Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Should art museums be for everyone? Yes. But can they be for everyone? Not yet.

This Week’s Post Comes from Kelsey Petersen, a First Year MA student in the Art History and Museum Studies program. 

Should art museums be for everyone? Yes. But can they be for everyone? Not yet. Although many museums promote themselves as institutions open to all, not everyone feels welcome upon stepping through their doors. For someone who has never been to a museum, it
can be intimidating to access a space with historical objects that he or she may know nothing about, especially considering how so many art museums themselves are far from accessible. With rising admission fees, limited daytime hours, and an ever-pervasive air of elitism, museums still have progress to make to become more relevant, inclusive, and responsive for all, no matter one’s education, race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

Art historian and curator James Cuno has argued, the problem lies in the fact that “while anyone who can enter an art museum is free to be part of the elite experience it offers, the issue is not about access but rather about institutionalization, about who decides what art will comprise the elite experience.”  Certainly, as anyone can infer by examining the makeup of trustee boards and staff, museums continue to perpetuate white (and presumably heterosexual and male) culture. Could this cultural homogeneity from the top account for the reason that most audiences are predominantly white? Since their beginning, museums have been selective in their audiences, carefully choosing a select few to engage with the art and objects within. Originally, only the bourgeois could access these private collections. Even though. The Imperial Collection in Vienna, for example, did not allow individuals in without clean shoes, immediately discriminating against the working class population and those who could not afford a carriage to arrive at the museum.

Museums today, of course, do not have such flagrant policies; however, their operating features continue to prevent approachable access. By only having their galleries open from 10AM-5PM, Monday thru Saturday, they are barring entry to the average individual with a full-time job. With entrance fees that sometimes run as high as $25 for a single ticket, not including special exhibition prices, museums are inherently closing themselves off to a large portion of the population. While many institutions have taken the steps to avoid this exclusion by opening late on certain days or having monthly free days – they still continue to be an intimidating and inaccessible space. To combat these ongoing issues, I argue that more museums should follow the model of the Anacostia Museum in D.C., which sought to “encompass the life of the people of the neighborhood – people who are vitally concerned about who they are, where they came from, what they have accomplished, their values, and their most pressing needs.” 3 As John Kinard, the founding director of the Anacostia has stated, museums “must have relevance to present-day problems that affect the quality of life here and now.” 4 If more museums adhered to this idea, I think they would experience an increase in attendance from individuals who don’t normally visit. The Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire recently adopted this model to appeal to the city’s high number of veterans by putting on two exhibitions about the Vietnam and Iraq Wars, and ensuring its veteran voices were included. The Museum has also recently started an art program for individuals with family members abusing opioids, in response to Manchester’s high death toll from the opioid crisis. Ultimately, by creating spaces and programs that directly appeal to and impact a museum’s community and surrounding neighborhoods, museums can cultivate and intrigue more visitors from a broader scope.

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Here’s our weekly roundup of new jobs. Happy hunting!

New England

Mid-Atlantic     

Midwest

South

West

Museums in the News: The New York Historical Society’s Citizenship Project

This article is by Taylor Fontes, a first-year student in the Masters of Museum Education program. 

A trending issue in a vast number of museums today is keeping visitors engaged and creating conversation with the collection. Educators and professionals are always creating new studies to find out what the daily visitor wants, what they spend time looking at and for how long, etc. The list for conversation problems will always be an issue that museums will look to fix, the historical society has been working to create more engaging programs to benefit their community of visitors. Being placed in New York City the historical society has many people to serve but also an opportunity to expand outside of the “museum norm” and take chances to bring in the population that does not typically visit the museum. The Citizenship Project is a perfect example of how the historical society is bringing a new visitor into the museum and creating conversation.

The New York Historical Society Museum has created some discussion in regards to their free program for immigrants looking to take the naturalization exam to become United States citizens. The Citizenship Project is a class that immigrants can take with the New York Historical Society to learn more about the United States and questions that will be on the exam. The class is discussion based around pieces of art that pertain to important points in American history, including the darker parts of the Nation’s past. The museum pushes for participants to try and relate the images to themselves personally through conversation and to find a personal relationship to make the concepts that will be on the exam stick.

