Diversity is complicated. Politicians, film makers, and marketing primarily see diversity in terms of ethnicity which ignores socioeconomic status, education, and gender. It also completely overlooks the ways people define themselves.
In classes, books, and media, we have been told repeatedly how important it is to have ethnic diversity within the museum. Gonzalo Casals, Director of Education and Public Programs at El Museo del Barrio New York City, differs slightly in this regard. He believes that it is more important that the people making decisions come from different backgrounds—culture, ideology, and education—than to have a person from every ethnicity working as a security guard or in visitor services. This sort of diversity, he says, does no good to anyone.
Gonzalo also insisted on the importance of meeting with the community to find out what they need rather than assuming that all people of a particular culture want certain things. For instance, the museum recently asked to decorate a building with a mural. They contacted a local artist to do the work but did not let their community involvement stop there. They also contacted a local second grade class to paint pictures about what was important to them in their community. The artist designed a mural based on the class’s designs. In this way, the class will not only have a stronger connection to their community and museum but feel they have influenced their community.
Most importantly, Gonzalo brought to my attention how fluid identity is. Each of us identify as different parts of ourselves given the situation. While it is difficult to design exhibits around individuals, it is important that we work to be as inclusive as possible. By breaking down our points to a universal level, everyone can take something away from our program.
Interview with Gonzalo Casals, Director of Education and Public Programs at El Museo del Barrio, December 7, 2012.