Category Archives: Uncategorized

Multilingualism in Museums – Why not?

As museum educators, we hope to be advocates of accessibility, accountability, and diversity. But often diversity is subjected to solely ideas of race or gender equal representations, and the idea of diverse languages is often forgotten. There are many studies on how people group themselves ethnically based off the languages they speak, so shouldn’t those ethnic groups that make up a large part of our population be actively represented?

In my presentation today, I gave a lot of statistics on how the multilingual community is expanding and, arguably, will continue to expand for the rest of our lives. But I didn’t get a chance to discuss why this audience is often overlooked here in the states….And frankly, I couldn’t tell you why. I personally cannot come up with any reason why a museum wouldn’t want to advocate for this audience without exposing the state of ignorance American museums seem to be in.

Take the Philadelphia Museum of Art, for example:
In 2017, they held an exhibition jointly created with the Palacio de Bellas Artes of Mexico City  entitled, Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910–1950The museum was more than happy to create the exhibition catalog with the collaboration of seven American and seven Mexican authors that was available in the gift shop for a whopping $65 in both English and Spanish editions. So clearly, the museum saw how incorporating other languages would be beneficial and of course profitable (which is what a lot of museum board decisions are made about, unfortunately). Yet, despite the Latinx community representing 13% of Philadelphia’s population, there was not a single effort to include any exhibition text (wall text, titles, labels, nada) in Spanish.  Also, I must mention that the exhibit was going to move to Mexico City afterwards and all the text translations into Spanish were already made for when the exhibit arrived in Mexico. So why wouldn’t they include the Spanish text at the showing in America? As the author of the article put it, “PMA’s decision strikes me as deeply flawed.”

It just doesn’t make sense to me. The museum clearly knew having the exhibition catalog in Spanish was profitable, yet didn’t think that making the exhibit accessible to Spanish speakers (who already exist in the community) would also bring in more profit for the museum. With an adult ticket price of $20, adding Spanish text for Philli’s Latinx community could have easily driven up profits. But take away the money aspect and look at it this way—by having the text in another language you are reaching out to your community, acknowledging them, and empowering them with a deeper learning experience because the information is being presented in a way that makes relatable connections to more of your audience and fosters better understanding because it is in a language they are more comfortable in communicating with.

I get it. Advocating for this kind of accessibility and diversity can be daunting, and museums in America are making some effort now, but the fact is that multilingualism in museums outside of the United States has been happening for a very long time. Even the small, low-funded museums have been able to provide some sort of language accessible resource for their audiences for years. We’re in the final months of 2018; there is no excuse now that big name institutions, such as PMA, cannot accomplish such a task.

So with this, I leave you with a final thought: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein


For further reading:
  1. https://hyperallergic.com/349017/the-challenge-of-making-us-museums-multilingual/
  2. https://blog.artculturetranslated.com/index.php/2017/10/25/the-multilingual-museum-how-museums-are-tackling-the-objective-of-engaging-multilingual-audiences/
  3. https://www.guggenheim.org/blogs/checklist/museums-share-their-best-practices-for-reaching-multilingual-audiences
  4. https://www.guggenheim.org/blogs/checklist/can-museums-reach-multilingual-audiences-2
  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/19/arts/artsspecial/museums-flex-their-multilingual-multicultural-muscles.html
  6. https://medium.com/public-engagement-forum/no-one-is-asking-for-it-reflections-on-multiling%C3%BCelandia-a-public-engagement-residency-with-c11f59452c00

Professional Archaeologists as Museum Educators

While the definition of an archaeologist is “People who study human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains” (Dictionary.com, 2018), I see this group of dedicated scientists as museum educators.

