This is a recorded session from the 2021 AAM Virtual Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo.
Times of extraordinary change and disruption demand flexibility, humility, perseverance, self-reflection, and responsiveness of museum leaders. Agile leadership requires mapping out a meaningful, relevant, and financially viable direction forward. Explore strategies for museum leaders to achieve greater relevance and inclusion in the lives of diverse publics, balancing capacity and potential to find the right path.
Anne Ackerson, Consultant to Archives and Museums
Melanie Adams, Director, Anacostia Community Museum
Gail Anderson, President, Gail Anderson & Associates
Dina Bailey, Principal, Mountain Top Vision
Ben Garcia, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Learning Officer, Ohio History Connection
Anne Ackerson: Okay Gail.
Gail Anderson: [inaudible 00:00:18] start right in here.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to this AAM session, Resilience for Museums Strategies to Address Challenging Realities. My name is Gail Anderson, President of Gail Anderson & Associates. And I am joined today with Anne Ackerson, consultant to museums and archives. Melanie Adams, Director, Anacostia Community Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Dina Bailey, Principal of Mountaintop Vision, and Ben Garcia, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Learning Officer Ohio History Connection.
Our format for today is a short presentation to set the stage, followed by an open conversation around the topic of resilience. First, I’ll frame the need for resilience. My colleague Anne will explain the Resilience Model and the Playbook in more detail. We will turn to Dina. She’s actually there. Even though it’s dark, she’s there. Who will facilitate questions to all panelists centered on the five goals of the Resilience Model. It’s important to note that Melanie and Ben will speak as leaders grappling with instigating change around resilience in their own organizations.
And at the end, we plan to have 10 minutes for questions, and we’ll conclude at 10. Let me first begin by making a land acknowledgment of the Tewa People who’ve lived, cared and been integral to the area in and around Santa Fe, where I live. They have done this in the past, today, and into the future. I invite those of you in attendance to participate with your land acknowledgment by contributing, putting it into the chat.
In March of 2020, the country and world started to shut down due to the pandemic, a resurgence of unrest about racial inequities and systemic racism ensued, and the realities of global warming continue to accelerate, creating a confluence of urgent issues. It was clear enough is enough. Museums must rethink their role in the world and look inside out and outside in. Further, during the pandemic, it became doubly clear that museums were not considered essential, a reality of our own making. In the winter of 2020, Anne, Dina, and I decided to come together to create a model, a new model, a new approach in a path toward reinvigoration.
This became a 10-month journey that resulted in The Resilience Playbook, a practical workbook that marries ideology with steps for moving forward. And that playbook is centered on a Resilience Model, which we’ll discuss today. Our thinking is grounded in a belief that this is a moment for long-overdue transformational change for museums to address their Eurocentric roots, embedded assumptions, and exclusionary practices, and evolve toward a more responsive, inclusive, and revitalized museum reflected in enlightened ideology practices and rebirth.
We believe that museums who do not tackle their institutional truths run the risk of further marginalization or remaining enclaves for the entitled instead of institutions that are essential to community vitality, reflect diverse people and perspectives, and address the issues of our times. It must be said that disruptions will continue, and the path forward has to instill new habits of humility, resilience, and agility.
The Resilience Model is an interweaving and addressing of various practices that center around embracing equity and inclusion, repositioning museums, [inaudible 00:04:31] players in community life, questioning embedded practices to retire outmoded approaches and achieve higher value, investing resources in priorities, ensuring that the right leadership model is in place to enact this transformative change.
At the core of our model is a conviction that the work has to begin with deep assessment going down to the studs, as I refer to it, and revealing and understanding and owning our institutional histories, including the difficult truths and being prepared to reconcile with our publics through new actions. Doing that first is the beginning of setting the stage for resilience. And now I turn it over to Anne.
Anne Ackerson: Thank you, Gail. And I’m just going to advance the slide here to show you all the model that we developed around these five main goals. Museums today must address a myriad of local and global trends and realities and disruption if they’re to become resilient and thrive through change. So when we talk about resilience, we aren’t really talking about being able to bounce back a situation. Frankly, I think that that’s [inaudible 00:06:00] being reactionary.
