Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 51)

Inclusive Language in Museums

Word choice matters. Words can include or exclude. Words can prescribe power or take it away. The language that museums use to communicate with their audience can create an inclusive environment and promote diverse stories, or not. Living history museums have a reputation for promoting a nostalgic version of the past and focusing on the stories of the white nuclear family, but this is beginning to change. Conversations about diversity and inclusion within all types of museums have increased in the last decade. On August 24, 2022, ICOM approved a new museum definition that includes, for the first time, phrases like “inclusivity”, “accessibility”, “diversity”, and “ethics.”  In the 21st century, museums are striving to become welcoming spaces for all visitors regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and physical ability. A significant step in this process has been the formation of internal DEAI (diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion) committees or workgroups.

This summer, I interned in the education department at Strawbery Banke Museum, where I increased my understanding of what inclusion can look like when working with young audiences at a living history museum. Strawbery Banke Museum is extremely forward-thinking compared to other living history museums I have visited. In 2020, the staff formed a DEAI task force and created a DEAI mission statement to guide work culture, interpretation, and audience interaction. In 2021, Strawbery Banke Museum introduced optional “she/her”, “he/him”, “they/them”, and “please ask” pronoun pins for staff to wear alongside their museum name tags. The pronoun pins are an actionable step that the museum is taking following its DEAI Task Force mission statement.

Strawbery Banke Museum
Pronoun Pins

Wearing a “she/her” pronoun pin every day, as part of my Strawbery Banke Museum uniform, was a simple yet impactful way that I chose to affirm that everyone’s identity should be valued. Wearing the pin was also a way I could invite campers into conversations about gender identity. As a general rule, we also greeted/addressed our groups as “campers” or “friends”, to avoid the greeting “boys and girls,” which assumes the group’s gender identities. In addition to the education staff wearing pronoun pins, we made them available to the summer campers. In the Victorian Jr. Roleplayers camp (12-17-year-olds) I helped implement, the pronoun pins were greatly appreciated, as several of the campers identified as non-binary. In Victorian Jr. Roleplayers, the campers engaged in historical research methods to learn about a specific “Puddle Dock” community member from the Victorian period to portray on the museum grounds. Like many living history sites, Strawbery Banke Museum’s records lack information about LGBTQIA+ community members. While there are historical primary source documents that tell these stories, traditionally they have been overlooked or buried by archives and researchers. This meant that the education team had to get creative. Without compromising historical accuracy (clothing, historical events, etc.), we created composite characters for our Jr. Roleplayers who identified as non-binary. In addition to this, we gave campers the choice of wearing female or male presenting historical clothing.

My goal for leading summer camps was not only to engage campers (6-17-year-olds) in Portsmouth community history through fun crafts and activities but to make sure all campers felt welcomed and respected while at the museum. I experienced first-hand how language choice has a huge impact on transgender or gender-non-conforming summer campers. Whether you are an emerging museum professional or a current professional, I believe we should all be striving to make diverse audiences feel welcomed, respected, and empowered in our museum spaces. 

There are so many great resources out there to guide museum staff and organizations in integrating inclusive language and practices into their spaces. In 2014, Margaret Middleton, a Boston-based exhibit designer, developed a Family-Inclusive Language guide to be used as a tool for museum educators and exhibit developers. The guide provides inclusive language alternatives for problematic phrases. For example, the guide suggests using the phrase “guardians” instead of “parents”, and “children” instead of “son or daughter.” The guide prompts museum professionals to think about the bias that can be embedded in interpersonal interactions or exhibit text, such as assumed gender identity or familial relationships.  The LGBTQ Alliance professional network of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) offers an LGBTQ Welcoming Guidelines for Museums resource. The guidelines establish standards of professional practice to help museums be more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer staff and visitors.

Here are the links to those two recourses, to help you start thinking about how to integrate inclusive practices into your work, department, and museum:

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Post by Savannah Kruguer

MA Candidate: Museum Education, Tufts University

Weekly Job Roundup (9/16/22)

Welcome to the weekly roundup! We do our best to collect the latest job openings, and please be sure to check last week’s roundup. For more opportunities, we recommend the following databases:

HireCulture – Jobs in the Humanities in Massachusetts
HistPres – Unique Historic Preservation Jobs
Museum Employment Resource Center
Job HQ – American Association of Museums
American Association of State and Local History Career Center
New England Museum Association Jobs

New York Foundation for the Arts

Northeast

Southeast

Midwest

West Coast/Southwest

Membership Models for the Modern Museum

For visitors seeking immersive exhibitions or riveting programming, memberships may seem to be the least exciting offerings at museums. That’s no surprise—without exhibits or programs, memberships would have little value to museum visitors. Internally, however, memberships can be one of the most integral components to a museum’s operations, and the structure of these programs can reveal the institutional priorities and value with which museums hold their members.

