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Museopunks Episode 27: #MuseumsAreNotNeutral

Category: Influence of Museums

With a reticence towards partisan politics, museums are sometimes perceived to be neutral institutions, many avoiding taking a visible stand on issues. But can they really avoid being political when making choices about the allocation of resources, time, and energy? #MuseumsAreNotNeutral is “an initiative that exposes the fallacies of the neutrality claim and calls for an equity-based transformation of museums.” In this episode, LaTanya S. Autry and Mike Murawski break down the #MuseumsAreNotNeutral campaign, while Kaywin Feldman, Nivin and Duncan MacMillan Director and President of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), discusses what it’s like to run a museum at a time of crisis.


LaTanya S. Autry

Image of a black woman standing in front of a wall with various striped lines in different widths and hues of blue red and pink. As a cultural organizer in the visual arts, LaTanya S. Autry centers social justice and public memory in her work. In addition to co-creating The Art of Black Dissent, an interactive program that promotes public dialogue about the African-American liberation struggle, she co-produced #MuseumsAreNotNeutral, and the Social Justice and Museums Resource List, a crowd-sourced bibliography. LaTanya has curated exhibitions and organized programs at Yale University Art Gallery, Artspace New Haven, Mississippi Museum of Art, Tougaloo College, and the Crane Art Center. Through her graduate studies at the University of Delaware, where she is completing her Ph.D. in art history, LaTanya has developed expertise in art of the United States, photography, and museums. Her dissertation The Crossroads of Commemoration: Lynching Landscapes in America, concentrates on the interplay of race, representation, memory, and public space.

Mike Murawski

A black and white selfie of a man standing outside with rocks and trees behind him. Museum educator, cultural activist, nature lover, and currently the Director of Education & Public Programs for the Portland Art Museum. Mike is Founding Editor of, a collaborative online forum that launched in 2011. Mike earned his MA and PhD in Education from American University in Washington, DC, focusing his research on educational theory and arts learning. He previously held positions as Director of School Services at the Saint Louis Art Museum and Head of Education and Public Programs at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis.

Kaywin Feldman

Kaywin Feldman, Duncan and Nivin MacMillan Director and President of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia)Kaywin Feldman is the Nivin and Duncan MacMillan Director and President of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) since 2008. She also serves on the boards of National Arts Strategies, the Chipstone Foundation, and is a member of the Bizot Group. She is a past president of theAssociation of Art Museum Directors, and a past chair of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) . You can find Kaywin on Twitter @kaywinfeldman.

Show Notes

#MuseumsAreNotNeutral – Campaign

#MuseumsAreNotNeutral – Twitter

Changing the Things I Cannot Accept: Museums Are Not Neutral

To Fight Racism Within Museums, They Need to Stop Acting Like They’re Neutral

#CiteBlackWomen – Twitter

Social Justice in Museums Resource List

Museum leadership in a time of crisis

MASS Action

Minneapolis Institute of Art Receives Two Major Grants in Support of Empathy and Diversity Initiatives

Presenting Sponsor

Museopunks is presented by the American Alliance of Museums.

Graphic Design of the Museopunks logo is by Selena Robleto.


Twitter: @museopunks

Read the Transcript

Suze  Anderson: Good day. And welcome to Museopunks, the podcast for the progressive museum. My name is Suze and I will be your host today as we explore the progressive bounds of museum practice.

A couple of weeks ago I passed my Americaversary and celebrated four years living here in Baltimore and in the US. When I moved here, I don’t think I could have imagined or predicted the direction that the following years would take, whether personally, professionally or politically. But those three parts of life are so intertwined. And increasingly it seems that not only is the personal political, but the professional is too.

As an academic I’m often finding myself thinking about how to ensure that my teaching is not partisan whilst acknowledging the beliefs and values that so inform my approaches whether to teaching research or life. And this question of how to acknowledge the politics in everything we do. Particularly at a time when capital P politics are so present in daily life. It’s one that museums are obviously facing as well.

Several times in recent episodes, my guests or I have mentioned the idea that museums are not neutral. That they’re always making choices about where to spend their time, their money and their influence. It’s an idea that’s sitting at the center of a vibrant discussion online and at conferences and in institutions around the world. Thanks in large part to my first two guests LaTanya Autry and Mike Murawski who started the museums are not neutral campaign late last year.

Today, we’re going to dive into this topic with them and with Kaywin Feldman, the Nivin and Dunkin MacMillan director and President of the Minneapolis Institute of Art or (Mia) to find out more about why challenging the notion of museum neutrality is so critical today.

As a cultural organizer in the visual arts, Latonya S. Autry centers social justice and public memory in her work. In addition to creating the art of black descent an interactive program that promotes public dialogue about the African American liberation struggle, she co-produced museums are not neutral and the social justice and museums resource list, a crowd sourced bibliography. Latonya has curated exhibitions and organized programs at Yale University Art Gallery, Art Space New Haven, Mississippi Museum of Art, Tougaloo College and the Crane Art Center. Through her graduate studies at the University of Delaware where she is completing her PhD in art history, Latonya has developed expertise in an art of the United States photography and museums. Her dissertation, Crossroads of Commemoration: Lynching Landscapes in America, concentrates on the interplay of race, representation, memory and public space.

Mike Murawski is a museum educator, cultural activist, nature lover and the current director of education and public programs for the Portland Art Museum. Mike is founding editor of art museum teaching dot com. A collaborative online forum that launched in 2011. Mike earned his MA and PhD in education from American University in Washington D.C., focusing his research on educational theory and arts learning. He previously held positions as director school services at the St. Louis Art Museum and head of education and public programs at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis.

Suze : LaTanya, Mike welcome to Museopunks.

LaTanya S. Autry:  Thank you so much.

Mike Murawski: Thanks Suze, great to be here.

Suze : It is so great to have you both here. And at such an interesting time I think in museums and in museums are not neutral which you have described as being an initiative that exposes the fallacies of the neutrality claim and calls for an equity based transformation of museums.

Suze : LaTanya, I might start with you. Can you start by telling us a little bit more about the initiative. where it comes from and what its broad aims are?

LaTanya:  Yes. So this started last August. And in many ways it started a long time before that, but this particular campaign started from last August. And it was Mike online on Twitter and I follow him. I follow a lot of people who are leaders in museums on Twitter. And I noticed that he was writing, I don’t even remember what the whole origin of the conversation was, but at some point he had tweeted the statement museums are not neutral. And basically speaking to the frustration he had noticed in museums and Mike can tell you more about that. But it’s something that really resonated when I saw it and I wrote back something like, that should be on a t-shirt. And he wrote me later and said, let’s do it. Let’s make a shirt that says that. And you know we thought we would sell these and have the proceeds all going to charity. So it wasn’t really about us making money off of the shirts. It was about raising awareness and using the money to support social justice organizations.

