Beginning in 2010 with a project bearing the enigmatic title of the “Institute for Human Activities,” the Dutch artist Renzo Martens has been working on an effort to “gentrify the jungle,” raising funds for sustainable development through leveraging the cultural cachet of poor agricultural laborers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the project has been variously read as puzzling, quixotic, cynical, and visually unsatisfying, it resonates tellingly with much of the work done in the areas of social practice, political art, and progressive art education. In this article, I draw connections between Martens’s project and my own work as a White teacher working with low-income students of color in Chicago, and the difficulty of collaborating culturally from a place of both institutional authority and racial privilege. I focus specifically on Imagine Lakeside, a display of student work critiquing a neighborhood redevelopment initiative; on PROM, a show that I organized, of unorthodox student work curated by several art teachers; and on White Feelings, a group show of adult artists that I curated more recently while pursuing my PhD. My goal is to raise more general points about the parallel political implications of being a White practitioner in the world of fine art and in art education.

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