Image result for archaeologists at work

https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120129/environment/Archaeological-services-provided-by-environmental-consultancy-firm.404280

To explain,  I am going to talk about the RPA’s (Register of Professional Archaeologists) Code of Conduct for this group. The RPA recognizes that archaeologists have several different responsibilities to different groups of people, such as to the public, colleagues, employees, students, employers and clients. While all theses groups are important, I am going to focus solely on the public as the audience. The responsibilities listed in the Code of Conduct for the RPA is as follows:

An archaeologist shall:

  1. Recognize a commitment to represent Archaeology and its research results to the public in a responsible manner;
  2. Actively support conservation of the archaeological resource base;
  3. Be sensitive to, and respect the legitimate concerns of, groups whose culture histories are the subjects of archaeological investigations;
  4. Avoid and discourage exaggerated, misleading, or unwarranted statements about archaeological matters that might induce others to engage in unethical or illegal activity;
  5. Support and comply with the terms of the UNESCO Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export, and transfer of ownership of cultural property, as adopted by the General Conference, 14 November 1970, Paris.

An archaeologist shall not:

  1. Engage in any illegal or unethical conduct involving archaeological matters or knowingly permit the use of his/her name in support of any illegal or unethical activity involving archaeological matters
  2. Give a professional opinion, make a public report, or give legal testimony involving archaeological matters without being as thoroughly informed as might reasonably be expected
  3. Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation about archaeological matters
  4. Undertake any research that affects the archaeological resource base for which she/he is not qualified.
  5. Knowingly be involved in the recovery or excavation of artifacts for commercial exploitation, or knowingly be employed by or knowingly contract with an individual or entity who recovers or excavates archaeological artifacts for commercial exploitation.

Image result for register of professional archaeologists

https://rpanet.org/page/RPACodeSexualHarassm

Now you’re probably thinking how does this related to museum educators. Well let me summarize this idea for you. Archaeologists spend their time conducting researching and making artifacts available to those who want to know more about a different culture. So now I ask you: Does this make archaeologists fit to be museum educators?

Image result for Archaeologists in the classroom

https://news.brown.edu/articles/2012/04/archaeologist

My personal opinion on this question is yes. Not just because I have a degree in archaeology, but because I have studied under many well respected archaeologists. They taught me that as an archaeologist, it’s our duty to educate the uneducated about topics you are passionate in.

Having discussed with my friends, I have come to realize that my opinion is missing one crucial part. The way the information is presented to the audience in a museum, which is where the museum educator comes in. As a museum educator, their responsibility is not only to educate the public but to make the museum experience available and personal to all people (kids, adults, elderly, veterans, etc.) While an archeologist has the history knowledge, most might lack the proper way to educate different audience.

When these two professional educators (archaeologists and museum educators) work together, there should always be a level of respect for the other. Not only in opinion and experience but respect for the others profession. By respecting each others profession, the two will be able work together to get information to the pubic in any form and to any age of audience.

To get to the stage of working together there is an excellent idea that can be used nationwide and even worldwide. The idea of a professional workshop, where these two professionals can work together to help the other understand what their profession is all about and how they get the necessary information to the necessary audience.

 

 

 

Audiences with Down Syndrome

“I would like my son to be included in mainstream society. Not tucked away.” I don’t know about you but this statement sounds like an opportunity. The parent is expressing a need and a concern for their 4-year-old with Down Syndrome to be a part of the community. And there are many others who would like to join him, in the United States about 6,000 babies are born with Down Syndrome each year. But this number is expected to rise.

While the actual cause for the extra chromosome 21, is still unknown there is one factor that’s been determined to have an increased chance of Down Syndrome in a pregnancy, maternal age. According to the National Down Syndrome Society (ndss), a 35-year-old woman has about a one in 350 chance of conceiving a child with Down syndrome, this chance increases gradually to 1 in 100 by age 40. At age 45 the incidence becomes approximately 1 in 30. Many couples are now postponing having children until later in life and therefore this audience of individuals with Down Syndrome is expected to increase.

As this community grows so does the opportunities for museums. The statement above is representative of the feelings of many parents of children with Down Syndrome. They want inclusion. As they should, especially since studies have shown that children with Down Syndrome that are included in classrooms benefits not only them but their classmates as well. These same benefits could be felt if the museum has similar inclusion in programming.

