FAQs

Our open letter was a rallying cry: a moment to come together and to speak out, loudly and in public. It was a first step. We’ve received questions, criticisms, curiosities, and concerns. As we begin to move forward, we offer some responses to this feedback.

The art world and market are marked by a lack of transparency. Against this, we want to make our structure, process, and aims clear. We welcome thoughts, suggestions, and contributions, and invite you to email us at wernotsurprised@gmail.com. Members of WANS rotate in shifts to monitor and answer emails.

 

WHO IS WE ARE NOT SURPRISED (WANS)? HOW DO YOU WORK?

WANS began when a small number of artists and art workers connected via WhatsApp to talk about sexual harassment and abuse in the art world. As the conversation grew in intensity, we invited friends and colleagues to join. Overnight, we found we’d become a collective of 100+ women, transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people living in all time zones, working in all areas of the art world.

The conversation between us suddenly became the most important, urgent thing in many of our lives. We continue to work around the clock to respond in real time. WANS includes people from Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, Greece, Iran, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Puerto Rico, among others. We are from different generations and occupy various professional, economic, and social positions.

WANS uses nonhierarchical, horizontal communication and decision-making processes. Because we exist in many different time zones, our conversations happen 24/7, and communication within the group can be complex. This challenge helps us keep aware of our internal power dynamics.

We’ve decided against listing the original organisers by name, as we want to emphasize our collective voice, in anticipation of others joining the conversation. This document, like the open letter, has been conceived, written, and edited by a large portion of our group, across different continents, by art workers at all levels. Some of us spoke to the press in order to get our message out, whilst others worked behind the scenes, each using our different skillsets.

There is no single collective experience. In our conversations and writing process, we maintain space for disagreement, debate, and differences, whilst working together to find common ground.

 

HOW CAN I JOIN WANS?

We are extending and opening the collective to new volunteers and contributors, and actively seek to diversify WANS. If you would like to learn more, please email at wernotsurprised@gmail.com.

 

ARE YOU ADDRESSING DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION?

We’re trying, and we’re taking feedback on this question very seriously.

The original organizers come from a wide range of backgrounds, and occupy a wide range of roles and positions in the art world. Despite this, the original network, which grew organically over the course of 72 hours, in many ways reproduced power structures relating to class, gender identity, legacies of colonialism, race, sexual identity, and whiteness, both among contributors and signees. Many of us are white, from Europe and the United States, and working in established institutions. We will actively seek to change these demographics in our next steps.

In the past, cis white feminists have used people of color and queer people as stepping stones, to achieve goals that explicitly excluded justice for non-cis, non-white people. Often, this reality is obscured by “diversity lip service”—all talk, with no real commitments made by people with power to step back and forefront other voices.

WANS effort to challenge larger structural problems will not be effective if the group internally reproduces economic, gendered, institutional, racial, and sexual power hierarchies. To address this:

  1. We are extending and opening the collective to new volunteers and contributors, and actively seek to diversify WANS. If you would like to learn more, please email us at wernotsurprised@gmail.com.
  2. We are decentralizing efforts and holding public meetings, to establish working groups in various locations internationally, so that more people can become involved in forthcoming initiatives. If you are interested in hosting a meeting, or would like more information on the different regional chapters, or activity in your city, please contact us at wernotsurprised@gmail.com.
  3. We aim to develop strategies to ensure that we can effectively support and represent those most affected by the abuse of power and systemic violence. We work from the understanding that experiences of sexual harassment and abuse of power are interlinked with ability, age, class, economic situation, gender, nationality, race, sexual orientation, and other factors.

The open letter has been translated into Albanian, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish. Translations are underway in Arabic, Farsi, Georgian, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and more coming soon.

We want your feedback. You can contact us directly at wernotsurprised@gmail.com or on social media using #WANSfeedback.

 

WHAT WILL YOUR NEXT STEPS BE?

