With climate change as a constant impending threat, historic sites must consider their future sustainability with regards to the environment. Sea levels are rising, and many historic sites are located close to harbors and ports, which used to be the economic centers of many towns. However, this puts them in the prime position to be damaged by the environment. While the historic house field is very aware of this problem, it is something that requires continuous attention.Personally, this issue has been on my mind because I am interning at the Nantucket Historical Association this summer, and this problem is something that the entire island will face in the next several hundred years. However, some historic sites have come up with creative solutions to combat the sea level rise, as well as other natural issues.
We may not be able to change what has already happened to our planet, but we can at least be as prepared as possible to try to adapt with these environmental hazards, as well as advocate for conservation and environmentally sustainable practices. Many historic sites are organizing conferences and trying to set an example of innovative planning while also maintaining the integrity of their sites.
Transformation creates opportunities and problems that call for collective interpretation: What are we about? Who are we? What is important? What are our priorities?(Eckel & Kezar, 2003a)
In May of 2019, a story of racist behavior directed at students of color at the MFA Boston broke on news sites across the internet. Seventh graders from Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy, a charter middle school in Dorchester, MA, reported being targeted by racist speech from MFA staff and visitors and racial profiling by security. In the weeks since, the MFA has conducted investigations into the events, banned the visitors who made racist comments, opened discourse between museum and Davis Academy leadership, and organized community roundtables to begin the healing process.
Toward a More Inclusive MFA details the MFA’s responses to the Davis Academy visit and updates regarding MFA efforts regarding inclusion in the institution at large. Such transformation takes time and needs certain elements to foster change among individuals and at the institutional level. The five elements needed for transformative climate change as identified by Eckel & Kezar (2003b) are senior administrative support, collaborative leadership, flexible vision, faculty/staff development, and visible action. How have MFA efforts aligned with these five elements?
MFA leadership has been involved in these efforts from the beginning. Matthew Teitelbaum, director of the MFA, has been quoted often in stories from news sites. Museum-issued statements have come jointly from the chiefs of each department at the MFA. Makeeba McCreary, Chief of Learning and Community Engagement at the MFA, reached out to Davis Academy leadership herself to start the reparative process and has organized a series of roundtables on inclusion and race among educational and non-profit leaders in the Boston area.
As all information regarding this process is coming from MFA leadership, it appears that all of these measures are mandated by MFA leadership. Whether staff at different levels have had or will have input into the process is unknown. However, MFA leadership has openly collaborated with the community on this issue. They have been engaged with Davis Academy leadership since the incident and have opened discourse with community members regarding inclusion and racial equity.
Because museums serve the public at large, it behooves them to leave the specifics of “who for” and “how” open-ended. This way, museums can (theoretically) respond to trends with greater agility. The MFA does not have a clearly defined vision statement; instead, the mission is supplemented with statements in the MFA 2020 strategic plan and inclusion statements in Toward a More Inclusive MFA. In this time of action, MFA leadership should consider revisiting the mission. It was written in 1991 and, while flexible, it is old and places primary emphasis on caring for the collection. The idea is not to bring the focus so far away from collections, as Chet Orloff warns against in “Should Museums Change Our Mission and Become Agencies of Social Justice?” (Orloff, 2017); rather, it is to explicitly express that visitors are as valued as the objects within the museum’s walls.
Among the first measures announced by the MFA were staff trainings on conflict resolution and unconscious bias. Trainings were scheduled for June and July and some have already been completed. Similar volunteer trainings are being scheduled, but the timeline there is unknown. Information on follow-up sessions is unavailable, but the MFA has also noted that they contracted external consultants to “expedite and evolve” ongoing training in which all staff is required to participate. (“Toward a More Inclusive MFA,” 2019)
Before the Davis Academy visit, the MFA had already been working toward diversifying its staff through new recruitment methods, including adding paid teen internships and mentorship programs. Further steps toward enabling individuals from diverse backgrounds to earn a meaningful, sustainable living at the MFA include raising wages, adding full-time entry-level positions (and therefore benefits), and changing the requirements of and language in job descriptions. The Design Museum Foundation offers an excellent example of inclusive language in a job posting:
We know there are great candidates who may not fit into what we’ve described above, or who have skills we haven’t thought of. If that’s you, don’t hesitate to apply and tell us about yourself. We are committed to diversity and building an inclusive environment for people of all backgrounds and ages. We especially encourage members of traditionally underrepresented communities to apply, including women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities.(“Marketing Manager – Foundation,” n.d.)
Towards a More Inclusive MFA is updated weekly with notes on completed trainings, results from investigations, and responses to news stories. People can also subscribe to the MFA email list to receive notice of updates as they happen. Some change can already be seen and heard in the museum more staff has been added to the galleries and school groups entrance. They have also changed the greeting used for school groups to be more welcoming and to avoid confusion with hurtful speech.
It goes without saying that the road toward healing and toward a more inclusive MFA will be long and challenging. The efforts so far are promising in terms of meeting the recommended elements for transformative climate change, though there is always room for improvement.
What are your thoughts on the matter?
