Since CFM launched in 2008, I’ve been aware of the danger of our work being the proverbial mile wide and an inch deep. That is why the CFM Fellow program, now in its infancy, is so critical: fellows will give us the capacity to take a deeper dive into crucial trends. Our first fellow, Dr. Nicole Ivy, is focusing her work on museum labor practices, especially as they affect diversity, equity and audience. As guest editor, Nicole infused these topics into the latest issue of Museum, demonstrating how the fellows’ work will help amplify our foresight work and integrate it into the Alliance. In today’s post, Nicole provides an overview of “Diversity in the Museum Workplace.” I hope you will take the time to find (or borrow) AAM’s latest issue of Museum magazine, and read it cover to cover.
Why should those of us who are interested in the future of museums be concerned with questions of diversity and inclusion? This is no abstract question. From the efforts of multi-national corporations to recent political debates, conversations about diversity are present seemingly everywhere. The zeitgeist of cultural diversity is underscored by data. Current US Census reports estimate that by 2044, over half of the nation’s population will be comprised of non-white persons. By 2060, almost one in five people in the US will have been born outside the country. The data reveals major shifts ahead for the country’s demographic landscape in the future decades: age, sex, race, ethnicity, migration, and nativity are all factors undergoing tremendous change. All this has important resonance for museums. As reported in CFM’s 2010 report, “Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums,” without embracing social change, museums risk compromising their impact by “serv[ing] an ever-shrinking fragment of society.”
But, the good news is that this future of compromised reach is not inevitable. Museums can pursue—and are pursuing—diversity in both their internal structures and their external influence. The January/February 2016 issue of Museum magazine explores how museums are responding to demographic changes in society and the need for more diversity within the museum workplace. Museum magazine is a bi-monthly publication for members of the Alliance that provides the field with insight on various topics affecting museums today. The newest issue, “Diversity in the Museum Workplace,” points toward the past even as it directs us toward the future of equitable museum practice. It also offers suggestions for ways forward by leaders in the field, including CFM founder Elizabeth Merritt. As guest editor of the issue, I was honored to help compile contributions from thought leaders and author the article, “The Labor of Diversity,” on museums and fair labor practices.
AAM’s president and CEO, Laura Lott, sets the tone in her opening column. She frames the primary themes of the issue in the context of a preferable future, reminding us that achieving museum equity and inclusion “will happen neither overnight nor without sustained, focused effort.” Sheri Levinsky-Raskin and Greg Stevens’ feature article, “Nothing About Us Without Us” takes up the charge and anchors the “My Take” section of the magazine. It offers observations on a three-part webinar series entitled, “Stories of Inclusion: Inclusive Practices at Cultural Institutions.” Reflecting on museums and the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the authors emphasize the importance of going beyond compliance in engaging universal design and physical and cognitive disabilities. They stress foregrounding the insight of people of all abilities in museum decision-making and note that the museum community can take action by sharing, joining, or starting a local access network to highlight issues of ability and disability inclusion.
The issue also includes an excerpt of Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole’s dynamic speech from the 2015 annual meeting. In the context of diversity in the museum workplace, Dr. Cole’s words on art museums, the changing workplace, and national demographics are timely. Her arguments for the business case for diversity and the importance of honoring our multiple identities are especially powerful. Renae Youngs, Christopher Leitch, and Michael Lesperance collaboratively authored a thoughtful piece entitled, “Setting the Standard for LGBTQ Inclusion.” They echo Dr. Cole’s sentiment, explaining that museums lag behind the corporate sector in formalizing opportunities for LGBTQ communities in museum staffs and visitors. They point to the forthcoming set of welcoming guidelines produced by the AAM LGBTQ Alliance Professional Network as a useful new tool to help the field to create standards for best practices to serve LGBTQ communities. These guidelines emphasize three main points:
That LGBTQ diversity is on purpose
That Your Museum can encourage LGBTQ diversity
Your museum can stop discouraging LGBTQ diversity
Rose Paquet Kinsley and Aletheia Wittman, co-founders of the Incluseum blog, expand on their earlier letter to the editorial team in response to the July/August 2015 Museum magazine issue foregrounding the theme of social justice. Their article, “Bringing Self-Examination to the Center of Social Justice Work in Museums” outlines the impetus for the development of their blog and presents the Incluseum as an example of practical ways that the field is taking up the charge of diversity and inclusion. In it, Kinsley and Wittman urge museums to “expand the conversation to include internal practices and institutional legacies that prevent us from doing our best work.” Echoing this call toward self-evaluation, Elizabeth Merritt’s provocative feature, “The Museum Sacrifice Measure” dives into facets of organizational culture that can limit real change and impact in the field. Accepting low salaries, Merritt argues, is often the literal price that many museum workers feel that they pay in order to have greater satisfaction and increased autonomy—things that aren’t always guaranteed in individual positions. By building supportive environments and exploring new management strategies that allow greater flexibility, among other things, museums can do a better job of retaining employees.
Have you received your copy? What articles or sections stood out to you? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!