The museum is expanding their reach to visitors who are looking to become productive members of society and are also learning about the history of the country that they are about to become citizens in; another point is that many of these people taking the citizenship course may have not felt inclined to visit the museum prior to hearing about this opportunity so the museum is also reaching out to a new inclined visitor as well. The New York Historical Society is welcoming in new aspect of community involvement and engagement with their programs, whether free or otherwise.

The programs that the historical society has create conversation and allow for a broad audience to visit the museum and find a topic in which people could find interest and possibly a personal connection. The issue of creating conversation within the museum is one that the New York Historical Society has been trying to incorporate more into their programs. Creating programs for immigrants, family programs, children’s programs, as well as lectures and gallery tours are just a few ways that the historical society has been working to tackle their problems.

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Here’s our weekly roundup of new jobs. Happy hunting!

New England

Mid-Atlantic     

Midwest

South

 

West

NEMA Session Review: Leading From All Levels: What You Can Do for Social Justice

This week’s post comes from Sarah Coulter, a first year student in the Museum Education M.A. program at Tufts. 

During the 99th Annual New England Museum Association Conference, I attended a session that facilitated deep thinking and reflection on how museum professionals can bring the social justice lens into their own work. The session, Leading From All Levels: What You Can Do for Social Justice, was facilitated by Sara Egan and Nicole Claris. Egan is the School Partnership Manager at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and Claris is the Manager of School Programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Both women have created internal programs at their institutions that promote reflection, dialogue and action.

The session started with a mindfulness activity led by Nicole that helped center the group in what we were going to be doing. From here, they asked us what are we going to do with this information once we leave the session. The main idea of the session was to help other museum professionals identify their sphere of influence at their own institutions and what can one do within that sphere to promote equity and open-dialogue about that.

Nicole Claris then spoke about her own sphere of influence at the MFA. She identified that as the training program for MFA Gallery Instructors. She has been working for the past six years to make the training more inclusive. To do this she has worked to make the trainings speak to all of the museum’s collections, incorporate classroom teachers into how the instructors are taught, and make students real aspects of the training. Claris works to make equity part of her trainings every day, even in the smallest ways.

Sara Egan had a different sphere of influence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. She saw her sphere as the whole museum. Over a year ago she wanted to help staff connect with each other and build emotional support. For her, she wanted a regular opportunity for people who work together to talk to each other, outside of just work based conversations. This idea manifested itself into “Sanctuary for Staff,” a monthly discussion series where staff are invited to meet on the first Friday of each month.

Both facilitators identified that their spheres of influences were vastly different but that they show that leadership can happen at any level. From the examples they gave, the session moved into a workshop about how we as museum professionals can enact our own spheres of influences.

Here are 6 guiding steps to begin this process.  

  1. The Work Begins with You. 

– You must learn and acknowledge your values, assumptions, and biases to begin this process. Seek out resources that widen your perspective and practice empathy.

  1. Picture Success

– Articulate your goals. Determine what indicators will mark progress, be patient and celebrate small victories.

  1. Identify Your Sphere of Influence

– Where is this? Who will be in the room?

  1. Build Institutional Support or Not?

– How do your goals relate to institutional values and priorities? Build a network, this will keep you honest.

    5. Identify Activities That Align with Your Goal

– Learn best practices, methods (VTS, Empathy Toolkit). Set clear expectations and meet people where they are.

  1. Put Your Collection to Work

– Incorporate the materials you already have into your practice.

After this discussion, we broke off and used a worksheet that helped outline what we can do once we get back to our own institutions and how we can identify our own spheres of influence. The practicality of this session was super engaging and really sparked some interesting discussions about the role museums play as agents of change, even within their own staff. I think this session held a lot more meaning for me because it was something that I could hopefully implement at a museum I work at. My main takeaway was no matter your role in a museum there is always the opportunity to spark change and discussion about equity, even in the smallest ways. All the participants left with the knowledge of how to effectively start this process.

« Older posts

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

Switch to our mobile site