When planning programming there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, that while people with Down Syndrome do have cognitive delays it “is not indicative of the many strengths and talents that each individual possesses” (ndss). They understand more than you may think and have their own unique personalities, skills, and interests.

Keep in mind as well that with Down Syndrome they have low muscle tone, which is what can make it difficult to communicate, not having those muscles in the jaw, and to do some fine motor skill activities. Generally, if you plan on having an activity that is a little more intensive or complex, have it early on when energy is highest. Those with Down Syndrome also tend to be visual learners. Which is great because museums tend to be visual places. By having something to look at and tie the information too, the lesson becomes more accessible. Don’t be afraid of repetition, since there tends to be struggles with memory, by returning to the overall lesson it will be a lot easier to grasp the information as a whole.

Picture1Museums have a few different directions they can take when it comes to best serving this population. One would be to provide inclusive activities for children. A great example is the Creative Discovery Museum in Tennessee and their Club Discoveryprogramming. It’s after-school and free for ages 6-12 but their main focus is that it’s available for kids of all abilities. This is a great method for inclusion by making sure that everyone is welcome. In this program they practice life skills “in a community setting as children sing together, move together, play games together, and cook together.” While they do have themes for each session they make sure the programming is engaging for all involved.

There is also potential for museums to engage with individuals that are older with Down Syndrome. According to ndss, with medical developments 80% of adults with Down Syndrome will at least reach age 60. Because of this expanded life expectancy, the transition period becomes all the more important. The transition period is generally after graduating high school. Figuring out the next steps in life and growing in independence. There isn’t a plateau or slowdown in learning new skills and knowledge when these individuals grow older either. They are still capable. This period is very difficult though because there is no set system or plan for everyone and depends heavily on the individual and their family deciding the next path. It’s essential though to build up confidence and self-esteem.

One way that museums could engage in this period is by providing social opportunities. By perhaps reaching out to the local down syndrome communities (there are a lot of parent groups) or schools and then finding ways to provide this organized setting. Everyone benefits from having somewhere to go and people to see, the same is said for those with Down Syndrome especially during this time.

Another possibility is working to build those skills that are essential for independence and growth. ESMoA and Mychal’s Learning Placehave collaborated to create an excellent example of this. Mychal’s Learning Place is a place for children and adults with Down Syndrome to gain skills and knowledge and create a P2I (Path to Independence). With their P2I they nominate 2 individuals to participate in a seven-month long internship. During this time, they coteach/guide on tours, help with programming, etc. This opportunity to actually work in a museum is excellent to gain and expand these practical skills. And also, to add another perspective to the museum staff.Picture2

 

As the population of those with Down Syndrome grows, museums can become essential institutions that fill the various needs of these individuals, through conscientious planning, collaboration and outreach.

References and Resources:

Advocating for Active Aging: Working with Older Adult Audiences

What does it mean to be “Old”?  

Are you ready for the wave of ‘seniors’?  As ‘baby boomers’  reach retirement age, the number of Americans over the age of 65 is projected to jump dramatically.  In fact, based on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, the number of Americans over age 65 is projected to almost double from 43 million today to a whopping 83 million by the year 2050.

Projected changes in population demographics

So – as a museum professional – what are you doing to prepare to meet the needs of this formidable group?

Museums have worked tirelessly the last few decades to adjust to new cultural norms and to maintain pace with ever-changing technologies and all audiences have benefitted from these endeavors.  That same energy  should now be focused at least in part, in planning for programming that will meet the needs of older adults.  Not only will the population of 65 plus people grow, but those surviving into their 80’s is also expected to jump dramatically. According to a NEA study entitled, “Surveys of Population Participation in the Arts” , older Americans are healthier today than before and are expected to stay active well int their later years.  Essentially, the number of much older museum patrons will expand greatly.

