Responses to the Presidential Election: An American Alliance of Museums Conversation on the Future of Museums

Originally posted on Medium. January 19, 2017.

This afternoon I attended a webinar I registered for about museum education, EdComVersation, called Museums Respond to the Presidential Election. The program was hosted by Greg Stevens, Assistant Director of Professional Development at the American Alliance of Museums; moderated by Megan Wood, Director of Museum and Library Services at the Ohio History Connection and Ed Com Secretary; and guest speakers were Nina Simon, Executive Director at Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and Will Walker, co-editor of New York History and National Council on Public History’s blog, and assistant professor of history at the Cooperstown Graduate Program. It was a panel discussion that presented questions and answered questions from participants. Wood, Simon, and Walker expressed their thoughts and opinions as they answered the questions: How are US museums, museum educators and other colleagues dealing with the election results? What does it mean for museums and our evolving role in society? What action should we take to foster civic responsibility and service, continue to defend and reaffirm democratic ideals and principles, and advance understanding on the interrelationship between actions and consequences nationally and globally? Along with the program, it provided a handout with resources to refer to the presidential election and the influence it could have on the museum field. I took away from this program what I began realizing after I found out about the results of the election: we need to keep moving on and if we want to make a difference in our community we need to be the ones to effect change.

Our nation is divided on the results of the recent presidential election, and there are many that take their stand on how they feel about the outcome. I will admit I was not happy with the results of the election but I will not rant about my feelings here because on this blog I like to discuss how this would be significant as a museum professional committed to providing an educational opportunity for those who seek it and the position I have to reach out to people to build connections as well as provide a space to express their voice in a society where they fear it cannot be expressed. After I found out about the election, I went on with my day and drove to the Long Island Maritime Museum to do my work. While there I realized that we continue with our day no matter how we feel about the election because we have an opportunity as Americans to affect change in the way we behave as individuals. I continued to greet visitors who came to see the museum, I worked on various collections projects, and other duties as I would on any other day since just because the results did not turn out like I hoped it does not change me as a person or as a museum professional.

There was an old saying that my high school principal said after every announcement: “Be good to one another”. I keep this in my mind as I continue with my life as a student and as a professional, and I try to be the best person I can be. I think about what this expression means every day, and while something good happens in our society there is something else that tells me we have not made enough progress to be good to one another. For instance, as our nation has legalized gay marriage there are still acts of hatred that cause harm to people of different races and genders. We live in a society that has made much progress and has not made enough progress at the same time. To inspire progress on improving our society, everyone, including myself, need to step outside of their perspectives and learn more about each other to build our empathy as humans. We educate ourselves on the issues and learn about each other to find out how we can make a better community for ourselves as well as for future generations. This is where education professionals like myself come in to assist in making this progress.

Today’s discussion this afternoon and tonight on Twitter’s continuing #MuseumEdChat discussion on the election delve into what we should be doing as museum professionals and for museums. Museums and other cultural organizations took their own stands in response to the inauguration tomorrow; some believe in participating in the Arts Strike movement and others have their own plans for running the museums with various programs and events that are based on what they believe should be doing to help their communities. There is a list of museums in New York City that share their plans during inauguration day (found here: http://ny.curbed.com/maps/nyc-free-museum-inauguration-day). There are a few things I took away from the discussion including there are persistent inequalities that did not begin with this election that we have to keep in mind as we make plans to serve our communities; keep in mind the voices that are not being heard in our community and find a way to include these voices in our programming and see how we can progress from there; and figure out how we could reach out to the audiences we want to reach out to based on our missions and expand our missions to include social issues we want to address. Also, we need to figure out the answers to these questions and learn how to proceed from there as organizations: What dialog we are inviting in our work? Are we perpetrating ideas we do not believe in? Another question to keep in mind as I read on Twitter tonight: What role, if any, do you think museums have in creating/making space for dialogue for divided public? My answer to this question would be to make sure our communities understand the significance of our roles in the community and build upon this by becoming more involved in the community to be able to have the trust to provide that space for dialogue; it does take time for any improvements in our society so we need to keep working toward that space for dialogue.

What do you think the museums roles should be as we face the future of our society? Do you have any responses to the questions presented in this discussion?

 

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