When we define resilience, we’re looking at this understanding that institutions are able to anticipate change and they’re able to do that precisely because they’re aware of what’s going on inside and outside their organizations. They’re engaged in deep, methodical internal work, and they’re staying focused on how this all fits together. Additionally, resilience requires museum leaders to hone aptitudes and attitudes, as we’ve listed here in the inner oval. And they do this in order to build and deepen trust and with their internal and external stakeholders.
And all of this requires a level of discipline that can challenge even the most committed leader. I know that you’re all here because you’re committed to these ideas and wanting to be resilient. But commitment is one thing, and actually working through and taking that journey to resilience can be quite another for some institutions, for many institutions actually. So in creating The Resilience Playbook, Dina, Gail, and I developed [inaudible 00:07:18] goals that we believe are integral to museum’s ability to anticipate and thrive through change.
And those goals, as you see, form the center part of the diagram. They are Activate Equity and Inclusion, Renegotiate Community Value, Reimagine Impactful Role, Retool Financial Mindset, and Advance Agile Leadership. And they’re at the heart of this model. Together, the five goals influence one another, and together they create a Resilience Model that supports adaptation and response now and in the years ahead. You’ll see in the chatbox a handout that we’ve put together for you that is a more expanded set of slides that discuss, in greater depth, the five goals, what we mean by them, the attendant plays for each goal, and there are four plays for each goal.
And so that will give you a fuller view of what we’re talking about when we talk about the Resilience Model and the resilience goals and plays. The plays are springboards to exploration, to conversations, and analysis, and clarification that need to become a regular part of your organization’s internal operations. We understand that each organization will bring their own resources to this work, but know that the plays are highly interactive and require engagement from all your organization’s stakeholders.
The process works by uncovering, identifying, and analyzing assumptions throughout the organization at all levels, as leaders do the challenging work to reveal biases and dated ways of thinking and operating. Now, I think you full well know that assumptions exist all across an organization in leadership, finance, operations, public programming, even in policies and procedures and daily practice. Through a collaborative process, each institution has the opportunity to reemerge with a new model that is more flexible, more responsive, more inclusive, and more resilient.
We understand that each institution will have unique circumstances that will influence the best process for the greatest impact. Your organization’s outcomes will be unique to you. So, I want you to think about this as a journey. The journey towards resiliency can be a long one, but know that it is constantly evolving. You will be discovering things along the way that you didn’t know about your institution and each other.
Some organizations may reach a level of resiliency in a fairly short period of time. For others, it might take years, but you’re never going to know until you begin the journey. And the beauty of this is that, with each step, you move to being a more sustainable and essential organization. So now I’m going to turn the program over to Dina Bailey, who’s going to engage all of us in a conversation about [inaudible 00:10:44] goals. So Dina.
Dina Bailey: All right. Thank you so much, Anne. I appreciate that. And both to Gail and to Anne for laying out the foundation, the grant for what we will be talking about today. As I go ahead and ask the questions, I’ll certainly add in my thoughts as well, but giving you an opportunity here to focus on our panelists. So Gail and Anne, and I wrote The Resilience Playbook, and Melanie and Ben are here because we think that they are both resilient individuals and also resilient leaders within organization, so thank you all for being here today.
For those of you who are here participating with us, thank you for already being active in the chat. I look forward to seeing what you have to say. And also, please feel free to add in questions, and thoughts, and concerns. As we go, I’ll try to acknowledge those and incorporate questions when I can. For the presenters, there may be a moment when I ask everyone to chime in. There might be something that will be specific to one individual or to a couple. Knowing that we’ve got about 50 minutes of time. That should allow for a lot of questions and answers. But we’ll try to keep our answers short so that we can get in as much discussion as possible.
All right. For the first group here, I’m going to go ahead and ask Melanie. All right. I’m going to ask Melanie a question that I have just put into the chat, which is why do you believe that resilience is especially important right now? And how do you see it showing up in your organization and or organizations you believe are doing [inaudible 00:12:56] work? How is it showing up?
Melanie Adams: Well, thank you, Dina, and thank you everyone on the panel. It’s really interesting. I almost want to say, before March 2020, we really didn’t know what resilience meant. I mean, I think it had a very different level of conversation, and I think why it’s so important now is what we’ve talked about in terms of the reckoning in the museum field. So resilience now, I think post-March 2020 is really about survival. And I think as both Gail and Anne spoke about, it’s about how are we being relevant to our communities. That’s really how we define our resiliency and are we responding to the needs and things that we’re seeing around us.
