Where is the Line Between Relevance and Pandering?

After preciously reading many little bits of Nina Simon’s The Art of Relevance, it was nice to finally sink my teeth into the whole book. One question that stayed with me as I encountered Simon’s work in the past is the title of this post: where is the line between relevance and pandering?

Upon reading the whole book, I was eager to see if/how she addressed it. In short: she doesn’t, at least not directly. I was frustrated because she briefly mentions the issue in her introduction, but then dances around it from that point forward.

I would certainly buy the argument that “community-first program design,” if executed properly, can help prevent (or entirely prevent) pandering being the MO of a cultural nonprofit, but I would like to see that argument made explicitly.

The last time we met as a class, we talked about the ongoing controversy at the Whitney over Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmitt Till. In that case, as far as I can tell, the Whitney tried to be relevant and wound up being called out on insensitive pandering. I would have been pleased if the Art of Relevance had some other examples of institutions aiming for relevance and landing on pandering, as well as analysis of those situations and their pitfalls.

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