And it made so much sense to me because I had been hearing it for years working at institutions hearing people say: “oh, the museum can’t be political.” The museum has to be this neutral space. And all along I’ve been just fighting that and finding it to be really a ridiculous statement when of course, museums just aren’t neutral in the first place. Just the construct itself is not neutral. And it’s something that’s really bothered me. And so I pretty much felt that I’m just fed up to here. I cannot take that anymore. Anybody pushing that kind of statement on me. And so I thought the idea of a shirt was excellent.

Suze : Yeah. It’s interesting the … as a campaign though it’s become so much more than that t-shirt.

LaTonya:  Right.

Suze : It may have started as a tweet and a shirt but it’s really continued into something so much bigger than that. But as you say, LaTanya, this idea that museums aren’t neutral. It’s something I certainly encountered when I was first coming to the idea of the museum as an institution back in art school and that was 15 years ago. We’ve known for a long time I think–certainly in academic circles–that institutions, that museums are not neutral. So why has this idea of museum neutrality continued to resonate in some parts of the sector? Why is a campaign like this necessary now? Mike, maybe do you want to kick us off with this response?

Mike: Sure. Yeah. I’ve just been so grateful to be able to work on all this with La Tonya. And there’s so many colleagues and people out there in the museum field that are pushing this message. And understanding I think the … so it’s not even a fact that someone has said recently, well maybe some museums are neutral and some aren’t. And it’s just no, there’s not even two sides of the debate. Every single institution is based on legacies of colonialism and white supremacy and all kind of structures that are in place. And they haven’t been able to escape those structures.

And so I think one of the powerful things about this campaign and seeing you know, now more than a thousand people all over the world seeing these t-shirts and wearing them at conferences, at policy meetings, at government meetings and really striking up. I just saw a photograph from the Columbus Museum of Art, they were wearing them at their city’s pride parade for their museums participation in that. And it’s just pushing forward this message that not only are museums not neutral but they are part of being changing agents in society. They are forces of change. They’re part of this conversation. They’re part of the social and political issues within our communities. And they are not some sort of distanced separate box that includes objects or tells stories of other people.

So I think it’s been really important to not just see the museums are not neutral message, but to understand that with that comes implications of action. You know, that museums should be taking social action, getting involved in social justice causes that benefit local communities and benefit communities abroad. So that’s been a big … that’s one of the reasons I think early on that was probably related to the Twitter exchange that we were having when we came up with this idea to sort of do t-shirts. Because I think LaTanya, myself and thousands, probably ten thousands of people out there have just had enough of museums always doing this neutrality defense. Well, that’s too political or that’s too … you know, we’re not going to get engaged in that. That’s just too partisan. And we keep hearing it.

We keep getting the push back and I’m just blown away by how many, even well respected people in the field will sort of understand the basic element of what not being neutral means. But then when it comes to take it a step further, they’re like, “ oh, no. we can’t do that.” We’ve got to cover all perspectives, all sides to every issue equally.

I think there’s a real conversation to be had here. So I’m glad that people are really having it.

Suze : Well, yeah. Let’s talk a little bit more about this idea then of neutrality. Because as you say, one of the things you’re talking about is not just an acknowledgment that museums make choices and that these choices are necessarily political because it’s about who gets space examine who gets time and visibility and resources, or what topics or what objects. But you’re also taking this further and you’re talking about this idea of museum acts as an agent of positive change.

Suze : So advocacy and acknowledgment of a lack of neutrality necessarily entwined or are they two separate issues that we’re bringing together in this campaign in part just because this is where your interest is and your focus is?

LaTanya:  I’d like to say something about that. I think they are entwined because once you acknowledge the actual truth and you stop hiding behind some kind of lies, it does make people go, so okay what are you going to do about it. And I think a lot of people who don’t even go to museums regularly and partly because they just feel that the museum is this construct. It’s this construct of colonialism that has not been acknowledging that history. Right? Has not acknowledged their complicity in it. And a lot of people just choose to not go there. And when I talk to them I usually tell people and they say, well I think that the museums, especially art museums, people will say I think they’re elitist spaces, I think they’re racist spaces.

And I tell them yeah, generally they’re right. That is what these spaces are about. So if you start to acknowledge the actual truth, right, I think that does put some pressure on. So what is one going to do about it?

And for me, I think a lot of that is not so much only just about outward programs, but actually the museum kind of critiquing itself and looking at their own internal processes. Right? Their practices that they’ve been doing and start to actually address those practices.

There’s also, it’s not just what gets put on display, but who is making those choices. And so in the US when we look at who is running the institutions it is very much, these spaces are very much run on the ideology of white supremacy. Also, who is making the decisions in the institutions as well. So I think definitely the two, the actions are entwined with acknowledging the actual truth.

Suze : Mike, what about you? Do you see this as being an unnecessary entwinement or are there continuities or different things?

Mike: I would agree I think there’s completely inseparable. I love the t-shirt. I’m glad, but it’s only the first step. And I think I want people to sort of be making other t-shirts that say museums are and then put a verb in there. Because I think it’s about what we do. I don’t think you can just be not neutral. And so I think they’re totally connected. I mean, look, when it comes down to it, those of us that work in museums … because you know one of the things that I sort of stand by and I think that’s consistent across a lot of people working in the social action side of museums, museums are human based institutions. They’re made of people. So there’s no it. So many people that work for museums are like, oh the museum just won’t change. Or it changes too slow or there’s nothing we can do. And I think that … museums can change as quickly as the people that work for them can change.

So if we can get museum leadership to be thinking about these issues, we can actually make change overnight. Because when it comes down to it, in the work that we’re doing, we’re either upholding or we’re disrupting the status quo. We’re either advancing or we’re dismantling oppression. There’s really no middle ground there. And so I think we’ve got to start understanding our role in taking apart these systems. It’s actually something LaTanya … when we were having a conversation recently. It’s like, inclusion is kind offer okay and that’s a big thing these days, but LaTanya was saying she’s for transformation. And I love that. Because that’s really what the work is about. It’s about systemic change. And probably making change that the big change we might not even see come out in our lifetime because it’s really big future oriented systemic change. We’ve got to start cracking away at this stuff.

