Museum Studies at Tufts University

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Tag: museum advocacy (page 1 of 3)

On Education and the Vote

Museums have, for many decades now, been sites of learning and exploration for people of all ages, economic classes, and educational levels. The idea of informal learning spaces assisting with civic education of newly arrived Americans has its roots in a Progressive Era ethos of immigrant assimilation, with the accompanying racist and xenophobic undertones one might expect. However, some of the programs provided by settlement houses and other progressive aid organizations had a significant impact on the lives of immigrants eager to learn about their new country and to advance within it.

Regardless of the flawed origins of these programs, the value of civic education that unites all Americans and enables advocacy and enfranchisement is not to be denied. This understanding of the role museums can play in the pursuit of civic engagement is fully realized in programs like New-York Historical Society’s Citizenship Project. This class uses art from New-York Historical’s collection to teach prospective citizens about American History and Civics through art in the collection. The course does not shy away from informing the students about the darker aspects of American History, including Native American removal, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Civil War. The Society also hosts naturalization ceremonies for students after they complete the program and pass their citizenship exam.

Of course, for those of us already enfranchised, we don’t have to wait long to exercise our right to vote. There is a midterm election fast approaching on November 6. Aside from the noble causes museums can assist with, like citizenship courses or enhancing student learning by providing material culture to augment in class learning, we know that museums are affected by political decisions every day. From federal funding of the arts and history projects to local budgets supporting field trips, elections matter when it comes to keeping museums open, encouraging new work to be done, and extending access to museums for students and other prospective learners.

This blog encourages you, museum professionals and students alike, to make sure that you make a plan to vote on November 6. The state of Massachusetts, where Tufts is located, has a sample ballot available here to help you prepare for voting and a way to find your polling location here. Other states have also posted their ballots and polling place locators online. Making decisions about who and what will best represent your life and your institutions is an important responsibility that comes with civic education. As John Dewey once noted, “Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.”

 

Assessing Allyship with the AAM

October is a great time to talk about LGBTQ+ identity in museums! You may be thinking, “Isn’t Gay Pride in June?” and you’d be right, but October is also a key month for discussing more than just pride. Not only was National Coming Out Day held on October 11th, but it also happens to be LGBT History Month in the US and UK. Additionally, the first annual International Pronouns Day was observed this year. This event seeks to normalize the practice of recognizing preferred pronouns and asking for them in public spaces. Considering as well the recent rumors that the Department of Health and Human Services is about to propose changes to the federal definition of of gender to exclude trans and genderqueer people from federal civil rights protections, the time is right to evaluate how museums are treating their LGBTQ+ audiences, staff, and subjects.

The American Alliance of Museums has made a guide for welcoming LGBTQ+ people available for several years now and it is an excellent place to start when evaluating if your museum is doing all it can do to support the LGBTQ+ members of its community. The guide is multi-faceted, applying LGBTQ+ concepts to AAM’s seven Standards of Excellence, ranging from Facilities Management to Public Trust and Accountability and everything in between. Like their Standards of Excellence, the LGBTQ+ Guidelines provide a handy self-assessment checklist to aid museum staff in evaluating their own institutions. So what do these standards look like?

 

 

 

 

In this example from the Public Trust and Accountability section, you can clearly see how a Standard of Excellence, in this case adherence to all federal, state, and local laws, can be put through an LGBTQ+ critique that results in guidelines that surpass the requirement to comply with laws. While your institution will of course continue to follow any governing statutes, regulations do not always protect people from harassment on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, for example. In a case like this, creating an internal policy that assures your LGBTQ+ staff and visitors that harassment or bias is not permitted on site helps your organization move from indifference to welcome.

 

 

 

Here, within the Mission and Planning standard, the recommendation to be inclusive of local communities when making decisions regarding collections, exhibits, or programming is applied specifically to the LGBTQ+ community. Moving beyond “token” attempts at diversity to build relationships with your local LGBTQ+ community groups shows an investment in the people that make up your audience. Consulting with LGBTQ+ experts and groups when putting together exhibits demonstrates an interest in accurately representing a marginalized community.

