How can museums be more inclusive?

In our Introduction to Museums course we are learning about how museums can better embrace diversity. I had the opportunity to interview Maria Vann, Director of the Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave, N.Y. My discussion with Maria enlightened me about a variety of issues relating to incorporating the history of diverse populations in museums, and creating exhibits and programs that honor the history of the Haudenosaunee people.
Maria believes museums need to work towards bringing in visitors from different backgrounds. Her staff is working with the BOCES program and with schools in the capital region to welcome school groups from different ethnic and socioeconomic groups. It is also crucial that museum exhibits and programs attract diverse populations and incorporate issues of diversity. Vann believes that if there is some controversy museums are doing a good job of creating dialogue because visitors deserve to know different perspectives.

In order to achieve broader museum exhibits staff members should also bring different backgrounds to exhibits and discussions. The staff needs to work on making exhibits reflective of the cultures they are presenting. To avoid offending the group you are presenting and to have exhibits that reflect the group’s perspective you need to engage community representatives, and have open discussion about why an exhibit could be offensive. What are some other ways museums can include people from diverse backgrounds, and create an environment for dialogue about diversity?

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5 Responses to How can museums be more inclusive?

  1. I think you can’t just look to community representatives for feedback, but just the community at large. Many times representatives have different ideas then the general public and can create misrepresentation later. I think it is in the best interest of the museum to approach all types of people within the community. Getting feedback from all walks of life and backgrounds will give the museum a better perspective on what the community wants. It also gives them a stake in the design and presentation of the museum and they would be more likely to visit to see their feedback in action.

    • This is very true! I think that this connects to why we try to have outreach programs or have museum professionals come up with questions about what the community at large are interested in and want to see in museums. This is also part of museum equity because people in the community need to see how they are represented in the museum and feel like they are learning about topics or objects they are interested in learning about in the museum.

  2. emilykp47 says:

    I think Maria Vann had some very good points. I’m curious as to how the Iroquois Indian Museum is working with the Iroquois Nations to incorporate their perspectives and ideas into the museum. All museums need to work with members of the cultures they are representing; community collaboration is so important.

  3. Another great way to present stories, artifacts and exhibits in an inclusive way is to have a diverse staff at the museum. If the museum hires highly qualified staff members to design exhibits and programming, they will present history and art in a way that weaves multiple perspectives together. If a staff is fairly homogenous, so will be the exhibitions – the museum will only appeal to one group of people, and it will only represent the views of one group of people. A diverse staff will create diverse exhibits and educational programming which will attract a diverse audience. This is not the only key to a successful inclusive museum, but it does provide a strong foundation from which to build one.

    • I agree, we need to make sure that the staff and exhibits are reflective of the diverse populations and historical perspectives in the community. It is important that museums include and hire highly qualified museum professionals. Some museums have diversity in staff but the minority staff members often have positions like security guard, or lower level positions that the museums than claim they have diversified their museums. It is essential that museums go beyond this format of inclusion. Museums like the Clark Institute have taken some small steps in broadening the diversity in their museums through projects like the alternative sentencing program. But this is just one way that museums can bring in diverse populations and work on being relevant to the needs of their local communities.

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