Education Intern Alexis Carr Reflects on Museum Justice

Posted by Kemper Art Museum May 18, 2021


Spring 2021 Museum Education Intern Alexis Carr is a master's student in the Washington University Department of Art History and Archaeology. Here she reflects on some key takeaways from that experience and what she believes is the role of the art museum as a cultural institution.

For me, like everyone else, this spring semester brought many challenges. These include the continuation of a global pandemic, the aftermath of the insurrection on the United States Capitol on January 6, the inauguration of a new president, a string of mass shootings including one in Georgia that appeared to have targeted the Asian American community, and the trial and conviction of the police officer who killed George Floyd. All of this national trauma happened in less than four months. These instances have made me think about what justice means in our everyday lives. As an intern for the Education Department at the Kemper Art Museum, and someone who aspires to one day work within museums, this has also made me think about what museum justice could look like.  

Part of this begins with accountability and museums prioritizing making themselves more accessible and inclusive to the communities in which they serve. Whether working on the virtual tour for the exhibition on Christine Sun Kim’s Stacking Traumas or considering George Caleb Bingham’s Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap, this semester I have been considering how the Kemper Art Museum presents experiences and histories of exclusion through making visible the historically invisible. Through the process of working on the virtual tour of Stacking Traumas, I learned about the Deaf community and some of the challenges that they face in accessing the full spectrum of their rights. 

In doing this I had to examine what role I have (even passively) in perpetuating ableism and to understand what my positionality is within the communication hierarchy as a hearing person. I believe that we all must confront and challenge our own place of privilege in society in order to address the big systemic problems that plague our country. Working on the virtual tour for Stacking Traumas also illustrated to me the need for more of these types of exhibitions not only at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum but at other institutions as well. 

This idea of inclusion and visibility also extended into my research on Bingham’s Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap. The Western canon of nineteenth-century American art has a problem, part of which is rooted in the visual links to white supremacy, and part of which stems from how artworks from this period are presented to the public. My goal with researching and investigating this painting is to produce a critical lens through which this and other objects from this time period can be thoughtfully considered and displayed. Museums have an obligation as stewards of our shared history to tell more stories and to tell them more honestly. Art museums have the capacity to show us ourselves in the full range of humanity. But this can only happen when, for them, justice means more than just us.

Alexis Carr received her BFA in Studio Art (with a painting emphasis) and minor in Art History from Missouri Western State University. She has held internship positions at institutions, including the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, and Artforum magazine. Alexis is interested in the convergence of art history, commodity, and the Black female experience within the United States. Her areas of academic research include nineteenth-century American art and art of the Harlem Renaissance.