Amada Cruz, the new director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, has abruptly canceled a scheduled exhibition over a lack of diversity among the two dozen represented artists.
Cruz, who came on board last October, also eliminated the position of veteran museum curator Eik Kahng.
News of the exhibit cancellation and Kahng’s dismissal were first reported by Hyperallergic, an online arts magazine.
The show, Three American Painters: Then and Now, was intended to explore the legacy of art historian Michael Fried and reimagine his iconic 1965 show of the same title.
Kahng reportedly had been developing the project for years, securing loans for 62 pieces, and putting together a catalog that was on its way to be printed when the decision was made. The museum has not provided a reason for Kahng’s termination.
In a statement to the Santa Barbara Independent, Cruz defended her controversial decision to cancel the show: “When I joined the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in October 2023, one of the first priorities was to review ways in which our programming can be more inclusive and more reflective of Santa Barbara County’s diverse community. In reviewing the exhibition plan, the checklist of around 20 living artists and estates slated to be included in the exhibition, and the catalog essays, it was determined that it fell short from a diversity perspective. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, like other museums of our size, has limited resources. So, it was decided to focus our resources elsewhere.”
We consider these recent developments not only alarming but also insulting—to us, to the Santa Barbara art community and indeed to all artists.”
The dual decisions by Cruz prompted an angry response from the artists involved in the project, calling her actions “outrageous” and “appalling.” Eight members of the group wrote in a letter of protest to the museum’s board of directors, saying “We consider these recent developments not only alarming but also insulting—to us, to the Santa Barbara art community and indeed to all artists.”
Kahn joined SBMA in 2009 and was responsible for some of its biggest and most successful exhibitions, including the recent Van Gogh showcase. She has yet to comment publicly on her dismissal.
Cruz is no stranger to controversy. In 2021, there were calls for a boycott of the Seattle Art Museum, where she was the director, following her approval of large cement bollards to deter homeless people from camping outside the building.
After Cruz had been hired to run the Phoenix Art Museum, more than a dozen employees were fired or resigned, amid accusations of an “abrasive management style.” There were also reports of a decline in the museum’s docent program during her tenure.
Read the letter from the protesting artists to the SBMA Board of Directors here.