Suze : Yeah. It’s interesting is you talk about how quickly things can change. I think one of the things that stymies change or makes it a lot harder is not actually the people who are involved. I think it’s things like standards and protocols. You know, it’s so hard to change something like the basic collection system that you’ve set up or those sorts of things in terms of the legacy information that you’ve got there and the legacy collection. I think that’s where some of those questions around neutrality and the choices and how do we start to then tackle them also become part of these discussions because it is about staffing, it’s about outward facing things. But then it’s also about these very deep embedded standards and protocols that have set the normalized course of business for museums. That feels like a really challenging thing to tackle.

LaTanya:  No is what I would say to that. I think it’s an interesting thing because I found that working in museums, I’ve always been a person that cares about social justice and wants to apply that lens to all of my work. And I found that there were moments when I realized I was part of advancing these systems of inequity. Right? Because they’re built into museums, they’re just built into the structure. So to work there in many ways one is actually automatically just doing it. And it’s easy to do because that is how the structure is set.

Suze :  Right.

LaTanya:  So I’ve been really thinking, having to be more conscious. And I tell people it is our duty to break those structures. Right. So people will say it’s too late to do x. It’s too late to add more artists of color to the show because it’s already been set and it’s too complicated or they’re not in the collection, we don’t collect that. So we’re just going to go with what we have. And what we have is something that’s already been built on these structures of inequality. And so we perpetuate it because yeah we don’t have enough time. There aren’t enough staff. There’s not enough resources. And many of these things are actually, they are true. When you work there … when you hear it from the outside you just go, oh people are giving you an excuse. But when you work on the inside you do realize okay yeah there are a lot of pressures that we have.

And yet, I’d like to sit back and tell people, and I tell myself, but it is my duty to break these things. It’s my duty to change the system. Because the system is set up to perpetuate itself. And so my job is to break those structures. And if that means we’re going to do things differently. So it’s where I try to see alternative solutions and I try to come up with other ideas and I bring them to a lot of people. And it’s all about how we can free ourselves out of this chain that’s already been set up for us. So I think policies and these practices, these are also things that are shaped by humans, they’re shaped by people. The problem is that it becomes easy to do and because of lack of resources and stuff we kind of keep doing them often even if they are wrong.

But if we see it as our mission to change those things. And really see our work in the institution as being creative and we are creative agents I think we can really make that change happen. We can make it happen in lots of little ways. And we can encourage and we can invite other people to help us to do that work too. Sometimes people who already work in these systems of inequality are some of the worst people for trying to get them to change because they’re so use to it. So it’s good to kind of collaborate with people outside of our museum structure to help us develop ideas and ways that we can start dismantling these kinds of systems that we have built up already.

Suze : Yeah. I think it’s not just the people that are use to it, but they’re invested in the current systems as well. That’s what their training has taken them to or those sorts of things.

I think one of the things you brought up earlier, Mike, was this idea that there are people who argue for museums remaining outwardly apolitical. But I suspect there are also people who would argue that museums not taking explicit positions is a way for them to act as agents of positive change which is one of the aim office this campaign for fear of exacerbating the polarization that we’re currently seeing in political discourse, c:ertainly here in the US and I gather in many places around the world.

Does openly taking a stand on political or social issues have … is it possible that that threatens to undermine the public trust that we have in museums? Is there a way that actually this outward stance, this outward acknowledgment of a lack of neutrality could undermine other aspects of the work that museums are doing?

Mike: So I this it’s … yeah. That’s a great question. There’s actually been some research done recently that I thought was interesting around these ideas. Because there are all these fears out there of any sort of museum board could list all the reasons why they feel uncomfortable engaging in projects that might align with some of this work. So I think addressing those fears is really important. One of them is that public trust would go away. And I think one of the main things to question ourselves when we ask about public trust is what do we mean by public. Because I know that if we asked indigenous communities or communities color out there and said do you trust museums. I don’t think we’re getting the 90% trust that we get from the sort of older research that’s been done on does the public trust museums.

Suze : Right.

Mike: So I don’t think that trust is necessarily across the board. And so you could do an exhibition that is really totally disregards communities of color and those experiences, voices and perspectives in our country. And I think generally, like in a city like Portland, Oregon where I work, generally broader public they may trust the museum through it. But is that the right thing that museum should be doing?

And there’s also been research that shows … so I think we have to question what the public is when we talk about public trust. And I don’t think there’s been enough research on that. Although, there have been a couple of really good articles written in recent journals that point towards that. But there’s been some new research out on public trust and museums that are taking social justice approaches and that trust is still strong.

There’s been in museums like the Missouri History Museum, the Eastern State Penitentiary, institutions that are really taking a stance on really important issues in their communities and in society are maintaining that really strong trust with your visitors and with their communities, and they’re growing those communities. More and more people that normally weren’t visiting an institution because it was telling a certain version of history are now coming back because that’s been smashed. And now we’re telling stories that have never been told in an official institution.

There’s a recent exhibit on civil rights in St. Louis at the Missouri History Museum that some research was done on that just showed that visitors were really engaging in the content, especially stuff related to Ferguson and things that revolved around that. So I think it’s been good to see museums taking a stance for issues. I think where I get frustrated is when an issue that is basically around recognizing basic human dignity for all people becomes politicized and becomes partisan. So as to say that if we’re going to have an exhibit that stands up and centers the voices of disabled communities, if we’re going to have an exhibition that centers the voices of social justice activism or black lives matter activists then that’s political. And I think these are people that are working out there in human rights. And they are people that are striving for their voice to be heard and for their stories to be told as part of these museum narratives.

And I think it’s a really important part of the work that museums have to do. And I don’t see it as … I see it political because everything is political I think. But I don’t see it as some divisive partisan position that museums are taking when they’re doing this work. Very much not that. So to just sort of address that.

Suze : Yeah. My husband and I were talking recently about museum neutrality and he mentioned the idea of soft advocacy. Whereas you might be taking a position and doing so consistently but doing so quietly, finding ways to help make progress, ways to actually work through an idea or basically help with human rights or civic rights in the fighting for these things. But doing so in a way that is not necessarily loud and in your face and that can be just as important, doing quiet work behind the scenes. Is it enough for museums internally to be acknowledging that their work is not neutral and considering the positions that they’re taking, the positions that they are putting out into the space without being explicit about those stances? Or do they have to be actually explicit and transparent about these choices that they’re making?

LaTanya:  I guess it could go both ways. I think museums need to … the people who work in museums need to let go of the idea of it being problematic. So personally I don’t really see a reason to distinguish so much between the soft and hard. Because actually I find it to be problematic to have the thought about being quote “in your face” about advocacy or something like that. Like me standing up for human rights or disability and black lives matter is to me not being in your face about anything. I just think it’s kind of not the right way to frame the issue in the first place.

