Facing Change: A New Report from the American Alliance of Museums’ Working Group on DEAI

Category: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion
Facing Change Report Cover: A man looks into they eyes of a woman facing him with the text, "Facing Change" between them

As director of inclusion at AAM, I help shape the Alliance’s strategic direction in our diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) focus area. I am responsible for leading our efforts in building sustainable, scalable programs and policies that support museum inclusion. It is literally my job to be a resource and a champion for promoting equity in the museum field. I am excited to announce the publication of a new report that I hope will, likewise, be a resource for you and your museum to advance DEAI in all aspects of your work. Facing Change: Insights from the American Alliance of Museums’ Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Working Group shares the insights of twenty-one museum professionals working at the forefront of museum equity today. Download the full report!

Following its strategic plan, AAM convened the Working Group on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in spring 2017. Co-chaired by Alliance President and CEO Laura Lott and lifelong DEAI leader Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, the group was charged to:

  • Identify current DEAI activities in the field
  • Understand key challenges, issues, and opportunities related to promoting DEAI
  • Learn from how other sectors have successfully overcome DEAI challenges
  • Identify steps that museum professionals can take to advance DEAI
  • Outline opportunities for collaboration and further work

This working group was comprised of thought leaders and committed practitioners who represent a diverse array of disciplines, organizational sizes and types, and perspectives. For six months, group members came together monthly at the Alliance’s offices in Arlington, Virginia–and once at the 2017 AAM Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri—to examine the characteristics of effective museum inclusion practices. We grappled with key issues, opportunities, and obstacles related to museum equity.

Facing Change is the product of these efforts. This report presents shared vocabulary and a set of basic principles to guide museum DEAI work. It provides qualitative data, offers a starting point for discussion, and lays out a framework for AAM’s next set of priorities and programs on DEAI. The report is structured around five key insights from the working group about the nature of museum inclusion:

  • Every museum professional must do personal work to face their unconscious bias
  • Debate on definitions must not hinder progress
  • Inclusion is central to the effectiveness and sustainability of museums
  • Systemic change is vital to long-term, genuine progress
  • Empowered, inclusive leadership is essential at all levels of an organization

This report is a beginning, not an endpoint. Although the working group has formally adjourned, we hope that you will use this document to guide your further thinking and action. Dive into its sections. As you read it, take note of what resonates with you—and of what doesn’t. Share those notes with your colleagues, staff, leadership, trustees, visitors and other stakeholders. Download the Infographic for a quick reference to the definitions of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. We encourage you to host brown bag discussions at your museum or in your communities. Talk through the questions raised here in your classrooms, your boardrooms, and maybe even at your favorite bar.

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Tell us how those discussions go! What would you like to know more about? What strategies work for you? What resources do you need? Online engagement is critical to ensuring that this report remains a living document. If you want to share how your department is implementing any of the working group’s insights, you can submit a blog post or an idea on the Alliance website.

If you want to go deeper into how your museum can specifically address the report’s insights, you can invite me or other Alliance staff to consult with your teams. You can email me at nivy@aam-us.org. You can also reach out to inclusion practitioners in your area for targeted support. For a fuller list of inclusion resources and toolkits, click here!

Finally, if you’re coming to this year’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ, stop by the working group’s session on Sunday, May 6 from 4:00 PM – 5:15 PM (Room 125 AB) to hear more about our process in person and pick up a hard copy of the report. Trifold versions highlighting the insights and key terms will be available at the Alliance Resource Center in the MuseumExpo (booth #2647). We believe that DEAI is fundamental to museums’ sustainability as sites of learning, reflection, connection, and social action. Although there is still much to be done to make museums more equitable and inclusive spaces, confronting our unconscious biases and exclusionary practices are important first steps. As writer and cultural critic James Baldwin has observed, “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

I am grateful to the Working Group’s co-chairs and members for all their generosity and brilliance:

Co-chairs

Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Cook Ross Inc.

Laura L. Lott
American Alliance of Museums

Members

Christine Anagnos
Association of Art Museum Directors

Dina Bailey
Mountain Top Vision
American Association for State and Local History

Brian Carter
Association of African American Museums

Dr. Robert M. Davis
Museum Consultant
American Alliance of Museums Board Member

Eduardo Díaz
Smithsonian Latino Center
American Alliance of Museums Board Member

Omar Eaton-Martinez
National Museum of American History

Dr. Nicole Ivy
American Alliance of Museums

Brooke Leonard
American Alliance of Museums

Mike Lesperance
The Design Minds
LGBTQ Alliance

Dr. Tonya Matthews
Michigan Science Center
American Alliance of Museums Board Member

Laura Huerta Migus
Association of Children’s Museums

Machel Monenerkit
National Museum of the American Indian

Monica Montgomery
Museum Hue

Dr. Porchia Moore
Columbia Museum of Art

Lisa Sasaki
Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Cecile Shellman
Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh
Diversity Committee (DivCom)

Kathy Dwyer Southern
The George Washington University

Chris Taylor
Minnesota Historical Society

Beth Ziebarth
Smithsonian Institution Accessibility Programs

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