I have been in the museum field for a number of years and worked at multiple institutions. When I first started, I had the privilege to work under a great leader. They taught me so much about supporting and cultivating a team. Perhaps because they were such a good leader, they also shielded me from the issues that I have come to find are prevalent in the field. When I was making barely enough to survive, they advocated for me without me even having to ask. They ensured that I was decently paid, and though it still wasn’t ideal, I knew they had done everything in their power to push for my compensation.
In the years since we went our separate ways, I quickly came to learn that not every leader is like that and that museums are particularly hostile places for employees of color. At first, it was small and perhaps predictable things I noticed like White employees referring to the one Black woman on the team as “aggressive” though I found her to be an assertive change maker. Then, I watched the dwindling number of people of color on our team starting with the unnecessary firing of one of the most senior positions. In the beginning, as each scenario unfolded, I saw these things as singular incidents.
As my institution has increased the staff diversity among entry level positions, I realized that these incidents weren’t isolated, rather they were a result of the systems in place. Bringing in diverse staff in entry level positions is relatively easy, providing opportunities for growth and promotion is much more difficult and can be held up by the normalization of Whiteness and the othering of ideas and people that do not fit into the concept of White professionalism or are not in line with the power structure and values held by institutions that are created, funded, and sustained by wealthy, White donors. Yet still, during this time I assumed the issues that I and others in my institutions faced were confined to these particular institutions or even the geographical location. I thought, if only I could take a job at a better museum, a more forward thinking museum, a museum with goals rooted in diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, that I would be able to thrive.
Then in June, ChangeTheMuseum appeared. If you are unfamiliar with it, ChangeTheMuseum is an Instagram account where museum workers can anonymously submit issues and situations that have arisen in their museums related to race and equity. Most of the submissions have been from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) employees in museums. The posts range in severity but each of the posts highlights the real pain and trauma that BIPOC employees face in these White institutions. And the gravity of the combined posts should make anyone who works in museums stop and consider their own actions and the actions of those around them.
ChangeTheMuseum has simultaneously torn down my hopefulness about museums as institutions, and helped me feel less alone in my struggles. It is depressing to realize that many museums that we hold up and look to as important institutions are failing just as much as smaller museums when it comes to acknowledging past and current wrongs and truly committing to the work of addressing institutional racism and supporting BIPOC staff and communities. But it is powerful to know that I am not alone, that there is a critical mass of BIPOC museum workers who have endured in isolation and silence but are now speaking up and demanding something better.
I don’t know if the museum world can be changed. I do know that museums cannot rely on BIPOC staff to make the change happen. Change must come from the board, from the leadership team, and from the overwhelming numbers of White staff in museums. I don’t know if museums can change as quickly as we need them to. We may continue to see an exodus of BIPOC from the museum field, but at least now everyone will have a clearer picture of why.
Early this week, it was so fantastic to see the Birmingham Museums Trust announce its decision to bring Sara Wajid and Zak Mensah on as joint CEOs, making a bold leap into co-leadership that can help serve as a model for many other museums and nonprofit institutions in the years to come. I am particularly thrilled to hear this news since, over the past few months, I have taken a dive into the practices of collaborative and shared leadership in museums and nonprofits, thinking more deeply about this approach and seriously asking why more museums are not adopting this. It has been made clear that most museum professionals are not aware of established models to look toward for this practice (few still exist), and the significant benefits of collaborative leadership are not widely understood in our field. Outdated ideas of solo leadership remain the dominant narrative in the field of museums, but that is beginning to change.
I am moderating a panel session on the topic for MuseumNext’s virtual conference this October, bringing together individuals with experience in co-leadership roles in museums and arts organizations. My interest in this issue also comes out of my recent call for our field to upend our thinking about leadership and make some significant changes as we move into the future. Here is some of what I have found, and some helpful readings and resources for those working to advocate for this type of change at your institution. And please, if you know of other examples of co-leadership in practice at a museum or other useful resources, please share (and I can add them in here).
Collaborative Leadership That Works
If the current moment of crises is indeed a unique and unprecedented opportunity for museums to reimagine themselves and emerge as more human-centered institutions, then I cannot think of a better time to seriously consider adopting a collaborative and shared approach to leadership. Not only do collaborative forms of leadership align more strongly with organizational cultures working to advance equity and anti-racism, but it is also increasingly difficult for any single individual to possess all of the skills and abilities needed to lead a complex organization into a future of post-pandemic uncertainties.
In his post entitled “Museum Leadership for the Rest of Us,” Robert Weisberg cites a roundtable conversation among business experts and senior partners at McKinsey that calls into question the hero mentality of directors and CEOs in times of crisis. When asked “Does this mean we are seeing the end of the hero CEO?,” Bill Schaninger responded:
“[W]e’ve seen COVID-19 accelerating the shift away from classic authoritarian leadership to new forms of distributed decision making…. CEOs still trying to hold on to top-down mandates could very quickly become the impediment rather than the solution.”
A small number of museums have moved towards various forms of collaborative leadership, although examples are still difficult to come by and there are very few sustained or permanent commitments to these alternative forms of leadership. After a bit of a lengthy search, I was able to find a few examples to note:
At the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, an organizational merger back in 2008 led to a unique dual leadership model based in a public/private partnership structure. Cheryl Donaldson and Laura Valdez currently serve as Co-Executive Directors of the museum, a model grounded in a partnership relationship and based in co-expertise.
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) established a bicultural dual leadership model when it was founded in the 1990s. The partnership between the Chief Executive Officer and Kaihautū (Māori leader) reflects the bicultural nature of the museum. Te Papa acknowledges the unique position of Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand and the need to secure their participation in the governance, management, and operation of the museum. Arapata Hakiwai has served in the role of Kaihautū since 2013, while Courtney Johnston more recently entered the role of Chief Executive Officer in December 2019.
Outside of museums, there are many nonprofits and arts organizations adopting a shared leadership or co-directorship model. A 2017 article in Nonprofit Quarterlyshared insights from five leading nonprofits that have developed shared leadership structures, including the Building Movement Project, Management Assistance Group, and the Rockwood Leadership Institute. Arts nonprofit Fractured Atlas has been operating with a shared, non-hierarchical leadership model since 2018, using a moment of leadership transition to experiment with new organizational structures. Fractured Atlas began this new approach with a four-person leadership team, and they have written rather extensively about their experiences with this model thus far (via their blog).
