With the subject line “Announcing a Ground-breaking Initiative for Racial Equity,” a news release purportedly from the Seattle Art Museum went out to members of the media Monday morning declaring that the museum board would “dissolve the SAM corporation by 2022, transferring all assets and endowments to a trust governed by a coalition of local BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) art organizations.”
The release, sent from an email address that appeared to be the same as that used by the organization’s public-relations department, looked like the real thing — but it was fake.
It said as much at the bottom, with a paragraph starting with, “This is a work of speculative fiction. Facts and quotations are invented.” But by the afternoon, the Puget Sound Business Journal published a story from the fake news release, which then circulated on social media.
Within hours, the newspaper pulled the story and issued a correction, apologizing for the error. It is not yet known who created the fake news release.
Coming in the wake of what it said was a period of “national mourning and struggle,” the fake release said SAM would be inviting POC arts organizations listed on its website’s Black Lives Matter “Message of Solidarity” to lead the effort for redistribution of SAM’s resources.
One of the Black-led arts organizations named in the message, Wa Na Wari, was taken off guard by the experience.
Wa Na Wari co-founder Elisheba Johnson said she spent the day fielding calls and questions about the email and story and trying to figure out for herself what was true. At first, she said, she felt hope.
“As a community we’ve been so underfunded that it’s hard to believe it at first, but then you start dreaming,” she said. But then after finding out it was not real, she said the prospect of the museum doing things in a radically different way was exciting to consider. “Fiction or not, it’s actually calling on us as a community to rethink how people engage with art and culture and how we can all work together in community and what a shared wealth framework would look like.”
SAM posted a statement Monday afternoon calling the fake news release a “well-done piece of satire,” and said that the museum appreciates the “spirit of calling for change. SAM is dedicated to creating structural change within its institution — please rest assured that this beloved institution will remain.”