Seattle museum cancels ‘Amazon vs Microsoft’ exhibition after backlash over tech and art in city

(Museum of Museums via Instagram)

Plans for a Seattle art exhibition that would have showcased work by employees of Amazon and Microsoft have been called off after backlash from members of the city’s arts community and others on social media.

Museum of Museums, located in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood, put out a call last week for submissions for a show it was titling “Amazon vs Microsoft.” An image on Instagram for the call featured an illustration of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos wearing boxing gloves.

“Collectively, Amazon and Microsoft employ over 1.5 million people,” the Instagram post from MoM read. “Alongside the extreme wealth that often defines these two companies, we believe there is an alternative and equally impressive wealth of artistic talent within their ranks. As an exhibit, Amazon vs Microsoft sets out to highlight and underline the artists working in big tech and recalibrate the narrative around what a tech worker is.”

‘I believe that the strongest arts ecosystem is also the most inclusive one. Tech bros included.’

The museum said the call for submissions was open to employees no matter what their position at the two tech giants or where in the world they worked. Deadline for submissions was Aug. 7, with the exhibition planned for Oct. 7.

Reaction to the idea was swift and not supportive as many seemed to tap into the notion that art is a struggling endeavor in Seattle chiefly because of tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft and what they have done to the landscape of access and affordability in recent years. Comments on Instagram included:

  • “This is gross and responses are weird. ‘if we give THEM a platform maybe they’ll help US and we can start a dialog.’ the dialog already exists and these corporations aren’t interested.”
  • “Massive flop idea, yikes! Imagine being an art museum in 2022 able to uplift anyone and we pick… tech workers???”
  • “I understand there are blue collar employees at both companies, but I’m not sure giving some of the top earners in the city yet another platform is the way to do this.”
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Three days later, the idea was scuttled.

Museum of Museums in Seattle. (Museum of Museums Photo)

In a new Instagram post on Monday, MoM Director Greg Lundgren said the museum was listening, that the call for submissions was cancelled and “Amazon vs Microsoft” would not return in the future.

“I believe that the strongest arts ecosystem is also the most inclusive one. Tech bros included,” Lundgren wrote. “Poor people, rich people, people with shared ideals and people with strange ideas. Everyone.

“Seattle is getting more expensive by the day and a healthy arts ecosystem in this city requires financial support and lots of it,” he continued. “So yes, I tried, one more time, to connect the disconnected, to try and strengthen our arts economy the only way I knew how.”

Lundgren said that he heard “loud and clear” that the exhibition was not the way to have a conversation “around art, wealth and the future cultural landscape of our city” and that “big tech should not be viewed as the underwriters of our future health and vibrancy.”

Museum of Museums opened in 2020 in a renovated medical building at 900 Boylston Ave. There are formal exhibition spaces, rotating installations, a theater, weekly art classes, pop-ups, and a gift shop.

The museum’s mission, as stated on its website, is “to increase the artist population of Seattle and inspire our local arts ecosystem through exhibition, education, and conversation about the role of the artist, philanthropist and collector.”

Like many tech companies, Microsoft and Amazon are not shy about exhibiting artwork or commissioning pieces and murals for their own office buildings. Microsoft’s robust art collection, first started in 1987, is managed by a team of fine art consultants.

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Amazon hosts an “Artist in Residence” program designed to support the arts community by providing additional exposure to local and emerging artists. The residency provides artists the resources and space where they can “think big, inspire, and create ambitious projects.”

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