I believe, that as museum professionals, we sometimes fall into the trap of losing perspective on what it is like to not be a part of this world. We sometimes forget that museums are not always these wonderful places where anyone can go to experience them on their own terms. We live in a world of informal education, where the visitor chooses to come and engage in learning on their own terms. But how often do we stop to consider why someone may never want to step foot in a museum, or how their visit may be ruined by what they experience inside?
We could spend pages and pages discussing each demographic of human and what their potential roadblocks to museums may be, the community of those who are not comfortable in museums is a vast and diverse one. There are as many reasons to not come to a museum as there as to go.
The content of museums may feel too rigid, too intellectually or culturally daunting. The interior space might be a source of awe, just as it may instill a sense of dread. Museums may be removed from a physically accessible location, and once inside they might not be the most comfortable to traverse. Our audiences may struggle to approach our institutions as they may be fiscally out of reach, both in literal and societal ways. Professionalism within a space is a blessing and a curse, as is the presence of security guards and established rules. Are we frustrating or boring our audiences with what is presented? The list goes on, and on, and on.
When it comes to these communities who do not wish to be a part of museums, which actions do we take? Do we write them off as awaste of resources and our time? Do we do everything we can to be advocates for them? At what point do we decide to push forward or stop? These are all questions we are forced to ask ourselves. I cannot remember who it was that said, “curators think of the objects, educators think of the audience,” but it resonates strongly with me. It fits into our mantra of object based and audience centered learning, and because of it we absolutely need to be advocates for accessibility.
Museums have done things as simple as replacing the security guard uniforms with khakis and bowties., developing programming that address the needs of your varying audiences, and taking the initiative to study the community around them. We need to continue to remind ourselves and our peers that we are advocates for accessibility and accountability, that we are here to educate our audience, and ourselves in the process, by using the contents of the museum as a lens to push for higher goals in which to better our communities.
We occupy many roles in society, and we should try to be mindful of as many of them as we can. We need to consider our purpose to society, we need to not just consider our current purpose but our role to the public in the future, and constantly study and reflect upon those roles.
We must not lose sight of the museum’s role in society, we must not lose perspective of what it is like to not be a part of this field. It is easy to listen to those who love museums and cater what we offer to them, but we must never forget the voice of those who are not satisfied, as they will lend an honest opinion, for they have nothing to lose. We should be reflecting and engaging in dialogue with our peers and those who are uncomfortable and unsatisfied, following up with them to see if things have changed and pondering on what we can do in the future to be more accessible to our audiences. Please don’t forget what it was like to be an outsider, don’t ever forget those who don’t feel welcome.