 

What have the trends in museum visitation been over time?  A study from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences followed museum attendance across decades from 1982 through 2012.  The data clearly showed that the ONLY audience that saw consistent increases in the number people attending art museums or galleries was the 75 and older group!  Ages 18-54 saw an overall decline in this same time frame.

snip of bar graph

The 2006 landmark  “Creativity and Aging Study”  by the late Dr. Gene Cohen, clearly demonstrated that those older individuals who stay actively engaged in formal creative pursuits demonstrated measurable improvement in mental, emotional, and physical health. He said it was time to stop focusing on the problems of ‘old age’ and start focusing on the potential instead.  These creative programs can also help the institutions that host them as they have increased awareness of programs, increased attendance and possibilities for volunteering and even inter-generational audience growth as families visit together.

One leader in programming for ‘senior’ audiences is the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Specifically they developed a well known and very successful program for visitors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia “Meet Me at MoMA”.  Many other museums have followed suit and are now providing programming for seniors with cognitive impairments.
Meet me at Moma snip

These programs are truly wonderful, much needed and honestly a benefit to society, but I am also advocating for programs to meet the needs of individuals who are just simply – ‘older’.  They move a little more slowly, (or with a rollator); their hearing and vision are in decline, but in all other ways they are as vital as ever.  If not for the physical challenge they might be at a museum every day! Off site lectures and visits from museums to senior centers are wonderful and definitely valued, especially for those without access to transportation.  But what I’m hoping for is a push for innovative ‘on site’ programming that meets the needs of our aging population.

One museum that has made real strides in planning for on site ‘senior’ programming is the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina.  Working with a 2013 grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services, (IMLS), they embarked on a 3 year study called the “Creative Aging Initiative”.  They sought to build a more engaging and accessible institution that would enrich the spirit and encourage sociable life long learning.  Their study was a huge success!  They had hoped to moderately increase visitorship and engagement through evaluation and targeted changes but they more than tripled those numbers!  It is clear that putting in the effort to purposely reflect on practice, evaluate goals and methods, and implement new ideas can pay off!

What can museum educators do to meet older adult audiences ‘where they are’?

  • Listen!  Survey! Ask for their input! Ask older adults to serve as advisors.
  • Build strong relationships with local senior centers and retirement communities.
  • Always consider physical comfort: seating, lighting, ambient noise, access to bathrooms, water fountains and/or cafes etc, uncluttered spaces. (Maslow!)
  • Update and improve signage: larger fonts, more contrast, multiple locations (including lower heights for those in wheelchairs).
  • Offer programs during ‘off hours’ much like is done for younger crowds – think “Zoo Brew” but specifically for older adults – perhaps ticketed to keep things from getting too crowded, and staffed with additional volunteers.
  • Look into community assistance programs and/or grants that can help with transportation.
  • Consider the needs of care-givers who may attend events with seniors. Free admission to events etc.
  • As you are able, try to provide some ‘inter-generational’ programsas well.  Many seniors really like visiting with their families. But again – consider liming tickets to such programs so crowds do not become overwhelming.

Some recent good news in this area comes in the form of a press release from the American Alliance of Museums regarding a new initiative, “Seeding Vitality Arts”. Twenty cultural sites from across the nation will endeavor to create new and innovative programming for older adults and to help change societal attitudes towards what it means to age creatively.

We – as museum professionals cannot go wrong if we ask questions, listen to answers and engage directly with the individuals we seek to serve. We have moved, as Dr. Cohen said, “Way beyond Bingo!” and are all the better for it!

References:

https://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1140.pdf

https://www.aam-us.org/2018/09/07/20-museums-tapped-for-initiative-to-create-learning-opportunities-for-older-adults/

https://www.si.edu/Content/opanda/docs/Rpts2006/06.08.ChangingFaces.Final.pdf

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=national+institute+for+aging+videos+healthy+aging&&view=detail&mid=D3F65DDCBC606A516D9BD3F65DDCBC606A516D9B&&FORM=VDRVRV

https://www.aam-us.org/2018/09/07/20-museums-tapped-for-initiative-to-create-learning-opportunities-for-older-adults/

https://www.giarts.org/sites/default/files/Culture-Connects-All_Rethinking-Audiences-in-Times-of-Demographic-Change.pdf

http://www.westmuse.org/articles/engaging-senior-audiences-–-part-ii-community-action-plan

 

The Power of Museums for Incarcerated Individuals

To start it is important to say that in no way should you ever refer to people who are or have been serving a sentence as incarcerated individuals, people should never be labeled, but for the purpose of keeping writing less wordy I will be using the term incarcerated individuals.