Here are the latest job postings across the country – and one from Canada! Happy hunting!
|Manager of Adult Education / Tower Hill Botanic Garden (Boylston, MA)|
|Mellon Curatorial Fellow / Williams College (Williamstown, MA)|
|Vice President of Shared Services / EcoTarium (Worcester, MA)|
|Senior Administrator (European Paintings) / The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY)|
|Director, Domestic and International Studies / Longwood Gardens (Kennett Square, PA)|
|Facilities Manager / American Civil War Museum (Richmond, VA)|
|Executive and Program Associate / American Federation of the Arts (New York, NY)|
|Chief Operating Officer / The Jewish Museum (New York, NY)|
|Manager, Museum Advancement / Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA)|
|Museum Registrar / Allentown Art Museum (Allentown, PA)|
|Chief Curator / B&O Railroad Museum (Baltimore, MD)|
|Archivist / B&O Railroad Museum (Baltimore, MD)|
|Associate/Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art / Princeton University Art Museum (Princeton, NJ)|
|Director of Donor and Volunteer Engagement / Smithsonian Institution, Office of Advancement (Washington, D.C.)|
|Director of Collections & Exhibitions Management / Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, PA)|
|Assistant-Associate Conservator / The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY)|
|Curator of Folk Art / American Folk Art Museum (New York, NY)|
|Education Curator & Exhibitions Manager / Hunter College Art Galleries (New York, NY)|
|Program Specialist / Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture (Washington, D.C.)|
|Curator / The Bronx Museum of the Arts (Bronx, NY)|
|Development Officer, Education Programs / The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY)|
|Communications and Graphic Design Specialist / Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens (Jacksonville, FL)|
|Chief Preparator / Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College of Art and Design (Sarasota, FL)|
|Sales Manager / Imagine Exhibitions (Atlanta, GA)|
|Museum Preparator / University of Mississippi (University, MS)|
|Development Director / Center for Craft (Asheville, NC)|
|Registrar / Barrett Barrera Projects (St. Louis, MO)|
|Marketing & Communications Manager / Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum (Auburn, IN)|
|Interpretation Planner / Newfields (Indianapolis, IN)|
|Audience-Centered Program Coordinator / John Michael Kohler Arts Center (Sheboygan, WI)|
|Coordinator of Exhibitions / Western Michigan University, Richmond Center for Visual Arts (Kalamazoo, MI)|
|Community and Youth Educator / Kelsey Museum of Archaeology (Ann Arbor, MI)|
|Registrar / Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (Chicago, IL)|
|Vice President, Programs and Operations / The Bakken Museum (Minneapolis, MN)|
|Grants Manager / Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)|
|Collection Database Administrator / Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (San Francisco, CA)|
|Executive Director, NM History Museum / Palace of the Governors / New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs (Santa Fe, NM)|
|Major Gifts Officer / Bay Area Discovery Museum (Sausalito, CA)|
|Senior Philanthropy Officer / San Jose Museum of Art (San Jose, CA)|
|Curator of Education and Outreach Services / Aquarium of the Bay (San Francisco, CA)|
|President and CEO / The Amerind Foundation (Dragoon, AZ)|
|Associate Registrar / The San Diego Museum of Art (San Diego, CA)|
|Chief Financial & Operating Officer / San Diego Museum of Man (San Diego, CA)|
|Assistant Curator, European Art / Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) (Toronto, Ontario)|
The opportunity to travel into the past has arisen at the National Museum of Natural History in D.C. The famous Fossil Hall has been closed for renovations the past five years, and I am in the lucky position of being around when it reopened with its new exhibit: Deep Time, funded by a whopping $35 million from David Koch. Despite Koch’s controversial ties to this exhibit, I’m hoping this little peek will inspire you to travel back in time with the Smithsonian.
First, let me briefly describe the old gallery. It was basically two paths one could take between static displays of bones and replicas of said bones. There were wooden barriers keeping the visitor at bay. There was frankly little color besides white and brown—some pops of green to give the impression that we are amongst some Jurassic Park ferns. Walking through this ancient exhibit, you couldn’t feel the danger that these giant beasts once held. Those real-life monsters were once the rulers of the land, and the old Fossil Hall had its shining moment a few decades ago, but it was due for a reboot.
The new director explained how the original Fossil Hall opened in 1911 and was partially renovated a few times over the next century but had never undergone a remastering that integrated the science and technology from all that time. So, the exhibit closed in 2014 and now here we are in 2019 with an unforgettable summer for dinosaur and museum lovers. As one team member put it, this new exhibit shows how all life is connected.
The old exhibit had the dinos mainly standing alone, but in this exhibit, they were interacting with us and each other. They are fighting to the death and hanging over to look at us as we look at them. There are versatile interactives from high-tech computer games to closer looks at 3-D scans of skeleton heads, to automatons, to bronze statues you can get up close and personal with. Though really, everything can be considered personal in this exhibit, because the message is clear as one travels from deep in time to our future that though humans weren’t there to save the dinosaurs, we are here now to save the Earth from ourselves.
Recently, I got to sit in on an early stage exhibit planning meeting. There were basic concept designs on the screen to show where the large artifacts would go. The team consisted of curators, an educator, an editor/writer, a project manager, a designer, and a consultant for discussing the experiential side of the narrative at hand. They spent an hour trying to nail down the Big Idea and major outcomes as personalities clashed. I was reminded how much goes into making an exhibit. Also, getting to listen to a museum “outsider” in the consultant was interesting because I finally understood that I am now an insider—I’m understanding more everyday what goes into running a museum, and that is great, but it does take away the option of a simple jaunt through an exhibit when I am focused on the application of museum studies.
I will have to walk back through Deep Time with an outsider, so to speak, because their mindset is “inside” all the fun. I want to give huge congratulations to the Deep Time exhibit planning team for bringing some magic back to the museum, the National Mall, and millions of kids of all ages.