Joint Statement on Museums and Ferguson: First Anniversary

On December 11, 2014, and in the days following a number of us posted a joint statement expressing our concern about museums’ lack of recognition of the underlying causes of the events in Ferguson (writ large).

The statement has had both immediate and continuing impact, so I think it’s worth republishing it, and reflecting on where we’ve come in a year.

  •  Within a week of the “Joint Statement’s” publication, a national museum organization (the American Association of State and Local History) and a regional organization (the New England Museums Association) issued statements urging their members to use their collections and other resources to provide context and information. The organizations also published the “Joint Statement.”
  • As discussion heated up, especially on Twitter, blogger Adrianne Russell and public history PhD candidate Aleia Brown, both of whom worked on and signed the statement, decided to organize a twitter chat on the topic. This dialogue, begun on December 17, 2014, has continued and expanded, convening on the third Wednesday of each month. A review of the Storify summaries of each chat reveals the extension of this conversation into many aspects of museum work. In particular discussion has focused on the continued lack of progress in diversifying Boards, professional staff, and volunteer corps in museums.
  • A second vibrant movement that has grown out of these discussions is the #MuseumWorkersSpeak initiative, begun by colleagues who connected during #museumsrespondtoFerguson chats. This group now chats monthly on Twitter and is convening regular meetings in Washington, DC, Chicago, and other cities to discuss income disparity within museums, the reliance of museums on unpaid internships, and other museum employment issues.
  • There were a number of sessions, official and unofficial, at the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting in Atlanta in April, 2015, both about Ferguson and about labor and pay issues among museum workers.  The reverberations of these sessions continue to this day, and I predict that 2016 will see a number of initiatives related both to race and to income inequity in museums.
  • The “Joint Statement” has been referenced by bloggers and speakers from abroad in discussing museums’ relevance to today’s issues.  See Nicole Deufel’s Blog; also Maria Vlachou’s talk, “Are We Failing?” on You Tube, in which she discusses European museums’ responses to the massive movements of people from Asia and Africa into Europe.

While all of the above is a step in the right direction, it is of course mostly talk.  This is good, in the sense that awareness is the first step towards real change.  But so much more needs to be done if the museum community is to face up to and truly address the issues of race, oppression, and privilege that so shape our public face.  With hope that 2016 will bring more dialogue, but also effective action and reform, here once again is the

Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and Related Events

The recent series of events, from Ferguson to Cleveland and New York, have created a watershed moment. Things must change. New laws and policies will help, but any movement toward greater cultural and racial understanding and communication must be supported by our country’s cultural and educational infrastructure. Museums are a part of this educational and cultural network. What should be our role(s)?

 

Schools and other arts organizations are rising to the challenge. University law schools are hosting seminars on Ferguson. Colleges are addressing greater cultural and racial understanding in various courses. National education organizations and individual teachers are developing relevant curriculum resources, including the #FergusonSyllabus project initiated by Dr. Marcia Chatelain. Artists and arts organizations are contributing their spaces and their creative energies. And pop culture icons, from basketball players to rock stars, are making highly visible commentary with their clothes and voices.

 

Where do museums fit in? Some might say that only museums with specific African American collections have a role, or perhaps only museums situated in the communities where these events have occurred. As mediators of culture, all museums should commit to identifying how they can connect to relevant contemporary issues irrespective of collection, focus, or mission.

 

We are a community of museum bloggers who write from a variety of perspectives and museum disciplines.  Yet our posts contain similar phrases such as  “21st century museums,” “changing museum paradigms,” “inclusiveness,” “co-curation,” “participatory” and “the museum as forum.”  We believe that strong connections should exist between museums and their communities. Forging those connections means listening and responding to those we serve and those we wish to serve.

 

There is hardly a community in the U.S. that is untouched by the reverberations emanating from Ferguson and its aftermath. Therefore we believe that museums everywhere should get involved. What should be our role–as institutions that claim to conduct their activities for the public benefit–in the face of ongoing struggles for greater social justice both at the local and national level?

 

We urge museums to consider these questions by first looking within. Is there equity and diversity in your policy and practice regarding staff, volunteers, and Board members? Are staff members talking about Ferguson and the deeper issues it raises? How do these issues relate to the mission and audience of your museum?  Do you have volunteers? What are they thinking and saying? How can the museum help volunteers and partners address their own questions about race, violence, and community?

 

We urge museums to look to their communities. Are there civic organizations in your area that are hosting conversations? Could you offer your auditorium as a meeting place? Could your director or other senior staff join local initiatives on this topic? If your museum has not until now been involved in community discussions, you may be met at first with suspicion as to your intentions. But now is a great time to start being involved.

 

Join with your community in addressing these issues. Museums may offer a unique range of resources and support to civic groups that are hoping to organize workshops or public conversations. Museums may want to use this moment not only to “respond” but also to “invest” in conversations and partnerships that call out inequity and racism and commit to positive change.

 

We invite you to join us in amplifying this statement. As of now, only the Association of African American Museums has issued a formal statement about the larger issues related to Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island. We believe that the silence of other museum organizations sends a message that these issues are the concern only of African Americans and African American Museums. We know that this is not the case. We are seeing in a variety of media – blogs, public statements, and conversations on Twitter and Facebook—that colleagues of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are concerned and are seeking guidance and dialogue in understanding the role of museums regarding these troubling events. We hope that organizations such as the American Alliance of Museums; the Association of Science-Technology Centers; the Association of Children’s Museums; the American Association for State and Local History and others, will join us in acknowledging the connections between our institutions and the social justice issues highlighted by Ferguson and related events.

 

You can join us by…

  • Posting and sharing this statement on your organization’s website or social media

Participating Bloggers and Colleagues

Gretchen Jennings, Museum Commons

Aletheia Wittman and Rose Paquet Kinsley, The Incluseum

Aleia Brown, AleiaBrown.org

Steven Lubar, On Public Humanities

Mike Murawski, Art Museum Teaching

Linda Norris, The Uncataloged Museum

Paul Orselli  ExhibiTricks: A Museum/Exhibit/Design Blog

Ed Rodley, Thinking About Museums

Adrianne Russell, Cabinet of Curiosities

Nina Simon, Museum 2.0

Rainey Tisdale, CityStories

Jeanne Vergeront  Museum Notes

Porchia Moore @PorchiaMuseuM

If you are receiving this post by email and would like to comment, please go to www.museumcommons.com

You can also send comments to me on Twitter @gretchjenn.com.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.