I think a lot of the work that museums need to do is internal work. I actually find it very problematic when things are happening in our society and then people think that there should be a quick program that they should throw together. Or if they throw this exhibition together put these certain objects up on the wall, then we’re done. The museum has “said something,” has spoken about this issue. When the actuality of how the structure of that museum is has not actually been addressed. The fact that people of color occupy the lowest level jobs in the institution, so they are mainly the facilities people, and they are mainly the guards. But they’re not actually making any decisions about what goes on the wall or what we collect and things like that.

So we’re leaving all of that intact and instead we’ve just put together a show. And the museum pats itself on the back and says, hey, we did something. We’re done. So to me it’s not a conversation so much about being in your face or soft advocacy. I think it’s all about museums getting real and doing some really hard work. And like I said I don’t actually think they’re the best people to really necessarily organize that work for themselves that they should be working with. There are people who are trained facilitators on issues of race and issues of disabilities. They should be hiring those folks to work with them in their institution and help them design. To just be able to uproot, to see were the problems are because they probably don’t even know where they are for real. To be able to identify them and then start it break them down.

I think that should be an ongoing thing. It’s not going to be something you can fix in a one day workshop or a two day or one month. I mean it should just be ongoing work of the institution. Because that’s why there are these calls that people have talked about, like decolonize. To decolonize the museum, what that work would involve. That is really deep structural kinds of work.

So I think we get out of the ideas so much that’s being a protest in terms of it being this temporary thing, and it’s just something about people walking around with signs and flashing them. And it’s not really about that. It’s actually about a mind shift. It’s about changing the paradigm in which we work.

That’s why I kind of push against those kind of terms like soft advocacy or something because I just think if we change how we are framing the whole entire situation we could start to get somewhere. Versus this attitude of … this whole discussion about things being comfortable to people and things like that. It doesn’t even matter. This whole talk about we want to make people comfortable. I don’t care about making people comfortable. That’s not really the point. You’re actually caring about being an institution that supports human rights. You’re not out here trying to make people who are vested in oppression comfortable. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

Suze : I think that’s exactly right. When we talk about this though. There’s also going to be a big question that comes up. Before, Mike mentioned boards. We need to talk money if we’re having this conversation. Because whether it’s relying on public funding or private philanthropy, museums are often deeply invested in particular ideas about the objects in the collection, about the collections themselves. And sometimes there is a fear that exploring the nuance or the complexities related to an object or its histories could affect its value whether that’s its trust value or its financial value.

And similarly museum exhibitions are often sponsored by corporations who have interests that might go against the museum mission and might very much go against these socially focused actions, this idea of the museum acting as an agent of the social change.

How should museum professionals who want to support this campaign address those kinds of fears?  Mike, do you want to talk to that?

Mike: Yeah. It’s another one of those, so a lot of these fears to me at least are just stuck in these false narratives that museum professionals keep telling themselves reasons why we can’t do the work. All the time within institutions, within communities, within the field there’s a lot of people that put up these barrier to doing the work. And I think when we actually probe at them and talk about them in serious ways we found out there’s not a lot behind them in supporting them. There are plenty of institutions out there doing this work that have full board support. In fact sometimes they’ve changed their boards which is desperately needed in so many institutions across this country.

And so there’s been a lot of structural changes needed along that area. I think some institutions have looked at where their support is coming from and developed better guidelines for making decisions about fund raising and patrons and corporate sponsors for things. And those are the museums that I think need to be leading us into the future. I think there are other museums that haven’t been asking those hard questions.

If a science museum is receiving support from oil companies and then we find some of those same institutions are afraid to do exhibitions on climate change which is probably one of the single greatest issues of our generation. But science museums haven’t jumped on to really tackle that issue. Some have, but some haven’t and they’ve been fearful of it because they’re fearful of losing funding. But we need to take a stand on this and actually address these issues.

And so I think more… there’s been some exchange that even LaTanya, you’ve been responding to really well recently around does this whole conversation apply to science museums? Yes. Definitely does. It applies to all these institutions. And you can’t get an easy way out of this by saying, “well we can’t get funding for that.” Because you need to do the work, you need to live that vision and stand up for that work and you will find people to support that work. There are plenty of people right now that don’t support art museums for example, because they see them as elitist museums only serving certain segments of society. And so they don’t want to support those institutions. But if we can turn that around and some museums have. We see a total different landscape for fund raising.

There are major foundations in this country right now across … you can pretty much name every major foundation, they are doing really significant investments in community development work, in supporting communities of color, in making changes to be more inclusive. I mean the Ford Foundation is one of the leading institutions that’s supporting exhibitions that are focusing on disability communities. They are focusing on all kinds of institutions supporting good work in communities. So I don’t see any indication of the funding that should be deriving institutions towards this direction of not engaging with this work. I think they should-

Suze : Yep.

Mike: … just be secure and confident. I think that’s where the soft advocacy for me gets problematic is that it indicates that museums should sort of dabble in this work a little bit. Or just sort of be secretive about it or do it in a small gallery in the basement. And that’s when I think museums get into trouble is they’re not committing to it. It’s not a core value. They’re sort of like, well, we’ll try this or something happened we better responds to that.

And museums usually are really bad at responding. If they’re not doing the work and then they respond to something at the very last minute because it’s in the news or because they’ve been called out by local activists, they’re not really committed to it. So you see them be severely challenged by this. So, yeah, I think the funding conversation is not a barrier to this work.

Suze : Thanks, Mike. Recently on Twitter, or there was an article doing the rounds online that argued to fighting racism within museums they need to stop acting like they’re neutral. I know you’re both acquainted with this piece, but it didn’t acknowledge this campaign. So there was a lot of conversation on Twitter that followed when people were sharing this online and I was one of those who shared it online, that described the frequent erasure of the work of people of color and other excluded groups. And I wondered if you could speak a little bit more about how your own work has been rendered invisible and how that’s impacted you as scholars and professionals.

LaTanya, I know this is something we actually spoke a little bit about on Twitter. And I know you were being brought into these conversations. Can you talk a little bit more about the erasure of the work of people of color?

LaTanya:  Sure. Yeah. It’s something that is nothing new. It happened with our campaign but it has happened over and over. And it’s something where I saw it with the article and I thought okay, I’m actually going to speak up a little bit because I’ve noticed that just since we’ve started this, it’s been less than a year, the campaign has been improperly cited over and over. And when it’s usually not mentioned at all or if it’s mentioned they only mention one of us. And sometimes I think that’s because people just aren’t maybe use to collaborative projects for some reason we like to think of as one person creates everything.