After spending three months at the Montgomery County Pre-Release Center, affectionately called PRC, I have seen the power that community has in shaping and changing individuals. I have had the distinct honor of working with the female residents of PRC, who are at the center to finish their sentence and develop a system of support for when they are released from the center and sent back out into their communities, this process is called re-entry. Re-entry can be a difficult process for incarcerated individuals, it is a time of intense transition where all of the restrictions and structure inmates become used to is removed and the individual is often left alone to re-enter their community. For many individuals, after serving their sentence, they are placed on parole however, the overwhelming majority of people state that they do not feel the parole officer supports their re-entry efforts. During re-entry, individuals are faced with many different needs and these needs must be addressed in order to help reduce recidivism, which is when a convicted person re-offends.

recidivism grah.png

A few of the needs of re-entering individuals are:

  • Housing
  • Employment
  • Clothing
  • Mental Health Services
  • Completing or Continuing Education
  • Volunteering
  • Community Meetings (such as AA, NA, or other support groups)
  • Learning 21st Century Skills
  • Family
  • Finding Constructive Outlets

For museum professionals, we can find our role in working with incarcerated individuals through the last five needs on the list. It is my firm belief that museums should be involved with the communities where they reside, and it is vital that museums open themselves to incarcerated individuals. It is my suggestion that museums can open themselves up to serving incarcerated individuals through four ways.

  1. Partner with Correctional Facilities

Correctional facilities can take form in many different ways through prisons, jails (state and local), and re-entry facilities. Re-entry facilities can be unique in that it can either be a center where individuals reside until the end of their sentence, or they are community centers that hold re-entry services. Getting involved with correctional facilities is the best way to find out the needs of the facilities and the incarcerated individuals. Once you have made the connection you can figure out how your organization fits into the mission of the facility. You can also use the facilities as a way to advertise programs that your museum is doing. But, be careful how you choose to advertise, most people will not have access to computers or smart phones, and if they do it is limited access.

  1. Provide Skill Based Programs

Skill based activities and programs are essential to helping an individual get settled and prepared for everyday life after re-entering communities. Having programs that build in computer and technologies learning can make your museum programs relevant for re-entry. It is also helpful to have programs that have job or trade skill learning, but do it in an honest and organic way that works for your museum. Programs that have conversation and dialogue can also be helpful, as many individuals are tasked with working on communication and relationship skills. If your museum has the capacity, it could also be useful to host education classes in the building, as a way for individuals to be acquainted with and get used to the museum building, staff, and environment.

  1. Have Dialogue and Community Connection Opportunities

As stated previously it is important for many individuals who are re-entering to work on conversational skills. Providing opportunities for discussions, whether writing, verbal, or group, can be a wonderful way for people to observe other’s communication styles and find a style that is most comfortable and useful for them. Through these dialogue opportunities, provide times for individuals to work on story-telling. Many incarcerated individuals struggle with talking about themselves and sharing their stories, museums have an opportunity to provide a space to allow people to become comfortable talking about themselves with others over a shared topic or object.

  1. Create Volunteer Opportunities

Being involved in the community and volunteering is an essential part to re-entry for incarcerated individuals. Museums often run off of volunteer work, and opening up the opportunity for incarcerated individuals to be a part of volunteering can be beneficial for everyone. Community volunteer events, research volunteering, public programs, and docent training can be ways that individuals become involved with the museum based on their skills and interests. Having individuals identify and talk about their skills and interests can be a great way to get re-entering people to volunteer in a setting that is structures, comfortable, and beneficial to themselves and their goals.