And I know at the Anacostia Community Museum where I work, I like to think that we were made for this moment in the sense that we recognize that it was not only about getting people to our building, but it was how were we out and serving the community.
So we did have to do a quick pivot because there were some exhibits that were indoors that we then switched to outdoors. But I think what was a little easier for us was we’ve always had that mindset of how can we be out and about in the community. So we didn’t necessarily have to convince the staff or the board that this is the thing that we should be doing. It was more, how do we actually put this into action now because we have to? We have no other option but to figure out how to go into the community.
Dina Bailey: Thank you, Melanie. That’s a great start. And Ben, I’m going to ask you the same question. So it is there in the chat, but I will read it out for you as well. Why do you believe that resilience is especially important right now? And how do you see it showing up in your organization and or organizations you believe are doing the work?
Ben Garcia: Yeah, I mean, I think I echo everything that Melanie was saying. I think that one of the outcomes of this past year is that museums have been confronted with the ways in which they’ve been slow to adopt to new ways of working and new ways of engaging many museums. I think there are some that have been doing the work. I noticed Lori Fogarty on the thread, and Oakland is always right up there in my mind as I think about the museums that [inaudible 00:15:29] that sort of represent that kind concept of resilience in the ways in which they do their public-facing work and also their internal work.
In Ohio, we are really thinking a lot about what does this look like for a large-scale statewide organization? We have 58 museums and historic sites in our network that we’re responsible for, many of which we run with local site partners. We also manage the State Archive and the State Historic Preservation Office. And so, really thinking about what does this look like for museums, for libraries, for archives in historic preservation?
I would say that the piece that connects all of that is really understanding, I guess the piece that I’ve been led to think a lot about is understanding that as nonprofits and sort of civic organizations or organizations that are focused on the public sector, I think a lot about public value theory and how the output for our institutions is public value. And yet we have, I think, largely unthinkingly adopted and accepted structures and values from private enterprise and the private that just don’t fit with us as organizations.
And so I think resiliency, one of the big places where I’m thinking about it is how can we break free of some of the values and the structures that perpetuate [inaudible 00:17:14] and perpetuate sort of the wrong kind of thinking for organizations that want to be producers of public value. So I think that this past year has given us a lot of opportunity to break a lot of our thinking. And I think we’ve just got a ways to go, but as long as a bunch of smashed crockery is standing around us, we may as well smash it all and then start rebuilding it.
Dina Bailey: I like that. As Gail was saying, taking it down to the studs, right. How do we assess and then reframe as we move forward? Sometimes that reframing means a lot of breaking down of things that have been done before. Thank you for that, Ben. Gail, just because I mentioned you, I am going to ask you the first question for goal number one. So just giving you a heads up about that. For everyone in the chat here, I’m just putting in goal number one for The Resilience Playbook is about the Activation of Equity and Inclusion. And here we’re thinking about centering DEAI, anti-racism, decolonization in decision making and actions.
So as we think about the plays that go with goal number one, we’re thinking about assessment from an institutional-wide level, ensuring that this work is centered or at the foundation, prioritizing, planning, and integrating new practices into daily operations, so that practical application in all that we do. Gail, my question for you is about centering this work. So I know that it was very important to the three of us that we talked about equity and inclusion first. And so, I would like you to speak a little bit about why you think it’s so important that goal number one is about activating equity and inclusion.
Gail Anderson: Great, thank you. Dina’s right. As we were working on the playbook, to us this had to be number one and the first point in to deal with equity and inclusion. And let’s be honest, we have made terrible progress within the field. Not only in attitude and the reflection in our staff and especially in our boards, and then reflected diversity in our collections. We have not paused and understood why it’s important. And I believe that it has to start there because it then ripples through the other goals that we have in the playbook and presented in the model. I have found that for institutions to begin to really think and understand equity and inclusion they have to do some deep reflective work and anti-racism training.
I think that equity and inclusion has tended to be a numbers game, and it’s not. It’s attitudinal. It’s holistic. It needs to be integrated into the entire operation and a core value. And I think we have a long way to go. But to Anne’s point made earlier, each step is a step forward. And I guess I would reiterate before you go to the next panelist. Is that it ripples through all of the goals that we have. It must show up in all aspects of institutional work in order to be of some relevance to our diverse community. And I’ll stop there.
