In response to the sudden termination of Long Beach State University Art Museum Director Kimberli Meyer on Sept. 11, artist Lauren Woods said she will “pause” her project on police brutality, “American MONUMENT.”
Over 100 students, staff and faculty gathered in the University Theatre Auditorium Tuesday to hear Woods talk about “MONUMENT” and the controversy surrounding it, a lecture that lasted well over three hours.
“I never envisioned myself pulling my work from a show,” Woods said to her audience. “… it was a violent act to remove [Meyer], and I felt [I] couldn’t proceed ethically.”
Woods’ multimedia monument was scheduled to open Sunday, and included sights and sounds from 25 cases of police brutality, experienced through audio captured from various arrests and the legal documents behind each case. After announcing at the opening reception that her installation had been put on pause indefinitely due to the termination of Meyer, Woods shut off the record players in the museum and walked out.
Woods was adamant about the monument being put on “pause,” since the project was created to grow as more records and recordings became available. Without Meyer, the project will remain stagnant.
Once Woods finished explaining the inspiration for and evolution of the project, she told attendees that Meyer was not only the museum director, but a key co-creator and collaborator for the project. Meyer has filed an appeal with the university to get her job back.
“If I’m not here and the other person who knows all the intricacies of the project isn’t here, then what else can I do,” Woods said.
“American MONUMENT” was meant to be the project to kickoff Meyer’s goal of bringing content to campus that would “take a public stand on ending police brutality and the culture and practice of anti-Blackness,” according to Woods. It was also the first exhibit booked by Meyer, after having hosted the shows brought to the UAM by the previous director.
Both Meyer and Woods confirmed that university administration asked for transcriptions of the audio recordings, a request they both said was very unusual.
“I don’t want to say that they demanded it,” Woods said. “They asked for them, but we couldn’t say no.”
She elaborated that her student research assistant was tasked with transcribing the audio and found its content to be emotionally disturbing. Due to the intensely emotional nature of the recordings, Woods said her assistant had to take several breaks, causing the transcription to take longer than the deadline they were given.
“They got the transcription Monday, Kimberli was fired Tuesday,” Woods said with tears in her eyes. “You can’t tell me they aren’t connected.”
In response, Meyer said during a phone interview that she could not confirm whether or not the late arrival of the transcriptions had anything to do with her termination.
“I have no idea,” Meyer said. “I couldn’t say that it was true it’s just the timing that makes you think about it.”
She also said that the university did not give her a reason as to why her employment was terminated.
Terri Carbaugh, associate vice president of public affairs, sent a statement to the Daily 49er from the university directly following Wood’s lecture.
“It is important to understand that the departure of Kimberli Meyer is unrelated to the exhibit’s contents,” the statement read. “We view our campus as an ideal place for important — and sometimes difficult — discussions to take place. While Ms. Meyer’s artistic vision is supported by the College of the Arts, the day-to-day and long-term operation of a university museum demands more.”
She also added that the termination had nothing to do with the transcriptions, but were requested so the university could determine if it should provide counseling to students as a result of the monument.
Cyrus Parker-Jeannette, the College of the Arts’ dean, said that while she could not comment on Meyer’s relationship with the UAM, the entire ordeal has been emotional for her and many others involved.
“I cried a lot. I’m conflicted in my many roles,” Parker-Jeannette said. “Ultimately, what I’ve been saying to people all day is that I feel a lot of responsibility in my job as dean, as an artist, is to uphold art.”
In the meantime, Catherine Scott, curator of public engagement and participatory practices for the UAM, encouraged the public to still visit the monument, saying that the pause provides a different experience.
“During this pause, come and visit us in this process and commit to its emergence and understand that the pause is an opportunity for a moment for reflection, not action,” Scott said.
James Chow and Paula Kiley contributed to this article.
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Paula Kiley: that photograph is absolutely gorgeous!