Quips and Quotes: Deconstructing the Dominant Narrative

Author: Sarah Cahalan '14

Editor's Note: As soon as I graduated from Notre Dame, I realized that I never took proper advantage of one of the biggest perks of being at a university: all those lectures. You may not be able to pop by DeBart 101 every week to listen to experts opine about cell biology or geopolitics, but, in this new series, we're bringing the lecture hall to you. Our editors will scour the campus for one presentation per week to attend and share with our readers, reporting back with a quote and a few highlights from the latest event in the life of the mind. 

"We can't just continue to tell the same stories. We can't just continue to show the same artists."

Lauren Haynes' lecture at the Snite Museum on October 9 went on for the better part of an hour, but, if you had to distill it to thirty seconds, this statement from the end of the talk fairly sums it up. Haynes is the curator of contemporary art at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, and her presentation (sponsored by the American Studies department and the Snite) dealt with her career in the art world and the ethos that has guided it: that access and representation are key. 


The title of Haynes' talk — "Deconstructing the Dominant Narrative: Contemporary Curatorial Practices in Contemporary Art" — may have given the impression that it would appeal only to art lovers, but the issues she described were surprisingly universal. Early in the talk, she recalled the museum visit from her childhood on which she first realized that black women and girls like her could be artists and artists' subjects. The moment, she says, changed her life, and gave her one of the animating questions of her work today as a curator: "How can I help create these life-changing moments?" 


From the walls of museums to the pages of school yearbooks to the silver screen, representation — seeing that artist or classmate or actor who looks like you — is crucial to making people feel welcomed and valued, and, in turn, to creating a society that welcomes and values all people.


Haynes is working to increase representation in her corner of the world. Hopefully we can all use her example to do the same in ours.


Sarah Cahalan is an associate editor of this magazine.