Originally posted on Medium, March 16, 2017.
I recently read Museum Education Roundtable’s publication Journal of Museum Education, and the topic is Race, Dialogue, and Inclusion. Today I participated in this week’s EdComversation on this edition of the Journal of Museum Education. The moderator was Sheri Levinsky-Raskin who is the Assistant Vice President, Education & Evaluation at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The panelists were Lanae Spruce who is the Manager of Social Media & Digital Engagement at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; Anna Forgerson Hindley who is the Supervisory Early Childhood Education Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; and Amanda Thompson Rundahl who is the Director of Learning and Engagement at the Saint Louis Art Museum and the vice president at the Museum Education Roundtable. I will discuss what I have read in the Journal and then I will discuss additional findings conversed in this month’s EdComversation.
Last week I started to talk about this month’s Journal and how each edition lays out each article and case study written for that month. I decided to continue the discussion about this month’s Journal this week since I am participating in this program that is a main about this month’s Journal.
In this edition, the editorial by Cynthia Robinson, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Museum Education, discussed how the new National African American Museum of History and Culture is a powerful and timely symbol of hope. Also, Robinson discussed how the large draw of visitors to the new museum testifies the need for such a museum. She pointed out also that talking about race, race relations, and racism has always been difficult for many people, and the education department’s ability to open and sustain conversations across races is a critically important contribution to our society. She introduces the articles by acknowledging the hard work that went into writing the articles, and by explaining how these authors experiences provide information for other museums to adapt the ideas and approaches in their own programming.
For instance, Anna Forgerson Hindley (Early Childhood Education Coordinator, National Museum of African American History and Culture) and Julie Olsen Edwards’(co-author of Anti-bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, NAEYC, 2010) article “Early Childhood Racial Identity-The Potential Powerful Role for Museum Programming” examined how the National African American museum of History and Culture approach conversations on race with young children and their families as well as teachers through a couple of programs. One was an Early Childhood Education Initiative program with young children and their families, and another was a series of Let’s Talk! Dialogue on Race workshops for teachers; both programs were developed based on research on the current understanding of the development of race identity and race between birth and age eight. The education specialists use the museum’s collection and content as concrete starting point to discuss abstract concepts (i.e. race and identity), and create staff development programs that also include focus on young children and the approaches to supporting self-care to enable long-term effectiveness in addressing the emotions charged and combative issues of race and racism.
Today’s American Alliance of Museums webinar, Race, Dialogue, and Inclusion, included discussions about two articles in the Journal. The two articles, given to participants before the program began, were “Race Isn’t Just a ‘Black Thing’-The Role that Museum Professionals Can Play in Inclusive Planning and Programming” and “Social Media for Social Justice”. “Race Isn’t Just a ‘Black Thing’” was written by guest editors Esther J. Washington (Director of Education, National Museum of African American History and Culture) and Anna Forgerson Hindley (Early Childhood Education Coordinator, National Museum of African American History and Culture and one of today’s panelists).
Washington and Hindley explained in their article that while the museum was planned for ten years the staff had sensed that this rich historical and cultural content, the educational programming developed around this content, and the museum structure itself, with its prominent placement on the National Mall, would quell a desire for a long-awaited inclusiveness. They gave details about what the ten-year process of creating the museum was like, and brief information about each article in this month’s Journal. Also, Washington and Hindley expressed their hopes the examples we provide inspire brave conversations across all museums and cultural institutions. They pointed out that the issues of race will be with us for a time to come and these are subtle and nuanced and often difficult to broach; but with some effort, museums can, do and should play an important role in inclusion and by doing so, the field will be made better.
“Social Media for Social Justice” was written by Lanae Spruce (Digital Engagement Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; another one of today’s panelists) and Kaitlyn Leaf (Digital Learning Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture). Spruce and Leaf explained that the museum is tasked with stimulating a national dialogue on race and helping to foster a spirit of reconciliation and healing, and it directly impacts social media practice and how we engage with digital audiences since it helps them reach new audiences, highlight relevant museum collections, create participatory experiences, and confront issues of race and social justice. Also, they discuss a way that describes this museum’s use of collections, programming, and storytelling to uplift marginalized voices in the digital sphere.
In addition to discussing the articles, the panelists answered various questions posted by Sheri Levinsky-Raskin and participants in the program. For instance, the panelists shared their responses to how should museums be catalysts of social change. Hindley discussed that it is disturbing that part of the American culture is to forget what had happened in our past. She also pointed out that African American history is American history. I agree with this statement because we are a country filled of people with various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We should celebrate this fact, and we should be able to include all aspects of our nation’s history.
Another question that was brought to the panelists attention was how do we define inclusion and social justice. Spruce defined inclusion as making people a part of the institution and making sure people are comfortable in the space created. Hindley also stressed the importance of creating a collaborative space for visitors and staff to feel safe in and express different viewpoints and be respected. These points are significant in our museum field because without that comfort we cannot effectively participate in our communities. The more we look at our museums’ historic narratives and missions the more we will be able to find ways to connect with our visitors and create opportunities that will be inclusive for all visitors.
To answer the question on the definition of social justice, the panelists pointed out that museums need to make sure there is equity as well as come up with ideas to train staff and engage with all visitors. One important tip that Hindley shared was to take time on yourself and recognize pieces of your life that brought you to this point in life. I think that is a significant point because we need to recognize that we all have bias, and we need to learn more about ourselves before we can be able to learn about everyone else in our communities. Spruce also stated that it is also important to use partnerships with outside organizations as resources.
The tips on how to tell inclusive stories in institutions include be open to criticism as well as listen to what criticisms there are to adapt programming to be more inclusive. Another tip was to change speaking orders in meetings and set up meetings with diverse members. The most important tip I took away from the program was to listen. For instance, museums should participate in Museums Respond to Ferguson, Museum Workers Speak, read and do research, and look at social media feeds from other organizations that discuss inclusion and equity. After reading these articles, participating in programs such as the NYCMER program last week and AAM’s webinar this week, I hope to find ways to create ways to help the museum community be more inclusive in our society.
How is your institution finding ways to reach out to visitors that may have felt excluded? Did you read this month’s Journal of Museum Education? What was your reactions to the articles?