Dina Bailey: Thank you for that. Before we move on, I recognize that the conversation about DEAI, anti-racism, decolonization is both abroad and deep. It is nuanced and complex. And so, it shows up very differently in different spaces. And I just want to make sure that while we have put all of these together in the chat. As we’re talking about them as goal number one, that part of what needs to happen for your organization is that you have a shared understanding of what each of these concepts mean and how we go about doing that work, right.
Because the work of decolonization is very different from the work of DEAI. So again, very quickly, Ben, if I could ask you because you have worked in a myriad of places. But when you think about decolonization DEAI, anti-racism, how are you thinking about the differences and also the similarities in doing the work?
Ben Garcia: Yeah. I mean, I think that sort of it’s helpful to think about what are the pieces that connect all of those different parts of the work. And I do think that… I’ve given a lot of thought to sort of is colonization the larger umbrella, or is white supremacy the larger umbrella? Is structural race, which is [inaudible 00:23:20]? And it’s understanding that sort of structural oppression was written into our institutions from the beginning because of the historical context and the ways in which people were living is valuable.
I think taking everyone back to sort of that original context that we were looking at where human lives were valued differently based on aspects of identity, where you came from. What you looked like. What your race was. What your place of origin was.
So I do think thinking about sort of what are the pieces that and how does that manifest [inaudible 00:24:19]? What are the shared pieces that manifest today? Where are the places that we can look at this? I mean, I feel like equity is a valuable sort of large bucket because undoing sort of colonial mindset and the colonial apparatus of organizations and the colonial thinking of organizations and individuals is an equity issue, addressing white supremacy and the legacies of structural racism is an equity issue.
And so I find that for me, equity is a helpful concept that sort of cuts across all of the different places. But certainly, just as the acronym game, the sort of alphabet soup piece, it is a shorthand that, I think, was started to try to be inclusive, to not exclude any aspect of this work. But it does what any shorthand does, which is sort of reduce things to their simplest.
And so, unpacking this, that requires exactly what you just did, Dina, which is [inaudible 00:25:28] acknowledgment at each time that these are different concepts. That when you talk about LGBTQ+, or BIPOC, or whatever it is. Those are incredibly different aspects. The experiences of someone who’s Black, or Indigenous, or another person of color, or ethnically Latinx. There are some shared pieces, but those are extremely different.
So I think that’s the piece that as leaders and all of us have to hold that these acronyms, they were born from a good place, which I think was a place of sort of wanting to be inclusive. But unless we check ourselves, they can easily become just a lump or a sum. And as we think about how we need to invest our thinking and our resources and direct our organizations toward them, we need to understand that’s not one chunk of the pie. It’s actually throughout the entire pie to what Gail is saying.
Dina Bailey: Thank you, Ben. And Anne, I’m going to tie this, what Ben was saying about this being institution-wide, and we need to recognize not just how we’re lumping things in, right, but how it’s woven throughout. And I think that that has to do with goal number two. I’m just putting that in the chat there. Goal number two is about reimagining an impactful role.
And so the plays talk about addressing the past, acknowledging the present, and then re-envisioning the mission for greatest relevance and impact as we move forward. So I’m wondering, Anne, how you tie together what Ben was saying about recognition of this myriad of experience, right, to the impactful role that a museum or gallery or historic site can and should have.
Anne Ackerson: Thanks, Dina. During this conversation, my mind has been going back to this notion of understanding values and getting grounded in an institution’s values. I think that many of our institutions have these value statements, and they’re often very lofty, and they sound great. They look good on paper, but I think that it’s time, it’s past time, to really revisit this notion of what are our values as an institution and how do they in fact impact what we do. How we do it. And I would say that every conversation we have needs to return to the values conversation and be driven by that conversation.
So I’m not answering your question quite directly, I don’t think, but I’m thinking that it’s now a time to reassess our values and to get straight with those because they’re going to drive everything we do and all our decisions going forward, or they should. And that if we expect to have an impactful role in our communities, they’ve got to be driven by some basic values that recognize the fact that museums have a role to play, an important role to play, in communities, in making communities better, more resilient as well. And if we haven’t had those kind of conversations lately, and I bet most of us haven’t, we need to have some values conversations first and foremost.
