By NINA MDIVANI, June 2023
Lindsay Catherine Harris is an artist, social justice advocate, champion of femme, queer, and trans youth of color. Harris born and raised in Southern California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico and moved to New York over fifteen years ago. She has worked in numerous non-profit and community-oriented organizations. Co-curated by Harris, Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall at Brooklyn Museum, an exhibition featuring 28 LGBTQ+ artists and collectives reflecting on the history of the Stonewall uprising, was named NYTimes Best Art of 2019. Now Harris is taking on a new role as co-director of Recess Art. Through a multilevel residency program for underrepresented artists, advocating for system-impacted youth and artists of color, and engaging with diverse populations Recess Art brings difference into Brooklyn cultural landscape.
Nina: You are coming to Recess Art from the Brooklyn Museum. Will you be pursuing a different vision and approaches while working in this new space?
Lindsay: While these two institutions share an ethos of art and artists transforming lives and creating social change, they are very different organizations and ecosystems–operationally, in scale and in function– and I believe a different approach reflective of that is needed. Brooklyn Museum is a leader in anti-racist museum education and advancing inclusion and equity within major art museums of its kind, due to many staff–Black femme leadership within Education, in particular–pushing boundaries over the decades. Comparatively, I see Recess as young, nimble, and responsive to the systems of oppression that make up the criminal legal system and the for-profit art market–borne from those crises, rather than stretching to respond to them or contend with its own history of colonialism, racism, and oppression as many museums must do. The vision for more equitable systems and society may be kindred but the actions needed are different. Recess takes risks in ways that older and larger organizations can’t, or won’t. Throughout my career, I have tried to work to advance equity, cultivate care and joy, and dismantle white supremacy from within and outside of institutions and I believe in multiple strategies to accomplish these goals. That vision remains steadfast across my leadership experiences personally and professionally. I’m excited to learn from and with the Recess community and to pivot in ways where everyone is an active accountability partner to that work, where risk-taking and responsiveness is embedded within the fabric of the organization.
Nina: You have worked in many different positions within various New York-based non-profit organizations. What lessons have you learned through these diverse experiences?
Lindsay: I’ve learned so many lessons over these years across many different positions and organizations, especially those with strong youth development frameworks like Educational Video Center and Center for Urban Pedagogy. I am grateful for the teachings that come with each success and failure in my life. Some larger takeaways are understanding the power of resources (economic, cultural, and people); having a clarity of mission and how localized and specific action can have big impact; listening to young people and come to them with authenticity; joy and love are some of the most powerful tools for liberation; solutions need to be community-driven; setting boundaries and building support systems; and collaboration as the only way forward.
Nina: What is a project or an exhibition you have worked on in the past that you are most proud of?
Lindsay: Co-curating Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall (2019). This exhibition featured 28 LGBTQ+ artists and collectives making work in NYC today within the legacy of the Stonewall uprising and was curated by 5 of us from across curatorial, public programs and education . Youth in Brooklyn Museum’s LGBTQ+ teen programming were central to the planning as well. We thought a lot about ways we could approach collective curating within a queer and Black feminist lens and approach each other, the artists, and young people with care as active collaborators. We tried to do things differently as a curatorial collective, modeling queer futures in ways that echoed the powerful art and artists in the exhibition. There is so much in the exhibition itself and the planning and programming that I think is radical, in both the legacy of queer organizing from ancestors like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, and the institutional risk-taking that still has a lasting impact.
Nina: Recess Art has a long and meaningful history of helping underrepresented artists and communities. In what new directions will you be working in your new role of the Director?
Lindsay: I agree! That long history of supporting artists and youth that challenge systems of oppression is what compels me to Recess. Founder Allison Freedman Weisberg has been a strong leader, willing to take risks and imagine new possibilities and I’m thrilled to be sharing this executive leadership with Shaun Leonardo, who I’ve partnered with in justice work before. I am looking to listen and learn from the Recess community–from staff, Assembly youth, and Session artists about what ways they see this work expanding. A certain slowness is necessary to build strong bones and roots stretching towards liberation and that can allow for quick and comprehensive action to support safety and resilience. With that slowness, our most immediate project is to deepen Recess’ framework for care and accountability towards abolition and advancing arts equity by intentionally and carefully reimagining the board structure and orientation. We will be working with a board advisory circle and learning from other models that shift power and push progress. I’m excited for what this board evolution will mean for even greater alignment with Recess’ mission-driven principles as an artist-centered, POC-led organization.
Nina: What is the most recent show you visited that stood out to you?
Lindsay: A couple weeks ago, I finally saw Wanghechi Mutu: Intertwined at the New Museum immediately followed by experiencing Bernarda's Daughters, written by playwright Diane Exavier before they both closed. Both of these stuck with me. Wangechi Mutu has been an artist I have long admired and to see this solo show–older and newer bodies of work I had not seen before all exploring the legacies of colonialism, globalization was deeply moving. Across time and media, her work has remained consistent in its love of Black women. Bernarda’s Daughters is an intimate play centered around a family of sisters in Flatbush, Brooklyn contending with their own experiences and the legacy of their Haitian parents. So much was explored about love, lust, loss, care, sisterhood, obligation, gentrification, and more in those 90 minutes that is still sitting with me. Both of these, love letters to Black women. So well done. WM
Nina Mdivani is Georgian-born and New York-based independent curator, writer and researcher. Her academic background covers International Relations and Gender Studies from Tbilisi State University, Mount Holyoke College and Museum Studies from City University of New York. Nina's book, King is Female, published in October 2018 in Berlin by Wienand Verlag explores the lives of three Georgian women artists and is the first publication to investigate questions of the feminine identity in the context of the Eastern European historical, social, and cultural transformation of the last twenty years. Nina has contributed articles to Hyperallergic, Flash Art International, The Brooklyn Rail, JANE Magazine Australia, NERO Editions Italy, XIBT Magazine Berlin, Eastern European Film Bulletin, Indigo Magazine, Arte Fuse. As curator and writer Nina is interested in discovering hidden narratives within dominant cultures with focus on minorities and migrations. You can find out more about her work at ninamdivani.com