On Thursday, August 26, Women’s Equality Day, 21c Museum Director and Chief Curator, Alice Gray Stites, spoke with Michele Pred and Autumn Breon on Instagram Live about their ongoing initiative The Art of Equal Pay, the recently opened exhibition, New Time: Art and Feminism in the 21st Century at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, and the exciting plans for Wide Awakes Day at 21c Kansas City on October 3.
Michele Pred is a Swedish American conceptual artist whose practice includes sculpture, assemblage, and performance. Her work uncovers the cultural and political meaning behind everyday objects, with a concentration on feminist themes such as equal pay, reproductive rights, and personal security. Pred’s projects also contain social components that drive the conversation into public spaces. Michele is represented in the 21c collection and her work from the Reflections series is on view in the exhibition, The Future is Female, currently at 21c Durham.
Autumn Breon uses art to reimagine global narratives. A graduate of Stanford University, she studied Aeronautics & Astronautics and researched aeronautical astrobiology applications for NASA. Autumn went on to advocate for global access to affordable education in South Central Los Angeles, India, and South Africa. During her frequent travels throughout the African continent, Autumn examined contemporary art throughout the Diaspora and its impact. Based in Los Angeles, Autumn Breon curates and creates art to communicate ideas related to liberation, identity, and Diasporic memory. Her work has been recognized by Artsy, the Smithsonian Institution, Aspen Institute, TED, the Obama Foundation, LA Magazine, and Artnet and so much more.
Alice Gray Stites (AGS): I am waiting for Autumn and Michele to join so we can talk about Women’s Equality Day. It’s not so much a celebration as a moment to honor that effort, the ongoing effort to make sure that women get equal pay, and equal recognition, and equal rights. AH! There is Michele.
Michele Pred (MP): Hello! And here is Autumn!
Autumn Breon (AB): Hello!
AGS: Last time I met you, Autumn, was at the ForFreedoms Congress in L.A. Autumn I loved meeting you, hearing you speak, and seeing the exhibition that you put together at Crenshaw Dairy Mart.
AB: Thank you!
AGS: Welcome to 21c Museum Hotels Instagram Live! It is Women’s Equality Day. What are you guys doing at The Art of Equal Pay? Tell us about The Art of Equal Pay and why artists are involved with this initiative.
MP: Well, it’s a way for us to work on equity, and working on pay equity for every single woman-identifying person in the country seems so daunting. I felt like, if I start an initiative, that feels like something I can grasp with my greater community. I feel like this is something I can maybe handle and approach. And so that is why I decided well, why don’t I approach pay equity in the arts. What we aim to do is decrease the gender and racial pay gaps for women identifying artists. Autumn and I met at a Hank Willis Thomas opening and immediately I was drawn to Autumn and her energy and her mind. And so, I brought her in on the team.
So, just quickly to explain a little more of what The Art of Equal Pay does: we’re asking women artists to increase their prices by up to 15% to help decrease that gender pay gap. We also recognize and understand that not everyone can do that so we have created a survey for all artists—both male and female identifying artists—to fill out so we can gain more information and understand more the discrepancies and how we can further make differences. If you go to The Art of Equal Pay website, you can find both the survey and how to get involved. Working for equality is something I have done all of my life—I grew up in Berkeley, California—it’s really in my blood, and I have been doing these activations and performances. So, Alice and I are both heading up to the Upstate Art Weekend founded by our friend Helen Toomer, and Autumn is unfortunately not joining this activation, but I am here with a core group of women that I work with for my parade. Michelle Hartney is sitting here driving, and we have Yvette Molina, and Ann Lewis joining us, and Holly Ballard Martz, and we are all going to be performing tomorrow at the Stoneleaf Retreat, which is Helen Toomer’s artist residency. And the performance there is titled Emergency Response to Pay Equity so I am really excited to do that performance. It is a new type of performance, it is not a parade and we’re going to be displaying the emergency situation of inequality.
Documentation post-performance at Stoneleaf Retreat as part of Upstate Art Weekend, August 27, 2021.
AGS: Autumn, I want to hear about your involvement and why you were drawn to what Michele is working on. I love that you come from a non-traditional background and entered into the arts as a way of making a difference, something you feel very strongly about.
AB: Yeah. I think the unique career trajectory that I have is actually a huge part of why I was so drawn to The Art of Equal Pay and this work because, as you said Michele, this is a universal issue, unfortunately. What is so special about women in the arts and this movement is that it is a leader-full movement. The fact that I’m joining from Englewood, ya’ll are both on the other side of the country, and we have people joining us from around the world—this is such a universal issue and we are attacking it with this grassroots approach–it really allows for anyone to find their point of entry, which is so important. And that is why I was so excited, especially about the survey, because it can feel like such a daunting issue but this is one first step where it is just like “hey, put this information down so that we can start by gathering information.” I think it helps break apart the problem into something more digestible and it allows so many people everywhere to take action, which is what we need to face this issue in the arts and across all industries.
