It's been 20 years since I arrived in Cleveland, tentatively planting roots that surprisingly have yielded a long and rewarding career, a family life, and a vibrant community. Looking back at my early days here, my presentation of a talk at the City Club was a powerful rite of passage. Terrifying, yes, but rewarding nonetheless. Preparing for that talk with the support of new colleagues and board members helped me shape my identity as a civic leader. And significantly, it illuminated for me this community's deeply-rooted value of public discourse.
Almost exactly 20 years later, my institution, MOCA, partnered with the City Club to present a town hall meeting co-led by Dan Moulthrop and Hank Willis Thomas, an artist whose artist-led super PAC For Freedoms spearheaded civic conversations around the country throughout the pre-election year. Just one week prior to the election, our convening, which drew over 200 diverse people, became a lightning rod for collective angst, desires, and aspirations. Raw, wrenching, and confessional, citizens of our community drew together in passionate exchange about social inequities that was both illuminating and challenging. At that moment, it struck me that we were living our aspirational goal to be a "safe place for unsafe ideas" a phrase coined by one maverick museum director.
The power of free exchange and uncensored speech is core to our constitutional liberties and a touchstone for both MOCA and the City Club. And, it is core to the work of artists. As we know from history, the suppression of free speech and artistic expression is always at the foreground of political oppression. Perhaps, in this current swirl of dissenting and often maddening voices, artists, through the power of expression and unflinching embrace of what is and can be, might help us locate common voice, self-awareness, and open our minds to seeing in new ways. As a museum director, I feel a moral imperative to support and nurture this essential vehicle of humanity.
Jill Snyder is the Executive Director of MOCA Cleveland.