Fig. 6 from the 2015 Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey

After AAM: Recent readings on diversity, equity and inclusion in museums

Last week the massive annual American Alliance of Museums conference and Expo was held in St. Louis. Museum folk just call it AAM. This year I followed from afar, via twitter, using the hashtags #AAM2017 and #AAMSMJ. It was clear from twitter, and from talking to colleagues that attended, that many people genuinely engaged with year’s AAM themeGateways for Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in Museums.

The AAM theme was announced during the recent American election campaign, but before the outcome. These words mean different things in different places. I am new to America, a non-immigrant/resident alien who moved to the Bay Area in 2013, and I don’t properly understand what these words mean here. I don’t have the history, the schooling or the experience to understand these factors in the American branch of the museum family. I’m also white, male and university educated, in a country whose structures are explicitly designed to preference and benefit people like me.

Encouraged by peers and colleagues I’ve been asking questions, attending conferences, going to meetings and reading as much as I can. My attempts to understand these issues, and make changes in my practice, are (at best) an exercise in muddling through. Like many in the sector, I’m aware that change is desperately needed, even tho my personal attempts have largely been unsuccessful. I hope to be a resource for colleagues, peers, collaborators and students in the future, however right now all I can offer are some resources that have been influential on me.

A dozen articles that challenge & inspire:

  1. Porchia Moore writing about the Danger of “D” word for Incluseum (Jan 2014).
  2. Claire Voon’s piece The Diversity Problem at American Museums Gets a Report in Hyperallergic gives a good summary of the 2015 Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (August 2015).
  3. Pressure mounts for US museums to increase diversity at the top by Hilarie Sheets in The Art Newspaper also draws on the above survey and points to the 2017 AAM conference theme (August 2015).
  4. Language Primer on “Intersectionality” a conversation between Gretchen Jennings and Porchia Moore (April 2016).
  5. Race, Diversity and Politics in Conservation: Our 21st Century Crisis by Sanchita Balachandran, presented at the annual American Institute for Conservation gathering (May 2016).
  6. Mike Murawski’s post The urgency of empathy and social impact in museums includes a lot of great links and references such as the 2013 UK Museums Association project Museums Change Lives (July 2016).
  7. How can museums contribute to dialogue about social justice when we are exemplars of segregation? by Rebecca Herz (July 2016).
  8. Robert Weisberg’s What We in Museums Talk about When We Talk about Diversity (August 2016).
  9. Isaac Kaplan’s editorial for Artsy To Increase Diversity, Museums Need Change from the Front Door to the Boardroom which covers a panel discussion organized by Cool Culture in New York (October 2016).
  10. A checklist for creating anti-oppressive spaces in museums developed by a diverse range of (amazing) folk and was introduced at the 2016 Museum Computer Network conference themed The Human Centered Museum. (December 2016)
  11. We Need to Start Now, Hrag Vartanian’s personal case for the art strike (Jan 2017).
  12. Welcoming New Citizens: A Natural Role for Museums in the Center for the Future of Museum blog, which also hosts the Trends Watch 2017 (Jan 2017).

A few organizations/projects to follow & support:

Incluseum: “The Incluseum advances new ways of being a museum through critical discourse, community building and collaborative practice related to inclusion in museums.”

W.A.G.E.: Working Artists and the Greater Economy is a New York-based activist organization focused on regulating the payment of artist fees by nonprofit art institutions and establishing a sustainable labor relation between artists and the institutions that contract our work.”

Visitors of Color: “We envision this as a space for museum folks to be able to learn from the perspectives of marginalized people. We also see this as a form of activism — giving folks who may not feel safe or welcome in our institutions a little bit of agency in their relationships with museums.”

Museums & Race: “We are a group of museum professionals who are interested in effecting radical change in our field.” Read their Statement of Purpose.

Cultural Heritage Social Change summit: “Cultural heritage organizations, from public libraries and small house museums to globally recognized art and history museums, are in a unique position to foster social change in their local communities...This Summit provides an opportunity to focus on creating and implementing policy and strategy to support cultural equity in our fields.”

The Empathetic Museum: “The Empathetic Museum represents the collective work of museum professionals dedicated to a more inclusive future for the museum industry. We value and advocate for diversity of thought and authentic integration of empathy in museum practice.”

I don’t have answers, I’m still learning what these tough, important questions actually are. What that massive caveat, I believe that the people tasked with preparing our institutions for an uncertain future must acknowledge and engage these issues — as many already are. If you’ve got something I can read, please let me know. Thanks.

Writing on culture, technology, museums and the future. New book ‘The Digital Future of Museums’ out now through Routledge.