After studying some of the research on the topic along with the experiences of those successfully implementing collaborative and shared leadership models, there are several key benefits that appear to emerge:
1. Leads to more effective decision-making
When it comes to decision-making, a collaborative leadership approach focuses more on quality than efficiency. Making decisions may take more time, but this process brings in more perspectives and ideas and results in doing things better collectively. With this process also comes greater transparency as more individuals and staff are involved in making decisions and talking through ideas. In his study entitled “Shared Leadership: Is It Time for a Change?,” Michael Kocolowski found that organizations identified several benefits of shared leadership, including the “synergy and expertise derived from shared leadership” and “diversity of thought in decision making.”
In 2019, Cheryl Donaldson and Donna Jared, then Co-Executive Directors at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, reflected on some of the keys to making co-leadership work. For them, this model means that co-leaders are bringing their own expertise to the organization and the daily decisions that are made. While each has some autonomous responsibilities, they note that “the lines are blurred, on purpose, to allow us to support one another, to bring different perspectives to decision making, and to hold each other accountable” (see interview with Jill Stilwell).
According to Tim Cynova, a member of Fractured Atlas’s co-leadership team, their shared leadership model “lessens the organization’s dependence on any one person, and strengthens strategic thinking and decision-making capacity across a broad range of staff members” (see Tim’s post “CEO Not (Necessarily) Required”). When there is more than one leader—and when leadership becomes part of organizational culture—it becomes even more critical to spend a lot of time thinking together, sharing ideas, communicating, and being as transparent as possible.
2. Cultivates innovation and growth
For many organizations adopting collaborative and shared leadership models, there is an observed increase in innovation and experimentation. Kocolowski observed that “flow and creativity seem to flourish in a shared leadership environment,” and that such shared leadership models are particularly important for the growth and development of new ventures and projects. “Co-leadership allows you to think bigger and dream knowing you have a thought partner to dream with,” noted Donaldson and Jared at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.
In a traditional top-down leadership model, there is often a sense that the knowledge, expertise, and ideas of those at the very top are more valued and important. This way of siloing and isolating innovation in a single leader or small group of managers can work to prevent an organization from truly reaching its potential. A collaborative organization aims to unlock the knowledge, lived experiences, and creative capacities of its entire team, breaking down the barriers that prevent new ideas from bubbling to the surface. As Darlene Nipper of the Rockwood Leadership Institute puts it, “What we’re able to accomplish together is way more than I believe any one person could accomplish.”
3. Centers the value of relationships
A shared leadership model brings attention to the relational and collaborative aspects of work as well as the ways in which the value of relationship itself can be incorporated into the leadership structures of an organization. As social justice activist and author adrienne maree brown proclaims in her book Emergent Strategy (2017), “Relationships are everything,” and the depth of those relationships determines the strength of a system or organization.
For many in co-directorship roles, they develop a strong sense of connection, respect, and mutual trust with their counterpart. For these models to work effectively, an organization needs to center these values and understand the importance of relationships within organizational culture. Donaldson and Jared reflect about their experience at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, “As co-leaders, we’ve come to understand it is the partnership relationship that is leading the institution, not us an individuals.”
4. Promotes shared leadership across the organization
“Shared leadership does really work, and when it’s working well, it’s not just about the few people who are codirectors, it’s actually about the whole organization,” states Susan Misra, co-director at the Management Assistance Group. Collaborative leadership is not just about the individual leaders sharing power and working together—it is also about changing organizational culture and mindset to be more collaborative. For most organizations successfully adopting a shared leadership model, developing a co-directorship is just the beginning of a longer process of building collective structures and new ways of working that include the voices of all staff. Erin Matson, Co-Director of Reproaction, acknowledges, “The co-directorship model is a powerful was to expand the leadership capabilities of your organization.”
For Donaldson and Jared, their co-leadership approach at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery models a flattening out of the organizational chart. They expanded their shared leadership approach to include director level staff who are invited to work together as a shared group rather than only oversee their own specific departments or areas. Other organizations, including Fractured Atlas and the Five Oaks Museum, have used this moment of collaborative leadership to also deeply explore pay equity and transparency. When organizations take this approach, leadership growth can occur across an entire team and begin to have a powerful effect on many areas of work and practice.
5. Aligns with anti-racism and equity
With collaborative leadership comes the opportunity to examine what power looks like within your organization and to reimagine how it operates in more equitable and inclusive ways. For some organizations, the shift to co-directorship emerges during a transition out of a particularly oppressive situation with traditional leadership. Overall, a top-down, individualistic model of leadership is in direct contradiction with efforts to advance equity, inclusion, and anti-racism. In their discussion with CompassPoint team members about shared power, co-directors of several social-justice-focused nonprofits noted that forms of traditional, hierarchical leadership just did not align with the work they do as organizations.
“We often reward people whose leadership style is aligned with the individual model of the dominant culture, but not those who engage in more collective forms of leadership. This serves to render invisible the leadership of many women and people of different races/ethnicities.”
The report’s authors continue:
“Leadership can play a critical role in either contributing to racial justice or reinforcing prevailing patterns of racial inequality and exclusion…. To achieve racial and social justice, we need to move beyond the emphasis on the power of individuals to a philosophy of interdependence and building connections.”
Fractured Atlas Board members Christopher Mackie and Russell Willis Taylor state that the shared leadership model in their organization makes “a powerful statement against the inevitability of hierarchy and the racist, sexist, and otherwise oppressive social institutions and organizations that it enables” (see their post “Thoughts on Co-Leadership: What So We Think We’re Doing?”). For Fractured Atlas, their non-hierarchical leadership team helps advance their core values of anti-racism and anti-oppression by modeling an inclusive approach that fosters a diversity of voices, perspectives, and skills. By questioning and breaking away from the commonly accepted ideas of leadership based in white dominant culture, organizations can move toward more inclusive forms of decision-making, collaborative practice, and collective workplace culture.
Taking Action to Build a Different Future
In her June article “On the Limits of Care and Knowledge,” Yesomi Umolu, Director and Curator of Logan Center Exhibitions at the University of Chicago, sharply highlighted the broken foundations of colonial violence and exclusion for museums, writing:
“at a time when many civic institutions are being exposed for negligence of duty, museums must recognize their shortcomings and develop new ways of thinking and doing.”