But also, sometimes people just know one or the other. They know Mike so they credit Mike. Or they know me so they credit me. Is to sometimes it’s just that, but also there is just a trend in general to erase women of color and to just try to shut down your voice too. So it’s something I’ve been noticing. So I’ve been on Twitter and I’m very vocal about my experiences and I really ground things on my experiences or ones I’ve witnessed of colleagues. When I talk about experiences of discrimination I’ve had in museums and in the academy and sometimes I’ve had people push back really in a forceful way to tell me no, that’s not what you’re experiencing. Of course, it’s like a ludicrous position for someone to take to tell me that’s not what you experienced. These places are places of inclusion. And they throw a lot of these kinds of words at me. And I’m going, yeah, I know institutions use those words, but I’ve worked in several museums so thanks for that.

And also at the same time, I’ve experienced discrimination in multiple forms in museums. I’ve experienced sexism, I’ve experienced classism, I’ve experienced ableism, ageism in addition to racism. So I pretty much have very fluid knowledge of how those things operate within the museum structure. And what I do know is that many, and I’m not the only person, of course. Many people have these experiences. Not many people really will talk about them in a public platform and write about them in a public space, in a public platform such as Twitter, social media kind of thing. And that’s because people, you know, they’re fearful. They feel that for future employment they’re trying to protect themselves. And I understand that. And I actually started to realize for myself in the last two or three years that we’re really not going to be changing these systems until we get more people to come out and talk about their experiences and to publish those experiences.

And when we do publish them, I’m hoping that when people reference those things and see that that they will actually cite who they got this information from. And for me it is all about actually doing that work of dismantling those systems. Because for me it’s made me analyze, like to experience what I’ve gone through in institutions. I’ve been thinking I’ve been using all this material to analyze it to see how it works, how it affects someone and then how can we start dismantling it. And I think that work has to happen collectively. And that’s why I actually write about it and talk about it in public space.

So it’s, that push back that I’ve encountered or people trying to erase my experiences while I’m actually doing that work, I guess is to be expected. Because that’s part of just the whole system. So erasure is part of it, right. So when you do have people of color, women and disabled folks who are in these spaces, the few of you that make it into these institutions, there’s a whole system that’s set up to try to erase you the whole time while you’re in it as well, to render you invisible.

So for me it’s really important to see how that works. To talk about it, to call people out on that erasure and to make it known and to just kind of … I’m also doing this work because I try to connect with museum studies instructors and students to kind of … I think that’s where we need to go because some of these people who already been in the system for so long, I don’t think they’re really going to be changing too much. I put some hope into them but not too much. I really see the energy going towards people who are going into the field and working with them and helping them. Because also you want to encourage a wider group of people to be professionals in the field. So part of that is to give them some of the tools for them to see what that experience is going to be like and to try to help them along so they cannot have to deal with as much really bad stuff as I’ve had to deal with. And to make their experience better.

And also working with more people also who don’t work in the museum, to kind of connect with them. And to encourage them to see these spaces as theirs too. And that they can be shaping these institutions.

So yeah, I use that erasure as something to study and to try to figure out how to change that in a way to connect with more people. So it’s something to be expected unfortunately.

Suze : Yeah. Earlier at the start of this conversation one of the comments was, I think Mike you made the comment that museums are not neutral should be more than, well, is more than just a t-shirt. But that you would like to see other t-shirts that museums are blank. This is question for both of you. If all museum professionals agreed that museum were not neutral what do you think would change? And if we take this movement to its natural progression to it’s next step and the one after that and the one after that, what would you like to see the sector look like as a result of this campaign?

Mike: Well I think a lot of things can come from that. I think this work is, you know, I think one of the things to recognize, for me at least, this is from my own personal perspective that I recognize about this work is I think it’s just ongoing. And I have to say that in our own institutions in small hallway conversations we do reflect back on something that Helen Molesworth wrote at one point that was spread around a lot when she was canned from her institution. Where she sort of questioned whether the functions of museums was unredeemable and especially in working with indigenous communities. I’ve worked with a lot of native artists who would say. You know, one of them said, well we were around for thousands of years before museums, we’ll be around for thousands of years after museums are long gone.

So there is that question of are we sort of fixing museums to get them to a certain phase or is there actually a better thing that could exist? I think whether it’s museums or whether it’s not I think that I think spaces that really embrace and advance the role … So I’ve worked in art museums my entire career so I’ve been really interested in how can we create spaces where we’re enhancing the role of arts and culture and creating social change and being community owned spaces so that there isn’t just a small group of staff that are, not necessarily as much connected to the community of a place, but are sort of the experts and they’re sort of dictating the knowledge, the stories the objects that should be important to a community but in really flipping that.

And several institutions have done that where they’ve put community at the core at the center and it requires museums thinking a lot about how do we define community? How do we value those voices, perspectives, knowledges and experiences? I think there’s been some really interesting work out there that are getting museums closer to that. But I think you know, just recognizing indigenous land as a permanent practice and institutions would be a great thing to see. Actually being civically engaged.

Museums should be places like libraries where you can go and get registered to vote. Every museum you should be able to go and get registered to vote. That is not partisan. That is just part of our democracy. We should be places that support our democracy. We should promote people’s participation in human rights organizations, community based organizations and social justice organizations. And we should be proud of that. Because all of those groups better our communities. And I think we are still behind in term of organizations doing that.

And then I think because of especially, I’ve been talking with a lot of colleagues around the globe that aren’t based in the US. And they’re so interested with how institutions here are responding to these legacies of colonialism, these legacies of slavery. That are very much with us. So I think if we acknowledge those and start to work and get to dismantle those legacies and we center voices, perspectives, experiences that haven’t been centered and don’t always center white artists or those stories. I think there could be a radical shift there for museums to start thinking that way. It doesn’t always have to be balanced fair and equal. We can actually swing the pendulum a little bit in the right direction. And I don’t think anyone will get hurt by it.

So I think just build ago lot of that change. But again, I think the real question to ask is…is it museums that we see ourselves a hundred years from now in the future all gathering around. Or do we actually recreate these institutions in a little different?

Suze : Yeah. That’s a really good question. LaTanya, what about you? Where do you see this in its ultimate actualization?

LaTanya:  Yeah. I loved a lot of basically everything that Mike said. You know, I always use the analogy of museums should be like these porous spaces. They should be like Swiss cheese. So there should be these holes in them that there’s always these arms going in and out. We have to get out of the idea of inside the museum and outside the museum, this in/out paradigm. I think that’s really problematic.

And really in the big picture of things, I’m really wanting to spend more time thinking more deeply about creating other types of centers. Again, harkening back to what Mike was saying about that article, that last part of the article where Molesworth has said that she’s not sure if the museum itself, that construct, is really redeemable. It is one that is heavily loaded and very problematic because it does come out of a legacy of colonialism. Right.

