Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Making Use of the Tools We Have

This week the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) announced that they will be closing their doors for four months later this year to complete their ongoing renovation and completely rehang their collection. When the museum reopens in the fall, they will rotate their collection more frequently, juxtapose works in different mediums, and, crucially, include more works that emphasize the contributions of women, people of color, and non-European artists to modern and contemporary art. They will also partner with the Studio Museum in Harlem, an American art museum that focuses on African American artists, to display their collection while that museum is being renovated.

This is a massive and much needed undertaking. Women and people of color have historically been included in MoMA’s exhibits in marginal ways. A 2015 Artnet survey of solo exhibitions from 2007-2014 at major American art museums found that only 20% of MoMA’s shows featured women artists. Not that these types of exclusion are limited to MoMA. Artnet recently looked at exhibitions of work by black artists at 30 major museums from 2008 to 2018 and found that they accounted for a mere 7.6 percent. So full-throated attempts to remedy these biases and gaps are welcomed. But not every museum can afford to close for months to revamp their space or aggressively collect work from marginalized artists. What can workers at those institutions do?

I recently attended a workshop on Social Justice and Museums run by Nicole Claris, Manager of School Programs at the MFA, Boston, and Sara Egan, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The workshop was put on by the Young Emerging Professionals group of the New England Museum Association. Its focus was on how to marshal resources to create exhibits, programming, and other experiences that surface marginalized lives and multiple points of view. Examples of real life successes were shared, like revamping a volunteer training program to give docents the knowledge and tools they needed to tell inclusive and truthful stories. Then step by step instructions for how to apply these intentions to your institution were shared:

  1. The work begins with you. Take a moment to check with yourself and see if you are able to take feedback about your work. It is ok to make mistakes, but we also have to be able to learn from them. This is how we build more inclusive experiences that share multiple perspectives.
  2. Define your goals and audience. What tools and objects do you already have in your institution? Perhaps it is a piece of art featuring a person of color. Are you telling that story? Maybe your historical institution starts its narrative when Europeans came on the scene. Can you surface the indigenous story as well?
  3. Get support. Determine how the actions you want to take relate to your institutional values and priorities. Identify people in your institution that could be allies. Build an external network of people who can help you do this work – who is doing this work that you can point to as a leader? What community organizations can you build relationships with to help your organization change? Who can help you with your blind spots and keep you honest?
  4. Identify activities that align with your goals. External resources from organizations doing this sort of thinking can help. Among those recommended were the Teaching Tolerance Project from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Empathetic Museum Maturity Model.
  5. Use your collection! Know what you have, through and through. Take opportunities to research objects that you think might have another perspective to share.
  6. Picture success. What will change look like in your institution? Remember that incremental change is better than no change at all.

We don’t all work at MoMA, but we can all make changes that tell wider, more robust stories about art, history, science, and the world. Do you have resources for doing this sort of work? Share in the comments!

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Hello job seekers! Please find below the national jobs roundup for the week of February 5th!

Northeast

Director, Division of Education [Marine Biological Laboratory- Woods Hole, MA]

Executive Director [Connecticut River Museum- Essex, CT]

Membership Assistant [Brooklyn Museum- Brooklyn, NY]

Education Specialist [Heritage Museum and Gardens- Sandwich, MA]

Project Manager for Community Archiving Grant [UMass Boston- Boston, MA]

Director of Museum Experience [Discovery Museum- Acton, MA]

STEAM Programs Supervisor [Providence Children’s Museum- Providence, RI]

Mid-Atlantic

Campaign Director [National Museum of African American History and Culture- Washington, D.C.]

Associate Director of Education [Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum- Washington, D.C.]

Education Specialist [Friends of the National Zoo- Washington, D.C.]

Processing Archivist [The Phillips Collection- Washington, D.C.]

Museum Educator [Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution- Washington, D.C.]

Museum/Historic Site Interpreter [Delaware State Museums- Lewes, DE]

Southeast

Manager of Family Program [High Museum of Art Atlanta- Atlanta, GA]

Museum Assistant [Rogers Historical Museum- Rogers, AR]

Associate Museum Educator [Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art- Bentonville, AR]

Audience Research and Evaluation Associate [Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art- Bentonville, AR]

Manager of Interpretation [North Carolina Museum of Art- Raleigh, NC]

Assistant Museum Curator [City of Portsmouth- Portsmouth, VA]

Midwest

Director of Curatorial Affairs [Allen County Museum and Historical Society- Lima, OH]

Exhibition Assistant General Manager [Hamilton Exhibition, LLC- Chicago, IL]

West

Curator [Draper Natural History Museum- Cody, WY]

Museum Education Assistant [Hands On Children’s Museum- Olympia, WA]

Director K-College Programs [Lucas Museum of Narrative Art- Los Angeles, CA]

 

A New Conversation for a New Year

What is a museum?