By replacing the outdated, broken, and harmful structures of individualistic leadership and leader-centered organizational hierarchy, we have the potential to reinvent museums as vibrant, thriving, equitable institutions that are better equipped to navigate the unprecedented challenges of our times and more fully care for their staff and their local communities. Yet nothing is going to change unless we question our assumptions, fight against the entrenched barriers of the status quo and the “we can’t” mentality, and begin to take action to make change happen. I hope that this post includes some information and resources that can support those making arguments for collaborative leadership right now, and that it might help spark more institutions to consider moving in this direction.
Series on Leadership
This is the third post in a series called “Leading Towards a Different Future” that takes a deeper dive into ideas about leadership and some steps for taking action. I am, of course, open to questions, conversation, and bringing together more ideas that can help us move toward changing museums. Add to the Comments below, message me via social media, or send me an email at email@example.com.
MIKE MURAWSKI: Independent consultant, change leader, author, and nature lover living in Portland, Oregon. I am passionate about transforming museums and non-profits to become more equitable and community-centered. After more than 20 years of work in education and museums, I bring my personal core values of deep listening, collective care, and healing practice into the work that I lead within organizations and communities. Learn More.
Reposted with permission from the Museums + Democracy Project, a project founded by Eric Morse to explore all aspects of how museums can be more democratic. Originally published on 10 July 2020.
Interested in forming a union at your museum, but not sure how to do it? This post shares the steps taken by the employees of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) to create their union.
While any unionizing effort will be unique based on the local circumstances and conditions, the steps below can be used as a template.
Create Transparency, Talk, and Listen
For any unionization effort to start, employees need to begin talking to each other about their salaries, benefits, and working conditions. These are the main areas unions and management will negotiate through a contract.
That spreadsheet allowed museum professionals to post their job titles, salaries, and benefits from current and past positions. Many at the PMA added their information. The transparency created by the spreadsheet allowed employees to see salary inequities between employees with the same job title and in benefits for full-time versus part-time employees.
Sarah Shaw is a coordinator of the Education Resource Center and a museum educator at the PMA. She is also an organizer of the union. Shaw says that it was important that employees from across the museum talked to each other because it broadened the conversations to include other concerns.
“Individuals across the museum, across different departments, started having conversations that were ignited by the spreadsheet,” says Shaw. “As we talked to more and more of our colleagues and started trying to crowdsource issues that people had we heard concerns in addition to salary and benefits.”
Those concerns included a lack of effective policies to keep employees safe.
“The most important way that we have gone about this work is by using our networks and individual connections,” says Shaw. “One-on-one conversations have been the meat of this organizing effort.”
Shaw says that employees had conversations over coffee, during lunch, or meeting up after work. When the pandemic hit, they continued to have conversations over the phone and by using online meeting tools such as Zoom.
Shaw also said that listening has been critical. “We have been intentional about making seventy percent of the conversations listening to our co-workers, what they love about their job, what they wish they could change about their job, ways that they feel both empowered and powerless in their job, and relating those concerns to what we can accomplish together through a union that we cannot as individuals,” says Shaw.
Create an Organizing Committee
As PMA employees continued to talk about the workplace issues important to them, they also began to discuss how they could organize to make positive changes for themselves. This led them to realize a union was needed.
An organizing committee formed organically. “Our committee has really grown over the past year, but it is entirely made up of individuals who have said, ‘This is important to me, I have the time and energy to put into it,’” says Shaw.
Research a Union to Affiliate With
If you are going to organize a union at your museum, you will probably need the support of an existing union. You’ll want to choose a union that will understand the museum environment, so it can best serve your needs.
Don’t be fooled by the names of unions. Museum workers have affiliated their unions with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the United Auto Workers, and the International Union of Operating Engineers, among others.
“We did a lot of research into unions to find the one we would affiliate with,” says Shaw. “We needed to have an established union with legal representation and expertise in contract negotiation and who can advise us through this process. They are the support system that we need in order to get the campaign off the ground and win our election and our first contract.”
The PMA employees decided to affiliate with AFSCME District Council 47. One of the reasons is because AFSCME has experience working with other museum unions and the local District Council represents workers in environments similar to museums.
“They represent workers in non-profits in Philadelphia, at the Philadelphia Zoo, and at the Free Library,” says Shaw. “They represent folks working in universities. The academic system has a lot in common with workers in museums. They represent people who work for the City of Philadelphia and those connections to City Hall were important. We felt like they had the most relevant experience and represented the broadest cross-section of Philadelphia workers, which is really what the museum is.”
At least 30 percent of employees who would form the union need to sign authorization cards that say they support the unionization effort and the affiliation with the selected union.
The goal here is to have much more support than 30 percent. That is what happened at the PMA, where a supermajority of eligible employees signed the authorization cards.
Voluntary Recognition or Election
The signed cards are used to petition a state or federal Labor Relations Board for recognition of the union.
Having a supermajority of employees sign cards is important because it sends a strong message to leadership that employees support the union. A goal is that the museum voluntarily recognizes the union. That’s what happened during a unionization effort at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Otherwise, museum leadership can request a vote of eligible employees.
The Labor Relations Board figures out who eligible employees are. “Eligible workers are typically folks who are not in a supervisory position and who do not make independent decisions about hiring and firing,” says Shaw.
Negotiate a Union Contract
If the union is voluntarily recognized or recognized through an election, the next step is the ultimate goal: negotiating a union contract. This is the document that will govern the relationship between the museum and the union, and allow employees to have a say in pay, benefits, and working conditions.
Where the PMA Union is in the Process
Museum leadership did not voluntarily recognize the union and a vote is currently being held through the end of July . The votes will be counted in early August. The vote is expected to succeed. If it does, the employees of the PMA will have created a more democratic workplace.
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About the Author
ERIC MORSE: Founder of the Museums + Democracy Project, and a museum professional in central Iowa in the United States. Eric has a Master of Arts in Museum Studies from the Johns Hopkins University. He has experience working in museums, non-profits, and communications. Eric is the founder of the Central Iowa Community Museum. This new museum has a mission to create more democracy through exhibitions that celebrate the people of central Iowa and the issues they must face together. Eric is writing a book on the subject of Museums + Democracy.
