The research for this book began in 1978 when I was hired as a high school in-
tern at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was placed in the museum’s Community
Programs Department, created in 1970 to engage a wider public in the aftermath
of the catastrophic exhibition Harlem on My Mind. The exhibition had been held
in 1969 but, nine years later, was still fresh in the minds of the museum’s staff
members, and saying the words “Harlem on my mind” was like uttering an obscen-
ity. I didn’t know anything about the show or understand why it provoked such
consternation, but even as a high school student, I could see that the Commu-
nity Programs Department had an uneasy relationship to both the communities of
New York City that it was meant to serve and the rest of the museum. Our offices
were located in the museum’s basement off a long, stark corridor. The exhibitions
we mounted—of artworks created at social ser vice organizations, such as se nior
citizens’ centers— were mainly seen by the groups of schoolchildren who entered
through the museum’s side door. Two months after I began my internship Philippe
de Montebello was appointed as the museum’s director, succeeding Thomas P. F.
Hoving, who had served since 1967. The Community Programs Department was
disbanded. This ending reflected a broader shift in American social values and
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