COMMITTEE ON THE FUTURE OF THE QUEER CAUCUS FOR ART
Interim Report, June 2005
Jim Saslow, coordinator

Dear Queer Caucus members and friends,

As many of you know, at the last CAA conference in Atlanta we appointed a volunteer committee to consider the current problems of the Queer Caucus and lay out possible alternatives for our future direction. Following is a rough “first draft” summarizing the ideas and suggestions that have come in so far. Emphasis on “draft”: it is a collection of ideas from various people, meant to start a process of reevaluation, not end it.

We welcome reactions and further input from all Caucus members. Have any items to add? Want to push for one viewpoint over another? All responses will be useful in preparing the next version of this analysis.

Please send your replies to the entire listserve, or at least to me [saslowj@earthlink.net, for compilation] so we can hopefully get some dialogue going between now and the next CAA conference (Boston, February 2006). At our business meeting at the Boston conference, we will present a final report as a basis to discuss these issues and come to some decisions about “where do we go from here?”

WHAT WE DO NOW:

Most broadly, the Queer Caucus serves as a social point of contact for members and friends at CAA and as a advocacy group for queer issues in the visual arts. The Caucus was founded in 1989, at a time when CAA and the arts professions in general were only beginning to acknowledge and address gay/lesbian concerns, individuals, and self-expression. Important goals then were networking, socializing, encouraging gay/lesbian artists and historians to do openly gay work, and making the profession -- specifically, CAA programming and policies -- more open to our presence and our perspectives. Since then, our activities have been more or less the same. We are mainly active at CAA meetings: we have a social reception at each conference, a business meeting, and we sponsor usually one full-length panel session and one short session. Most years, we also arrange an art exhibition in the host city, at an outside venue. During the rest of the year, we publish a lengthy and detailed print newsletter three times a year, and make information and interchange possible by our all-member listserve and the Caucus website. All these have, in the past, been effective means of networking, sharing information and support, and creating forums for discussion of developments within GLBTQ academic and non-academic art communities; and many people seem to want them to continue.

We have not generally been active outside CAA on broader arts or political fronts. This past November 2004, however, we organized our first full-scale conference at CUNY/New York, in conjunction with the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies there, whose theme was “InterseXions: Queer Visual Culture at the Crossroads.” Almost 200 people attended, from a variety of fields and global nations.

PROBLEMS WE FACE NOW, AS AN ORGANIZATION:

Caucus membership has been static or declining for some time. In particular, we have not been attracting many younger members, and our membership is sometimes perceived as “the same old [literally] gang.” Therefore income is also down, and our funds barely suffice to put out a few newsletters, keep up a web page, and host a few events at CAA. And we’re limited in what other activities we can initiate by a general lack of volunteers. The small (though dedicated) number of participating members involved are always close to burnout.

We as a group have little recognized presence or “clout” within CAA or beyond it, so we are mainly speaking to ourselves.

These problems boil down to a basic question about the purpose and function of QCA: are we about mutual support, or group activism? (or both). People join groups when they fill a need; what are the current needs in our community?

REASONS FOR THOSE PROBLEMS:

Homophobia has not declined as quickly or as thoroughly as we would like, and we are still far from “mainstream.” Queer-themed TV programs are being cancelled, exhibition proposals rejected by curators who exclude queerness and/or label queers as passé. Survey texts and non-Caucus CAA sessions still take little notice.

We’re no longer “hot” in academic and critical discourse: Caucus sessions no longer attract a large non-queer audience, as they briefly did when queer art/studies had its po-mo “heyday” in the 1990s. We’ve gone from outcast to trendy to ho-hum, a kind of re-ghettoization as one among hundreds of niche markets in the era of incrasingly specialized web media and satellite TV, few of which audiences pay much attention to one another.

Identity politics as theory and practice has lost the force it had post-Stonewall to mobilize a politically cohesive and activist community. This is in part due, ironically, to the internal intellectual evolution of what was once unproblematically called “gay culture.” If the newer position of “queer” means a resistance to the constraints of fixed categories, queer has never had a logical strategic alliance with "identities" such as gay and lesbian. Identity politics movements demand rights and recognition: the right to marry, for instance. Although it is difficult not to want rights for oneself and others, obtaining them brings us “into the fold.” Granted, we change the fold in this way; but queer wants to change more than the fold, it wants a to unravel and remake the fabric.

That utopian goal having been acknowledged, it is nonetheless also true that American society as a whole continues its thirty-year rightward march, and has now reached a watershed. Current political and religious conditions are chilling to queer and other minority or dissenting subcultures: the right now has marked the queer community as its central organizing feature. More broadly, the interlinked developments of neo-colonialism, neo-isolationism, Patriot Act strictures on the circulation of bodies and ideas, the politicization of funding for the arts and education, neo-conservatism in universities and cultural institutions, and the near-universal adoption of corporate models of operation, priorities and values within these cultural institutions, all militate against “our cause” in varying ways.

It is crucial for us to address our relationship to these realities, and some on the cultural/political left, including a number of our own Caucus members, have been energized by the recent setbacks toward a new spirit of activism, and are searching for platforms and methods.

FUTURE ALTERNATIVES/POSSIBILITIES:

We need to decide as a group if we want to prioritize identity politics (integration and assimilation)-- in which case we need to develop the means to advocate effectively for our constituents from within art institutions, universities, professional organizations, etc.-- or whether we want to revolutionize those institutions and their practices from deliberately alienated positions and in less co-operative ways. Or, can we find places to work where these trajectories intersect? Do they intersect?

Options:

  1. Stay as we are. The Caucus can be useful simply by remaining as an official presence within CAA, whether we accomplish anything further or not. But we do need to think about ways to raise more operating funds, even to continue as we are.

  2. Be more activist within CAA and the profession generally: The Queer Caucus is needed to bring out an intelligent and honest illumination of the cultural/gender/sexual underpinnings of these troubled times. Make connections and coalitions with similar groups, such as the partnership with CAA’s Radical Caucus on next year’s short session on persistent opposition to the queer viewpoint, and actively pressure CAA to be activist on behalf of our issues. Outreach to related groups in other academic and creative fields. Sponsor conferences, outside the purview of CAA itself, on art and politics, etc.
    What conclusions about the future of the Caucus might we draw by comparing the InterseXions conference last fall -- the energy, commitment, and spirit of solidarity that galvanized the event -- to the more beleaguered ambiance of Caucus events at CAA a few months later? Participants in InterseXions were present in numbers at CAA Atlanta, but the multiplication of professional responsibilities and personal interests siphoned us off in competing directions that did not permit us to achieve anywhere near critical mass. However, paradoxically, perhaps the success of InterSexions also accounts to some extent for the deprioritization of Caucus events at CAA. Perhaps we had already had our shot in the arm of queer for the year, in other words. In which case, further events like InterSexions, which do not take place within the frame of CAA and are open to a wider population, might provide a more viable space of encounter. The vitality of InterseXions was due in part to its interdisciplinarity. If the "art world" and university systems are moving to the right along with the rest of America, we need to activate alliances across disciplinary lines.

  3. Consider abolishing the QCA in its current, CAA-based form, and those people with interests better served by another, perhaps more independent structure may form into a new organization(s) around specific goals.
COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Noreen Dean Dresser, Tirza True Latimer, Clare Cornell, Ally Catherine Wild, Jim Bergesen


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