Reposted with permission from the Museums + Democracy Project, a project founded by Eric Morse to explore all aspects of how museums can be more democratic. Originally published on 26 June 2020.
We need museum workplaces to be more democratic.
Museum workers are hurting. The coronavirus pandemic has brought layoffs and furloughs. In most cases, workers have not been included in the decision of who is laid off or furloughed. Now that museums are reopening, workers face possible exposure to the virus and many have not been consulted about how they will be kept safe.
Things weren’t much better before the virus hit. Expensive advanced degrees are required for positions that have salaries so low it’s difficult to pay back school loans and support living expenses. Salary inequality is common between men and women; between white people and Black, Indigenous, and people of color; and between leadership and most employees.
Museum workers are passionate and dedicated. They deserve to be treated much better than they are. For that to happen, workers need to use democracy to make a difference for themselves.
That’s where unions come in. Unions are democratic institutions. Unions are formed through a vote. Members elect their leaders and vote on agreements negotiated with employers. Unions allow workers to have a say in how their workplaces are run.
Recently, I spoke with Sarah Shaw, a coordinator of the Education Resource Center and a museum educator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA). Shaw is one of the organizers of the union at the museum.
The unionizing effort has its beginnings in 2019, when the Art + Museum Transparency spreadsheet was published. It allowed museum professionals to share their salaries at past and present positions.
Many at the PMA added their information. As they did, inequities became visible. There was salary inequity between men and women filling the exact same position and in benefits for full-time versus part-time employees.
“Those conversations grew and began to broaden outside of what was covered by the salary transparency spreadsheet,” said Shaw. One of those concerns was that the PMA had no parental leave policy or parental leave time pay.
“Those conversations grew very organically into talking about what we could achieve if we were unionized, what we could achieve through collective action and collective bargaining that we’re not able to achieve as individuals,” said Shaw. “It was a grassroots, homegrown movement that grew up around both the concerns that the salary transparency spreadsheet brought up and problems that had gone unvoiced for a long time.”
Earlier this year, it was revealed that PMA leadership inadequately handled sexual harassment and bullying toward staff by former managers. Shaw is quick to point out that the effort to begin to unionize began before these scandals became public and that they are not the focus of the unionization effort.
“I hesitate to give too much weight to those stories because it feels like it frames the organizing effort in a negative way. That it is just people who have grievances against management at the museum and that is not the case,” said Shaw. “Those stories are a small part of a constellation of much larger concerns that can be addressed by workers having a voice in the workplace and having a seat at the table when decisions are made.”
A lack of transparency runs through all the issues employees hope to address through the union, whether salary inequality, benefits, or workplace policies.
“We want to improve employee morale by having clear, transparent systems in place that can improve relationships between managers and employees,” says Shaw.
For love of the museum and each other
The union’s website says employees “are unionizing out of a love of the arts, the museum, and each other.”
Shaw says one of the goals is to make museum labor more visible and valued. She says that in the eyes of the public—and too often museum leadership, boards, and donors—the focus is on collections and buildings.
“Museums would not function without the human labor and it does not make sense for the heart of a cultural institution to be valued so much less than the collections or the building,” said Shaw. “Unionizing is the most effective way for us to assert our value to the institution. Unionizing is the most effective way to make that sometimes invisible labor material to the institution.”
Museums have focused on making staff more diverse. But not improving salaries or changing educational requirements has prevented that goal from becoming a reality. During the recent protests against police brutality and systemic racism, the public has noticed that museums have not improved in this area. Shaw says unions can help.
“Making changes to hiring practices, employee support and promotion, and pay equity will make our workplace more diverse and look more like the city of Philadelphia,” said Shaw. “That is going to make the PMA a more welcoming place to everyone.”
A museum’s worth is measured by how well it serves its community, and that includes its own employees. Shaw says that a unionized workforce benefits the community as well.
“The workers of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are Philadelphia’s workers,” says Shaw. “Improving the working conditions, improving the standard of living, improving benefits, making our workplace more inclusive and more equitable, that is a service not just to the workers of the museum but a service to our community because we are part of Philadelphia.”
Where the unionization effort is today
By March of this year, a supermajority of eligible employees had signed authorization cards indicating they supported forming a union. The PMA leadership had the option to voluntarily recognize the union. Instead, leaders hired an anti-union law firm to handle negotiations with the union and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
During the initial NLRB hearing [near the end of June], PMA leadership and its law firm claimed that some employees are not “core” to the museum’s mission and that “core” and “non-core” employees should be split into two unions. “Non-core” positions, according to PMA leaders, include visitor services, technology, development, and membership, among others. This is ridiculous. Every position at a museum is core to the mission.
Unions provide employees with an opportunity to have a say in layoffs and rehiring, which is critical at a time like this.
“Workers who aren’t unionized in institutions that have instituted furloughs and layoffs have no legal recourse,” says Shaw. “At least if you are unionized, there is a legal mechanism to negotiate an extension of benefits or rehiring policies. You can negotiate that when the museum is ready to rehire workers they are going to rehire folks who were laid off, not all new people.”
Unfortunately for workers at the PMA, since the union is not yet recognized, workers will not have a say on furloughs and layoffs. On June 24, the PMA announced that 100 staff members would be furloughed or lose their jobs through voluntary departures and possible layoffs. A museum spokesperson told the Philadelphia Inquirer that furloughs were distributed across departments, but that the curatorial and conservation staff were not impacted. A union organizer told the newspaper that many working in visitor services were being furloughed. This is more insight into what the museum views as “core” and “non-core” positions.
On June 25, the union and the PMA reached an agreement. The union will not be split into “core” and “non-core” employees. Since the museum failed to voluntarily recognize the union, employees now need to vote whether they will unionize. Employees who are eligible to participate in the election, even if they are furloughed during the voting, will be allowed to vote. Votes will be taken by mail July 9 – 30 and counted on August 6. Since a supermajority have already signed authorization cards, it is expected that the vote will be overwhelmingly in favor of unionizing. If that is the case, the museum must recognize the union. The Museums + Democracy Project will continue to follow this effort.
Museum workers should support unionization efforts everywhere. As these efforts grow they improve conditions for everyone in the field. More democracy in museum workplaces benefits workers. Through improving conditions for workers, unions benefit museums and their communities as well.
Interested in how you might start a union at your museum? The next blog post will detail the steps employees at the PMA took to organize and establish their union.
