When the Museum Education Roundtable had our annual forum last week, featuring Keonna Hendrick and Marit Dewhurst speaking on “Dismantling Racism in Museums,” none of us knew that by this week, the events in Charlottesville and the fallout thereof would be bringing the discussion of racism, not to mention monuments, memorials, history, voice, and tolerance to the national stage.
Hendrick and Dewhurst were recently guest editors of the issue of the Journal of Museum Education, “Identifying and Transforming Racism in Museum Education,” an issue with a number of compelling articles on museums ‘doing the work,’ listening, being better allies, and welcoming voices that have not always been represented. For museum workers interested in being allies and change makers, I highly recommend that issue’s reader guide, which goes along with the free access article.
One of the ideas put forward by Hendrick and Dewhurst in their discussion was that of “brave spaces.” Safe spaces are good, but not enough for real change; to hear criticism, to offer experiences and personal details that make you vulnerable, to be able to move past an internal sense of “not this again” (as listener or as explainer), it takes bravery. To listen without immediately jumping to one’s own defense takes courage. To walk into a room and share your story with a lot of people who might or might not listen to you takes courage. “Listening can be a radical learning tool,” say Hendrick and Dewhust.
Museums aspire to be places of radical learning. We can be home to bravery, if we acknowledge that as mission-driven institutions, we are also therefore values-driven institutions.
There was a lot of live-tweeting of the MER Forum; I recommend you check out the #MERForum2017 discussion on Twitter if you’re curious, and also keep an eye out for a possible MER blog following up on the forum in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, I’m going to be looking to see where museums are already being brave, doing the work, and offering opportunities for radical learning. I expect there will be some interesting examples on display at the upcoming NEMA Conference, “Truth & Trust: Museums in a Polarized Society.”
Here are a few other heartening examples to counteract all the crazy currently in the news:
- “Why a German museum is exploring its colonial past”
- “Gateways for Understanding” Journal of Museum Education virtual special issue on diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (all articles free access until the end of 2017)
- “Polyvocality and Representation” A reflection on the Detroit Institute of Arts’ community engagement in exhibition development practices, featuring their Korean art installation and Art of Rebellion exhibit.
Edited to add a few more great resource compilations!