Dina Bailey: Thank you, Anne. And Melanie, I’m going to jump to you here to that connection of values, mission, and vision, and impactful role. So I think that with the example that you gave early on how you moved some exhibition aspects programming from inside to outside with COVID. How you’ve been, I think, very nimble and adaptive. How do you think about values in connection to your impactful role in the community?
Melanie Adams: Right. And I think as Anne…
Dina Bailey: Oh, no, she froze for me. Did she for everyone else? Okay. I will hold on Melanie for a second. And Ben, is there an answer that you might give to this when you’re thinking about different impactful role and values in your community?
Ben Garcia: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think the way… This is the time, I think, as a couple of the facilitators have been saying, for institutions to reassess and set sort of a new goal or a new path if they haven’t, if they’re not already headed down one that focuses I think in three areas. One is really understanding, and it’s not new. I mean, this is the work that we’ve been needing to do, and we’ve been talking about for years. When is that work of really understanding what the real needs of the community are and relationship building and understanding yourself as sort of a convener and a platform and a resource for the community?
The second is all of these different paradigms of equity. And then the third is really an understanding what sustainability looks like, both economic sustainability and environmental sustainability. Because we are just headed down a path as a worldwide community that I think is as [inaudible 00:32:31] said to me by a colleague, “If environmental sustainability isn’t a goal for your museum, you’re just ignoring a reality and an issue that’s as big as any of the other ones that we need to be facing together.”
Dina Bailey: Thank you for that. That ignoring of reality is so important. I appreciate that phrase. Melanie, let me go back to you. I know that you had something very important to say, so go ahead, please.
Melanie Adams: Yes. So, sorry about that. What I wanted to say was. It’s a really important, especially over these last 16 months, for organizations to look at their mission and vision, and I’ll be a little blunt. They need to be centered on people and communities and not collections. And we have a wonderful collection, and I appreciate it, but I think it’s very old school to have missions that are collect, preserve, share. That was the mission of the ’80s and the ’90s. And if we’re not centering communities and the people in them, then I think it’s time for us to really re-look at those. And that’s the first way you define your values is what does your mission, and vision statement say?
Dina Bailey: Thank you for that. And I am going to just officially acknowledge here in the chat that goal two is actually Renegotiate Community Values, and goal three is the one about impactful role. So we’ve been really talking about those jointly, but I wanted to make sure that I put them into the chat for everyone. In keeping an eye on our time here, I want to make space for other folks to ask questions as well.
So let me just move on to goal number four, which is Retooling your Financial Mindset. And I think that that is really looking at all of your resources broadly. To what Melanie was saying, “How are we centering people. And therefore, how are we reimagining our resources and what that may look like?” So Gail, for you, I am going to ask the question that perhaps is on folks’ minds. How do we take a hard look at our current financial realities and instill new habits? How do we take a hard look at our current financial realities and instill new habits?
Gail Anderson: Thanks, Dina, and that’s a big question. So let me try to address it in several segments here. First, I believe fundamentally that every institution has to look at all the resources, as you said so eloquently, Dina, and what the assumptions are around those resources, including funding sources. And let me go to one that’s probably maybe a little tender for you, Ben, which is when you have government funding, the assumption that it will always be there is, shall we say, it’s unsecure, and that’s a false assumption to take.
So the idea is to look at all the ways that your resources are advancing the role of the institution, again, picking up on Melanie’s point. In the playbook, we talk a lot about having three financial scenarios, optimal, probable and limited, and that each one of those should be highly focused on supporting how the institution is moving forward. And it also builds in some agility to respond to an unforeseen shift in finances, as many institutions experienced last year, and many were not prepared.
And they had assumed that certain funding sources would continue. And I would also add it’s really important to look at funding when we talk about finances to make sure that the values of the individuals, foundations, and corporations we’re accepting money from align with our values and that we have clear policies around how we engage and accept support. And, in fact, addressing some sources that we might need to stop. So I think it’s a whole level of mindfulness, and I’ll stop there.
Dina Bailey: Thank you, Gail. And seeing that Nicole made a great point in the chat and that, Ben, you acknowledged that as well. I just want to just read out for those who are not necessarily following the chat that Nicole said, “Something that I think people lose sight of, a budget and a vendor list are just as much value-documents as your strategic plan is. Where you put your money is a loud proclamation of your values.” And so, Ben, is there anything that you would like to add about those being value documents and where you put your money speaking to what you value?
