, relaying times they were called upon to be spokespeople at school events. One student described the school administration's support of the club as a "ruse" to seem more open and liberal.
Patrick, an artist with work in the recent Art Aids America exhibit, mentioned that he saw labels as a barrier to inclusivity, even across groups like gender and race. "Once you have a label, the system identifies you and pushes you down," he said. A student from the Adler School of psychology completely disagreed, explaining, "No system will take you seriously if you're dismissing your own label. There is power in identity."
For his part, Rybicky referenced his experience working with Columbia College Chicago's documentary program. He noticed that once he and a female colleague took over the program, the students and their works went from being "hetero and white" to featuring more women and queer students and subjects. He expressed the need for more films on queer and trans subjects in general: the more films there are, it's easier to recognize "good" and "bad" films rather than just celebrate the subject matter. Filmmaker Perez agreed, saying they wished people understood that trans films didn't just have to be about "the surgery". "Large cultural institutions are in a position to take a risk, but they are afraid to," Perez said.
Echoing that comment, Rybicky and Intuit Executive Director Debra Kerr asked participants to discuss three actionable items to make cultural spaces more inclusive. The results were broad, from making grants and microgrants more accessible for artists, to removing or lowering museum admission fees. The table of Whitney Young students questioned corporate gestures of inclusivity like Target's pronoun pins. "When capitalism and inclusivity meet, what does it do for actual activism?" one student provocatively asked. Kerr cited a study saying that older generations believe youth's opinions and hoped that youth would continue to demand change.
Perhaps the simplest change proposed was mere civil conversation across belief systems, much like the conversation On the Table fostered. Helpful tips proposed were to stay in the conversation and not vilify others for not saying the right thing as they navigate new concepts.
"We're afraid to address things because we don't know what to say," Stephens remarked.