EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO, GERI THOMAS FOUNDED THOMAS & ASSOCIATES, INC., AND ART STAFFING.COM, AN INNOVATIVE STAFFING AND CONSULTING FIRM FOR ARTS AND CULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS AND BUSINESSES FOLLOWING A LONG CAREER IN MUSEUM MANAGEMENT IN BOTH THE UNITED STATES AND ABROAD. SHE CLOSED THE BUSINESS IN SEPTEMBER 2017 TO BECOME A FINE ARTS APPRAISER AND AN ADVISOR TO INDIVIDUALS AND ORGANIZATIONS ON PROJECTS AND CAREERS.
THE LRFA BLOG HAS ASKED GERI TO REFLECT ON THE CHANGES IN THE ARTS INDUSTRY AND WHAT SHE SEE AS MAJOR TRENDS GOING FORWARD.
GERI, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR REVISITING THE LRFA BLOG.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR CAREER THAT SHAPED YOUR PROFESSIONAL HISTORY? YOU HAVE SO MUCH EXPERIENCE IN THE FIELD. HOW HAS THAT LED TO WHAT YOU FOCUS ON NOW?
Without going too far back in ancient history, I was always intrigued with organizations and how they function and pursued a degree in Sociology. Although I always loved art and visited museums in Chicago where I grew up, it wasn’t until I took a class in Far Eastern Art that I knew I was “hooked” and changed my major to Art History. The late 70s and early 80s, when I and some of my colleagues from diverse economic backgrounds entered the field, were decades of great change in museums – they attempted to be more inclusive, realizing the need to reach out to a variety of audiences not only for survival but also to fulfill their educational mission.
We all know that exhibitions such as Harlem on My Mind, and Tutankhamen were pivotal in changing museum approaches to exhibitions and collections by making an effort to represent the cultures inherent in their holdings. In addition, “grass roots” arts organizations as they were known then, were already showcasing the work of women artists and people of color and were significant in influencing the more mainstream institutions. Significant exhibitions followed such as Randy Rosen’s Making Their Mark: Women Artists Move into the Mainstream, 1970-85; and, the pivotal Black Male exhibition at the Whitney, curated by Thelma Golden. Now there are significant exhibitions and acquisitions focused on artists of all backgrounds worldwide.
THE WHITNEY BIENNIAL OF 2017 CERTAINLY CRYSTALLIZED THE NEW CHAPTER OF SO-CALLED POLITICAL ART. THE SHOW SELECTED 63 ARTISTS WORKING “AT THE INTERSECTION OF THE FORMAL AND THE SOCIAL. MANY OF THESE ARTISTS CONFRONT SUCH AMERICAN REALTIES AS INCOME INEQUALITY, HOMELESSNESS, IMMIGRATION, HATRED AND BIAS.”
DO YOU SEE THIS AS A NEW DIRECTION OR A CONTINUATION OF A RECURRENT FOCUS?
“Inclusion” and “diversity” are once again in the rhetoric but have never really gone away. Museums, perhaps because of relatively low salaries and because they often seem to lack institutional memory are once again trying to devise ways to be more inclusive – from efforts to diversify staffing and leadership roles to establishing better and more diverse boards.
With the worldwide interest in art as an asset class coupled with foundation support for inclusion (such as the new Ford Foundation initiative to establish a “pipeline” of diverse arts leaders), another new call for change is underway. My company had a mantra – just hire qualified people from diverse backgrounds and increase compensation. It is that simple!
IN OUR NEXT LRFA POST, GERI WILL SPEAK ABOUT THE UNIQUE COMPANY SHE CREATED TO SERVICE OUR NON-PROFIT MUSEUM AND CULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS.
PLEASE JOIN US!