Look at Art, Get Paid, Diversify Museums

“Does going to an art museum sound like work? We’ll pay you!”

That alluring slogan, put on advertisements (in English and Spanish) on public buses in Rhode Island, is how artists Maia Chao and Josephine Devanbu were able to entice members of the community to participate in their project, “Look at Art. Get Paid.” Their “socially engaged artwork” does exactly what its title suggests: it brings in people from lower-income parts of the community and pays them in cash to go to a museum, look at art, and give their feedback on the artwork and the museums themselves. Chao and Devanbu call these participants guest critics, stripping away the constructed boundary between the “experts” and “amateurs” in art critique. It gives these critics the authority to speak on matters that they find out of their wheelhouses.

On Thursday, March 7th, I was fortunate enough to attend a talk with Chao and Devanbu at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The talk, sponsored by the Philadelphia Area Creative Collaborative (PACC) Program at Haverford College (where Chao and Devanbu are currently completing residencies), provided insight into their project, the circumstances that prevent many people from attending museums right in their backyards, and how this lack of diversity is reflected in the museums.

From left to right: Maia Chao, Josephine Devanbu, and moderator Carol Zou

Paying people to visit museums counteracts the myriad of reasons many have that prevent them from stepping inside such institutions. The price of admission is usually a huge deterrent, but even on Free Days, there’s still the cost of transportation, food, and the potentially huge opportunity cost that takes time away from work or relaxation. And when you get to the museum, what are the chances of even seeing something that represents your lived experience? Will some of the works be a reflection of your cultural identity, or will they be inaccessible art created by old, white, dead dudes? The gamble seems more costly than what the payoff may be.

Chao’s and Devanbu’s passion project addresses the politics of space that exist in art museums and the art community in general. They ask: what is critique without diversity? Who has the authority to make decisions for museums and art? Who dictates what art deserves to be exhibited in museums? “Look at Art. Get Paid.” has become apart of the growing movement of museums and artists that are attempting to change the landscape of the art world to become more inclusive and diverse.

Laura Demme
Laura Demme
Cheryl Levin
Cheryl Levin
Phyllis Anderson has been painting for nearly three decades, exploring process and outcome, meaning and metaphor.  She approaches her work like a lab experiment, a set of steps to see what will happen. Her painting process usually begins with a thick underpainting using a carefully chosen color (a color of influence!) which is left intentionally visible at the edges.
Phyllis Anderson
Phyllis Anderson

Phyllis Anderson has been painting for nearly three decades, exploring process and outcome, meaning and metaphor. She approaches…

Phyllis Anderson has been painting for nearly three decades, exploring process and outcome, meaning and metaphor. She approaches her work like a lab experiment, a set of steps to see what will happen.…

Phyllis Anderson has been painting for nearly three decades, exploring process and outcome, meaning and metaphor. She approaches her work like a lab experiment, a set of steps to see what will happen. Her painting process…

Michele Kishita is a Philadelphia-based painter who strives to conjure the landscape that no longer exists but is inherently contained in each of her panels. She investigates the visual contrast and harmony where human-made structures and nature intersect. Her paintings are strongly influenced by the graphic stylizations and compressed spaces of Japanese ukiyo-e prints. Kishita’s paintings are in a number of private/corporate collections, including Toyota, Capital One, and Kaiser Permanente. She has participated in artist residencies in New Mexico, Russia, and Iceland and exhibited at the Sharjah Art Museum in the United Arab Emirates and the Museum of Non-Conformist Art in St. Petersburg, Russia. She holds a BFA and MFA from the University of the Arts.
Michele C. Kishita
Michele C. Kishita

Michele Kishita is a Philadelphia-based painter who strives to conjure the landscape that no longer exists but is inherently…

Michele Kishita is a Philadelphia-based painter who strives to conjure the landscape that no longer exists but is inherently contained in each of her panels. She investigates the visual contrast and harmony…

Michele Kishita is a Philadelphia-based painter who strives to conjure the landscape that no longer exists but is inherently contained in each of her panels. She investigates the visual contrast and harmony where human-made…

Annette Cords is an interdisciplinary artist whose work spans diverse media, from painting and weaving to installation and sculpture. Her Jacquard tapestries focus on the convergence of visual and textual languages, making connections between text and textile. In dialogue with the material culture of weaving, she examines how weaving intersects and augments developments in writing, painting, and abstraction. Cords’ work has been exhibited extensively nationally and internationally, and she has been the recipient of numerous grants and residencies.
Annette Cords
Annette Cords

Annette Cords is an interdisciplinary artist whose work spans diverse media, from painting and weaving to installation and…

Annette Cords is an interdisciplinary artist whose work spans diverse media, from painting and weaving to installation and sculpture. Her Jacquard tapestries focus on the convergence of visual and textual…

Annette Cords is an interdisciplinary artist whose work spans diverse media, from painting and weaving to installation and sculpture. Her Jacquard tapestries focus on the convergence of visual and textual languages, making…

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