June 18, 2020
While we have been facing a pandemic, this month has seen an increase of peaceful protests in response to the murders of people in the Black community including but not limited to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. In the United States, there has been continuous racist thoughts and actions that should not have been excused for the past hundreds of years. The recent peaceful protests show that we are no longer tolerating the social injustice and are urging for real change. Joan Baldwin’s post on Leadership Matters, called “The Chickens Come Home to Roost: Museum Values in Times of Crises”, addressed what the museums’ roles should be in all of this. Museums have been working towards becoming more visitor and community focused for years, and it is important for museums to actually show their leaders and staff being involved within the community.
If we do not get involved in the community and listen to what the members of the community need, then we cannot claim we are having any influence or involvement in our communities. One of the statements Baldwin has pointed out in her post captured my attention:
A mission statement tells the public what you do; a vision statement spells out who you want to be, but a values statement tells your staff, your trustees, your volunteers and your community how your organization behaves. And it affirms the behavior your organization expects at your site.
All museums should have a values statement that will not only help job seekers determine if they want to work at the museum but it will show all diverse members in the community, especially the Black community, what to expect in the museum’s conduct and what standards they should set when visiting the museum. We do not have an excuse to not release a values statement. To follow the values statement, we need to practice what we state in the museum values.
In other words, we should take action to show we care about the community, especially show that we understand that black lives matter. Baldwin also pointed out a few things on museums having a values statement:
Is a values statement a panacea in connecting a white, privileged museum or heritage organization to its wider community? No. Would it help? Maybe. Crafting a values statement asks your organization to focus not only on mission, but on engagement. Maybe mission statements aren’t enough any more? Perhaps museums need to be good citizens as well as good stewards.
A values statement alone is not the solution, but it should be used as a tool to guide engagement with visitors and the community. I will also reiterate the point I made in my blog post “Diversity and Inclusion in Museums During COVID-19 and Beyond”:
It is also important to note that we do not have all of the answers and that not one answer fits all museums. There are going to be steps that may not be helpful depending on the size of the institutions but figuring out how to continue to incorporate diversity and inclusion should always be the goal when museums make connections within the community.
Museums should focus on maintaining communication within the community to incorporate diversity and inclusion. It is important for museums to not only be a part of the community but be good citizens within their communities. Directors and board members should also recognize the importance of engagement in the community not just within the museum walls. Baldwin also listed questions in her post that I believe should be addressed within conversations between museum leaders and staff members:
If your organization sees itself as apolitical, what does that look like in action, and most importantly, what does it look like for someone in your community? Does being neutral mean in times of community crisis a museum or heritage organization’s role is essentially unchanged? Or is there a civic role for your museum? And if yes, what might that look like? If your organization already has an active community role, can it be enhanced? And how can museums gently and explicitly let visitors know their sites are places hallmarked by kindness?
By having these conversations and answering the questions previously listed, museum directors, board members, museum educators, curators, volunteers, and more staff members will have a better understanding of what they represent as members of the community. We should also keep the conversation going within and outside our museums not just have one discussion so the museums could evolve with the community and continue to learn from the community.
I myself will continue to open up to listen, strengthen my empathy and compassion, and make sure my actions reflect what I have learned to help others understand that Black Lives Matter.
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