Open Letter to CAA

October 22, 2021

An Open Letter to the College Art Association, from the Executive Board, Society of Contemporary Art Historians

Meme Omogbai
Executive Director and CEO
College Art Association

Dear Meme Omogbai:

The Executive Board of the Society of Contemporary Art Historians writes to explain our motivations for withdrawing our participation in the 110th CAA conference.

We asked that our panel, “Fighting Back to Reclaim Institutions,” be open access at the virtual conference, or, if this was not possible, that we could make its recording open access later on, so that anyone unable to afford CAA membership and conference fees could at least watch the recording. CAA was not willing or able to grant this request. Thus, we have determined that for 2022, our panel and its topic must exceed the parameters of CAA’s forthcoming conference in order to be effective.

As an affiliate society for nearly fifteen years, we have been committed to collaborating with CAA in its role as a non-profit member-serving and historically member-led organization. We appreciate the central role it plays in gathering the fields of art and art history. Indeed, SCAH has annually contributed to the CAA conference, organizing panel discussions on the state of contemporary art as well as workshops. Moreover, present and past members of the SCAH Board have served on the council of readers,, Art Journal, and a variety of other CAA committees. SCAH members’ many contributions include assistance with forming CAA’s guidelines on submissions beyond standard journal articles and book chapters for tenure and promotion; those of us involved in such steps now and in the future appreciate CAA’s support for scholarship undertaken for exhibition catalogues and alternative venues beyond traditional articles and monographs.

Although we have no immediate plans to cease affiliation with our parent organization, in recent years we have grown increasingly concerned about how our contribution to the conference serves our members. The roles of art historian, artist, educator, critic, and curator have become progressively more blurred; a platform (the CAA conference) that we feel was designed primarily with the former two in mind may no longer align with the new art-historical discourses we are actively producing. In addition, many members are graduate students, museum workers, and contemporary artists who have experienced greater  precarity since the global pandemic. The costs of attendance are prohibitively high for those without institutional support, and we worry that the needs and interests of those pushed further into the margins of academia and the art world are not taken into account by CAA. Additionally, we are concerned about seemingly entrepreneurial measures that restrict scholars’ autonomy over our CAA-produced content as well as the currently pending restructuring of CAA’s important publications, each with its own unique scholarly character and history; these moves threaten to make the journals less autonomous and more insular and homogenous on the levels of creation and oversight. At last February’s conference, we collaborated with leaders from four other affiliate societies (the Association for Critical Race Art History, Queer Caucus for Art, New Media Caucus, and US Latinx Art Forum) on our panel “Agitators and Aggregators: New Cycles of Contemporary Art History.” Stemming from this discussion was a sense that many fellow art workers and their affiliate societies share similar concerns about CAA’s ability to address these urgent issues in full and transparent communication with its membership. 

CAA defines inclusion in its own statement of values as “an evolving and collaborative process” and “a collaborative work-in-progress.” We hope this letter registers as an act of calling in rather than calling out. As an affiliate society, SCAH looks forward to being an active collaborator in this important process. We conclude by asking for CAA to enter into a conversation with us about how open panels can become part of the conference programming in the 2023 iteration. Thank you for your attention.


SCAH Executive Board

Jacob Stewart-Halevy, President, Tufts University; John A. Tyson, Vice President, University of Massachusetts, Boston; Ellen Tani, Vice President-Elect, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts; Katie Anania, Treasurer, University of Nebraska, Lincoln; julia elizabeth neal, Treasurer-Elect, UT Austin; Brynn Hatton, Secretary, Colgate University; Anna Mecugni, Membership and International Outreach, University of New Orleans; Megan Driscoll, Communications, University of Richmond; Rebecca Uchill, Programs Coordinator, UMass Dartmouth; Paloma Checa-Gismero, Programs Coordinator-Elect, Swarthmore College; Vuk Vuković, Graduate Representative-Elect, University of Pittsburgh; Christian Whitworth, Webmaster, Stanford University; Harry C.H. Choi, Webmaster-Elect, Stanford University; Natilee Harren, at-large (President 2018-2020), University of Houston.


Maeghan Donohue, Manager, Strategic Planning, Diversity & Governance; Denali Kemper, Development Officer; Tiffany Dugan, Head of Constituency Engagement; Paul Skiff, Assistant Director, Institutional Events; Doreen Davis, Administrator, Membership and Affiliate Support; Amy Raffel, Head of Content; Cali Buckley, Manager, Education and Intellectual Property and Director, CAA-Getty International Program; Mira Friedlaender, Manager, Scholarly Content and Programs; Joan Strasbaugh, Managing Editor