I’m not sure either. I do believe in art. I believe in culture. I believe in public memory. And I’m interested in creating centers that give those kinds of things, practices, room for a forum like spaces. I’m not sure they need to be call a museum and to be entrenched in a lot of the historical baggage that comes along with a museum.

So I’m interested in thinking with people who want to do that work. And thinking of other types of institutions as well. And at the same time, I’m extremely excited about the arts. And I believe in them wholeheartedly. The structures of museums, I’m not sure if they’re redeemable either. I think the process of work we need to do of really decolonizing those institutions we won’t know if the museum is redeemable. We have to actually go through those steps to try to figure out what that would involve and to actually do it. And then we could see. We can see where it can go.

I do think that there are some really wonderful minds out there and if we connected and really work collaboratively with a lot of people. Getting outside of the whole, you’ve got to have a PhD to work here kind of thing. If we really connected with people in deep broad kind of ways, I think we could make something really exciting. And so I believe very deeply in culture. And I’m interested in more collaborations.

Suze : Yeah. Mike, LaTanya, this has been so interesting and so informative. And I’m so impressed with the work you’re doing and the conversations that you have started and that I’m sure are going to continue to shape our sector for many years to come.

If people want to get in contact with you, if they want to find out about the campaign, if they want to purchase one of the museums are not neutral shirts which I know profits go to support groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the World Central Kitchen in Puerto Rico, where can they do it? How can they find you? How can they get in contact and follow along and connect with this conversation?

Mike: I think one of the easiest ways is to follow the hashtag, museums are not neutral. It’s been a really great conversation and dialogue and people are posting to it everyday, all the time. And I think we are constantly posting links to the T-shirts. I think  LaTanya in her Twitter feed has them. I’ve got one pinned on my Twitter feed. So just check us out. It’s through bonfire. So if you Google museums are not neutral bonfire, it’s a great site that allows us to do this. And then the funds go to charity. We’ve raised something like almost $11,000 for charity organizations.

Suze : Amazing.

Mike: And the t-shirt funds right now go to support the Flint Child and Health and Development Fund which is helping with the long term effects that will come out of the Flint water crisis. Which isn’t over just because there’s pipes that are being replaced and things like that. So we really appreciate everyone that’s continuing to chime in and sort of support those organizations with this.

Yeah. And I would say get involved in the actually hashtag. Start tweeting and on Instagram and start sharing your perspectives on these issues.

LaTanya:  Yep.

Suze : That is fantastic. Mike, LaTanya, thank you so much.

I will put links to the museums are not neutral link in the show notes as well. And we’ll put each of your Twitter handles there so that people can find you.

LaTanya:  Wonderful.

Suze : In the meantime, thank you so much. It’s been amazing to talk to you.

Thank you, this has been great. Thank you so much.

Mike: Yeah. That’s Suze. It’s been great.

Suze : KaywinFeldman is the Nivin and Duncan MacMillan director and president of the Minneapolis institute of art or Mia Since 2008. She also serves on the boards of National Art Strategies, the Chip Stone Foundation and is a member of the BISO group.

She is past President of the Association of Art Museum dDrectors and a past chair of the American Alliance of Museums or AAM. You can find Kaywin on Twitter at Kaywin Feldman and I will include a link to that in the show notes.

Kaywin, thank you so much for joining us here on Museopunks.

Kaywin Feldman: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for the invitation.

Suze : It’s so wonderful to speak to you.

Now you recently wrote a really influential piece for Apollo magazine titled Museum Leadership in a Time of Crisis in which you argue that this is the most challenging time to be an arts leader that you’ve experience the in 25 years as a museum director. Why is this moment so different or so much more critical than previous moments?

Kaywin: You know, I think from having been a director for so long I usually have a wealth of experience to draw from when there’s a crisis or staff members have  a need or I need to respond to something. And I’ve just never been through a time like this. And I’ve had several moments where our staff has gathered together to talk about how upset they are over something that’s happened locally or nationally. And I have to actually look at them and say I don’t have an answer to this. You know that I’m just as vulnerable in sort of going through this.

And of course I have to as always as a leader put aside my own personal partisan politics because that’s not what this is about. But as I kind of reference in the article where I do draw the line is that I feel frequently that the key values that we all stand for in our institution, I think most museums are really under attack. And I do feel that it is not just appropriate but necessary for us to stand up for what we believe in.

Suze : Yeah. I think one of the things that I was quite interested in in the article is you talk about the fact that museums are political by their nature but also argue that they shouldn’t be partisan. And I often see that there is this … those two ideas are often linked especially when we talk about these ideas of museum neutrality. There’s often this sort of confusion between saying museums are political versus museums should be partisan. How does a museum take a principled stance or take a position without being partisan? What are those central values that you’re talking to?

Kaywin: Yeah. So I always try to sort of talk to our staff about a concept that this really influential woman in our community named Shonda Baker taught me was that we can be activists in our private lives. And in our museum work life or work life anywhere we should be change makers. And so we try to think about what does it mean to be a change maker? And that very much comes out of our mission and our collection. And I’ve said to our team that the good news is all art is an expression of the human lived experience. And so that includes identity, sexuality, politics, religion, love, death, hate, hope, you know all of those things are part of the expression of artists and so we have a really rich base here in our collection. We have 5,000 years of human history from across the globe in our collection. And so it offers a really rich spectrum of works to draw from. And to be able to communicate some of those values and to tackle difficult issues.

Suze : Yeah. It’s interesting as you say that. And I think one of the things that we are then talking about is how we use and utilize our collections but also use our spaces.

Kaywin: Yep.

Suze : And use the energy that we have. So in terms of that, I notice you often talk about at Mia about the museum serving community needs. And I think that’s a really important thing to break down a little bit. I’m interested in how you define community and if your definition of community has changed since you came to Mia. And also how you think about defining those needs and how art can best serve those needs.

Kaywin: You asked me lots of big questions.

Suze : Sorry. Yes. That tends to be what I do here.

Kaywin: So of course the community term is a tough one. And it’s a fraught one. And I know that it’s often used as sort of code for something else. And so we do use the term a lot and it changes according to whatever kind of group we’re talking about. And so in its broadest sense I do think about our constituents. And so here in the Twin Cities, to our get disappointment, where what’s known as fly over territory that we’re between the coasts and so we actually don’t get a lot of tourists here at our museum. And so the bulk of our annual attendance comes from people from the Twin Cities.