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About the Author
ERIC MORSE: Founder of the Museums + Democracy Project, and a museum professional in central Iowa in the United States. Eric has a Master of Arts in Museum Studies from the Johns Hopkins University. He has experience working in museums, non-profits, and communications. Eric is the founder of the Central Iowa Community Museum. This new museum has a mission to create more democracy through exhibitions that celebrate the people of central Iowa and the issues they must face together. Eric is writing a book on the subject of Museums + Democracy.
Written by Elizabeth Williams, Yale University Art Gallery
What does good museum teaching look like? How do we as educators learn from each other? How do we constantly stay fresh and incorporate new approaches to teaching? What are our shared values for teaching in museums?
These are among the questions that my colleagues and I in education regularly pose, and which led us to launch a project called Teaching Lab almost two years ago. Teaching Lab is not a concept born at Yale; it originated at the Brooklyn Museum in the 1990s as a way for its educators to convene, outside of logistical concerns, to talk about gallery teaching. Many of us work at such a pace that, without a structure like Teaching Lab embedded into our routine, reflection simply would not happen. So when my colleague Jessica Sack introduced this great idea from the Brooklyn Museum, we adapted it to fit our needs at the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG).
Teaching Lab at YUAG has been a way to reflect, experiment, and collaborate on issues and ideas related to teaching and learning. Monthly sessions seek to explore intersections across traditionally segmented areas of work both in education (e.g. adult, family, academic, K-12, public programs) and Gallery-wide (e.g. curatorial, education, exhibitions, registrar, etc.) The aim is to facilitate dialogue, and perhaps collaborations, related to the project of museum teaching.
Key to our sessions is that each is peer-initiated and led, with the organizer (myself) serving as the moderator. There are no defined outcomes for Teaching Lab, though some sessions have resulted in new projects. By way of example, a few departmental Teaching Labs have included: a session that brought together education teams from the YUAG and Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History for a discussion of different approaches to teaching with objects, especially those that can be classified as both art and artifact; a session to consider the Hirshhorn’s signature drop-in teen program, ARTLAB+, as a springboard for conversation related to how educators can, and should, respond to diverse audiences; and a session to consider a new digital app designed for a special exhibition, focusing on the self-guided visitor’s learning experience.
It occurred to us that the conversations we are having relate not just to education but to the entire museum. Everyone at the museum, in effect, teaches in some capacity. What, then, might it mean to broaden the conversation? Will other staff want to participate? How do we make the dialogue both accessible and stimulating, to have the most widespread appeal?
Getting Things Started
We started first by talking with people across the Gallery to gauge interest in the possibility of a staff-wide Teaching Lab. I realized early on that it was difficult to talk about something like this in the abstract, and I was often fielding the question: “So what do you want from me?” I didn’t really know the answer at first. After many departmental conversations about possible topics, effective structures, and anticipated barriers, we distilled the core ingredients from our departmental version of Teaching Lab that we wanted to maintain: that it be peer-driven, that it be conversational, and that it be experimental. We also decided that a natural place to start would be with objects, so we decided that the first staff-wide Teaching Lab would mine the concept of “close looking,” a term often used by colleagues across the museum to describe our teaching practice.
We roughly sketched out what a day-long Teaching Lab could look like: three sessions, starting with looking and learning together, that would eventually zoom out to examine some of the bigger questions related to audience and expertise. We enlisted peers from across the museum to co-lead each session, and these colleagues would ultimately shape the day.
On June 17, the YUAG Education Department presented the first staff-wide Teaching Lab. We invited all staff—from security guards to the Director—and offered three sessions over the course of the day. To our delight, almost 50 people of our staff of roughly 160, including four senior staff members and the Director, attended. We had representation from almost every department in the museum, from the Registrar to Development to Curatorial.
With Close Looking as our frame, our first session was entitled “Close Looking from Multiple Perspectives.” Modeled on our typical three-objects/hour education-guided visit, this session was led by three colleagues from the Education, Curatorial, and Conservation departments. Guided by a single theme, which the three presenters mutually determined, the session was meant to showcase different approaches to teaching with objects. With few parameters, facilitators were asked to teach a single object for 20 minutes and to make sure it was connected to the other objects through the common theme. One group, for example, explored the theme of absence and loss: an educator considered it in a painting by contemporary artist Titus Kaphar, a paintings conservator discussed it in a 12th century Italian panel painting by the Magdalen Master, and a curator talked about it with a 1st century Roman portrait sculpture. A member of the Education staff then moderated a reflective conversation at the end to distill both the participants’ experience as well as the facilitators’.
The second session was entitled “Multiple Frames: The Object in Context” and considered a single object through multiple lenses of analysis and understanding. To contextualize the processes of making and viewing art, participants spent half of the session in front of Jackson Pollock’s Arabesque, exploring how listening to jazz, reading quotations by and about the artist, and physically moving around a canvas on the floor, complicates the experience of viewing and interpreting a work of art. The group then moved to explore Pollock’s materials and methods in a studio session with one of our painting conservators, considering how experimenting with materials and methods might enrich our understanding of the art work.
The last session of the day was a roundtable conversation, intended to help us reflect on the experiential components of the morning but also to zoom out to consider the less obvious ways that museums teach, how we understand the role of expertise among our staff and our visitors, and how we can be more responsive to our audiences. These conversations were illuminating, especially when the group was asked to brainstorm ways that teaching and learning happen outside of the guided visit or through interpretive materials. From conversations that security personnel have with visitors to the arrangement of postcards on the wall, the group came up with fresh insights on how the Gallery regularly “teaches” and how every staff member has a stake in our educational mission. This discussion was collegial and fruitful, and as we ended the conversation with time for suggesting future Teaching Lab topics, participants raised many ideas related to better understanding the experience of our visitor and continuing to mine what it means to learn deeply in a museum. They also evinced a keen and welcome interest in how we can collectively address issues related to inclusion and identity in our work, and plans are now underway to make this the topic of a future staff-wide teaching lab.
