To Lori Starr, Executive Director of the Contemporary Jewish Museum,
We are writing to express our dismay to learn of the blow you’ve dealt to Bay Area disability arts and culture with your recent layoff of Cecile Puretz, CJM’s Access and Community Engagement Manager. While we are fully aware of the challenging economic situation the Contemporary Jewish Museum now faces, we also note that recent communications stated your institution’s support for disability on the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. To share such messaging after dismissing the person solely responsible for promoting access at the CJM gives a misleading impression to a community just being won over. You must understand that Cecile Puretz built a powerful, innovative set of practices and partnerships that has shaped the practices of museums locally and nationally.
During her 10+ years at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Cecile was a dedicated and passionate advocate for the Bay Area’s disability community, with extra attention paid to those most marginalized within this group. Most prominently, she fought to get Superfest Disability Film Festival an annual home at the CJM, which, by many accounts brought a different kind of social justice prestige to the museum. The internal staff training on disability that ensured physical and cultural openness to a new clientele and features for your older patrons (many seasoned donors) set a standard that is being copied by other museums.
A crisis such as the one every institution now faces provides opportunities for new ways of doing things. Eliminating a position and laying off an employee who has done so much to change perceptions of museums in general and make accessible the programs and spaces of the CJM to the broader public suggests limited imagination.
While we have the utmost confidence that Cecile will bounce back from this heartbreaking blow, we are concerned for the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Bay Area disability community. We hope that you have put into place a management structure that can continue to improve access as effectively as Cecile previously did, and when the economic situation changes, we hope you will prioritize hiring people with disabilities to bring more disability expertise into the museum. We hope that this letter urges you to realize that you have let your disabled constituents and their allies down, and we hope that you again find your way to recognize that even in times of economic hardship, access cannot be compromised.
For more, see this panel discussion with Amanda Cachia, a disabled educator, independent curator, and writer and Alice Wong of the Disability Visibility Project in conversation about museums in the 21st century hosted by Philadelphia Contemporary.
The Blind Posse