And so in its broadest sense for us community is very much the people who live in the Twin Cities. And we often talk about serving those needs. Our current strategic plan actually has three primary areas of focus, and one of them is actually focusing on our neighborhood. And we came to that because one of the great assets of our museum is that we’re not actually located in the center of an urban downtown. We’re just outside of downtown. And we’re completely tucked away in a neighborhood. And it’s a very, very diverse dynamic neighborhood. And when I first got here I thought that it was a liability because we weren’t on a Main Street with people driving past everyday where we could put banners out about our current exhibitions. We’re very tucked away.

Suze : Yeah.

Kaywin: And of course, I came to realize that it’s in the liability. It’s an incredible asset because we have people living all around us. And of course when you take away the challenges and hassles of transportation it means that we can actually welcome our neighbors into the museum. And we hadn’t been doing that very much because we have free admission here at MIA. And so we’d always sort of thought everyone’s welcome so let them come.

And our strategic plan has a big focus on actually what are we doing for the people who live around us? And how might we partner with other agencies in our neighborhood that are also serving our neighbors really well and make our resources for both of us go farther in reaching more people more profoundly by working together.

So it’s a long answer to your question, but trying to make that point that we do use community a lot.

Suze : Yeah.

Kaywin: As a big word. But we do then often break it down as to what we mean specifically. But I think one of the other sort of last key things I would stress is that we don’t every assume to know what a community wants our needs. You know, we very much feel that it’s our job to get out there and listen to people and hear from our community and that that’s the important part of the process.

Suze : Yeah. I’d say you’ve even been doing that within the museum sector as well. One of the things that I really wanted to speak to you about today is the museum a site for social action or Mass Action gatherings that you’ve been hosting with stakeholders from within the sector which are a series of public dialogues essentially about how we can create actionable practices for greater equity and inclusion within the sector.

Where did this initiative come from? And it sounds like it continues this continuity or the continuum of listening to your communities and one of which being the professional community? Is that right?

Kaywin: Absolutely. And really it all came about from some of the really terrific leaders I have here on our team, particularly Elizabeth Callahan who I’m really delighted to say I’ve worked with in a couple of museums now. And she’s amazing. And it was really Elizabeth’s vision to do this, to start Mass Action. And also very much Elizabeth’s point of view that it needed to be sector wide and not a Mia initiative. You know we raised the money and got the program together but it really does belong to a large group of museum practitioners who do work that inspire us all. And so we merely wanted to have the opportunity to bring them together.

And I have to say for me personally, so it really is the baby of Elizabeth and a few other staff members here. But my realization of the importance of Mass Action came after Philando Castile was fatally shot here in Falcon Heights just outside of St. Paul by a police officer two years ago. And of course, our city, or the two cities were torn apart. And our staff was just in such pain and we came together and we wanted to do something. But we didn’t know what to do. And one thing, we really knew that whatever we did we had to be authentic. And I think that’s so important.

And we didn’t want to just do that was superficial or surface. And you know in the end we actually didn’t do anything at the time. We came together and had conversations internally, but we didn’t do anything publicly. And that’s when I really understood what Elizabeth was talking about with the need for Mass Action and the need to have this whole practice and tool kit so that we could be responsive when our community really needed us.

Suze : Yeah. It’s interesting you talking about the difficulty of having these kinds of conversations. I remember being in Baltimore and working at the BMA at the time that the Freddy Gray death and uprising happened as well. And how as you say, there was this feeling that we didn’t know how to deal with it institutionally. Also personally, and you know for me, I was a fairly newcomer in the Baltimore community and in fact in the US and not having mechanisms, not having ways for either holding those conversations internally or in fact for them thinking about what that means publicly. It was definitely really challenging personally. And it does make me wonder you said at the start of these conversations, that you’ve been having these conversations with your staff over the last several years where they’re feeling quite vulnerable and you’re feeling quite vulnerable as a leader. Have the conversations you’ve been having with Mass Action, with this sector and with the community started to give you better mechanisms for having these conversations internally?

Kaywin: Absolutely. We do now have a sort of … we have more regular conversations. And conversations about social action, about diversity, equity inclusion and access, about what it means to be a responsive museum in America today. And we have more formal and informal discussions. And I think that we have really healthy conversations on staff. And then we’re also then thinking about how that translates into our work in the galleries. And shifting our exhibition program even so … and our Mass Action tool kit is very well thumbed here, I have to say.

Suze : Yeah. That’s great. You’ve just opened an exhibition called art of healing which includes artwork made by artists in your community around the shooting of Philando Castile. Is that correct?

Kaywin: It is. Yes we just opened it a week ago.

Suze : Okay. There must be a lot of stakeholders in an exhibition like that. How do you weigh out the risks to the community and all of the different needs that the communities, in fact communities plural, are having when you open an exhibition like that?

Kaywin: Yeah. As I’ve said to several people, it’s one of the hardest projects we’ve ever done. And it’s actually a small exhibition because you don’t actually need a lot of material to enable people to have the experience and the discussion in this area. And it was hard because we have so many stakeholders and really wanted to make sure that we were doing it right. And for example we had lots of conversations internally about should we put this in a context? Should we include the historical works in our collection? Because of course artists have been expressing, protests, pain, frustration, the need to memorialize since people started making art. And so we thought a lot about including other works or including works that have been made across the nation in the black lives matter movement. And after considering all these different way to present the show we really decided that it needed to be local. That this was a local pain. And that we wanted to show the way that the community had come together. And I think it was a really healthy process that we went through.

And of course, the project was really initiated by the Castile family when Philando’s mother, Valerie, contacted us and in the most generous and heartfelt way she noted that artists from across the state had been sending her artwork to give her comfort. To help her heal and to memorialize her son’s life. And she wanted to return the generosity. She wanted to share the works with other people.

And we were so struck by Valerie’s drive, her warmth and kindness. And so we put together that community advisory committee that also helped. And in fact when we talked about decisions like should we include works of art from other parts of the collection, it was our community advisory committee that also advised us not to do that. So we really listened to them, both in terms of the exhibition as well as of course all of the programming we were doing with the show.

So it’s been a very collaborative process. And you know also, a really difficult one for our board of trustees.

Suze : Yeah.

Kaywin: And I have to say our board, Minnesota’s very liberal. Our board supports this museum because they believe in accessibility and our free admission and our mission to enrich the community. So they are passionate about that, but sort of struggled of was this too political. Were we take ago stand? And I tried to say that yes, we are taking a stand. Because this is actually an issue that we need to address.

And through this process one of the things I finally realized is that I think for a lot of our trustees, they actually just couldn’t understand the show. And our board is 75% white. And they just didn’t quite understand it. And ultimately the show is about a traditionally white power institution of the community acknowledging black trauma and saying we hear you, we acknowledge it. And we want to be a part of your healing process. And I think it’s been very important.