Overall, museums are in a prime position to be working with incarcerated individuals and become more relevant to their communities. I firmly believe that museums can help to reduce recidivism rates when they become involved in the lives of re-entering individuals. As museum professionals, it is important to remember that every incarcerated person is an individual with different needs and stories, never lump them into a group or stereotype. There is a quote that beautifully sums up the mindset that is essential to having when working with incarcerated individuals “Every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things or make them unimportant.” (Richard Curtis) Working with incarcerated individuals can be a challenging task, and it is important to remain positive and encourage others to remain positive. It is also vital to check your prejudices and understand that everyone is a complex person with good and challenging stories, and in order to truly be a genuine partner working with incarcerated individuals you must have an open heart and an open mind.

References and Resources

Native Youth as Museum Audiences

***Note: This entry uses the term “Native” people to refer broadly to Indigenous people of any part of the world. However, this entry will consider the needs of Native visitors to museums in the context of the United States, focusing on the perspectives of Native peoples of America. 

Native Identity and Representation

Few statistics accurately indicate how many people in the US identify as Native American or Indigenous because of the complex nature of Native identity. The latest US Census reports about 1% of the population being Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander. Although Indigenous people are the original owners and inhabitants of this country, centuries of oppression have worked to erase their existence, even from demographics. The report on the Smithsonian-wide survey of visitors does not even mention Native visitorship, and lumps them into the category of “other races/multiracial.”

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 5.41.09 PM

While the issue of diversity is an institutional one, on an individual level, museum educators should understand that being Native means different things to every person. Issues such as blood quantum, tribal recognition, federal recognition, ancestral vs cultural identity, and mixed heritage make Native identity complicated and personal. Being Native may mean being deeply involved in protecting, teaching and advancing the knowledge and traditions of one’s people(s). Or it may mean being less connected to tribal communities while maintaining unique Native identities in other ways within the larger society. There is no “one way” to be Native. Be mindful by respecting individual preferences for terms of reference.

 

The Native Student Perspective in Museums

In the history of US colonialism, nearly everything has been done to erase Native people from the American narrative, from warfare and disease to assimilatory boarding schools and oppressive legislation. Physical and psychological trauma inflicted on Native people throughout history is inherited by their descendants in the form of pain and distrust toward colonial institutions. This colonial legacy has constrained Native people’s power to represent themselves and practice their own culture, which inhibits some of the fundamental processes of identity-making, especially for Native youth. 

Museums can hold themselves accountable to Native visitors by incorporating culturally-inclusive exhibitions and programs and by confronting the myth of neutrality within museums and other knowledge institutions. A study done with Aboriginal youth in Australian museums showed that young Indigenous people enjoy seeing and connecting with objects from their own cultures in museums, but that they also lack an understanding of what museums did beyond presenting exhibitions, and little awareness of the extent of Aboriginal collections held by museums.

Importantly, this means it is not just white Americans who need to grasp the full scope of Native history, Native people can also benefit from a more just and accurate depiction of their past. Indigenous youth have the curiosity and desire to know more about how the past has influenced contemporary issues and their futures.

 

Seeing Through Their Eyes

Youth in general have challenges facing them for the future, including finding their identity in an uncertain and changing world, social and political change, peer group pressure, as well as employment, health, and education. Museums can cultivate empowerment and illuminate the voices of Indigenous youth through trauma-sensitive creative practice.

Documentary, oral history and visual arts are some of the ways Native youth are already sharing their stories. Providing a platform to self-express Native identity not only benefits the individual and their community, but also allows other young Indigenous people to see stories like theirs represented in museums.

The Identity Project

Creating space in museums for the self-representation of Native folks is a necessary way for museums in the post-colonial era to challenge conventional museological paradigms that locate Indigenous people in the past. Often times, non-Native people also tend to locate Indigenous people “way out there,” on reservations, yet the majority of Native Americans actually live in cities. Inviting tradition and cultural practice into museum spaces in real time, not just through documentation, is a way to recognize and normalize the existence of Native people in urban spaces.

