Originally posted on Medium, May 18, 2017.
Especially in honor of International Museums Day, I wrote this blog post about museums progress towards inclusion and diversity. I came across an article posted on the St. Louis Public Radio website called “How are museums changing from institutions of the elite to places that ‘promote humanity?’” written by Kelly Moffitt, who is an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio’s talk shows St. Louis on the Air. Moffitt discusses about the radio show host Don Marsh’s interview with Sarah Sims, the Director of K-12 Education Programs at the Missouri History Museum, and Nicole Ivy, the Director of Inclusion for the American Alliance of Museums on the topic about promoting humanity and last week’s Annual Conference and Meeting in St. Louis.
In the beginning of the article, Moffitt stated a memory Sims had about visitors in museums. Sims stated that she remembers a trip she took her students to a local museum; one of the students came up to her during the visit and said to her how special the trip was, and when Sims asked why the student said, “this is a mansion and this is the only time I get to come here.” Sims mentioned how much this broke her heart since the museum they went to and many museums are free, and that museums should be places for everyone.
This story also broke my heart since it is not right that there are people who do not feel they are able to go to museums. Museums should be accessible to people who want to learn and make people feel welcome to attend. Museum professionals are working on making their organizations more accessible and inclusive, as evidenced especially in my previous blog posts on this subject.
The interview continued when Ivy described a brief history of how museums were viewed and run. According to the article, Ivy stated the history of the American museum is linked to elitism; museums started with the cabinet of curiosity and a real focus on exclusion. Her reference to the cabinet of curiosity reminded me of my own experience with a version of a cabinet of curiosity. While I was at Connecticut’s Old State House completing my internship, I was fortunate enough to see its own version of a cabinet of curiosities.
Inside one of the rooms of Connecticut’s Old State House, there was a small museum called Steward’s Museum of Curiosities. The Connecticut General Assembly allowed Reverend Joseph Steward to occupy space in the Old State House in 1796 to use it as a portrait studio. A year after opening the portrait studio, Reverend Steward established a curiosity room on the third floor featuring all sorts of wonders and treasures, including animals such as a two-headed calf, from around the world. The Museum of Curiosities was reproduced and moved to the second floor where other items are also displayed including Steward’s portraits. The purpose of this museum was to educate individuals of nature and animals they were not normally exposed to.
When I took both school groups and visitors through this Museum of Curiosities, there was a mixed reaction to the items in the room. As I described the history behind this museum, some individuals were impressed with the items in the room. Some were not impressed with the animals but were interested in the portraits Steward painted. This experience taught me that many people will have different reactions to curiosities. Also, the experience showed how individuals’ educational experiences have changed since the cabinet of curiosities were set up.
Museums have over time changed to become more responsive and more inclusive. This fact has been reiterated by Ivy during the interview and other museum professionals have worked to have their organizations create programs and exhibits more responsive and more inclusive. Ivy pointed out that a key to increasing diversity and inclusion would mean opening the doors of the museum to people who are really hurting; I agree that it is a key to increasing diversity and inclusion because everyone should be able to have a space to express their thoughts and museums can create relationships with the community to be able to serve society better.
To read the original article, see the post here: http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/how-are-museums-changing-institutions-elite-places-promote-humanity#stream/0
What do you think of this article? Do you think we are making good progress so far in diversity and inclusion?