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MMoCA changes the terms of its Chroma event after artists protest

The museum has removed an application fee and promised to pay participating artists an honorarium.

The museum has removed an application fee and promised to pay participating artists an honorarium. (Photo by Franco Folini on Flickr.)

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art has announced that it will waive application fees for artists who apply to have their work included in its Chroma event this spring, and will pay a $100 honorarium to each artist selected for the color-centric nighttime celebration. MMoCA updated the policies for Chroma on its website last week, and sent out a statement on Monday addressing the complaints that a newly formed group called Equity For Artists raised in an open letter posted on Tone Madison on December 4 and signed by more than 200 artists and supporters around the Madison area.

“MMoCA is staffed by human beings and sometimes, our best intentions are off pitch. It was never the intent of the museum to put an undue burden on artists participating in Chroma,” the museum said in part of the statement, which is posted in full below.  

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When MMoCA first invited artists to apply for Chroma, it wasn’t offering to pay those selected, and it was charging a $25 application fee. Artists also had the option of tacking on an additional $100 to their application fee if they wanted museum staff to help them install their works for the event. “When a leader in the arts space like a museum perpetuates this lopsided power dynamic between artists and institutions, it calls into question whom this institution really serves,” the letter stated. While calling for artists to boycott Chroma specifically, the letter also made clear that its grievances bigger than one event or one institution, and reflected a larger societal pattern of undervaluing and economically exploiting artists.

As MMoCA’s statement notes, some of the museum’s leadership met on December 16 at Communication to discuss Chroma and the underlying issues with several artists involved in Artists For Equity, including Jenie Gao and Jennifer Bastian. Communication is Tone Madison’s partner organization.

I’ve sent follow-up questions to MMoCA and the team of artists who wrote the letter, and will be updating this story after the holidays.

MMoCA’s statement:

Members of the Staff and Board of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art met with artist representatives of the Equity for Artists groups on Monday morning, December 16 at Communication. It was a productive session that resulted in several positive outcomes.

MMoCA developed Chroma as an inclusive and accessible event that welcomes all community members to the museum. It is also a modest fundraiser that helps the museum offer its exhibition and education programs free-of-charge. The inaugural Chroma held in 2018 was attended by a diverse audience who met artists and designers, while engaging in a variety of sensory experiences.

MMoCA is staffed by human beings and sometimes, our best intentions are off pitch. It was never the intent of the museum to put an undue burden on artists participating in Chroma. MMoCA is grateful for the important feedback provided by Equity for Artists. Effective immediately MMoCA will:

1. Waive all artist fees associated with participating in Chroma;

2. Provide staff at no charge to help install all works accepted for inclusion in Chroma;

3. As agreed by representatives of MMoCA and Equity for Artists in attendance at the meeting, MMoCA will offer Chroma artists an honorarium of $100. As was discussed, this is a nominal amount, but it is symbolic of MMoCA’s goodwill and deep appreciation of Madison artists willing to support the museum.

Tracing its roots back to a group of community volunteers and organizers who gathered in 1901, MMoCA has always encouraged dialogue and freedom of expression. Art has a key place in challenging the status quo. We look forward to continuing in-person conversations to make improvements for our artistic community.

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