 

An Incomplete list of Implications for Museum Educators

  1. Find out whose land you are on, and honor it. This is an easy way for individuals and institutions alike to locate themselves and acknowledge the existence of Indigenous people past and present. Remembrance can be a simple act of decolonization and a first step toward action.
  2. Invite the community in to collaborate on programs relevant to specific communities or Native people in general. Do your research ahead of time and approach community leaders with deference. Ask about preferred terms of reference, use sensitive language, and respect spiritual practice and sacred objects. When interacting with community members, do more than involve them, treat them as partners, and take a backseat in decision-making. 
  3. Consider cultural-specific learning needs when working with Native students. Work together rather than in isolation. Embrace multiple intelligences. Leave sufficient time for reflection. Make learning relevant by acknowledge historical power imbalances embedded in museums and their impact on today’s society.
  4. Embrace open discussions of history, politics and current affairs. Since Indigenous youth have to live with the consequences of colonialism and essentialist ideologies, it is important not to shy away from “controversial” topics that affect their identities and reality. Linking the legacy of oppression of Native people in the US to current social, economic and environmental issues is crucial in awakening social consciousness among Indigenous youth.
  5. Empower Native youth by creating spaces for celebrating individual Indigenous identity and the power of Indigenous knowledge. Encourage a future of Indigenous youth’s active participation in museums to sustain links to cultural heritage. Inspire them to make a difference. Open up possibilities of careers in museums so Native perspectives can be heard at every level of museum work. Wherever possible, bring in Indigenous people to educate Indigenous students. This provides role models for young people and encourages them to see themselves as a part of a museum rather than just the objects in the collection.

 

References and Further Resources

  1. https://www.naja.com/sites/naja/uploads/images/2017/NAJA_Reporting_and_Indigenous_Terminology_Guide.pdf
  2. https://www.si.edu/content/opanda/docs/Rpts2004/04.10.Visitors2004.Final.pdf
  3. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pavpkn/to-fight-racism-within-museums-they-need-to-stop-acting-like-theyre-neutral
  4. https://australianmuseum.net.au/uploads/documents/2588/iym_full_report.pdf
  5. http://www.theidentityproject.us/urban-native-youth-pilot-program-1
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/04/native-americans-stories-california
  7. https://www.aam-us.org/2016/11/09/native-eyes-honoring-the-power-of-museum-and-community-partnership/
  8. https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/archive/blackhorse-do-you-prefer-native-american-or-american-indian-kHWRPJqIGU6X3FTVdMi9EQ/
  9. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ858583.pdf
  10. https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/cultural-competency/treating-diverse-patient-populations/working-with-native-american-patients

Diversity and Inclusion

Museums are for everyone. Diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion lay at the heart of museum structure and as museum educators, it is crucial to consider all of these aspects when developing and executing programs. As much as we recognize however, we may face challenges. In this blog, I hope to share some of my findings, tactics, and reference materials to stay focused on diversity and inclusion and ways for us to be better able to implement our values in museum practices.

 

Background story

Prior to joining Museum Education program at the George Washington University, I remember facing challenges working in museum. One day during a story time program, the storyteller read the Family Book, by Todd Parr. This book was carefully selected to be read for our toddlers, recommended by our neighborhood youth librarian to ensure its developmental appropriateness. The book featured colorful and happy illustration that demonstrate to children how diverse families can be, but also to embrace differences amongst families. Unfortunately, a parent came up to me looking frustrated and infuriated after the story time session. She asked of who chose the book and told me how these types of things are not what she is trying to teach her children, specifically mentioning a part of the book on some families having two moms or two dads. I wish I responded better than I did. I could not say much back at the visitor because I was shocked at the unexpected feedback. All I could say was apologize and tell her that I will pay more attention to book selection in the future.

After this encounter, so many thoughts roamed in my mind. I felt unprepared as an educator for not being able to handle the situation wisely and not being able to say my stance on diversity and inclusion with confidence. Based on my personal story, I decided to think about how I should face similar challenges in the future and further improve myself as more dedicated museum educator.

 

What are definitions of diversity and inclusion?