Ben Garcia: Yeah, I think that it was articulated perfectly by Melanie and by Nicole. I think our budget is a moral document. The piece that I’m thinking a lot about, and there’s so many places to go around this, is really about the pay equity issue and the pay disparity in our institutions. And again, as I think about the ways in which museums have adopted the wrong set of values and standards for how we should think about much of our structure from the private sector.
This is one of those where compensation in museums is following the trends in the private sector, where the executive is making far more than the lowest paid person in the organization. And sort of narrowing understanding what an ethical spread is. Whether you think that the executive should make more than five or six or seven times the compensation of the lowest person, determining that intentionally, having that be transparent, and raising the bottom so that everyone who works full time in our organizations can cover their family’s basic needs through their compensation and be insured of some security on the other side.
That should be the priority for the executive director and the trustees. Not ensuring that they have enough money to pay an executive director, quote-unquote, what the market requires for good at leadership because I think that is a fallacy. I think if you were transparent and said, “This organization, we pay a minimum-thriving wage. The executive doesn’t make more than six times the salary of the lowest paid person.” You would have a line out the door of qualified leaders who wanted to step into that, where that issue had already been addressed.
Dina Bailey: Thank you for that. Gail, I see you have come off mute. Is there anything that you wanted to add here before I go on to goal number five? You’re on mute, Gail. Still on mute. You switched yourself off.
Gail Anderson: How’s that? Technology, not necessarily my long suit, which we haven’t even touched on that one. But anyway, Ben, I completely agree with you about the pay equity. I mean, this is part of going down to the studs. What are the systems that you have in your institution? And then how are they manifest by financially? And the individual that mentioned vendors. Well, how diverse are they? How reflective are they and connected to your community? Or are they the same old? Do you just respond to who you’ve always used? I mean, I think it’s just requiring complete rethinking around all the aspects of where resources are put. So thank you for your comment Ben, and I’ll let you go to the next question, Dina. Thank you.
Dina Bailey: Thank you. Goal number five is the final goal that we need to talk about here. And it is Advancing Agile Leadership. And so, in the chat, I said, have a shared understanding of what leadership means, assess leadership for alignment and impact, create an equitable organizational culture and maintain a learning… Oh, sorry, two learnings. Maintain a learning institution with resilient and agile mindsets. And so, as we’re thinking about all of this work, I do want to differentiate leadership and management. And Anne, this question will be for you first. As you are thinking about advancing agile leadership, what does that mean to you as different from management?
Anne Ackerson: Well, I’ll start by saying that I think that everyone… Anyone can be a leader within their organization. And no matter where they are in that organization, there are many opportunities to lead, and you don’t have to be at the top of the pyramid or have the bigger office or whatever it might be. That clearly, leadership can flow throughout and should flow throughout an organization and be exercised throughout an organization. And leadership, among its many attributes, I think, is grounded in this understanding that we’ve been talking about. That values are key to an organization and what it does and how it practices its work, and how it evaluates work.
Leadership is about looking towards the future and actually always having at least one eye on the future and asking what comes next and what if. Those are questions that leaders should always be asking, I think. I would also say that… What else would I also say about leadership? I guess leadership is also about giving up a sense of ownership over any particular aspect of the work and letting others come in and join in the work. And that, I think a number of our leaders tend to kind of cordon off what they do and not allow for people and ideas to penetrate that cordon.
And I think we’re at a point now where our stakeholders are looking to see how an entire staff and volunteers can work together and share knowledge and build together and articulate values together. I think it’s a collaborative process now. Leadership is much more collaborative than ever before, and that we get better results from collaborative leadership. So I’ll stop there.
Dina Bailey: Thank you. Melanie, you have worked in a number of different organizations as well. And I’m wondering for you how you have seen leadership change dependent on geography or years of an organization’s life cycle. I’m not exactly sure if you have seen differences first of all, but just a discussion of leadership across time and space, perhaps.
Melanie Adams: I think what I’ve really noticed in about my 20 years in the field is really more risk-taking because I think, early on in my career, people were very adverse to taking any type of risk, and usually, that was rare on the content. So you had to be very careful about what type of content you were presenting. How you were presenting it. And I think, in the now, people are recognizing is that people want challenging content. People are really hungry for that type of information.
