What does real museum diversity look like? Exhibitions and programs alone can not be expected to achieve connections between our institutions and our communities. This week, at the Museum Association of New York’s annual conference, I was able to help facilitate a conversation and brainstorming session about what museums can do to increase the diversity of their staff and of the museum field. This topic, which I have spent the last year researching as part of my graduate thesis work, is one that is near and dear to my heart.
Candace Anderson, the executive director of Cool Culture in NYC, spoke about the need for the diversification of our field in her keynote address. She talked about identity, and the ongoing process that each of us must go through to examine our experiences, biases, and opinions. When I started interviewing leaders across the field about the topic of racial diversity, I began to question my right to tell this story. Who am I – an educated, middle class, white woman from the Chicago suburbs – to tackle the subject of race in our museums? My co-presenter and mentor, Gretchen Sullivan Sorin, looked me straight in the face and asked me if I was passionate increasing the racial diversity of the museum professional field. The answer is yes. Check out a few photos from our discussion session below.
So what did we conclude? It’s clear that there’s been a lot of talk in the field about diversity, and not a lot of action being done. From our presentations and large group/small group discussions we concluded that each person in the field can make active steps towards diversity. Here are a few ways that you can make a difference:
- Sell the field – Reach out to your community and figure out ways to let students knows that museums are the place to be (and work!). Talk at a career fair, make connections with local schools, and reach out to underserved audiences. We cannot expect diverse candidates to appear out of thin air – we need to cultivate talent from outside of the field.
- Partner with other organizations – Schools, community centers, other museums, libraries, religious organizations, environmental groups, other non-profits, etc etc (you get the picture). Seek out connections in your community and see where these collaborations can lead.
- Mentor – Every single person reading this blog can be a mentor to another professional or student whether they are in the museum field or not. We each possess the talent to give to an emerging professional encouragement and I cannot stress enough how essential this can be to that person’s career and future. Do it, just do it!
- Cultivate diverse board members – Diversity needs to be embraced my an entire institution in a museum’s strategic plan and leadership. Having a diverse board means having a diverse range of experiences to pull from and support your endeavors.
So I’ve talked a lot at you in this post.
Here are my questions for you: what are you going to do? We can each make a small change in the field that can lead to a group of more diverse decision makers in our museums. Dialogue can lead to action. What can you do? How are you going to take a stand?
Comment on this post and lets continue the discussion that we started at the MANY conference.