Sunday, May 23, 2021

Most Useful: Community Engagement


I've just wrapped up another semester of the course, International Experiments in Community Engagement for the Johns Hopkins Museum Studies Program.  It's a bit of an unusual course, in which students each semester work in teams with a museum from somewhere in the world that is not the United States to develop community engagement plans for that museum.  So to begin this post, many many thanks to the staff at the four museums who worked with us this semester:  


Four very different museums, four very different places, four very different resources and connections.  But together, they give students the chance to step outside their own country-specific knowledge to push the boundaries of their learning!  And another big shout-out to all of my students this semester, who persevered, despite illnesses, a new baby, layoffs, and much more to all graduate!

I work to update the assigned readings every semester and rely heavily on sources that are not in journals or otherwise hard to access.  At the end of each course I ask students to tell me about the readings/videos they found most useful. I thought perhaps some of you readers might also find this useful.  I try and stay up-to-date, but one video and one reading get mentioned every year.

Angela Blanchard's 2011 Tedx Talk gets mentioned every year by students. This year, one student wrote,   "Her ideas about working from the existing assets of a group, and using these to then build community engagement were quite formative, both in my individual work and the ways in which the Baia Mare team approached our shared projects.  Though this video is now 10 years old, I believe her ideas and the questions she asks (“What works? What do you have?  What are your strengths?”) have really stood the test of time."

An oft-divisive reading but one I still continue to assign is Sherry Arnstein's Ladder of Participation (1969!) because of student comments like this: "It really pushed the limits of my understanding for how institutions should collaborate with their communities. Even my most ambitious ideas still only reached partway up her ladder, and it made me realize how much my imagination has been unconsciously foreshortened. Although the article is dated in many ways, it still struck me as one of the most visionary and bracingly uncompromising guideposts in the semester."

Many students were appreciative of the thoughtful ways in which writers/activists/thinkers/fellow colleagues held museums to account and projected different futures.  Useful readings (and reasons why):

" "We Don't Need New Models, We Need A New Mindset" by Karina Mangu-Ward

challenged how we approach our museum work and the models we've relied on that no longer suit the complex problems we face today."


"I also think that Porchia Moore’s article, “Cartography: A Black Woman’s Response to Museums in The Time of Racial Uprising,” was incredibly useful and important. I think it should be included every semester, because she brings up a lot of important points about how BIPOC, particularly Black women navigate the museum world and we (especially White people) need to be aware of how experiences can vary based on race, gender, etc. and how they intersect."

Although it is from 1988, this piece is still setting the table for conversation! "Elaine Gurian's The Museum as a Socially Responsible Institution because it really opened up a great discussion on to what different kinds of museums should be doing to both support and care for their audiences." 


Readings that focused on the practical also got some recognition. "The Community Building Workbook is a useful and practical tool for planning community-based programs. I know I’ll be referring to the worksheets and templates for future planning." Said another, "Week 5’s 2020 survey posters developed by Susie Wilkening are crucial in understanding our polarized society and how museums can use this information to inform decisions regarding programming and exhibits."


I do ask students to read the first chapter of Rainey Tisdale and my book Creativity in Museum Practice because I continue to believe that we all need to understand and develop our creative practice to shape better museums and to be in greater service to our communities. It's great to hear that they continue to find it useful!


Duds this semester? I tried teaching logic models for the first time to really get at issues of impact. Big fail on my end, so if you have some great reading about logic models, please share. One reading I'll be dropping because it feels like the field may have moved on is Judith Dorbryzinski's negative take on crowd-sourcing museum exhibitions from 2016.


But what am I missing? When you think about museums and community engagement, what readings or videos inspire you? Let me know in the comments!


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