For museums with an established membership base, memberships can be a critical source of operating funds. Members are, after all, repeat donors. Other fundraising efforts often produce restricted funds that can only be used for specific projects (often exhibitions, programming, or DEAI), whereas unrestricted revenue allows museum leadership to apply the funds to other underfunded initiatives such as staffing or facilities maintenance. This study by Colleen Dilen shows just how large an impact members have. Many members are unaware that their support allows their museum to keep the lights on, so it is important that museums express their gratitude to their members.

Valuable benefits are critical to a sustainable membership program.

While acknowledgement letters and other expressions of appreciation are important means of recognizing members for their contributions, studies have shown that members feel more fulfilled by meaningful benefits such as museum shop discounts, complimentary admission, and members-only programming. These deliverables can come at a cost to museum operations, showing that membership programs are not just another method of donor cultivation, but a more involved investment into key community relationships. Many museums struggle to fund staffing positions that can dedicate sufficient time to membership, meaning these programs should be integrated into feasibility studies and strategic plans to ensure the development of a sustainable program.

The ideal membership program has options for both guests seeking affordable experiences and patrons seeking philanthropic opportunities. An interesting study by Audesh Paswan and Lisa Troy examines the many motivations of members, and museums must cater their levels to match these interests. Membership levels that are too expensive may alienate a significant portion of a museum’s audience, while too many low-cost options may not attract higher-level donors. Museums struggling to produce meaningful benefits should look into reciprocal programs, such as the North American Reciprocal Museum Association, that allow members to enjoy the benefits of museum membership beyond the walls of their host institution.

With the purchase of an admission ticket, Museum of Us visitors may seek complimentary membership for one year.

Many museums are experimenting with new models that may shape how we perceive museum memberships in the future. Some museums, like San Diego’s Museum of Us, have embraced a free membership program aimed at increasing accessibility and audience retention. Other museums, like the San Antonio Zoo, have launched monthly membership options. Similar to a Netflix subscription, these levels seek to increase giving by providing a more digestible alternative to annual membership fees.

Whether following a traditional model or offering more updated alternatives, museums offering memberships must continue to evaluate the efficacy and accessibility of their programs. Luckily, there are many professional development resources designed to inform museum staff of the latest strategies and theories in membership cultivation and retention. Those interested in learning more should visit the online resources provided by the American Museum Membership Conference and the American Alliance of Museums.

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Article by Danielle Maurer

MA Candidate: History and Museum Studies

Tufts University

Weekly Job Roundup

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s roundup of exciting opportunities in museums!

Northeast

Mid-Atlantic

Southeast

Midwest

Southwest

Titian’s Women: An Italian Museum Experience at the Palazzo Reale in Milan, Italy

A photograph of the facade of the cathedral of Milan
View of the façade of the cathedral of Milan. This and all future photographs by author.

We emerged from the depths of the Milan metro, covering our eyes as the sun shone through the opening at the top of the stairwell. Armed with masks and an apocalyptic supply of water, we had come prepared to take on the masses in the winding subway tunnels and sweltering piazza. Even for seasoned visitors to this bustling Italian city, the sight of the cathedral emerging out of nowhere, taking up the entire view from the metro’s exit, is awe-inspiring. We quickly tore away from the sight of bright, white spires piercing into the cloudless blue sky, making a beeline to the Palazzo Reale on the south side of Piazza Duomo.

The purpose of our day trip to Milan was a visit to a blockbuster exhibition at the royal-palace-turned-museum: Tiziano e l’immagine della donna nel cinquecento veneziano (or, Titian and the Image of the Woman in 16th Century Venice). As a self-proclaimed student of art in the Italian Renaissance, focusing specifically on northern Italian city-states such as Venice and Ferrara, I was not about to miss the opportunity to see this exhibition. That morning I dragged my aunt and sister out of bed at 5:00 AM so we could catch a train to Milan. Was it worth it?

Born out the research of art historian Sylvia Ferino-Pagden, Director of the Picture Gallery at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, this exhibition purports to explore the representations of Venetian women in secular portraits. While Titian is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated and widely studied artists from sixteenth century Italy, the role of women as subjects and models in his works still inspires varied and sometimes heated debates, relating especially to the abuse or exploitation of women in his mythological poesie. Created in collaboration with the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the exhibition took place from February 23rd to June 5th, 2022. The Kunst put on its own version of the show, titled “Titian’s Vision of Women: Beauty, Love, and Poetry,” which ran from October 5th, 2021, to January 30th, 2022.

