Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Moves Toward Transformative Climate Change at the MFA

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?

1. Senior Administrative Support

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.

2. Collaborative Leadership

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.

3. Flexible Vision

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.

4. Faculty/Staff Development

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.)

5. Visible Action

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?


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The Politics of Seeing

A Sign of the Times by Dorothea Lange, 1934

Hopefully summer time is going swimmingly for everyone, whether you’re in internships, jobs, or are relaxing. For museum-goers, popping into an exhibit or two (or thirty) during the dog days is a favorite past-time. And that’s exactly how I kicked off my summer, by visiting the Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeingexhibition in Nashville at the Frist Art Museum.

The difference from last summer to this one is that I have a year of museum studies under my belt, and now I am looking at exhibits with a critical (albeit, novice) eye. Here is my shameless plug and a challengeto anyone reading: send in an exhibit critique this summer for a guest spot on the blog. We would love to hear from places around Boston and beyond—for the nomads. I personally would love to read more about and experience more exhibits that show museums care about engaging all walks of life.

So, rewinding, Dorothea Lange… who is she? She’s a popular photographer from the 20thcentury who used her camera as a tool for justice. She wanted to expose inequalities in regard to race and gender, to address issues around the Great Depression and migrant workers, and to demonstrate the decline of the rural communities and environments. These topics are not unfamiliar to us today, if you will excuse the double negative.

Dorothea Lange

I’ll be frank—I am not a photography fan. I can get down with a selfie or a scenic vista, but my world isn’t transformed by many pictures. I don’t know if it was my schooling coming in handy or maturation on my part, but I appreciated this exhibit for what it was trying to do, to give its audience a lesson on a compelling woman in history who visually captured the lives of those who would have been lost to time and to subtly make a point about how the world hasn’t changed in many ways.

Like many reinvented museum exhibitions today, this exhibit was clearly standing up for something. It wasn’t shying away from pointing out the injustices of this country. The major critique I would give is that it didn’t necessarily give an answer on how to change the oppression of minorities or the neglect of the poverty-stricken in this modern age. However, it does have a charming way of showing how photographs can be edited by the owner to represent the message the owner wants, rather than revealing the whole, complex truth. 

We should care about that visitor connection for so many reasons, but I will start with a basic one: many people for centuries haven’t seen “their story” in a museum and that’s fortunately changing. This exhibit was giving a low down on some of the rundown minorities of the past, but it wasn’t as accessible as it could’ve been due to entrance fees. Go away from this article today thinking about how museums can become more connected with the unconventional museum goer. (On a personal note, feel free to drop a line about how to spice up photography exhibits.)

Job Posting at Well-B Innovation Center

From the Well-B Innovation Center
800 Boylston Street, Prudential Center, Back Bay Arcade, Boston, MA

Position: Visitor Experience Associate

Reports to: Exhibit Manager, Innovation Department

About Well-B:

  • Sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the Well-B Innovation Center acts as a space to bring people together, learn from one another, share ideas, and create new solutions to improve health and healthcare. Recently opened in the Prudential Center in May 2019, the exhibit space will be rapidly changing, with new exhibits being developed every 4-8 months.

Position Summary:

  • The Visitor Experience Representative is essential to creating a positive, memorable experience where visitors learn and contribute to healthcare innovation. This position serves a dual-role by providing outstanding customer service and facilitating educational experiences in the exhibit space. Since the space is a unique balance of an educational experience and feedback forum, the Visitor Service Representative must be a flexible and empathetic thought partner for visitors.

Customer Service: 

  • Act as a resource for visitors by welcoming and orienting them to Well-B’s unique offerings.
  • Help communicate the connection between BCBSMA, Well-B, and current exhibit materials
  • Track daily visitation statistics, log interactions, and pass along feedback from visitors though associated paperwork.
  • Manage varied (ranging from high to low) volumes of visitor traffic while providing personal attention to individuals.
  • Assist Program Manager with set-up and facilitation during special events.
  • Provide immediate and appropriate responses to safety and security concerns.
  • Navigate potentially sensitive visitor interactions involving healthcare and health insurance.

Exhibit Interpretation:

  • Guide the visitor’s journey across experience points, encouraging exploration and play throughout.
  • Learn background material of the exhibit to help engage visitors with the content.
  • Provide positive and memorable experiences by facilitating programs and tours.
  • Recognize and act on opportunities to enhance a visitor’s engagement through one-on-one assistance or by facilitating short activities.
  • Maintain exhibit spaces by resetting and restocking materials.
  • Prepare materials for activities, programs and events.

