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Crafting courageous truths: The creation and philosophy of MASS Action: Museum As Site for Social Action

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
Today, Porchia Moore, Aletheia Wittman, Elisabeth Callihan, nikhil trivedi, Janeen Bryant, and Sage Morgan-Hubbard share thoughts on the recent MASS Action convening. Here they outline the vision for the three-year project and describe the need for museums to work toward equity and social justice.
MASS Action Attendees
People are hesitant to engage in difficult conversations and that is what cultural institutions exist to offer in an array of forms… From the Smithsonian Institution to the public library in Ferguson, Missouri, libraries and museums share an idea to address: the need to stimulate the capacity of public thought. If each of us is required to craft truths for ourselves, it is the fearless mind that moves with greatest success. That kind of courage is part of the democratic motive as well. There is an unspoken link between curiosity and courage, as many lives of discovery can demonstrate.   We need to speak about this link. —-David Carr (Smithsonian Libraries Unbound)
Now more than ever, we need to be talking about and working towards social justice and equity within our museums. In the spirit of fearlessness and courage, the Minneapolis Institute of Art provided the space for museum professionals across the country to craft a vision for 21st century museums, their workers, and their visitors. The vision is encapsulated by a project called Museum As Site for Social Action, or MASS Action. The goal of this three year project is to create an immersive, action-oriented, living toolkit for radical museum praxis. We aim to promote new ways of framing museum work with decolonization, anti-oppression, community-building, social justice, and shared authority as our guiding principles..
MASS Action is dedicated to eradicating the fallacy that museums are or have ever been neutral spaces. We believe museums can either choose to engage the social, political and economic realities that impact every aspect of life for the communities they serve, or let their silence implicate them in their complacency. If museums choose to engage, there may be work to be done to enter into the conversation authentically:
  • Reconciling with communities for past injustices
  • Creating pathways for communities to lead museum acts of engagement at every level
  • Instituting fair labor/wage standards for communities and individuals that support museums in this work
  • Understanding coded words and concepts that hinder change and reinscribe inequities to the benefit of museums
  • Training for staff and board that leads to awareness raising for the ways oppressions operate at an institutional level
The project is designed as follows:
YEAR 1: 52 museum professionals from across the country gathered in Fall 2016 to dreamscape and envision museum work centered on social justice and decolonization. The team laid the framework and organization for the living toolkit. A Beta version of the toolkit will be made available to the museum field in summer 2017.
YEAR 2: A call for applications will open to attend a 2017 summit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Museums invested in becoming a site for social action should apply. Each participating museum will be asked to send one senior level museum professional and one emerging or mid-career professional to attend the summit. The summit will provide toolkit training, community and network building opportunities, and the chance to model leadership in the field.
YEAR 3: Participating museums and professionals will gather together, either virtually or in-person, to share lessons learned, present case studies, and strengthen the vision for a future where museums are sites of social action.
Scenes from the convening
We recognize that we need to work together to catalyze the scale of change we envision for the future of museums. MASS Action is dedicated to supporting museums that want to build their capacity for authentic, sincere social action. To learn more about the Minneapolis Institute of Art and MASS Action, please visit:
Porchia Moore is a PhD Candidate at the University of South Carolina and the McKissick Museum Management Program. She is a curator and museum inclusion consultant. She co-founded the Visitors of Color Project with nikhil trivedi and is a regular contributing writer for the Incluseum.
Sage Morgan-Hubbard is the Ford W. Bell Fellow in P-12 Education at the American Alliance of Museums.
Aletheia Wittman co-founded The Incluseum, currently teaches with the University of Washington Museology Program and is a freelance museum consultant.
Elisabeth Callihan is the Head of Multi-Generational Learning at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Janeen Bryant is an is an inter-sectional educator, facilitator and community engagement consultant. She has been an advocate and catalyst for building community capacity since 2000.
nikhil trivedi is a web developer at a museum in Chicago developing web-based software in Java, PHP and Drupal. He co-founded the Visitors of Color Project with Porchia Moore, is a regular contributor at The Incluseum, and his writing has been featured in Model View Culture and Fwd: Museums.
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