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.
The Berkshire Museum has gone ahead with the auction and private sale of choice pieces from its collection, including works by Norman Rockwell (whose works were intended for the people of Pittsfield, MA in perpetuity), Alexander Calder, and Frederic Church. They have not yet reached the $55 million cap permitted by the Massachusetts Attorney General, and so may return to the auction block with more pieces, but the majority of the transactions have been completed. In response, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) has sanctioned the Berkshire Museum, requesting that the association’s 243 members refuse to lend works to the Berkshire Museum or collaborate with it on exhibitions. In a statement the AAMD stated, “Selling art to support any need other than to build a museum’s collection fundamentally undermines the critically important relationships between museums, donors and the public. When museums violate the trust of their donors and the public, they diminish the opportunity and responsibility to make great works of art available to the public.”
Even as this sanction was issued, other voices in the art and museum world rallied to suggest that the current system is flawed. Artsy suggested that the American Association of Museums’ (AAM) policy which only allows collections to be deaccessioned and sold in order to fund the purchase of more art should be modified to permit more diverse uses. They argue that if the goal of museums is to secure collections for the public good, what good comes of large institutions locking away vast amounts of art that may never be displayed? They propose a modified deaccession policy that gives other institutions first opportunity to acquire works, and allows the proceeds from the sales to be used for other purposes beyond acquisitions.
The AAM’s deaccessioning policy intentionally restricts the use of proceeds from deaccessioned collections to prevent liquidation of assets held for the public good from being used to cover up financial mismanagement or other unethical uses. In a recent statement in response to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling on the Berkshire Museum case, the AAM reiterated their position, “We believe this is a critical issue of ethical conduct and best practice, one tied directly to the public trust. When museums violate the trust of their donors and the public, they diminish the opportunity and responsibility to make our cultural heritage available to the public. This hurts the individual institution and affects the museum field as a whole.”
The AAM and AAMD are certainly working on behalf of the public good, and it is in keeping with their roles as professional organizations to scrupulously maintain the ethics of the industry, but they may also need to assess their current position. Undoubtedly, institutions across the country with high storage costs and low display space are watching this saga unfold and contemplating if they might withstand the legal and professional scrutiny if it meant they could pursue that capital project, hire that new education staff, or add more robust programming to their schedule. Museums are well aware of their precarious positions in their communities as both trusted sources of information and lean competitors for tourism dollars. It may be time for a careful re-consideration of what constitutes the future of ethical use of funds raised from deaccessioning works. If the AAM and other professional organizations refuse to seriously consider the issue before institutions, it may be that other museums follow the Berkshire’s lead and ethical debates, court judgements, and sanctions hit the newspapers with a frequency that could alter the public’s faith in museums.
From Greg Stevens at AAM, here’s a great opportunity for all current students and recent alums.
“For the upcoming AAM Annual Meeting 2013 in Baltimore (May 19-22, 2013), I’ve proposed a “Graduate Flash Showcase” session, and encourage you to share this opportunity with students and recent grads. We’ve held successful Graduate Flash Showcases for the past two years, and we anticipate this year to be great once again! If anyone is interested in joining this session, please comment on the proposal online, and contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for all proposals is August 24.
http://www.aam-us.org/am13/?CFID=3740214&CFTOKEN=93254218 Proposal ID#125
Graduate Flash Showcase is a series of back-to-back mini-sessions (or 20-minute “Flashes”) on current programs, projects, or research presented by graduate students or recently-graduated emerging professionals with less than two years experience in the field. The showcase provides opportunities and benefits for both presenters and audience members.
After participating, presenters will be better able to:
- Hone presentation skills in a professional setting
- Share projects, papers, programs, or academic/professional experience
- Receive invaluable feedback from colleagues in the field
- Build professional presence/personal brand
After participating, attendees will be better able to:
- Learn more about programs, projects, and research that may impact the future of the field
- Gain exposure to skills and perspectives of students and emerging professionals
Guidelines for Presentations
Each “Flash” showcase will be timed, is limited to twenty minutes and will be divided into two segments:
- Presentation of project, paper, research, program, etc. (<10 min.)
- Audience interactivity or discussion (approx. 10 minutes)
Student projects, papers, or research should apply to museum practice and/or theory, or be based on topics from outside the field that impact museums (e.g.demographic trends, education theory, etc.).
For anyone lucky enough to be heading to the AAM Annual Meeting in two weeks, the Emerging Museum Professionals blog has just put up a great post about updating before you get to the conference.
It applies to other conferences as well, so keep it in mind for AASLH and NEMA this fall!
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.