Identity is the lens with which an individual views the world. As museum professionals we are often asked to represent peoples, cultures, and ideas that are outside the purview of our own identity. How can we do this effectively and in an unbiased way?
American Association of Museums study Excellence and Equity offers answers to this question by recommending community involvement and collaboration in all stages of museum plans, programs, and exhibits. But is this a feasible idea and how does it work in a real museum?
To better answer these questions I interviewed Lisa Falk, Director of Education, at the Arizona State Museum. Lisa Falk is very aware of her own identity and how it is often not the same as the people represented in the museum. To counter any bias she advises first to acknowledge the unique lens with which you see the world and then embrace the views, knowledge, and experiences of a variety of other people. Central to her own work is an openness and collaboration with the community and a willingness to not always be the expert.
When the traveling exhibit Through the Eyes of the Eagle: Illustrating Healthy Living, which promoted health from a Native American perspective, was slated to come to ASM Lisa Falk went into the community to see how to make the exhibit relevant to the local Native American population and the Tucson community. What came out of this community collaboration was a dynamic exhibit, programs and materials, including a digital comic book aimed at teens, that promoted awareness of type 2 diabetes prevention for a wide audience. To see more about this exhibit and working with the community please read Lisa Falk’s posts on the Western Museum Association’s blog and on the Center for the Future of Museums’ blog.
American Association of Museums, and American Association of Museums. Excellence and Equity: Education and the Public Dimension of Museums. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums, 2008.
Interview with Lisa Falk, Director of Education at the Arizona State Museum, October 1, 2012.