Program Development:

  • Research future exhibit and activity topics
  • Use human-centered design to develop and prototype activities and programs for the exhibit.
  • Perform consistent evaluation of programs, activities, and exhibits in the space.

Qualifications:

  • Experience using human-centered design/design-thinking and/or a willingness to learn it
  • Interest in public health, technology, biology, education, and/or innovation.
  • Strong time management skills and ability to juggle multiple competing demands.
  • Personable and naturally enjoys helping others.
  • Curious and open to learning new skills, systems, and processes.
  • Ability to keep calm and composed under pressure.
  • Flexible and open to feedback.
  • Previous employment or volunteer experience in museum interpretation, education, facilitation, or customer service positions is preferred.
  • This job requires workers to be on their feet for a large majority of the day.

Schedule:

  • 9:30am-5:30pm, 4 weekdays
  • 9:30am-5:30pm, 3-4 weekdays
  • 9:30am-5:30pm, 2-3 weekdays
  • Occasional evening, morning, or weekend events
  • Start date: Week of July 8, 2019.

Pay:

  • $18/hr

To Apply:

  • If interested, send your resume, cover letter, and availability to Elaine Mondy, Exhibit Manager, at elainem@well-b.com.
  • Applicants will be accepted along a rolling deadline.

Job Posting at the American Philosophical Society Library and Museum

From the American Philosophical Society
104 South Fifth Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

Associate Director and/or Associate Librarian

The American Philosophical Society (APS) has decided to integrate its Library, home to a renowned research collection, with its Museum, a nationally-recognized exhibition program, in order to form the American Philosophical Society Library and Museum. The new unit will bring together programming, curatorial, and archival staff with the plan to grow the APS’s collection, expand its public and scholarly programming, and increase its exhibition activity and outreach efforts.

As part of the re-organization, the Society is seeking to hire an Associate Director/Librarian to help manage the expanded operations. Because this is a new unit, the Society is holding an open call for applicants interested in taking on a leadership role at one of the foremost research institutions in the country. The Society is especially interested in candidates who have extensive experience in libraries, museums, and/or public history and who have shown scholarly productivity and creativity. The new hire will report to the Society’s Librarian (Director of the Library and Museum), supervise the operations of approximately half of the APS Library and Museum’s staff, and have involvement in senior-level decisions for the APS Library and Museum. The specific contours of the job and its administrative responsibilities will be tailored to fit the hire’s skillset. Likely areas of involvement are scholarly and public programming, digital scholarship, and curatorial and exhibit planning. Applicants with extensive library experience may have more involvement in library operations.

The integration of the Library and Museum presents an exciting moment of change for a venerable institution and for the right candidate interested in being a part of it. We encourage all those interested in learning more about the position to email the Librarian at librarian@amphilsoc.org.

Candidates must apply at https://apply.interfolio.com/63358 with the following:

  1. Cover letter of no more than three pages that outlines how their experience can help guide and grow the APS Library and Museum through this transition. Applicants are also asked to include their salary expectations and a list of three references in their cover letter. No letters of reference, please.
  2. CV that highlights work accomplishments and major scholarly achievements.

Applications will be accepted through June 17, 2019.

The American Philosophical Society is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Successful applicants will be asked to show proof that they can legally work in the U.S.


About the American Philosophical Society Library

Founded in 1743, the American Philosophical Society’s Library, located near Independence Hall in Philadelphia, is a dynamic research center that holds over 14 million pages of manuscripts, 275,000 bound volumes, a remarkable rare book collection, and a growing digital library. The Library’s holdings make it among the premier institutions for documenting the history of the American Revolution and Founding, the study of natural history in the 18th and 19th centuries, the study of evolution and genetics, quantum mechanics, and the development of cultural anthropology, among others. The Library also hosts two Centers that build upon its collection strengths. The Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR) promotes innovative uses of the Library’s collections that benefit indigenous communities and academic scholarship and the Center for Digital Scholarship (CDS) promotes the collections through digitization, digital humanities, and the development of innovative library software. The Library offers over thirty fellowships a year (approximately twenty-five short-term and ten long-term) and hosts a robust slate of programming, including conferences and symposium that draw an international audience. The Library has a staff of approximately twenty-five across seven departments. More information on the Library can be found here: https://www.amphilsoc.org/library.