There’s a lot of ways to categorize them. Educational institutions. Tourist attractions. Repositories of knowledge or art. A place to bring the kids on spring break. One way that we like to think about a museum is as a community. The membership is a museum’s community, of course, but that is just one of many ways a museum can be a site of community. A museum can be a place where people gather, a locus that brings people together for common purposes. Museums can also be a member of a larger community, working to unite people and institutions around something bigger than itself, and reaping the rewards of that work. There’s a lot of power in that sort of engagement, and it’s something we’d like to spend more time thinking about in the pages (well, page) of this blog in 2019.

There’s a lot of ways to think about museums and community and we’re going to look at some of these in the next few months. Whether it is how Mass MOCA’s birth inside the shell of a former manufacturing plant is affecting its community in rural Berkshire County, MA, or following the progress of the Field Museum as it partners with local indigenous groups to re-envision its Native American exhibit halls, we are going to take some time to evaluate what museums are doing to create, strengthen, or expand their communities. We will also look at how arts organizations and other public spaces take on this work in ways that can be applied to museums. In taking these close looks, we hope to stimulate deeper conversations about what it means to be a museum and inspire people to look at their own organizations for ways to create new bonds with people and other organizations. Always, we hope to challenge assumptions about what and who an institution is for, who it speaks to, and what it can accomplish.

So together, let’s start thinking creatively about what it means to engage a community as a museum or as museum people. And let’s not forget that we’re a community, too, of readers and writers, and of museum students, alums, and workers! Please take a moment in the comments or send us an email at tuftsmuseumblog@gmail.com to let us know your thoughts about community and museums or to let us know about a great museum doing community engagement in a novel or successful way so we can write about it!

On Climate Change and Museums

This weekend, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) met in Katowice, Poland with the aim of reaching a global climate agreement. Almost 200 hundred nations’ diplomats were in attendance, and all agreed to track their annual greenhouse gas emissions, aligning with the goals set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement. With steadily increasing climate-related natural disasters and CO2 emissions that continue to rise, global warming is an issue that needs to be addressed not just internationally, but locally too. How can museums contribute to this conversation? Or, better yet, how can museums practice and promote climate activism?

With their frequent public programs focused on sustainability and climate change, the Hammer Museum is an excellent role model for other museums to follow in seeking to create more educational opportunities related to climate conversations. In the past year alone, the Museum hosted (free) monthly panel discussions concerning water usage, environmental equity, renewable energy sources, and ecosystems.

Similarly, many museums across the country feature rotating exhibitions that address conservation. The Museum of Science in Boston, for instance, currently displays three exhibits about wind power and other green energy alternatives. However, visitors should sometimes take these exhibits with a grain of salt: I’ll never forget the experience of visiting the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, TX and encountering an entire hall dedicated to “the benefits of fracking.” As it turns out, the exhibit was funded by Exxon.

While hosting programs about environmental conservation methods and creating platforms for discussing climate change is crucial, institutions must also consider clean energy and sustainable practices before the design and construction process for a new museum or remodeling project even begins. Both Boston Children’s Museum and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco have green roofs covered in native plants (and therefore bees), mechanisms for catching rain water, and other organic materials. “Living,” or green roofs such as these not only help reduce overall air pollution, but also function as natural insulators for buildings.

Finally, the American Alliance for Museums (AAM) is a great source for museums that wish to ground theirselves in green practices. The 2018 AAM annual meeting, for example, promoted the Environment and Climate Network to “establish museums as leaders in environmental stewardship and sustainability, and climate action.” Although COP24 is a strong start in the fight against further climate change, the issue can’t be modified without support from local institutions around the globe. I think museums are a wonderful place to begin.

 

Weekly Jobs Roundup!

Greetings readers! Here is the national jobs roundup for the week of December 3rd:

Northeast

Facilitator [Tsongas Industrial History Center/ UMass Lowell- Lowell, MA]

Manager of Youth and Family Programs [Greenwich Historical Society- Cos Cob, CT]

Vice President of Experience [EcoTarium- Worcester, MA]

Supervisory Museum Curator [JFK Library and Museum- Boston, MA]

Collections and Exhibition Technician [The Boston Athenaeum- Boston, MA] 

Assistant to the Registrar for Data Entry, Photography, and Rights and Reproduction [Middlebury College Museum of Art- Middlebury, VT]

Director of Development [Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, CT]

Traveling Science Workshops Teacher [Discovery Museum, Acton, MA]

 

Mid- Atlantic

Public Programs Manager [New York Transit Museum- NY, NY]

Assistant Manager of Professional Learning [NY Historical Society- NY, NY]

Director of Advancement [Cooper Hewitt- NY, NY]

 

Southeast

Director of Education [Chrysler Museum of Art- Norfolk, VA]

 

Midwest

Membership Manager [Grand Rapids Art Museum- Grand Rapids, MI]

Assistant Curator [Chicago History Museum, Chicago, IL]

 

West

Coordinator for School Programs and Teaching Resources [Denver Art Museum- Denver, CO]

Director of Development [Bay Area Discovery Museum- Sausalito, CA]

Manager, Traveling Exhibits [Royal Ontario Museum- Toronto, Canada]

PR/Marketing Manager [Buffalo Bill Center of the West- Cody, WY]

Museum Educator [Western Gallery- Bellingham, WA]

 

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