As museum professionals we do a lot of talking about diversity. But how do we actually go about attracting diverse visitors? Perhaps museums need to stop looking at diversity as a challenge they need to overcome, and start viewing it as a tool they can use to make museums better. In her article, “The Real Multiculturalism,” Mesa-Bains says that museums see audience as a problem, rather than a resource. Perhaps museums do themselves a disservice when they view learning as one-sided. A community might have just as much to teach a museum, as a museum has to offer its public.
Lauren Cross, Community Programs Coordinator at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, has a similar idea. She says that meeting with community groups to figure out how they can work together, and both get something out of collaboration, is a priority. Opening the lines of communication is also key. Museums must let their audiences speak, and then be willing to listen and respond, in order for meaningful change to occur. Lauren emphasizes that the Wadsworth wants to show all members of the Hartford community that the museum is open and receptive, a goal it has carried out, in part, through its Community Engagement Initiative.
What we must remember is that we cannot expect that members of any community will just want to come to our museums. Lauren points out that each and every day we must answer the question, “Why is what we do important to any person or community?” We must prove to every potential visitor, as she says, that “we are relevant to your life.”
Interview with Lauren Cross, Community Programs Coordinator at the Wadsworth Atheneum, November 15, 2012.
Amalia Mesa-Bains, “The Real Multiculturalism: A Struggle for Power and Authority,” in Reinventing the Museum, ed. Gail Anderson (Lanham, New York, Toronto, Plymouth, UK: Altamira Press, 2012), 104-113.