About the American Philosophical Society Museum

The American Philosophical Society Museum’s exhibitions showcase the Society’s renowned collections. The current exhibition—Mapping a Nation: Shaping the Early American Republic—traces the creation and use of maps during the early American republic. Past exhibitions have featured items such as Thomas Jefferson’s hand-written draft of the Declaration of Independence, a notebook from Lewis and Clark’s Western expedition, a rare 18th-century telescope, Darwin’s hand-written title page for On the Origin of Species, and the only known portrait of Benjamin Franklin’s wife Deborah. Each exhibition offers imaginative programs from guided school tours for grades four through twelve to tailored visits for undergraduate and graduate courses, which interpret the historical themes and objects on view and connect them to relevant issues in the world today. Exhibitions are open to the public every year from mid-April through December and attract over 130,000 visitors annually. The Museum has four full-time staff plus two curatorial postdoctoral fellows. More information on the Museum can be found here: https://www.amphilsoc.org/visit-museum.

“Nice to Meet You” from the New Editors

It’s that time of year again: the editors you’ve come to know and love have moved on to new endeavors. Never fear, your three new editors are here and ready to get to work! Many thanks and well wishes to Danielle, Kelsey, and Amanda – we hope to continue setting a high bar for the Tufts Museum Studies blog.

Without further ado, your new editors are:

Darcy Foster

Darcy Foster
MA in Museum Education, 2020

Hi everyone! I’m Darcy Foster and I’m entering my second year in the Museum Education program here at Tufts. I’m from Pittsburgh, PA and I have my bachelor’s in History. I currently work at the Concord Museum as a museum educator and tour guide, but my love for museum education started when I was just a young visitor. While I was growing up, my parents included museum visits during every vacation we took. After one trip that included two presidential library tours and a few historic houses, I realized that I actually enjoyed learning, even though I had never enjoyed it in a traditional classroom setting.

After also realizing my interest in history, I was driven to museums, which can encompass both of these passions. I love working with interpretation and programming to foster conversation between visitors in an exciting way. Museum education allows me to focus on what visitors take away from each museum they visit. I have worked at a variety of museums, from the large National Archives Museum to the tiny Benjamin Franklin House, and in a variety of positions, from archival processing to exhibits. In all cases, I enjoyed my time and it helped me to find a path to museum education, where I can help others find a love of learning in an informal setting. This upcoming summer, I’ll be interning at the Nantucket Historical Association. I’m looking forward to sharing both my experience there and museums in general with you!

Abby King

Abby King
MA in History and Museum Studies, 2020

Howdy, my name is Abby King. I have a BA in History (minor in classics), and I am a second-year grad student in the History and Museum Studies program at Tufts University. I am from the Kentuckiana region and have journeyed a long way to get here. My earliest museum memories have to do with peeking through the glass at fossils and mummies—so I have always had an eye for old history. I currently study ancient to medieval civilizations around the Mediterranean, including the Byzantines and ancient Greeks.

Only in undergrad did I realize I wanted to use my history focus in museums. This epiphany came when I was working in the special collection’s library at my old college, and from there I’ve been on a saucy and nerdy ride to where I am. I have worked with a curator at a historical home, at a baseball bat factory and museum, in the education department of a state history museum, and at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in the registrar’s department. This summer I will be interning at the National Air and Space Museum with a curator and collections manager on oral histories and women’s history.

My successes are all thanks to family, friends, mentors, teachers, and those willing to share their knowledge, so I am happy that I will get to (try to) share a golden nugget or two on this blog about working in this field and experiencing exhibits. Welcome and enjoy our collection of stories!

Jennifer Sheppard

Jennifer Sheppard
MA in Museum Education, 2020

Hi there – I’m Jennifer Sheppard, a rising second-year in the Museum Education program and life-long lover of learning and museums. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to articulate what “museum education” was, but a sudden, serendipitous internship at the Dallas Museum of Art took me from a seasoned summer camp professional with an art degree to a full-blown, italicized and bolded museum educator. That internship and the subsequent full-time educator position taught me the power of accessible programming and universal design, the awesome potential in collaborating with dedicated colleagues, and that bringing multi-sensory materials on a tour is always a good idea, among other lessons.

Looking back at my personal history as a museum-goer, my chosen career isn’t much of a surprise. From the very first time my family took me to an art museum to feed my childhood obsession with ancient Egypt, I have had the immense privilege of feeling like I belong in museums. Now, finding (and fighting for) ways to extend that experience to people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities is my driving passion. It led me to the Tufts program and to the team editorship of this blog. Echoing Darcy and Abby, I’m thrilled to engage more with you and the museum field on such big ideas throughout the upcoming year. Stay tuned!

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