Beginning to Build a Culture of Learning
We never could have imagined that the staff would be as receptive to Teaching Lab as they were. Since it required actually doing it to begin to grasp what this could become, the staff took a risk in setting aside almost an entire day to participate. As part of our own reflective process, the Education Department surveyed people anonymously to ask for their feedback. When asked to rate their experience on a scale of 1 to 5 (poor to excellent, respectively), 27.8 % rated the experience a 4 and 72.2% rated it a 5. When asked whether they would participate in future Teaching Labs, 100% responded yes. In the open comments section, participants repeatedly emphasized how meaningful it was to come together as a staff to learn from each other (and to get to know one another); they had expected that Education would be imparting best practices and were surprised that it was co-presented by colleagues from across the museum; and they were surprised by how much fun they had. Our Education staff, for its part, learned a tremendous amount in the process of reaching out to colleagues from across the institution, and we have been pleased about the new relationships that have developed as a result.
I don’t want to overstate the impact of this one staff-wide Teaching Lab; in some ways, we have indeed returned to business as usual. But Teaching Lab at its core is about building a culture of learning, and this was a very positive step in that direction. Whether it be among those who are explicitly educators, or whether it be re-framed more broadly to consider and leverage the entire staff’s contributions to teaching in a museum, it is a powerful tool and structure for learning, for teaching, and for reflecting.
As we turn our attention to the future of Teaching Lab, we can’t help but think—and hope—that this experimental and peer-driven model might lead to new ways of considering the project of teaching in the museum and take our work in interesting and challenging new directions.
About the Author
ELIZABETH WILLIAMS is the John Walsh Senior Fellow in Education at the Yale University Art Gallery. Prior to Yale, she was the Director of Engagement and Learning at the Mississippi Museum of Art, where she oversaw the museum’s family, school, and community programs. Elizabeth has held positions at The Phillips Collection, the Harvard Art Museums, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Americans for the Arts. She holds a Master’s in Education from Harvard University and a Bachelor’s degree in Art History and Human and Organizational Development from Vanderbilt University
Featured header image: Gallery staff, led by Wurtele Gallery Teacher Tony Coleman, looking at this Equestrian Shrine Figure by Bamgboye of Odo-Owa.
“We are in more urgent need of empathy than ever before.”
This quote has been on my mind often over the past days, weeks, months, and sadly, years—as senseless acts of violence and hatred hit the headlines at a numbing pace of regularity. This past Friday was no different, as we all awoke to the horrific news from Dallas, during a week when the country was already reeling from news of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. We’re also seeing an alarming spike in hate crimes and xenophobia in the UK after ‘Brexit’ that correspond in unsettling ways to divisive rhetoric and acrimonious tone of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. All of this as we are still processing the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, where 49 individuals lost their lives.
I think in moments like these, it’s important for museums—and the people who work for them—to pause and reflect on the roles that we serve within our communities. Yes, museums are institutions that hold collections. But they can also serve a powerful role with our communities as active spaces for connection and coming together, for conversation and dialogue, for listening and sharing. Museums can be spaces for individual stories and community voices. They can be a space for acknowledging and reflecting on differences, and for bridging divides. They can be spaces for growth, struggle, love, and hope.
“Empathy is the art of stepping into the shoes of another person and looking at the world from their perspective. It’s about understanding the thoughts, the feelings, the ideas and experiences that make up their view of the world.”
In September 2015, Krznaric put these ideas into practice in the realm of museums with the development of the Empathy Museum, dedicated to helping visitors develop the skill of putting themselves in others’ shoes. Its first exhibit, “A Mile in My Shoes,” did quite literally that, setting up in a shoe shop where visitors are fitted with the shoes of another person, invited to walk a mile along the riverside while being immersed in an audio narrative of this stranger’s life, and then write a short story about it. With contributions ranging from a sewer worker to a sex worker, the stories covered different aspects of life, from loss and grief to hope and love.
Developing empathy has the potential to create radical social change, “a revolution of human relationships,” Krznaric states. So how can we spark this empathy revolution in museums?
Museums Are Us, Not It
I want to start by making an important foundational point about how we talk about museums. When we talk about them only as brick-and-mortar institutions or as ‘it’, it becomes easier to distance ourselves from the human-centered work we do. So it’s absolutely essential to remember that museums are made of people (yes, just like Soylent Green): from directors, board members, patrons, and curators to educators, guest services staff, registrars, conservators, security guards, volunteers, maintenance and facilities workers, members, visitors, etc. I am reminded of this by the Director of Learning at the Tate, Anna Cutler, whose memorable 2013 Tate Paper discussed institutional critique and cultural learning in museums. In it, she quotes artist Andrea Fraser:
“Every time we speak of the ‘institution’ as other than ‘us’ we disavow our role in the creation and perpetuation of its conditions.”
This is an important basis for any discussion of empathy and museums, since it defines the vision, mission, and work of a museum as the vision, mission, and work of the people who belong to that museum. So if we, myself included, say “museums must be more connected to their communities,” we’re really talking about what the people that make up the museum need to focus on – being more connected to our communities. We are inseparable from the institution, in other words. Any critique of museums is a critique of us; and any change needing to happen in museums is, therefore, a change that needs to start with us.
The Growing Role of Empathy in Museum Practice
Krznaric’s work with the Empathy Museum is but one small example of the types of civically-engaged, human-centered practices that have been instituted in an effort to expand the role that museums serve in building empathy and human connection in our communities. Staff working for museums across the globe are launching new efforts to bring people together, facilitate open dialogue, and elevate the voices and stories of marginalized groups to promote greater understanding.
For example, I continue to be amazed and inspired by the Multaqa project developed last year by Berlin’s state museums, which brings in a group of refugees from Iraq and Syria to serve as Arabic-speaking guides. The project title, Multaqa, means “meeting point” in Arabic. The tours are designed to give refugees and newcomers access to the city’s museums and facilitate the interchange of diverse cultural and historical experiences. The tours have been so popular, according to a recent report, that the organizers are looking to expand the program to include “intercultural workshops, which the Berlin public can also participate in.”
Here at the Portland Art Museum, the Object Stories initiative (which began back in 2010) has continued to embrace storytelling and community voices here in Portland. A recent exhibition that opened earlier this year featured powerful stories and personal objects from the local refugee community. The exhibition was co-created with Portland Meet Portland, a local non-profit focused on welcoming immigrants and refugees arriving in our city by creating mutually beneficial mentoring opportunities that promote cross-cultural learning, enhance work skills, and build trust.