The intention of these guidelines is to provide measurable benchmarks that indicate that an institution has moved past “tolerance” of LGBTQ+ people into “inclusion” or better yet, ownership and community collaboration. In a time where rights that have been secured are at risk of being rolled back, it is worth taking a fresh look at these guidelines to consider if your institution is doing all it can to be an ally of the LGBTQ+ community.

Making Museums Connected

This week’s post comes from Jingya Guo, a graduate student in the History and Museum Studies program

As a new graduate student of Museum Studies so far, I can always notice shifts inside my understanding of museums. I’ve been to museums many times when I was in China. I visited museums with my parents, and sometimes my peers. We read written labels’ discourse on the provenance of an object, such as a hand-made wooden chair from Ming dynasty, then we received a bunch of information in terms of how it was produced and how its social context was according to the introduction of docent. We experienced this process again and again in a short time period, then we finished our museum visit. The museums in my mind were shrines containing works of art, I was cautioned against touching objects in museums, photos were strictly forbidden to be taken even though the flash light was not open. I hardly noticed people working in museums behind the scene. Museums were once temples for me to worship the beauty of great human wisdom. They were isolated from what I experienced in my daily life. However, I know something in my mind may have already changed, I am not only a museum visitor but also a museum studies student, which means museums will possibly be my workplace. The dual identities that I embody makes me think more about what museums are, and what museums mean to me. With the external changes of technology and globalization, it is indispensable for a museum to make connections with the outside world and stop regarding itself as a “temple.” Museums need to restart life at a grass-roots level and make it popularized to the public. Integrating museums into the community and making people engage in museum activities needs to become a significant considerations for museum professionals. It is the responsibility of museum professionals to make museums connected.

Why is it important for a museum to play an active role in community?

A museum’s nature and characteristics facilitates the need to establish a interactive relationship between itself and the society. Museums, as explained by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), is an institution serving for education and aesthetic enjoyment. The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) also demonstrates that museums maneuver to organize its collection and design programs for “educational and aesthetic purposes”. The International Council of Museums straightforwardly points out that museums should be open to public and render service for society and the local community.  These institutions address the educational role that museums play and intentionally highlight the interactive relationship between the society and museums. The belief that museums are holy places, storing precious artifacts, has been doubted by many scholars. John Cotton Dana, mentioned that an ideal museum should reach as much of the population as possible and be in proximity to the center of a city. The reason for the existence of museums is for the informal education of the public and as a service to society. Although the nature of a museum can be modified by humans and may change over time, the consensus or agreement that most of us have reached so far in terms of the role of a museum is that it should serve the public so that it can initiate potential at a maximum level.

Another reason for building a connection between museums and outside world is the internal demand of a museum. The organization, administration of museums, design of museum programs and the management of collections in museums all requires a network of external contractors, the engagement of those who can satisfy needs of the museum and help them reach public expectation. For example, in order to gain public trust and get an understanding of what direction museum programs can lead towards, more and more museums adopt the strategy of crowdsourcing. To encourage people to participate in the direction or guidance of museum projects, some museums use social medias such as online forums to connect with the public and understand the public need as much as possible. In terms of collection stewardship, museums have to integrate visitors’ experiences, personal interests, and museum resources into the consideration of the management and use of collections. Museums’ own operations and the purposes of serving public cannot be isolated from the society. Indeed, it is the reciprocal relationship built between museums and the public that help developing museums and meet the internal demands of a museum.

What does museum’s connection mean to me? Why is it crucial for me?

