Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Worcester Art Museum Rethinks Labels and Re-contextualizes Art

In recent months the Worcester Art Museum has mounted labels that re-contextualize the paintings of wealthy Americans from the past. Throughout history,  prominent and stately portraits have consisted of subjects who can afford to have such works painted. Oftentimes these paintings depict individuals who owned salves or who contributed to the exploitation of humans through colonialism or the slave trade.

Museums across the Unites States, such as the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Princeton Art Museum, are well aware that their collections do not consist of stately portraits of minority groups such as African Americans, and that many of the portraits they do have in their possession depict former slave owners and colonizers. These museums are starting to take action.

The Worcester Art Museum is setting an example that paves the way for museums to re-contextualize their paintings and the interpretation surrounding the art of wealthy slave owners. The museum decided to keep the traditional labels that relay information regarding the artist and subject, but the institution has added a second label to these portraits in a different color that delves deeper into the history of the painting through the lens of slavery. For example, John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Lucretia Chandler (1763), which hangs in the Worcester Art Museum, has a new, additional label that describes the context of difficult history associated with the Chandler family. Lucretia’s father was a wealthy merchant who owned two slaves that he passed on to family members after his death, as if they were objects. There are no portraits of these slaves, because they did not have the means or the freedoms to have such work commissioned, but there is a portrait of Lucretia, and it is through this portrait that the museum can bring to light the bleak history of her family.

These types of labels establish a new lens through which to view American art, which has been dominated through centuries by the wealthy elite. This lens asserts a non-neutral stance by museums toward the horrors of slavery and racism, and tells visitors that there is more to the story than the white-upper class narrative. This is an important trend in museums and should be the trajectory of U.S. museums moving forward.


Joyful Museums: Why They’re Important and How to Build Them

Marieke Van Damme is Executive Director of the Cambridge Historical Society and one of the voices on the podcast Museum People. She also runs Joyful Museums, a website and project committed to “inspiring positive workplace culture.”

As museum workers and students, we all know the positives of working in museums – jobs that we are passionate about, organizations that make a positive difference in the world, always having interesting stories at parties, etc.

But we also know the common downsides of working at many museums – too much work, low salaries, an underfunded organization that leads to fewer resources and low job security, etc…

It is not uncommon for people to leave the museum field because they need better work/life balance, job security, and/or financial security than their museum can provide. For those who stay in the field, these  stressors can have a negative impact on workplace culture, personal lives, and employee engagement – impacting productivity and success.

Enter Joyful Museums. This project sets out to explore the state of employee engagement within museums, start conversations on workplace culture, and provide resources and data to help museums improve and utilize their employees’ joy.

In Marieke Van Damme’s words, museums are doing great work for their communities, but,

Still, each year, museums across the globe experience funding cuts. We talk about how this is an issue, but we don’t talk about what it means to be a worker in museums under these circumstances.

What about them? How are we ensuring our museum employees come to work each morning energized, engaged, and ready to take on their ever-growing list of tasks with shrinking funds?

I believe that keeping its workers happy should be the top priority of every museum.

Engaged museum workers will have a deeper commitment to the mission of a museum than a disengaged one, and they will strive for a higher quality product (exhibition, program, publication, etc.) for the public.  Building off of the growing academic field of positive psychology, I intend to explore what being happy at work means, why it is important for the museum community, and how it can be accomplished.

How engaged are your employees and coworkers? How engaged are you? Check out Joyful Museums for statistics, conversations, and resources on being a happier worker and building a more engaged workforce. We have a lot to lose by ignoring these conversations, and a lot to gain from having them.

Weekly Jobs Roundup

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New England





Call for Papers: Fields of Conflict Conference, Mashantucket, CT


$200 for best high school student poster
$300 for best undergraduate student poster
$400 for best graduate student poster
High school students and currently enrolled full or part-time undergraduate and graduate students
The poster abstract is due May 1st by 5:00p.m. and the final poster must be submitted no later than September 26, 2018 at 8:00a.m. Please email your poster abstract to Ashley Bissonnette at and include “FOC Student Poster” in your subject line. Poster topics must include new perspectives regarding battle field archaeology or conflict studies.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about the award, how to apply, evaluation criteria, requirements and
your research please contact Ashley Bissonnette at Students
are welcome to use research materials at the museum upon appointment. For conference details
and registration, please go to

26-30 SEPTEMBER 2018

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