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) defines diversity and inclusion clearly for everyone’s understanding;

  • Diversity

The quality of being different or unique at the individual or group level. This includes age; ethnicity; gender; gender identity; language differences; nationality; parental status; physical, mental and developmental abilities; race; religion; sexual orientation; skin color; socio-economic status; education; work and behavioral styles; the perspectives of each individual shaped by their nation, experiences and culture—and more. Even when people appear the same on the outside, they are different.

  • Inclusion

The act of including; a strategy to leverage diversity. Diversity always exists in social systems. Inclusion, on the other hand, must be created. In order to leverage diversity, an environment must be created where people feel supported, listened to and able to do their personal best.

 

Is there policy regarding diversity and inclusion?

According to AAM,

“The American Alliance of Museums respects, values and celebrates the unique attributes, characteristics and perspectives that make each person who they are. We believe that our strength lies in our diversity among the broad range of people and museums we represent. We consider diversity and inclusion a driver of institutional excellence and seek out diversity of participation, thought and action. It is our aim, therefore, that our members, partners, key stakeholders reflect and embrace these core values”.

 

Is there museum-wide or organization-wide policy on diversity and inclusion?

Museum organizations have started to adopt and implemented more inclusive policies and practices, including:

  • Americans for the Arts’ Statement on Cultural Equity
  • The Association of Art Museum Directors’ Diversity Initiative with UNCF
  • The Association of Children’s Museums’ Museums for All initiative
  • The Southeastern Museums Conference’s Diversity and Inclusion policy
  • The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Diversity and Inclusion policy
  • The Association of Science-Technology Centers’ Equity and Diversity Committee Charter
  • The LGBTQ Alliance Welcoming Guidelines for Museums

For example, the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) have developed their own diversity and inclusion policy, which includes not only the statement itself, but also commitment that its member institutions should adopt and ways of demonstrating the commitment.

(https://www.aza.org/assets/2332/azadiversityinclusionpolicywebsite_4_2016.pdf)

Example of museum-wide policy making

  • Minneapolis Institute of Art

MIA is an exemplar of museums who have created their own comprehensive policy and practices on the values of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. Beyond policy itself, MIA create a framework around those values which the institution strives towards.

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“We strive to demonstrate leadership by modeling excellence and best practices for inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. Mia has a deep belief in the power of human creativity and the opportunities for connection and learning that exist when cultures and communities come together in collaboration and understanding. By recognizing and engaging the wisdom, knowledge, and creativity found within every community, we can begin to weave the complex history of our shared cultural heritage.” [The Framework at MIA]

 

Reflection

Despite continuous efforts described above, there are big rooms for improvement. Museums can play even bigger role in impacting communities by advocating for diversity and inclusion. According to a report by Julie Nightingale, museums are exhibiting a powerful element of social inclusion and its influence can be even more tremendous with continuous efforts in the future. The following are findings from her research, which allow us to reflect and consider action plans for the future.

  • Museums have own strategies for inclusion, but the progress seem to vary.
  • Lack of a policy framework within museums.
  • Failure of museum directors to shout about it.
  • Staff members are scared of not knowing what to do.
  • Staff members resist being drawn into social inclusion work because they view it as “social work” and not part of their job description.

 

What can we do? (Recommendations)

Without efforts of museum professionals respecting, valuing and celebrating diversity and inclusion, changes cannot happen. As much as we recognize the importance of always advocating for these core values as emerging museum professionals and current museum professionals, we can also neglect them in the midst of busy life. Therefore, I have gathered some tactics and reference materials for me to stay focused on inclusion and continue my efforts. The key is to keep learning and sharing!

  • When working, constantly remind oneself of the goal of making the museum an inclusive and diverse place for everyone. Advocate the mission by advocating to raise awareness and be proactive so that other staff members also learn from seeing continuous efforts.
  • Advocate for museum-wide policy making to confidently present the important values of the institution to its staff members as well as visitors.
  • Be brave to bring up challenging topics and discuss with others. Acknowledge each other and embrace misunderstandings, unconscious biases, or stereotypes that may rise in conversations because these are valuable opportunities for us to learn together. No one is perfect!

 

Sources