University Art Museum Director Kimberli Meyer was at her desk drafting opening remarks for the launch of American MONUMENT—an installation examining police killings of black civilians by artist lauren woods that was meant to mark a shift in museum programming—when she was abruptly fired.

“I was fired. I was removed,” said Meyer, who closely collaborated with woods to bring American MONUMENT to the museum at Cal State Long Beach. “And when I asked them why they said, ‘Well you’re an at-will employee so we don’t have to tell you why.’ So it’s a big question mark to me. [Departmental leadership] came in and I had to leave my office on the spot.”

University Art Museum director is out just days before opening of groundbreaking exhibit

On Sunday, a few days after Meyer received the news, woods staged a protest on the opening night of the exhibit, effectively silencing its central sound installation and pausing production of American MONUMENT until the university hears an appeal of Meyer’s termination.

Consisting of a grid of spinning acetate records that play language based on narratives found in open records request materials, American MONUMENT was a first for the on-campus museum. It was meant to represent the kinds of structural and institutional changes personally spearheaded by the progressive Meyer over the past two years.

As the first iteration of the piece, the exhibit was set to travel to different sites and grow as more cases become available through public records requests.

Meyer’s termination was announced by Cyrus Parker-Jeannette, the dean of the college of the arts on Tuesday, five days before the launch of the exhibit. In a statement released by the university on Monday, Parker-Jeannette said that the decision for Meyer to no longer serve as director was “part of a longer-term process.”

The university generally does not comment on terminations due to privacy restrictions.

Meyer said she sent in a letter of appeal about her firing on Monday morning and is hoping there’s still “an opportunity to rectify the situation.”

“It’s such an important project,” Meyer said. “I’m pretty devastated because for me this was an opportunity to really look at some real, institutional transformation and so I’m just hoping that can still happen.”

woods protested Meyer’s unexpected termination during the opening of her exhibition Sunday, with a pre-arranged show of participants walking down the rows of turntables and, in an almost ceremonial manner, switching each player off. Tension hung in the silence that followed as woods walked off the platform and out of the gallery.

Some attendees applauded; others left.

“The University Art Museum, College of the Arts, and Cal State Long Beach, have kneecapped a project that is focusing on black lives and police brutality,” woods said before leaving. “They have killed a leadership initiative whose focus was not only to address white supremacy, but to disrupt it, they have rejected the invitation for collective authorship.”

woods declared the production of American MONUMENT would be paused pending Meyer’s appeal, offering the university “a chance to engage in a restorative process and to demonstrate their commitment to the work of anti-racism” and to “take a public stand on ending police brutality and the culture and practice of anti-blackness.”

The record players have thus far been turned off and the records removed.

woods said a copy of the full letter marking the pause will be left at the museum for visitors to read. The full statement can also be read via the link here.

Lauren woods talks about her art installation, American MONUMENT, on display at the University Art Museum in Long Beach, Sunday, September 16, 2018. Photo by Kelly Smiley
Catherine Scott cries and asks the audience to make a difference after lauren woods puts her art installation, American MONUMENT, on pause until Kimberli Meyer, former art director of the University Art Museum, gets justice at the University Art Museum in Long Beach, Sunday, September 16, 2018. Photo by Kelly Smiley

“It’s at the artist’s discretion to move this project forward as she sees fit and this was the choice the artist made,” said Amanda Fruta, communications specialist for the UAM. “We are still in collaboration with the artist and we will continue programming that produces constructive conversation around this issue. We’ll continue to be open.”

Prior to woods’ unexpected protest and the unveiling of MONUMENT, Parker-Jeannette spoke at the launch that she was proud of the museum for taking on challenging and timely topics.

“I have to acknowledge that this is upsetting. It’s upsetting for me as well,” she said in response to calls for her to address Meyer’s firing. “And it’s something that we’re trying to manage, but the way I’d like to manage it today is to celebrate this exhibit, because this exhibit is important.”

Artist lauren woods walks out of American MONUMENT

Artist lauren woods walks out of American MONUMENT at the University Art Museum.

Posted by Long Beach Post on Monday, September 17, 2018

Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her on Twitter and Instagram @theasiamorris and via email at [email protected]

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