During my time at Tufts, I have grown increasingly interested in how museums and exhibitions of Italian Renaissance art can break free of the traditionalism that so often dominates them in order to become more accessible, engaging, and inclusive. Being born and raised in Italy to museophile parents, museums have always been a central part of my life. Once moving to the United States, I quickly became aware of the stark difference in how American and Italian institutions approach the display of their collections, especially surrounding the art of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Italy. As such, I was pleasantly surprised when the Italian exhibition I was so excited to see this summer engaged with their works in a refreshingly new manner.

a small, gold and blue Renaissance dress seen from the back, facing Titian's portrait of Isabella d'Este
Front: Roberto Capucci. Homage to Isabella d’Este, 1994. Private collection.
Background: Titian, Portrait of Isabella d’Este, 1534-6. Oil on canvas, 102.4 x 64.7 cm. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Shortly before this visit, I had brought my younger sister to a few other Italian museums, where we had traipsed through a much more traditional museum experience. I had suffered through large, mostly empty rooms with seemingly never-ending wall texts that made it difficult for anyone, including an art history student genuinely interested in the subject, to remain actively engaged. I could see my sister grow ever more restless, and I couldn’t blame her. At the Milan Titian exhibition, however, I watched as she hopped from work to work, taking time to absorb each one and read the wall text, occasionally approaching my aunt or I to ask questions. I, too, found it easier to focus on the exhibition even as we reached the final rooms and my feet began to ache. Beyond the fascinating subject, the curators used multiple strategies to bring together different mediums and draw visitors’ attention to different aspects of the works on display. A dress titled “Homage to Isabella d’Este” was placed facing her famous portrait, emphasizing the richness of the fabric and jewels. The way the painted subject and dress were angled placed them in conversation with each other, asking viewers to consider them in conjunction. A different room instead placed a table in the center, filled with pages from Cesare Vecellio’s De gli habiti antichi et moderni… The Venetian women depicted here ranged wildly in status and wealth, depicting a wide variety of costumes. The pizzochere (lay, religious women), noblewomen, orfanelle, and fantesche (female domestic servants) reveal the styles of women we might otherwise not see in the portraits of upper-class women represented throughout the exhibition. Yet another room allows visitors to connect he paintings adorning the walls to contemporary literature, including Moderata Fonte’s Il merito delle donne (The Worth of Women). By including Fonte and other female authors, highlighting them by allotting a single, separate wall text to their works, the exhibition corrects an unfortunately common misconception that women did not contribute to the literary culture of the Renaissance. This is all explored further in a beautiful exhibit catalogue that includes stunning details and high-quality reproductions set against important essays that expand the field’s understanding of women in Titian’s oeuvre.

Loose-leaf pages from a book on the dresses of Venetian women
Cesare Vecellio. Twenty-three Engravings of Italian Women from De gli habiti antichi, et moderni…, 1590. Woodcut, 16.7 x 12.5 cm. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.

As much as I enjoyed the show and catalogue, there were still several instances where I thought the exhibition could have benefitted from a more accessible and innovative approach. This can be seen especially when comparing the exhibition pages for the Palazzo Reale exhibition and its counterpart at the Kunst. Including only a quick description and basic information on the organizers and museum hours, the Palazzo Reale does not provide much information for prospective visitors or for those wishing to revisit the show after their visit. When clicking on the Kunst’s page, we can immediately see a much more interactive and informative website, beautifully designed. Clickable text is paired with videos and sign-language translations, and various images from the show are reproduced digitally alongside short text descriptions. The page is also divided into several sections, including “The Mirror as an Instrument of Complex Visual Connections and a Means of Self-Awareness,” “United Forever: In Love for Five Centuries and Still Together,” “Sex Object and Goddess: Men Writing about Women,” and “Women Writers, Poets and Poet-Courtesans Ensure that Both They and Women in General Have a Voice.” As can be seen here, the Kunst exhibition appears to deal much more directly with issues of the use of women’s bodies in the male-dominated art industry in Renaissance Venice than the Milan sister show, at least for casual viewers who do not attentively read the exhibition catalogue.

In spite of these issues, I still thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. I was glad to see my sister engage with this show with so much more excitment than in our previous museum visits. The conversation around the representation of women in Titian’s works is always a fascinating one, and this show proved that there are many fruitful studies to come in this field. I can say with certainty that the 5 AM alarm was worth it.

 

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