I also think that we are taking more of a risk again of going out into the community and being different than what people imagine or remember a museum being. I don’t know how many of you have had people say, “Well, I remember my third-grade field trip, and it was horrible,” because they went to the museum, and maybe it was someone talking at them for an hour. And now, kids come to our museum. They’re interactive. We’re engaging with them. It’s a very different experience. And that was really risky.
I remember some of the earlier things we were doing in Missouri, and the curators will be like, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” And it was just, I think, Ben has said, it really is changing the mindset and the culture of the museums and really taking more risk. And I think as a leader, one of the things I’ve learned is I have to be okay with risk. It still gives me stomach issues, but I have to be okay with, “We’re going to take a risk. And if it doesn’t work, that’s not a failure. That’s a lesson learned. And how do we do it better the next time?”
Dina Bailey: Thank you so much. I appreciate the recognition of risk, right. And that as we are taking risks, courage doesn’t come without fear. That there’s always a fear. There’s a vulnerability as part of the courageous decisions that people are making and the actions that people are taking. So I very much appreciate you speaking to that as well. Just looking quickly, and I will go through these to some extent.
But noting that Erica put in the chat, “How are you measuring success around these initiatives?” Certainly, understanding that it’s not linear or just quantitative, but when we think about resilient museums and Gail, I will start with the playbook. But then, Ben, I will go to organization. Right. So as you’re thinking about a resilient museum, what does success look like? Gail first and then Ben.
Gail Anderson: Okay. That’s a big question, and that’s a wonderful question. I think success is going to have to be tailored to each institution based on where they are and a really clear understanding of the nature of the work, both the short term and the long term work they have to undertake. And then too, I think it was you, Erica. The idea that it’s both qualitative and quantitative, which then means you have to set aside time for conversations about how you are succeeding or moving the dial. And it means you have to define what success looks like. And that’s a conversation I think is often overlooked and undervalued.
I know that one vehicle is to really name some outcome measurements, which could be both qualitative or quantitative, that you can pause and circle back to, to see if you’ve made progress. But I also want to say I don’t think this is something you let a whole year go by, and you haven’t assessed how you’re doing. I think that we have to build in more reflective time, and museums are not good at this. It’s always, “Finish this. On the next thing.” In fact, usually even next to no reflection on what you just completed. So I think that’s moving that into, in a sense, the learning organization that you spoke about Anne so that it becomes a part of the DNA of the institution on a much more regular basis. I’ll stop there.
Dina Bailey: Thank you, Ben, go ahead.
Ben Garcia: Yeah. I like what Gail said about this is going to look different everywhere as I think about what are some things that might look common across organizations. Things have been coming up about boards and trustees and sort of their part in this work. And I do think one thing I think a lot about is too that hourglass form where the trustees are on one side, and the staff and stakeholders are on the other end. And that narrow neck is where the chief executive or the executive directors sits. I feel like that form has to change into more of a cylinder so that there are just many more points of connection between trustees and staff and stakeholders. Again, moving away from this idea of the heroic leader to have just a larger justice league of folks in the organization.
And so that the goals for the organization don’t get derailed when the executive director leads. That there are trustees and staff working together, sharing responsibility for this differently. So I think that’s one really important area. I do think another is going to be this issue of economic security equity for our field and for our staff. And so I think intentionally much narrower disparities between the top and the bottom of compensation in the organization.
And I think that’ll be true also for the hierarchies as well. More working teams that are project-based and where people sort of rank where people sort of have equal authority within those spaces are going to be essential. So democratizing the hierarchies, economic equity, and removing that sort of love of the heroic leader, and really just making sure that the organization will sustain its goals beyond any one individual.
Dina Bailey: Thank you. That’s really resonating with people, certainly in terms of this cylinder and the justice league. Also, recognizing that every place will be different, but how are we bringing people together in collaboration, I think, is really important. I also want to note in terms of resonance in the chat that Anne asked a question a little higher up in our chat about values. And she was saying… she was asking if folks would share some guidance and advice for museum directors on starting or restarting a values conversation with the museum’s trustees, especially when they’re not used to these kinds of conversations.
And just noting that Michelle had some great thoughts there about how to start a conversation. Folks added in about collaboration, and I think core principles of project management begin with the end in mind. So, where do we want to be? And how do we work back? Right. Reflective time, Jennifer said, was so important. Some of these may be connected to what we were just talking about and others to that value aspect but thinking about having those conversations or starting those conversations. Anne, what advice would you give about how to start or restart a conversation about values?
