I just wanted to update readers on the many thoughtful responses on the issue of whether museums have a choice and a responsibility to take action on social justice issues, most particularly those of race, occasioned by the recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, and sadly, other locations throughout the United States. If you haven't yet, be sure to read the joint statement from museum bloggers.
As a follow-up, The Incluseum has a non-exhaustive list of thoughtful questions we need to ask ourselves, including, "What 'right now' actions can museums take to show solidarity?" and "Are museums focused on “community” to justify the acquisition of cultural objects or are museums truly invested in their community members?" They also offer a similarly non-exhaustive list of next steps your museum might take.
The list of resources for teaching and talking about Ferguson and related events continues to grow at Art Museum Teaching. Check it out and add new resources as you find them.
On December 17, Adrienne Russell and Aleia Brown facilitated a Twitter chat about the subject. You can find the full conversation storified. Most astonishing to me were the comments from several participants working at museums whose leadership had forbidden engaging with visitors on the topic. Given the response and the importance of the issue, they'll be hosting a regular monthly Twitter chat, every third Wednesday, 2:00-3:00 PM EST. Be sure to check it out.
Jeanne Vergeront, in Museum Notes, calls for all of us, as organizations, to move from nice to necessary, something that won't be done without substantial pushing from within and outside museums. She writes of the idea of a museum in service to its community:
Regardless of its size and prestige, a museum exists to serve its audience and community. It must maintain a perpetual, alert, and respectful outlook on its community and the ways in which it can be a valued resource for it. In dynamic environments, external conditions change and will absolutely change the way in which a museum can and should serve its community. Furthermore, valuing service to its community must be actively owned across the museum, be integrated in the museum’s culture, and persist through changes in leadership and times of scarcer resources.And Jeanne also includes a wrap-up of statements from museum organizations (is yours represented?) and links to the work of museums directly addressing the issue.
Gretchen Jennings, of Museum Commons, who did the work of bringing a disparate group of bloggers together to begin these online conversations, shares a guest post from Melanie Adams, Managing Director of Community Education and Events at the Missouri History Museum and President of the Association of Midwest Museums. Writes Melanie,
Museums should not be reactionary, but instead find ways to regularly engage the community. Exhibits and programs with a community focus should not happen only after a tragic community event, but take place throughout the year. By providing a space for difficult conversations on issues of race, class, gender identity, and immigration, museums establish themselves as a place where communities can come together to discuss conflict and begin to find resolution. Then when something does happen in your community, it would be natural for you to address the issue and you will not be seen as taking advantage of an already tense situation.What should your resolution be for the New Year? How about finding ways to have those conversations before a community crisis, not after.