Suze : Yeah. I think it’s interesting we seem to be talking about a couple of types of risks here. One being the perceived risk to the institution of doing something that’s outside the bounds of what it normally does and what has been usual to date. And then talking about also the risks to the communities and to the vulnerable communities within. And so that need to have things like the community advisory board who can actually really give you that insight as to what is and isn’t appropriate and trying to work in this interesting space of thinking about perceived risk to the institution versus perceived risks to the communities that you’re serving. And how you do sort of mitigate these different needs and these different desires.

One of the things I think that is also interesting, at Mia you have just received funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to establish a center for empathy and the visual arts. How does empathy play into these discussions? Why a center for empathy in the visual arts? What are you hoping to achieve with this?

Kaywin: So I would start to say that in the western world our concept of empathy was really formulated in the ends of the 19th century. And so of course humans have always been empathic. It’s not that the emotion was new, but the word wasn’t coined until 1870 and it came out of the visual arts. And this idea you could feel into something inanimate that somebody else had created and actually have a sense of that person. And so I found it really interesting that it came out of the visual arts.

And it actually has been proven by social scientists that empathy is decreasing in America right now. They’ve been able to chart it over the last 20 years and it’s in decline. And they’ve also shown that empathy is actually genetic but it can also be taught or learned I should say. So we wanted to think about how we might use this global collection that we have to help people gain a better understanding of both people around the world and people who live in the neighborhood and around us all. And just think about how works of art can help us have greater empathy for people, perhaps people who lived a long time ago and people that we’re close to right now.

And so we decided that the collection was a great asset to be able to do that. And reached out to a man named Dacher Keltner at Berkeley who’s part of the Greater Good Science Center. And Dacher’s done a lot of work about awe and wonder. And one of the things that he’s shown as well as actually other social scientists is that when people experience wonder that they become less narcissistic. They’re less focused on their daily lives, their cell phone, they actually feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. They’re connected to humanity. And he’s been able to show that and prove that through scientific research. And so he’s actually our partner in this project because we want to look at how might we use our collections to foster greater empathy among children, teens and adults. We want to look at both formal learning programs. So when we do tours and produce materials as well as informal of just an average adult visitor wandering through our galleries and how we present material.

So we’re just sort of starting this journey now. And we’ve all been struck by the overwhelming response we’ve had. We’ve been contacted by dancers and musicians and artists and museum workers from across the globe who either are already thinking about this work or want to be a part of it. So we’re kind of like the Mass Action model really excited about being able to be a convener to bring together a lot of these thinkers and think about how we can actually do a better job of fostering empathy.

Suze : Yeah. It’s really lovely when you talk about sort of that broad impact. It seems that Mia is focused both on the hyper local, but also so broadly on the global and the things that you can take from what you’re doing at the institution and really share very generously with the sector, but also with other sectors.

Kaywin: I have to say one of the hard parts, actually is trying to develop a new fund raising model for this. And I’m sure many of my colleagues share this feeling. You know, if we want to do the biggest Monet exhibition that’s ever been mounted I have lots other donors to go to. But trying to fund whether it’s Mass Action or another program, I don’t have a donor base that is accustomed to seeing this role of museums in really thinking about how we can be a more integral part of society and public discourse.

And I’m happy to say that generous people did step forward and we are able to do the work. But it’s really been a new model to bring donors along and see this new avenue of philanthropy.

Suze : Yeah. That’s super interesting. The funding question is always one that comes up. I think whenever we’re talking about change within the sector. When we’re talking about doing different kinds of work because different kinds of work often take different kinds of money. But it’s interesting to think about these sort of problems within that context as well.

Kaywin, at some point you were going to be ready to move on from Mia.

Kaywin: No.

Suze : Right.

Kaywin: It can’t happen. No.

Suze : It will happen at some point. Do you then think about how the work that you’re doing now basically how that’s embedded, not just into the institutional strategy, but really into the institutional DNA so that these approaches to the way that your work outlasts you? I think one of the challenges we often see is people associate individual leaders with particular types of work within museums. And it’s interesting to think about how you build sustainability planning for this kind of approach and this kind of change. I’d love to hear more about how you’re thinking about that.

Kaywin: Well of course I do this that by building a sustainable model, so a donor base is absolutely one way. A lot of the Mass Action and internal work I think that we’ve done has helped our staff develop a vision for what kind of institution we can be. And so I think really the majority of the staff does share the interest and values certainly that I and our leadership team have, and the kind of museum we want to be about. And so I do think that it’s institution wide. But I also think that when somebody else does come in here that America has changed.

Suze : Yeah.

Kaywin: And this is the America that’s here to stay. And to perhaps there might be somebody else who doesn’t agree with it in the moment, but I do think this is the future for museums. And I’ve said frequently that we put our heads in the sand to our own peril.

Suze : Yeah.

Kaywin: This work is messy and it’s difficult. But it’s important. And is about the sustainability for the future.

Suze : Yeah. If someone who’s thinking about one day being a museum director doesn’t want to take on this kind of change maybe it’s not the right career for them.

Kaywin: Yeah. Absolutely.

Suze : Kaywin, thank you so, so much for giving this really insightful perspective. If people do want to talk to you about this further, if they’d like to follow up with the work that’s happening at Mia, is Twitter the best way to contact you? What’s the best way for them to follow up?

Kaywin: Yeah. At Kaywin Feldman is a great way to reach out and contact me.

Suze : That’s great. Kaywin, Thank you so much.

Kaywin: Thank you for the invitation. I really enjoyed it and appreciate all the work that you’re doing in really helping the field to think more broadly and think differently. So thank you, Suze

Suze : Thank you.

Thank you LaTanya, Mike and Kaywin for joining me on Museopunks this month. Just as museums are not neutral, podcasts are not neutral either. And it’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to share this important conversation with you. I look forward to bringing you more conversations about progressive practice in museums in all its forms soon.

Museopunks is presented every month by the American Alliance of Museums. You can connect with me on Twitter at Museopunks or check out the extended show notes at

And of course, you can subscribe any time at iTunes or Stitcher.

Suze : Just one quick note before I sign off. During the last couple of weeks, I have been painting the insides of my kitchen cabinets. This seems like a pretty ridiculous thing to talk about on the podcast but it turns out that doing low cost, low scale renovations has become an incredibly vital method of relaxation for me. Who knew? I mention this to remind you wherever you are to find something small and personal that relaxes you and helps center you.

Self care continues to be so important. So spend a little bit of time doing something just for yourself one day this week.


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