After five years of late-night study sessions at the library, anxiety about test scores and grade point averages, research papers and projects, I will finally graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno with a BA in art history and a minor in business administration this month. However important of a milestone this may be, the reality is, finishing college feels anticlimactic. Among social and political upheaval, and a global pandemic that affects the realities of my everyday life, I’m graduating into a stagnant world and an uncertain art world.

My plan post-graduation was to attend a graduate program in the Netherlands next year. The pandemic has affected my ability to work a full amount of hours necessary to save money past my normal expenses. Given that, combined with unpredictable travel bans, I extend my graduate application for another year, and maybe longer. I have missed out on arts internship opportunities. Museum closures and travel bans have restricted my ability to have an authentic museum experience that’s not through my home computer screen nor behind the constraint of a mask.

On a larger scale, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed in 2017, got rid of a large tax break art collectors received for selling works of art that fueled galleries in the national and international art market, something that will have a ripple effect on museums and galleries across the nation, especially those reliant on contributions from collectors. I feel anxious when I think about trying to enter the workforce. 

Even so, however stagnant the art world feels at this juncture, what doesn’t feel stagnant is the tremendous shift taking place in museums and galleries across the nation that is centered around diversity, inclusion, and equity. These three pillars are ideas, more importantly, actions, that museums on a global scale have needed for centuries. Dialogue about museum diversity, inclusivity, and tokenism has been taking place over the past century, yet, the amount of actual change that has occurred in light of those discussions has been disproportionately low. Although many museums have been contributing to the practice of what Maura Reilly—a Brooklyn curator and author of the book Curatorial Activism: Towards an Ethics of Curating, calls “curatorial activism”—large art institutions remain lacking in cultural and ethnic diversity, continue to priorotize Western artworks over art made in other regions around the world, and display a  disproportionately high number of male to female artist in their exhibitions.

These practices need to change. Museums need to address the colonial implications of their institutions, art professionals need to work on deconstructing those implications, and we need to research and implement ways to make art institutions accessible to members of under-represented communities. The action of art institutions across the nation to rethink their own practices makes me excited to be a part of an era that deconstructs the art world’s problematic status quo.

Posted by Kayla Johnson

Kayla A. Johnson is a 2020 graduate of UNR who studied art history and business administration. She founded UNR's first Art History Club, served as a curatorial assistant at the Lilley Museum, and worked in art galleries in Reno and New York. She now works in the Nevada Museum of Art's Visitor Services Department and is a Holland Project board member.