Anne Ackerson: Well, I’ve got a couple things. This is all part of being a learning organization, where staff and stakeholders together examine what they’re attempting to do. What is our outcome that we want to achieve? And then how do we go about that? And what are the underlying values that get us there? And sharing that, learning from those experiences, sharing some more, bringing in new information to an organization. Sharing that learning and starting the cycle over again. And that cycle repeats. It becomes a habit for an organization, and that’s what really learning organizations are all about.
So I think it really… But to get to the other point about how to start the conversation, I’ll take [inaudible 00:54:47] cue from the chat, and that is you start with the end in mind. And so if the desire of the institution is to be more essential to its community to articulate, well, what does that mean? And then to work backwards as to what are the steps involved in getting us there and what are the value? So starting with the end in mind, I think, is probably a great conversation for trustees and-
Dina Bailey: Thank you.
Anne Ackerson: … then begin [inaudible 00:55:24] and then walk them backwards. Yeah.
Dina Bailey: Yeah. Thank you, Anne. We have just five minutes left, and I wanted to recognize Charmaine had a question up in the chat about examples of actions that had been taken to incorporate the values of decolonization DEAI and or anti-racism. And so I think I would like to have this be our last question. So you each have one minute or less. But what is an example of an action that you have seen to incorporate values? Right. It could be in any of those particular areas. So, Ben, I’m going to start with you, then Melanie, and then Gail, and then Anne Ben, Melanie, Gail, Anne.
Ben Garcia: All right. One example. I think a lot of the work in the organizations I’ve been working in has been centered on a different relationship with Indigenous communities and doing the work of consultation, [inaudible 00:56:40] within [inaudible 00:56:46] and not having the legal requirement be the minimum. And so, both in San Diego, at the Museum of Us, and in Ohio, we’ve worked with trustees to sort of have all of our trustees understand the fundamentals of NAGPRA Law.
Staff and trustees together really have them engage, hear from other leaders that are doing that work and ensure that they’re participating in conversations and consultations with American Indian Communities and other indigenous stakeholders. So that’s one example where staff and trustees really work together and have been exposed to the same learning together that was really successful in both those places.
Melanie Adams: Well, in terms of the work we’re doing at ACM, this was embedded in our founding back in 1967. So we were founded out of the racial unrest that was happening the country, as well as the lack of diverse stories in a lot of our mainstream museums. So this is what we’ve been doing.
But what I will say we did do this year was we worked with a local organization called Feed the Fridge, and we actually have a refrigerator on our museum parking lot that is open for anyone. Every day it gets stocked with a hundred meals, and anyone can walk up and take a meal. And so I think that’s one of the ways that we’re really showing our value in terms of, we knew that food insecurity was a big issue in the ward in which we reside, and putting the fridge there really helps with that issue.
Dina Bailey: Gail, I’m not sure if I see you here. So Anne, [crosstalk 00:58:33] why don’t you go ahead.
Gail Anderson: [inaudible 00:58:35].
Dina Bailey: Oh.
Anne Ackerson: Oh, there’s Gail.
Dina Bailey: She’s on mute again. Gail.
Gail Anderson: Okay. I am going to use an example of the Anchorage Museum, where they really hit the pause button and addressed and defined how they would deal with anti-racism and embedded practices within the institution. And they have committed for months now and well into the years ahead, monthly training on anti-racism with an expert who works with them and has helped them understand, individually, where they sit and then collectively where they sit. So I think that there’s some pre-work that has to happen to support some of the work moving forward.
I would say that it has transformed this organization, and they are identifying themselves and their value based on how they can connect with their community around a sustainable future, given that they’re face to face with climate change as just one aspect of their existence and they are serving a very diverse indigenous population. I’ll stop there.
Dina Bailey: Thank you. And with that, it is 11 o’clock. You all did so well on your timing here. For everyone who participated. Thank you for being a part of this, for sharing your questions, and also sharing your experience and your knowledge. Don’t forget to check out the handouts. It’s got a lot more detail about The Resilience Playbook. It also has all our email addresses, though I tried to put both of those in the chat as well. So thank you, everyone, for being here today. Thank you to all of our panelists for your wisdom. We will take this and hopefully ripple out for many, many moments to come. Thank you, everyone.