Inclusion is more than a buzzword; it embodies the broader impetus to create an open and equal forum for people of different cultures, backgrounds, or abilities. Inclusion takes accessibility one step further, from an open door to an invitation.
Art Beyond Sight, an organization “dedicated to making the visual arts play a vital role in the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired,” redefines the responsibility of institutions toward individuals with disabilities. Rather than a diagnosis, a medical ‘problem’ that limits and defines a person, Art Beyond Sight sees disability as “a social and environmental issue that deals with accessibility, accommodations, and equity.” This new paradigm puts the onus on institutions to adapt and accommodate people of different abilities.
The issue of physical access has largely been solved; most museums today provide accessible bathrooms, entrances, lifts, and parking. However, many museums stop at physical accessibility. In order to be inclusive, museums need to add another layer of accommodations, and consider exhibition layout, content, and programming. By offering staff training and including individuals with disabilities in exhibit development, museums could foster a deeper understanding of this diverse population and begin to make simple, foundational changes to create a more welcoming atmosphere.
Individuals with disabilities constitute an underutilized community resource that could enrich the cultural discourse in museums. By not only opening the door, but also extending an invitation through accommodations, universal design, and inclusive learning environments, museums can grow to embrace a more diverse audience.
This week, our conversation in class will focus on diversity in museums. I was fortunate enough to speak with Cordell Reaves at the NYS Parks Department and Chris Taylor at the Minnesota Historical Society, both of whom are involved in increasing diversity at their institutions. Many museums seem to feel that diversity is achieved by having a few programs or an exhibit that showcases objects from a different culture. On the contrary, museums need to be dedicated to bringing in a diverse audience at all times. This should include not only different racial, ethnic, and cultural groups, but also different socioeconomic groups and intellectual interests.
In order to do this, Chris and Cordell both agreed that we need to change the staff at museums. Only by changing the staff to reflect the diverse people in our communities will museums be able to create an environment where these people feel welcome. Many museums use the excuse that there are not enough qualified people from these communities to work at museums. However, museums need to be the ones to cultivate middle and high school students’ interests and show students that it is possible for them to pursue a career in museums. If they are interested in art, history, or other related fields, this is an industry where they can make a difference.
Have you heard of successful outreach programs for middle and high school students? Do you have any ideas for how we can create and implement these programs for students?
- Cyndi Tolosa
The article “Museum-Drama, Ritual and Power introduces three models for museums based on visitors’ experiences. The first model “identity” is how we link ourselves to museum objects to form our own personalized museum experience; the second model “transaction” focuses on how people evaluate the meaning of objects based on their identity; the third model “ritual” illustrates how museums are an environmental factor that influences people’s reception of objects; and the last one “power” tells us how objects might affect visitors due to a lack of knowledge of background and cultures.
The author of the article considers that the museum is an environment with authorized knowledge of certain cultures, which reminds us of the French sociologist Émile Durkheim’s idea of “anomie.” We are social individuals living in a world we do not actually know about it and while each individual is trying to fit into a certain “social norm,” we are changed by the broader social environment. The “Chunga Exhibit” in the British Museum started many arguments in Asian countries. Some Asian countries questioned whether this kind of culture should be accepted by museums, especially the British Museum of great reputation. In some traditional Asian culture these images would be considered a nasty culture. However, people who do not know about Asian cultures might think it is an interesting culture, and have a different approach to these Chunga paintings.
How do you evaluate objects from a foreign culture?
On a recent trip to Washington D.C., our class saw the exhibit, Can You Walk Away? at Lincoln’s Cottage. The exhibit raised awareness on modern-day slavery by using taped testimonies from survivors. The exhibit was compelling and easily captured everyone’s attention, and no object were needed in the exhibit.
So the question of the day is, do museums still need objects? In the past, museums were viewed as collecting institutions, today they are education centers. The focus on collecting objects has become less of a priority for some museums in recent decades, leaving many collections in the dark and unknown to the public. So what should we do with unwanted or unused collections?
Erin Richardson, who believes that museums still need objects, points out that less established museums may lack the resources to have own a collection that they may need. As a solution, museums, who lack collections or objects, could request objects from other institutions and then use those loaned objects in their exhibits. Not only will it take the object out of the dark storage facility, but in return the loaned objects will get seen by more people, and this will increase the public and other institutions’ awareness of the types of collections that are available or hidden at certain museums.
With that said, how would you feel about lending your own objects to another institution? Should museums have a more organized system for lending objects or making more collections known to other institutions.
1. Richardson, Erin. Interview by Jeanette Sanchez. 18 November 2013.
We’re people, so we like to be right. This is one reason is why some museum professionals have a hard time sharing authority with the public, but it is also one reason why other museum professionals have a hard time seeing how shared authority may have potential problems.
My fellow bloggers at Museum Matters have been very enthusiastic about museums sharing their authority with the public. I agree with them, but I want to challenge their assumptions because there is a danger in being too sure of your own rightness to consider other possibilities.
There may be times when publically curated exhibits need more direction from the museum than usual. Controversial exhibits are one example; inflamed passions often do more harm than good for public discourse unless mediation is available. Another example might be exhibits about older subjects which are not remembered by anyone alive, as the typical public curation model lets people describe their own experiences. In these cases, a museum may have to take a larger share of the authority than it ideally would.
Another issue is that people may be skeptical about public curation, and therefore reluctant to embrace it. They may include board members and active museum goers, or they might be the members of the public who don’t attend museums—the very demographic we want to reach. What should we do if neither our target nor our core audiences are impressed by shared authority?
How would you solve these potential issues? Post your solutions below.
By Rick Kriebel