The work of Portland Meet Portland and this Object Stories exhibition helped to highlight the important contributions that immigrants and refugees bring to their new homes here in Oregon, and also offered this area’s longer-term residents an opportunity to learn from these newcomers—their stories, resilience, and unique cultures. Visitors to the gallery (probably around 60,000 people) had the opportunity to listen to participants’ stories, leave a welcome message for these storytellers, and learn more about advocacy efforts and local non-profits working with immigrant and refugees in Portland (which ranks 11th among US cities resettling international refugees).
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, an inspiring institution in so many ways, currently houses six different exhibits that explore the tragic story and legacy of the Indian Residential School system, one of Canada’s most pressing human rights concerns. As a national museum and hub of human rights education, the Museum has an important role to play in efforts towards reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. As is stated in the 2015 summary report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC): “Through their exhibits, education outreach, and research programs, all museums are well positioned to contribute to education for reconciliation.” The team at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights is also working to keep the conversation alive and involve the voices of its communities, especially through its “Share Your Story” project that allows anyone to record their own story about human rights or listen to the individual experiences of others.
In their book Cities, Museums, and Soft Power, Gail Dexter Lord and Ngaire Blankenship discuss the human social behaviors of bridging and bonding that museums have the distinct potential to promote and amplify, especially through public programs, education, and exhibitions. Their final essay offers a comprehensive set of strategies for how museums can be of greater value to their cities and communities:
“Museums and cities have a strong role to play together in bridging and bonding. They bring people together at similar life stages … or with identity in common … where they can share their experiences. Museums also bridge among identities, offering a public place to bring different groups together around similar interests.” (p. 222)
The International Museum of Folk Art’s Gallery of Conscience, inaugurated in 2010, serves as truly unique and visionary example of how museums are experimenting in this area. The Gallery’s goal is to be an agent of positive social change by engaging history, dialogue, and personal reflection around issues of social justice and human rights. Since the gallery’s inception, exhibitions in this space have explored how traditional artists come together in the face of change or disaster to provide comfort, counsel, prayer, and hope through their art. This focus has earned the space membership in the International Coalition of the Sites of Conscience.
Exhibitions in the Gallery of Conscience are “community-driven, co-created, collaborative, participatory, and cumulative,” according to a press release. “Visitors and community members become part of the conversation from the very beginning—helping to shape the exhibitions and contribute to the dialogue throughout the exhibition’s run.” In 2013-14, the Gallery’s exhibition “Let’s Talk About This” focused on folk artists’ responses to HIV/AIDS through artist and visitor participation, community programs, and a digital storytelling project with LGBTQ youth developed in partnership with N’MPower and Youth Media Project. The oral histories that were collected were incorporated into the exhibition through listening stations, and also became part of the dialogue-based programs related to the exhibition.
Building a Broader Culture of Advocacy
The type of museum practice I’ve highlighted is certainly not new. Many of us read about this work in museum blogs (such as Incluseum, Thinking About Museums, Visitors of Color, Queering the Museum, Brown Girls Museum Blog, etc.) and emails from the Center for the Future of Museums or Museum Hack. Many of us work on programs like these ourselves. But what concerns me is that across much of this practice, I find a lack of a broader institutional culture of support. Too many community-based projects like the ones I mention above end up being relegated to education staff, isolated from the core mission of an institution, or left entirely invisible. And this lack of supports extends beyond the walls of the museum. When journalists, scholars, and critics write about museums and exhibitions, they frequently ignore or denigrate the spaces that invite visitor engagement and community participation. There are even individuals in my own field of museum education who refer to empathy-building practices and affective learning strategies as too “touchy feely.”
We museum people need to work together to build a stronger, collective culture of support and advocacy for museum practice based in empathy, inclusion, and social impact. This is some of the most meaningful, relevant work happening in museums right now. People across our institutions—not just educators but directors, curators, marketing staff, board members, donors, etc.—need to be publicly and visibly proud of the programs, exhibitions, and projects that actively embrace individual stories, dialogue about provocative questions, and the diverse and rich lived experiences of those living in our communities. More comprehensive support for this work can lead to an expanded focus on social impact and community engagement in a museum’s strategic goals and mission, in its exhibition and program planning process, and in its allocation of resources.
So let’s all be more proud of the work we’re doing in museums to bring people together and learn more about ourselves and each other — from tiny one-off gatherings and events to much larger sustained initiatives.
Time for an Empathy Revolution in Museums
How do we start an empathy revolution in museums? How do we more fiercely recognize and support the meaningful work that museum professionals are already leading to support open dialogues around the challenging, relevant issues of our time? And how do we radically expand this work to build a stronger culture of empathy within museums — one that measures future success through our capacity to bring people together, foster conversations, and contribute to strong and resilient communities?
In 2013, the Museums Association of the UK launched its Museums Change Lives campaign, establishing a set of principles based on research, conferences sessions, online forums, open public workshops, and discussions with charities and social enterprises. I think the core principles they developed from their vision for the social impact of museums (a must read!) are worth sharing to move this discussion forward and enact change:
Every museums is different, but all can find ways of maximizing their social impact.
Everyone has the right to meaningful participation in the life and work of museums.
Audiences are creators as well as consumers of knowledge; their insights and expertise enrich and transform the museum experience for others.
Active public participation changes museums for the better.
Museums foster questioning, debate, and critical thinking.
Good museums offer excellent experiences that meet public needs.
Effective museums engage with contemporary issues.
Social justice is at the heart of the impact of museums.
Museums are not neutral spaces.
Museums are rooted in places and contribute to local distinctiveness.
These principles, as with much of their vision, are inspiring — but too often we stop there, feeling inspired but lacking action. The Museums Association report continues, “It’s time for your museum to respond to hard times by making a bigger difference. It’s time for you to play your part in helping museums change people’s lives.” The report concludes with a pretty spot-on set of 10 actions that will help your museum improve its social impact. Here is a slightly abbreviated, edited list:
Make a clear commitment to improve your museum’s social impact (ie. having strategic goals).
Reflect on your current impacts; listen to users and non-users; research local needs.
Research what other museums are doing.
Seek out and connect with suitable partners.
Work with your partners as equals.
Innovate and be willing to take risks.
Reflect on and celebrate your work. Learn from and with partners and participants.
Find ways for partners and participants to have a deep impact on your museum. Bring more voices into interpretation and devolve power.
Strive for long-term sustained change based on lasting relationships with partners and long-term engagement with participants.