The philosophy that a museum should be open to public and building connections with society has led to a shift in the role of museum workers. As a future museum professional, I need to consider the role that I play in front of museum audiences. Not only should I become a collection manager, or exhibition planner, or museum educator, but more importantly I need to take the responsibility of acting as a facilitator between museums and the public. The mission that museums undertake for informal education and public memory always reminds me of my goal, which is to engage visitors in museums and make them feel freely exhibitions. Also, as a museum visitor who does not have many impressive experiences and happy memories, I do not want visitors to have miserable and frustrating memories when they stepped out from museums. I want them to be able to relate their museum experiences to their daily life, and make museum a social space for family and friends.

To make museums connected, what might be challenges or difficulties for museum experts and museum itself?

What I will eventually encounter in my career might be a realistic museum working environment instead of the romantic picture depicted in textbooks. Many factors have to be taken into consideration for museum professionals. One thing is that we need to be cautious that outside connection will not negatively intervene with the administration of museums. For example, individuals like philanthropists who donate their collections to the museums or fund museums may want to have more say in affairs of the museum and to be involved in decisions of the museum’s mission and scopes. Multiple personal goals or interests may also be involved in the museum’s connection with the public. The other challenge for museum programmers may be in keeping a balance between the freedom enjoyed by the public and the application of the museum’s resources including money and time. Engaging the public into the museum experiences also requires certain rules in order to avoid the waste of museum resources and make the work of museum effective.

In conclusion, it is a long way for museums to transform into a paradigm that everyone may agree on. But the goal of keeping a dynamic relationship with public and connecting with the society should always be a focus for museum experts.

Museums Advocacy Day 2012

Dear Museums Advocacy Day supporters,

With just a few days to go until Museums Advocacy Day 2012 gets underway, we ask you to please share the following message with your members and networks:

Museums Advocacy Day 2012 Webcast
The American Association of Museums will be webcasting portions of the two-day
event. We invite you to visit http://www.speakupformuseums.org/video.htm to watch a LIVE webcast of these Museums Advocacy Day events:
• Monday, February 27, 9:00am-11:30am ET – Advocacy Essentials
• Monday, February 27, 12:30pm-2:00pm ET – Federal Agency Speakers
• Monday, February 27, approximately 6:45pm-7:30pm ET – Congressional Reception**
• Tuesday, February 28, approximately 8:15am-9:30am ET – Congressional Breakfast

We hope that these programs – and the accompanying materials on this webpage – will provide your members and colleagues an opportunity to advocate from anywhere. We also invite you to join the conversation on social media channels (using the #museumsadvocacy hashtag).

With your help, we can make Museums Advocacy Day 2012 a truly national event.

NEA & NEH Funding

The AASLH, on top of things as always, has made it very easy to write in to your congressperson about the recent slash in funding for both the NEA and NEH:

AASLH is a proud member of the National Humanities Alliance, and we are asking you to please write your Members of Congress and ask them to support the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) by opposing cuts to the agency’s funding in the FY 2012 House Interior Appropriations bill.

The bill was marked up by the Subcommittee on July 7th and includes $135 million in funding for NEH. This represents a $20 million cut from the FY 2011 level of $155 million and is $11 million less than the President’s budget request of $146 million. The proposed cut to NEH is 13% below the FY 2011 funding level, while overall funding for the Interior Appropriations bill was only reduced by 7%.

The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the bill on Tuesday, July 12. Messages from advocates are needed to help oppose these cuts.

The Alliance has set up a template message for you to customize, including sample bullet points. We strongly encourage you to personalize this message by telling your Representative why NEH and its programs are important to you, your institution, your field, your state, and/or district.

  • If you have received or worked on an NEH grant, please consider the local or long-term impact of this funding.
  • Citing specific accomplishments can be especially helpful (e.g. numbers of students taught, workshop participants, federal dollars leveraged, program viewers, collections protected, awards received, articles published).
  • You may also wish to indicate what would be lost without this funding.

Take Action Now! Click here to read the full message from the Alliance and to contact your Representative Now!

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