Change is not easy, and our goals cannot be accomplished overnight. We are at the very beginning of an undertaking that will involve awareness raising, community building, discussion, and strategic actions. Our website will be consistently updated to keep you aware of these efforts.

We are overwhelmed and moved by the 9500+ signatures our open letter received in two days. As a group, we are listening to responses to the letter and actively strategizing our next steps.

Taking feedback into account, we have identified the following priorities:

  • To decentralize our efforts to tackle region-specific concerns, allowing current and new members to address problems in their immediate communities.
  • To ensure confidentiality through a robust security system.
  • How we help and support victims of sexual harassment and abuse, providing them with reliable resources based on their particular needs.
  • Find methods to develop safer working environments in the international arts community, with the aim of implementing an industry-wide code of conduct, with workplace guidelines, to be used by artists, businesses, freelance workers, institutions, interns, and students.

This last point is of particular, long-term importance. In order to work effectively, and enact lasting change, we are currently focusing on the first three points. We do not want to risk the safety of victims, or the strength of our collective project, by skipping or rushing through these initial steps.

Right now, we would like to talk about the following questions. Join our discussion via email at wernotsurprised@gmail.com, or on social media using the hashtag #WANSfeedback.

What should we do with testimonials of sexual harassment or denouncements of abusers? How can art world institutions and networks put guidelines in place to allow individuals to come forward safely and with necessary support? How can we, as a group, help this happen?

How do we define wider endemic and systemic problems like discrimination, misogyny, and racism? How can an industry-wide code of conduct best work to address these issues? How can we pressure art world institutions to employ anti-racist, feminist, and non-abusive practices not only in theory—by publishing an article with feminist, anti-racist content—but in practice. How can we influence economic and material ramifications: for example, by ending pay discrimination, or devoting advertising in a magazine to exhibitions by people of color, trans and gender non-conforming, women, and exhibitions not taking place in major cities? How can people with influence in art institutions shift their actions in accordance with these goals?

We are committed to fair labor practices and want to work ethically and sustainably. We are currently staffed entirely by volunteers. We’re strategizing how to pay fair wages to members who help us maintain vital infrastructure, such as this website.

 

WHAT IS YOUR TIMELINE?

Our letter was the first public step. Inclusive conversation, engaging with feedback, and deliberate action are among our core principles. It is not realistic to move rapidly to align with the speed of the art market and Internet, or the demands of the press. We want to be responsible, and create long-term, sustainable change, rather than capitalizing on short-term visibility.

Like you, we are frustrated by how long it has taken to arrive even at this point. We’re also frustrated by the current lack of tools and resources to combat sexual harassment and wider abuses of power in our industry. We’re working collectively to create these tools and resources. Your signature is a show of trust that we don’t take lightly.

Over the next month, we will:

  1. Hold open meetings internationally to discuss local and industry-wide concerns, focusing on abovementioned priorities and developing regional goals.
  2. Find ways for new members to join WANS, actively reaching out to people who have expressed interest, and focusing efforts on appealing to members from currently underrepresented positions.
  3. Develop a secure, confidential system by which to communicate with survivors and victims.
  4. Develop an industry-wide code of conduct and begin to encourage institutions to publicly adopt these guidelines; work with institutions to ensure that the guidelines are followed and upheld.

 

CAN I HELP WANS IN THE MEANTIME?

If you are a mental health or legal professional with expertise in sexual harassment and abuse, and can offer support, please contact us.

If you are interested in joining our network, or want to organize/attend a local meeting, please contact us at wernotsurprised@gmail.com.

 

I NO LONGER AGREE WITH THE OPEN LETTER AND WOULD LIKE TO REMOVE MY NAME. WHAT CAN I DO?

You can remove your signature from the open letter at any time by notifying us over email. We do not want you to feel misrepresented.

We recognize the difference between the solidarity expressed by signing the letter, and the ability for all signatories to participate in next phases of action. You can speak to us about your concerns via email at wernotsurprised@gmail.com or on social media using #WANSfeedback. A member of WANS will respond within 48 hours.

