Updates

2016 Convening | Reflecting on Museums & Race: Transformation and Justice

Coming to recognize and understand entrenched racism is a difficult and potentially contentious undertaking—but also a necessary step in challenging and transforming the institutional policies and systems that perpetuate structural racism and oppression in museums. To help advance this work, a group of 24 museum professionals came together in Chicago for a three-day convening on race and racism in museums.

The idea for the conveningcalled Museums and Race: Transformation and Justicegrew out of a conversation about museum response to Ferguson that The Museum Group (TMG) hosted during the American Alliance of Museums meeting in Atlanta in April 2015. People there were determined to sustain the momentum, and so a planning team was organized to develop the Chicago convening, with TMG as sponsor.

In small groups and larger discussions, over meals and in the convening lounge, our conversations centered on how to shape, expand, continue this critical dialogue so that it involves many others across the country and in all types of museums. We came from a variety of ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds, age groups, career stages, and museum environments, and that variety made for rich and frank exchange. “I am very appreciative of the thoughtful and intense conversations with individuals and within the group, the commitment to the work, the shared resources, the poems, the chocolate, donuts, biscuits, and cake,” said one participant. “I am looking forward to including others to expand the group and spread the word.”

Here’s what a few other participants had to say about the value of the convening:

  • Professional practice, scholarship, and museums of color are largely not known by our colleagues. It is important to acknowledge and build on that.
  • There is an urgent need for white museum professionals to address their privilege and role in oppressive systems. People of color bear a large burden when their white colleagues expect them to raise their awareness of racism and oppression.
  • The potential impact of addressing privilege and oppression in spaces where museum professionals assemble (such as association meetings) is great. It can also be a strategic way to affect awareness raising in our white/largely white institutions.
  • [The most valuable part for me was] becoming connected with strong, leading thinkers and practitioners in the field. It was reinforcing to know people are doing active work to raise consciousness in matters of racial and intersectional issues and also to see their action to change the way museums think, act, and behave.
  • It is critical to meet people where they are in their process. Most valuable was the honesty from which people spoke and that people were very generous. Although some of the conversations were hard, it felt like a safe space for all.

Learn more about other participants’ reactions to their convening experience. Listen to Omar Eaton-Martinez, Daryl Fischer, Porchia Moore, and Brenda Tindal reflect on the convening on the February 16 episode of The Museum Life with Carol Bossert.

 

Taking Action

The convening was not a one-time event, but another step toward building coalitions and partnerships to carry the work forward. Participants initiated immediate and longer-term plans to broaden involvement and galvanize individual and collective action, beginning with a day of sessions on museums and race in TMG’s unconference space on the first day of the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting May 26–29, 2016, in Washington, DC, and fanning out across the country to fall and winter annual conferences of regional museum associations and other professional organizations.

On the convening’s final afternoon, small groups identified three action areas:

  • Research, Resources (Materials), Metrics, and Accountability
  • Social Action and Intervention
  • Influencing AAM and Other Professional Organizations

Mindful of the need to inspire participation, one participant observed that “the enormity of the work still exists. We are a small group who is willing. The proof will remain in how well we do at sustaining the energy and translating it to action.” To help shape the dialogue, generate action, and influence change, join the conversation by sharing your thoughts here or by contacting us.

 

Learn more about Museums & Race:

Statement of Purpose

Reading List

Chicago Participants

Frequently Asked Questions

The Museum Group

2016 Convening | What Participants Said about Museums & Race

What participants learned that was most valuable

  • That professional practice, scholarship, and museums of color are largely notknown by our colleagues. It is important to acknowledge and build on that.
  • There is an urgent need for white museum professionals to address their privilege and role in oppressive systems. People of color bear a large burden when their white colleagues expect them to raise their awareness of racism and oppression.
  • The potential impact of addressing privilege and oppression in spaces where museum professionals assemble (such as association meetings) is great. It can also be a strategic way to effect awareness-raising in our white/largely white institutions.
  • Becoming connected with strong, leading thinkers and practitioners in the field. It was reinforcing to know people are doing active work to raise consciousness in matters of racial and intersectional issues and also to see their action to change the way museums think, act, and behave.
  • It is critical to meet people where they are in their process. Most valuable was the honesty from which people spoke and that people were very generous. Although some of the conversations were hard, it felt like a safe space for all.

