Skip to content

Refracting the Social Justice Lens: An Intersectional Approach to Labor Equity in Museums

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
Skip over related stories to continue reading article

Hi–Sylvea here! Elizabeth is giving a talk in New Zealand and while she’s away Nicole and I will host CFM’s blog. Today’s post aligns quite well with Nicole’s Monday Musing on museum internships and  Tuesday story about the CFM Booth at AAM’s Annual Meeting.  Alyssa Greenberg, Nina Pelaez, Adrianne Russell, and Kate Swisher of #MuseumWorkersSpeak offer a thoughtful review of their organization’s work over the past year. They invite you to attend several of their programs during the Annual Meeting where museum professionals and emerging members of the field can continue to develop tools for looking inward, while building more equitable and inclusive environments for staff and visitors. In addition to attending this programming, join the conversation on Twitter and visit their website!

Since last year’s rogue session, Museum Workers Speak has convened perspectives on the topic of museum labor and internal practices. Our monthly tweetchats and regional meetings in Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, NYC, Miami, and the Bay Area have brought together a range of voices whose varied experiences and frustrations reveal, not a unified concern with a single neat solution, but a multiplicity of interconnected issues that must be addressed as such.
We founded this group hoping to galvanize museums to “turn the social justice lens inward,” but the lesson we have internalized over this past year of activism is that the lens must refract. It has become apparent that a close examination on the topic of labor practice cannot take place in a silo — it must be approached from a deliberately intersectional stance.
We must take into account how the many oppressive structures shaping the field (racism, sexism, elitism, among others) connect. While we are happy to see museum stakeholders begin to address many issues related to inclusion, these issues are often still analyzed and discussed in isolation, as discrete sessions or trends, rather than in totality. This year, we return to AAM to shift the conversation away from separate issues and toward an analysis of the underlying systemic power structure. We invite you to attend the following sessions and contribute to the dialogue on Twitter.
Thursday, May 26
MuseumExpo Demo in the Alliance Resource Center
Much of our initial rogue session’s success came from the presence of museum workers from all levels — sharing and listening to the perspectives of individuals with varied experiences. This balance was a step toward breaking down the silos and echo chambers that often inhibit understanding.
Subsequent Museum Workers Speak conversations and events, however, have predominantly attracted graduate students and emerging professionals. Although these discussions provide a crucial space for individuals with less power to make their voices heard, we want to place them in conversation with current leaders and other changemakers in the field.  By convening a roundtable at AAM 2016, we hope to once again leverage the presence of museum workers at all levels to prompt generative, sector-wide dialogue.
We made a strategic decision not only to cover the CFM Demo’s theme of internships, but also to examine wage equity more broadly. An exclusive focus on securing paid internships for emerging professionals is rightfully criticized by many as favoring those who already benefit from significant privilege — most often, white women. Our interest, as a collective, is to expand the scope of this dialogue and focus on how sustainable salaries enable workers from marginalized backgrounds to both enter and thrive in museum careers.
Featured roundtable participants:
      Jamie Daniel (UPI Local 4100, IFT/AFT; Chicago Center for Working Class Studies)
      Omar Eaton-Martinez (Smithsonian National Museum of American History; Museums and Race)
      Wendy Ng (Royal Ontario Museum)
This drop-in session will be facilitated by Adrianne Russell, Nina Pelaez, Kate Swisher, and Alyssa Greenberg and will include questions collaboratively developed by the roundtable participants, co-facilitators, and Twitter discussions.
Friday, May 27
Marquis Marriott – 901 Massachusetts Ave NW , Washington, DC
(Free registration required)
Museum Workers Speak’s mission centers on intersectionality: we believe race and labor must be discussed together. Therefore, a partnership with Museums and Race was a natural fit. We were also excited by this collaboration because the Gathering is free of charge and located in an “unbadged” space, providing access to local participants who may otherwise be kept out by steep conference fees.
Our partnership takes the form of a workshop co-created with the Empathetic Museum. Workshop attendees will practice critical self-reflection using a rubric developed by the Empathetic Museum with consultation from members of Museum Workers Speak.
The Empathetic Museum Summary Maturity Model: A Model for Inner Transformation of Museum Structures identifies benchmarks for institutional practices that reflect social justice values. In groups facilitated by members of the Empathetic Museum and Museum Workers Speak, participants will test out this tool by applying it to their own practices — and workshopping the tool itself.
Co-facilitators from Museum Workers Speak:
      Alyssa Greenberg
      Alli Hartley
      Jennifer Keim
      Margaret Middleton
      Monica O. Montgomery
      Mariela Rossel-Pritikin
      Kate Swisher
Saturday, May 28
Committee on Museum Professional Training (COMPT) Breakfast
Salon 13
Marquis Marriott – 901 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC
($35.00 registration required)
Teresa Martinez and Alli Hartley, two founding members of the Museum Workers Speak Washington D.C. regional group, will share their advocacy work with members of the Committee on Museum Professional Training (COMPT).
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
Museum Workers Speak co-founders Adrianne Russell, Monica O. Montgomery, Alyssa Greenberg, Jillian Reese, and Nina Pelaez will frame a dialogue with attendees and remote participants around the question: What does it mean to advocate for an intersectional approach to labor equity? This session will offer strategies for challenging entrenched power dynamics that perpetuate exclusivity in the museum workforce.

AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.