Information on this website, including the list of signatories, is updated as we incorporate feedback. We pledge to take criticism into account, and to foster a structure that includes and embraces public feedback.

 

MY ABUSER SIGNED THE OPEN LETTER. CAN THEY BE REMOVED?

We are genuinely sorry to hear about your experience(s), and regret that this person signed the letter. Many of us at WANS are experiencing the same situation and would similarly like our abusers’ names removed. Because removing signatures could have unexpected legal and interpersonal ramifications, we have consulted legal and mental health professionals to offer advice on this issue. Please be assured that we are taking requests to remove names of abusers very seriously, and are establishing a responsible way to do this.

We are primarily concerned with the safety of victims of sexual harassment and abuse who want to come forward. We do not want to make things worse for those currently in abusive situations. If you are currently pursuing a legal case, we do not want to endanger this. Unfortunately, we cannot be involved in individual cases until we are adequately equipped to provide appropriate security and resources. We are actively working toward these goals.

 

I READ THE DEFINITION OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND AM WORRIED I HAVE DONE SOME OF THESE THINGS

If, upon reviewing our definition of sexual harassment and abuse, you believe you may have contributed to, or participated in, an instance of sexual harassment or an abuse of power, we urge you to reflect critically and seriously on this. If you have participated in abuse or harassment, or have been accused of abuse or harassment, we strongly recommend that you remove your name from the list of signatures. If you want to be an ally in the future, the best way to do so is to recognize your participation in the problem, and to change on a personal level. We urge you to contact us for resources and support in taking this step at wernotsurprised@gmail.com.

 

I DIDN’T HEAR ABOUT THIS UNTIL NOW, HOW CAN I SIGN?

Due to overwhelming response (we have 9,500+ signatures!) and because this is an exclusively volunteer-driven undertaking, we closed the open letter to further signatures. Our team needed time to process, copy edit, format, and fact-check all signatories. Moving beyond the open letter, we are now working toward the next steps and action items that have been generated in this conversation. We are awed by your response and encourage you to participate via social media, joining our network, participating in a local meeting, or emailing us.

 

MY NAME IS MISSPELLED, I WANT MY AFFILIATION REMOVED, I SEE AN ERROR ON THE LIST

Contact us directly via wernotsurprised@gmail.com.

 

I’M A CISGENDER MAN. WHY WASN’T I INCLUDED FROM THE BEGINNING?

Whether you are newly committed to anti-sexual abuse work or a longtime ally: thank you for your solidarity.

We decided to first extend the opportunity to sign to gender nonconforming, nonbinary, trans people, and women. The intention behind this was not to exclude you, but to make solidarity in numbers, and the amount of work done by our network, visible. In addition to signing the letter, we urge you to continue to think with us about the work you can do to fight sexual harassment and abuse of power in your own life.

We’re happy you’ve stepped forward and heard our appeal for commitment to action. We recognize that you may have also suffered from abuse and/or harassment. We welcome your reflection, feedback, experiences, and questions with the hope that we can all be an integral and equal part in moving forward without harassment, systemic abuse, and discrimination.

We want to create safer working environments in the art industry for people of all ability, age, class, economic situation, gender, nationality, race, and sexual orientation.

 

I HAVE A TESTIMONIAL I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE, OR SOMEONE I WANT TO REPORT.

We have been receiving testimonials and reports via email. We are labeling and archiving them until we understand the best and safest route to support this significant aspect. WANS needs professional advice in order to best support you. We will come back to you when we know the most safe, legal, and effective way to deal with testimonials of abuse and harassment. We hear you, we see you, and we thank you for your enormous courage.

 

LINKS TO ORGANIZATIONS THAT CAN PROVIDE HELP

Organizations and professionals doing this work are regionally specific. We do not currently represent all regions or know where you are, so please send us your recommendations for reliable resources.