 

What participants considered the most effective part of the convening

  • Small group discussions with report backs to big group. These were fruitful and we were able to work through our ideas and differences of opinion swiftly and with what felt like a lot of compassion. It also gave us more time to get to know one another.
  • Getting the tough stuff out and moving through it while also taking time and space to process.
  • Everyone was participating with the understanding that they were expecting to continue and be assigned roles in these actions post-convening. There was a great deal of ownership. Concrete action began even before everyone left on Wednesday.
  • The wonderful range of experiences and professional settings, age, gender, race and points of view which were expressed with tact and humility and supported by real listening.
  • Meeting others who care about the same issue.
  • The ice-breaker round robin. It was a great way to get to know something more deeply significant about our colleagues. We had one-on-one short conversations with one another, changing conversation partners for each prompt. The prompts were:
    • A person I admire and why 
    • An experience in my life that had a profound effect on me was… 
    • A quality I look for in a friend and why 
    • If you knew me well, you’d know that I….
    • What I would need from this group to feel that I could be honest with you is…

 

The value of the convening to the participants

  • It clarified what my institution should prioritize in capacity building, professional development and leadership at all levels.
  • To see generational differences in how people approach the topics, hurts that needed to be expressed, limited views that remain and make moving on difficult, etc.
  • To meet with others who had a collective expectation that we were present in order to move anti-racist work forward in the field.
  • To feel a strong sense of community with people I had never met before.
  • The amount of planning we were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time was incredible. I was reminded of the power of collective action and also the ways we are held back when we work in silos.
  • Realistic understanding that the enormity of the work still exists -we are a small group who is willing – the proof will remain in how well we do at sustaining the energy and translating it to action.
  • We do need to get white colleagues in the museum world to recognize the systems of discrimination and racial inequity in museums.
  • Some of the major ideas and plans center on the power of our white colleagues to destabilize their own power, and this is great. TMG is amazing for pulling this all together.
  • There has to be some real, visible shift to lift non-white voices and centerstage their actions as pertinent, necessary, and valuable to white people.
  • It is critical to show how nuanced the impact of polycultural engagements can be. Otherwise, we’re missing the important message that structural racism and inequality harm all of us.
  • I wish there was more time to process some of the findings and come to a more straightforward set of achievable outcomes with strategies and tactics in place.

 

Additional comments to the convening committees

  • We need to be as organized as possible and hold each group accountable by breaking the steps towards impact into bite-sized chunks. If we are to hold museums to metrics of accountability and high outcomes we must first start by holding our own work to the same standards.
  • For TMG—thanks for having the courage to name the issues and to collaborate with emerging thinkers and professionals concerned that previous/current strategies haven’t work/aren’t working/need revision, etc.
  • I hope we can mend fences in real, substantive ways with those who felt left out and make space for many, many more people who are ready with skills and tools already sharpened for the work.

Reading list

The following resources were chosen by members of the Planning Team and by our facilitators. Do you have any to add? Please leave your suggestions in the comments!

Most fall into the following four categories:

  • Oppression (O)
  • White privilege (WP)
  • Intersectionality (I)
  • Institutional Legacies (IL) [Described by Kinsley and Wittman as the larger, historical network of relationships with community groups, funders, collectors, and others that must be reckoned with in order to better understand present-day challenges.]

REQUIRED READINGS

Crenshaw, Kimberle. Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait. (I)

Jones, Kenneth and Tema Okun. (2001). “White Supremacy Culture” (WP)
from Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, ChangeWork

McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. (WP)

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey. (IL)

trivedi, nikhil. Oppression: A Museum Primer. (O)

Welch, John S. “The American Museum as ‘Active Instrument for Social Change.’” (IL) The International Review of African American Art, Vol. 21, No. 4, 2007. (Available as a PDF)

RECOMMENDED READINGS

Oppression

Allen, Danielle. “The real issue at Mizzou and Yale isn’t free speech. It’s social equality.” Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2015.

