How Street Dance Can Inspire Art Museums

Erin Li

Curatorial Fellow
Whitechapel Gallery, London

House dance battle between Toyin and Rama at Summer Dance Forever 2022, Amsterdam. Image courtesy of Erin Li

As part of a series of reflections by our Fellows, we have partnered with ArtReview to publish a collection of writings that will explore and unlock the future of curatorial and research practice. Here, Erin Li, Curatorial Fellow at Whitechapel Gallery 2022, unlocks the potential and power of street dance and how public institutions can learn from it.

In many cities around the world, I have noticed groups of people dancing outside major art spaces: be it Filipino domestic workers practicing TikTok choreography outside the Hong Kong Museum of Art, or house dancers training together alongside the Southbank Centre in London. Yet when I ask them how often they go inside to visit contemporary art exhibitions, oftentimes the answer is seldom or never. Those people are undeniably passionate about one aspect of contemporary culture, but feel distant from another.
It made me think about exactly who art museums think they are programming for? Or, more broadly, what type of people feel welcomed and find resonance in contemporary art exhibitions? Despite the ever-multiplying claims by contemporary art museums around the world with respect to diversifying audiences, why do many still feel deterred by the social barriers of ‘high art’? Could art museums seek inspiration from the street-dance ethos to create more inclusive and dynamic experiences, and better reflect the increasingly fluid (both in terms of the dancing body and the migrating body) and diverse social contexts in which they operate?
Led by my growing fascination with street dance over the past three years, I began to investigate the intersection of street dance and contemporary art in an attempt to dismantle the glass walls separating the institution on one side and disengaged communities on the other.

Click here to read Erin Li's full article for ArtReview, published on 18 November, 2022.