lauren woods and Kimberli Meyer: American MONUMENT at The parallel Museum


American MONUMENT at The parallel Museum @ UAM CSULB

Restore the 2018 artwork in its original location.

October 21, 2018

Dear CSULB President Jane Conoley, Dean of the College of the Arts Cyrus Parker-Jeannette, and UAM Advisory Board,

From September 16 through December 9, 2018, American MONUMENT was slated to transform the University Art Museum (UAM) at California State University Long Beach (CSULB) into a monument that prompts consideration of the cultural circumstances under which African-Americans have lost their lives to police brutality. The artwork provides a vehicle by which to analyze the complex relationship between the construction of race, material violence, and structural power. Six days before the opening, UAM director Kimberli Meyer was removed from her post. The public co-creative process to complete the monument was launched on September 16 with an artist’s talk by lauren woods, and paused thirty minutes later in protest.

lauren invited the university to engage in a restorative process, believing in the institution’s appeal process as a potential method to carry this forth. In the first face-to-face meeting, post-pause, with Dean Parker-Jeannette and COTA Administrative Services Manager Chanel Acker, Cyrus asked lauren about her vision of a restorative process. That question and the subsequent conversation felt like a genuine start. lauren replied that the process would require courage from the university and commitment to examining the complex web and series of events that led to a failed anti-racist mission for the UAM. CSULB’s willingness to hold itself accountable in a transformative rather than punitive way was also named as necessary.

What is getting lost in the public spectacle of Kimberli’s dismissal is the opportunity for CSULB students to participate in a project such as American MONUMENT. We believe supporters–including CSULB students, staff, faculty members, and alumni as well as members of  the greater Long Beach and Los Angeles regional communities–when they urgently advocate for this work examining police violence. Following the declaration of the pause, art world leaders have reached out to us, offering to bring American MONUMENT to their institutions. In these past weeks, we have become clear that the less stressful fix for us–the abandonment of the CSULB campus–is not the answer. To discount the labor and support of this community and the potential for a transformational moment for all involved, runs counter to our respective practices. We believe that the first iteration of American MONUMENT must be produced with students in a higher educational setting and that the CSULB community is the one.  We are already here. We are already tied together. We have the opportunity to be a model of what is possible when conflict arises.

While CSULB’s public statement has been to support the un-pausing of American MONUMENT’s production, it is unclear how effort and intention is actually materializing these words. The silence from decision makers does not support the public declaration.  Perhaps this reflects the question of how to proceed utilizing a new framework to engage conflict; restorative justice can be a long and challenging task to fully see through. If the university administration is sincere in its public statements, we must begin this process intentionally together.  

It is clear to us that in order to un-pause American MONUMENT’s production at CSULB, a functional museum structure must be installed.

We, lauren woods and Kimberli Meyer, seek to realize and steward the American MONUMENT’s iteration at the UAM site through the mechanism of a “parallel museum.” Taking cues from restorative justice and institutional critique, or, “the systematic inquiry into the workings of art institutions,” The parallel Museum is committed to anti-racist practice and understands that work as a dialogical process. It acknowledges the challenges that arise when working towards racial justice and actively supports opportunities for growth. The parallel Museum provides an independent, yet proximate, structure at the UAM for American MONUMENT.

Please consider this a direct invitation to work together to restore the artwork and repair the harm the disruption of the monument’s production has caused to the learning environment on campus. CSULB is suffering public condemnation for the handling of Meyer’s dismissal in relation to woods’s work. Leaders across the international art world and academe, as evidenced by hundreds of signatories, as well as CSULB faculty, students and alumni, as articulated by open letters, are alarmed.

Students of color, in particular, deserve access to artwork that performs critical solidarity with them. The inability to sustain American MONUMENT is perceived as a significant misstep and a failure of the institution to uphold its stated tenets of equity and diversity. With this proposal we are, in good faith, offering a way for the university administration to pivot from being criticized for not working to dismantle structural oppression, to being seen as leaders capable of embracing institutional change.

The concept of The parallel Museum acknowledges that systems seek stability and resist change. It offers a new mode, next to but not overtaking, the existing system, allowing for independent structures, agendas, actors, procedures, and cultures. Led by The parallel Museum director Kimberli Meyer and artist lauren woods, The parallel Museum will administratively support the monument, stewarding it and facilitating discourse and exchange between students, faculty, campus staff, local stakeholder community members, public intellectuals at large, and the curious public. A restarted American MONUMENT will serve as a research platform for collective learning about structural racism, culture, and the law.

As a first step, we suggest a roundtable meeting with key stakeholder representatives to discuss the concept and implementation of The parallel Museum.

We look forward to the prospect of coming to the table to work towards the un-pausing of American MONUMENT. CSULB students are counting not only on our leadership but also our ability to model how to forge ahead to all that is possible and transformational on the horizon.  They should be able to trust that each of us is putting forth our best efforts to engage this conflict with the goal of racial and restorative justice foremost in our minds.

Best regards,

lauren woods and Kimberli Meyer

CC: Provost Brian Jersky, Vice President of Administration and Finance Scott Apel, Associate Vice President of the Office of Public Affairs Terri Carbaugh, Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity Larisa Hamada, School of Art Director Aubry Mintz, School of Art Associate Director Chris Miles, School of Art Associate Director Karen Kleinfelder, American Indian Studies Program Director and Professor Craig Stone