This past week, the American Alliance of Museums 2017 Annual Meeting was held in St. Louis, Missouri. This year’s theme was “Gateways for Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in Museums,” a topic that continues to become more crucial to discuss than ever in recent years. Dr. Francis Levine, president of the Missouri Historical Society and the local host committee chair for the Annual Meeting, stated that “museums are very hungry” for this opportunity to discuss diversity and inclusion in the field, and that St. Louis was a particularly relevant location to host that discussion given the region’s responses to issues like these in the past. For the first time, this discussion was opened up to the public as well, in the form of a national survey of museum leadership and demographics. Dr. Donald Suggs, publisher of the St. Louis American and a co-chair of the host committee, noted that the goal of this meeting was to encourage some real changes in the way museums operate with regards to diversity and inclusion rather than further empty talk with no action.
With that, AAM delivered a new award at the Annual Meeting this year, the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI) award. AAM launched the award last year as a way to “honor and celebrate institutions of any type or size who advance the museum field, either internally through workplace programs and policies or externally with museum audiences and communities.” The Missouri History Museum was the first recipient of this award, a museum that has shown time and again its devotion to diversity and inclusion in its local community. Among other initiatives, the museum hosts their ACTivists program wherein re-enactors help bring St. Louis’ history of civil rights activism to life for museum-goers, especially students and those who may have participated in the movement themselves. Sarah Sims, the director of K-12 education programs at the Missouri History Museum, stated that the museum also works toward diversity and inclusion through “the focus of our exhibits, making sure we’re telling multiple different perspectives and stories that represent every St. Louisan, and also through our programming,” of which the museum hosts about 700 public programs per year. In addition, the museum works to train and support all of their staff in a way that reflects these standards.
As we think about how our own museums can and do promote diversity and inclusion, we can also ponder on an “uncomfortable question” that Dr. Levine poses in light of recent threats to cut federal funding for arts and humanities institutions and the politicized nature of museums: “Will museums continue to serve everyone in the future?” Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
For further reading, see the following articles:
- St. Louis Public Radio: “St. Louis hosts national conversation on diversity and inclusion within museums”
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Importance of museums is on exhibit through annual convention in St. Louis”
- The Saint Louis American: “Missouri History Museum honored as national leader in diversity”
- St. Louis Public Radio: “How are museums changing from institutions of the elite to places that ‘promote humanity?’”