Rankine, Claudia. (2014). Citizen: An American Lyric. US: Greywolf Press.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. (2015). Between the World and Me. New York: Random House.

Racial Equity Tools

http://www.racialequitytools.org/home

White privilege

Adler-Bell, Sam. (2015). Why White People Freak Out When They’re Called Out About Race.

Biss, Eula. “White Debt: Reckoning with what is owed—and what can never be repaid—for racial privilege.”

Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism.

Diangelo, Robin. (2015). Eleven Ways White America Avoids Taking Responsibility for Racism.

Kristof, Nicholas. (2014). When Whites Just Don’t Get It.

Metta, John. (2015). I, Racist.

Mitchell, Robert. “Yale professor examines unconscious biases by whites.” Harvard Gazette, Dec. 7, 2015.

Moore, Porchia.  Incluseum blog.  The Danger of the D Word.

Intersectionality

Dover, Tessa L., Cheryl R. Kaiser, and Brenda Major. “Diversity Policies Don’t Help Women or Minorities, and They Make White Men Feel Threatened.” Harvard Business Review, Jan. 4, 2016.

McAfee, Melonyce. “‘Identity’ is the Dictionary.com 2015 word of the year.” CNN, Dec. 8, 2015.

Institutional Legacies

Adams, Marianna, & Judy Koke. (2014). Stuck is where you need to pay attention: Some barriers to creating truly inclusive art museums. In J.B. Acuff & L. Evans, Eds. Multiculturalism in art museums today. London: Rowman and Littlefield. (Available as a PDF)

Association of Art Museum Directors, “United Negro College Fund and Association of Art Museum Directors Launch Second Phase of Pilot Program to Foster Diversity in the Next Generation of Museum Professionals.” Press release, Nov. 17, 2015.

Brown, Aleia. (2015) The Confederate Flag Doesn’t Belong in a Museum

Cole, Johnetta Betsch. “Keep Moving Forward,” Excerpts from 2015 AAM keynote address. Museum, January 2016, 26-32.

Interview with Darren Walker & Agnes Gund on diversity in museums.

Ivy, Nicole. “The Labor of Diversity,” Museum, January 2016, 36-39.

Jennings, Gretchen. “The #museumsrespondtoFerguson Initiative, a Necessary Conversation,”

Museums & Social Issues, Vol. 10 No. 2, October, 2015, 97–105. (Available as a PDF)

Kinsley, Rose Paquet and Aletheia Wittman. “Bringing Self-Examination to the Center of Social Justice Work in Museums,” Museum, January 2016, 40-45.

Le, Vu. (2015). Waiting for unicorns: The supply and demand of diversity and inclusion.

Powerful #Codewords essay by Aleia Brown and Adrianne Russell

Sandell, Richard, and Eithne Nightingale, Eds. (2013). Museums, Equality and Social Justice, 21 essays by academics and practitioners. With a foreword by Mark O’Neill and Lois Silverman.

Steinhauer, Jillian. “New Fellowship Aims to Diversity Museum Curatorial Ranks,” Hyperallergic, Jan. 13, 2014.

Wittman, Aletheia. “Diversity and Inclusion in the 21st Century Workshop Reflection.” Incluseum post, Oct. 9, 2015.

Youngs, Renae, Christopher Leitch, & Michael Lesperance. “Setting the Standard for LGBTQ Inclusion,” Museum, January 2016, 33-34.

Museum social media that regularly address issues of race, equity, social justice

https://adriannerussell.wordpress.com/

http://beautifultrouble.org/ A book, web toolbox, and international network of artist-activist trainers.

http://cbreaux.blogspot.com/

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html Includes implicit bias tests for Blacks, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Arab-Muslims as well as other demographics.

http://www.incluseum.com

http://www.museumcommons.com

http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/

http://uncatalogedmuseum.blogspot.com/

#MuseumsRespondtoFerguson Twitter chat on third Wednesday of each month

#MuseumWorkersSpeak Twitter chat on first Monday of each month