AGS: I love that when you started this initiative, Michele, and spoke about it at the (ForFreedoms) Congress. You were explaining that collectors could get involved by making sure that when they pay an artist, that they are paid equitably, that if you are an artist that you are charging equitably. You gave concrete steps for each person. There is a lot of obfuscation in the art market so, let’s recognize that, and giving people an entre and a way to do it, to make a difference and push that needle, is fantastic and very inspiring.
MP: And we can’t increase our prices without galleries supporting what we are doing, especially the collectors. And that’s why—and if you go to the website you will see this—we have a list of collectors that have pledged to buy artwork that is at a higher price to support female identifying artists. It’s an ecosystem that really has to be supported by so many different people and obviously museums representing more women with museum shows, especially women of color, so there are all of these things that are part of the whole system. And there have been museums and curators and writers who have all signed to support the initiative as well. So, if you are in the art world and, let’s say you are a curator or a writer, we would love for you to sign up on the website to show your support because it really takes everyone, everybody to get involved. That is what these events are for, to have a discussion to increase and continue talking about it so we can make a difference.
AB: And it really decreases the likelihood of performative ally ship, because by providing opportunities and methods of entry for everyone in the ecosystem there is no excuse. We are being very clear about what the demand is and how you can take action.
Michele Pred, My Body My Business Vanity. Photo: Suzy Gorman @suzygormanphoto
AGS: I don’t want to let more time go by without also mentioning that you will be flying back to the West Coast for the opening of a show at your home town art museum, the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, called, New Time: Art and Feminism in the 21st century. I’m a total supporter in the need to support feminism because it’s not just about biology, but about equity and experience and about recognizing the validity of lived experience from a variety of perspectives. So, congratulations, the show opens on Saturday, August 28. Tell us a little bit about the show and what’s your perspective.
MP: So, actually the artist and patron dinner was last night so I literally left from the dinner last night and went directly to the airport. It was a little insane, but that is what we do as artists. So, it’s a really amazing exhibition curated by Apsara DiQuinzio, it includes 70 artists focusing on different eras and different themes. It is a beautiful exhibition with pieces from Marilyn Minter, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Kiki Smith, Lava Thomas.
AGS: How long is the show going to be up, for those of us who might want to make the trek out there?
MP: Yeah! It is going to be up through the beginning of January. This is really special to me because I grew up in Berkeley, California, it’s my hometown. My father was a professor there for over 42 years, so it is particularly meaningful to me. It’s a place I used to go with my father—the Berkeley Art Museum. My father was extremely political, leaning on the left pretty hard, so he was a huge inspiration and is still a huge inspiration even after his passing. Please let me know if anyone comes to town. I would love to show you the exhibition, Alice, all of you.
We’d also love to talk about somethings that are brewing at 21c in Kansas City. Do you want to talk about that? Autumn and I are working on it.
AGS: I am so excited, so we are pursuing various different activations for Wide Awakes Day, which, for anyone who doesn’t know is October 3. The first one was last year and we did an online activation through 21c Louisville, and this year in Kansas City we’re so excited to do a major activation thanks to Michele and Dwight and our Museum Manager, Jori, and you’ll be there as well, Autumn. I think I am going to need to get myself to Kansas City and join the parade. We’re going to have a parade. We’re going to have an installation and we’re going to draw attention to the efforts of the Wide Awakes to wake people up and have our eyes open with all times with each other to drive progress and change.
AB: Yeah, it’s really special that Wide Awakes Day is when we are going to have this installation and programming at 21c because October 3 was actually the biggest Wide Awakes rally in the 19th century with the original Wide Awakes. So it is really special that we are continuing that legacy and embracing this love movement and being Wide Awake, like you said and an essential part of that is pay equity and gender equity, so it’s special that we are bringing The Art of Equal Pay to 21c that weekend, we’re really excited about an installation that we are working on, there is going to be a cape making workshop and some really fun, engaging, safe, and educational interactive stuff that we will be able to do with each other in Kansas City to celebrate.
AGS: Well, I can’t wait to be with you in person, if I can, and I want to say that it is so great to celebrate and honor Women’s Equality Day with you and to have artists, curator, activists, scientists—all of which we have here—engaged in art as a platform for change.
AB: Thank you so much, and thank you for having us.
About the artists:
To learn more about Autumn Breon, check out her website and follow her on Instagram @autumnbreon
To learn more about Michele Pred’s work, check out her website and follow her on Instagram @Michelepred