Print these out, put them on your office wall, bring them to staff meetings, share these with your visitors and audiences, and have some open conversations about the “so what” of museums. Take these principles and action steps seriously. Build a broader team to advocate for the work you’re already doing at your institution; rethink existing programs; and bravely propose new projects and partnerships that better serve your community. See how a human-centered focus on empathy and social impact might change your own practice, your museum, and your community.
“The best museums are now striving to realise their full potential for society and are far more than just buildings and collections. They have two-way relationships with communities…. They are becoming increasingly outward looking, building more relationships with partners. They are welcoming more people as active participants.” (Museums Change Lives)
“The value of museums begins and ends with the relationship with our visitors. It’s a contract that is renewed each and every time they engage with us, and if we don’t live up to it, we will be usurped.” — John Falk, speech to AAM (2010)
Working in museums can be a messy, messy game, but I always love the conversations that crop up when you get a handful of museum educators together to talk ‘shop.’ A couple weeks ago at the National Art Education Association 2013 annual conference in Fort Worth, there was certainly a lot of that happening. I was fortunate enough to be invited to present — or rather have a public in-process conversation — about participatory culture in art museums with an incredible group of colleagues: Preston Bautista (Deputy Director for Public Programs & Audience Engagement, Indianapolis Museum of Art), Judy Koke (Director of Education & Interpretive Programs, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art), and Susan Diachisin (Director of the Center for Creative Connections, Dallas Museum of Art). By far, the best part of preparing our presentation was the series of winding, organic conversations that led to Fort Worth.
Not only were we all wildly passionate about visitor engagement and participatory practice, but our own working environments were all changing rapidly — from my own move from St. Louis to the Portland Art Museum this past fall, to leadership changes and various grants & innovation projects. All in all, we were fairly hyper-motivated to talk about these issues with each other and, ultimately, to explore concepts of participation and exchange in our institutional cultures.
How does an institution’s hierarchy, leadership, and organizational structure actually enable (or disable) participatory practice? How could museum educators at various levels become more involved in fostering an institutional culture focused on visitor experience and engagement? Could these values find ways of ‘trickling up’ from participatory programs and smaller-scale education projects or exhibitions?
“If … museums must move away from assumed public value and begin to measure their impact, and if … museums must achieve impact for the community instead of impact for the museum, then the impetus is on museum education to rise to the challenge that lies before us and reposition the museum in the eyes of the public.” — Tina Nolan, JME (2010)
As we entered our NAEA session entitled “Toward an Even More Participatory Culture in Art Museums,” we had decided on a set of assumptions that were key to making this a valuable and productive conversation:
There is a shift happening. Art museums across the continent are taking big steps to change the ‘business as usual’ model, creating structures to put the public’s expectations, needs, and experiences at the center of interpretive planning and exhibition development. We can see this in institutions such as the Detroit Institute of Arts (see great article by their Exec Dir of Learning & Interpretation), Art Gallery of Ontario, Denver Art Museum, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among many others. In the specific realm of ‘participation’ and public engagement, it is always important to note the Irvine Foundation’s support for institutions such as the Oakland Museum, as well as museum “Innovation Stories” featured via EmcArts & ArtsFwd. If you still need convincing that change is afoot, watch this video compiled by the Innovatrium at their January 2013 ‘think tank’ of museum leaders.
We’re all in this together. Instead of anyone pretending to be an ‘expert’ about these changes in organizational culture, we wanted to be conscious of the fact that we are all co-learning with each other. It doesn’t matter the size of one’s museum or how involved your senior leadership is in this shifting landscape — we’re all working toward the greater public value and relevance of museums in our communities and beyond. And this needs to be an open, inclusive conversation if it is to be meaningful one.
You can’t talk about participatory practice without becoming participatory. I always feel like every lecture on “visitor engagement” and “participatory practice” is, in part, quite disingenuous if it does not attempt to actually ENGAGE. Even if an attempt to activate a lecture hall full of 200 spectators fails, I always feel that we should try — walk the walk, right?! So I was able to convince our group to do a crowdsourcing activity to engage those attending our session, and pull out their ideas in a participatory way.
“For a museum to truly engage its users, it must cease acting as a controlling gatekeeper to its collections and expertise. Rather, the museum must work with its users and communities to unlock the stories its collections hold, responding to the choices its users make. As such, it must give up its traditional authoritarian voice so that users are free to question, debate, collaborate, and speculate — seeking out those issues that most concern them — and are given the support and inspiration required to do so.” — Graham Black, Transforming Museums in the Twenty-First Century (2012)
After our initial discussion and framing of these issues, we jumped right into the crowdsourcing exercise to activate everyone’s thinking and to have the group generate ideas. To prevent this conversation from quickly deteriorating into a litany of complaints, barriers, and reasons why we might not be able to enact change at our institutions, we granted everyone in the room freedom from all of these restraints … with a magic wand. Therefore, without concern about budget cuts, personality conflicts, and perceived curatorial barriers, we invited each participant to take two or three minutes, envision some ways to engender a more participatory culture at their institutions, and then write down a “what if” statement on a small slip of paper. We collected more than 50 “what if” statements, crowdsourced them with the group, and then spent the final chunk of time opening up a conversation around these ideas. Here are the 4 statements that, at this moment and with this group, bubbled to the surface:
What if everyone in the museum understood everyone else’s job?
What if there was a real plan for interpretive team development of exhibitions and permanent collections? What if curators and educators didn’t feel like they were ceding territory when they worked together?
What if educators/interpreters and curators worked collaboratively on creating in-gallery participatory experiences?
What if I could include funds for “things I may think of after the budget process” [an “innovation” fund] when I’m writing my department budget?
Rather than recount the conversation or provide my own opinions, thoughts, and perspectives here, I wanted to take this opportunity to open the conversation … to OpenThink the “what if” statements we collected during our NAEA session. So below is a link to all of the “what if” statements that we were able to collect, in no particular order. Feel free to peruse, and add Comments to the GoogleDoc if you choose.
I invite you to share these with colleagues, send this to others at your museums (yes, curators, too!), and let’s create a conversation in the GoogleDoc or below in the Comment area. Do you have a “What If” statement that you would like to add? Are these concerns about exhibition planning, community involvement, and staff development similar at your institution, or different? How can we engender more participatory practice/culture in our work? in our institutions?