Last weekend, we had the privilege to participate in Seattle’s first Arts & Social Change Symposium as ‘exhibitors.’ This means we hosted an Incluseum booth where people could learn more about our project and talk with us about their work, passion, and thoughts on museums and social inclusion. We loved meeting so many people ranging from artists, academics, and community organization representatives to individuals working for arts funding agencies. What diversity! It was also our pleasure to be booth-neighbors with De Cajon Project, an organization that promotes the contributions of people of African descent in Peru in view of empowering artists and activists with similar goals both locally and abroad.
There was a small number of individuals from local museums attending, and we were excited to hear about their upcoming projects (stay tunned for our upcoming interview with EMP’s new Youth Programs and Community Outreach Manager, Jonathan Cunningham). However, there was a general lack of representation from Sea-Tac area museums. This could have been because it was the first Arts and Social Change Symposium and museums may not have been targeted for promotion. Whatever the reason, the idea of museums being more socially inclusive resonated with every individual we spoke to that day; a sign that museums are needed and wanted at forums like this symposium.
Throughout the symposium, we had a Brainstorming Board at our booth where participants could answer the following questions: “How can museums be part of social change?” and “How can museums serve community organizations better?” The answers included the following:
How can museums be part of social change?
- Put your museum in a box
- Break your walls down
- Yes! Go out into your community!
- Invite community participatory art
- Create space where people feel welcomed, represented, heard, and voiced
- Let people speak for themselves!
- Always free!
- Free days and public art
- Buy women’s paintings
- More youth programing
- Collaborate with public schools
- Work with more diverse groups
- More art by local artists
- Include only the accurate history from primary sources and if secondary, tag it as such to avoid revisionism and false claims
- Connect curatorial staff to social service orgs. to bridge gap between communities
- Welcome existing social orgs. to share how they would like to use museums-if the sky were the limit-and then in move that way!
- Community advisors make for more inclusive exhibits
- Exhibition on controversies i.e. global warming
- Don’t expect Native American art to be stereotypical. Native Art is always evolving.
- They just can!
How can museums serve community organizations better?
- Start with conversations
- Use museum space for dynamic events-concerts, dances, festivals, beer tasting,…Not limiting just to “cultural events” but whatever
- Invite them!
- Don’t limit inclusion to “…History Month”
- Collaboration and more participation
- Take museums to schools
- Pay what you can weekends-simple affordability
- Invite them! Host their fundraisers, bring their leaders to the table! Connect their youth groups with community youth groups. Offer free tickets to seniors and youth.
- Indonesian community is growing bigger all the time. We wish to be part of arts activities in WA. Please include our community.
We appreciate all these thoughtfully considered responses primarily centered on museums getting out of their four walls, building strong relationships, and making their spaces more welcoming and flexible to accommodate a broader range of voices/participants.
On Saturday, we stepped away from our booth to take part in a lunch time work session where major challenges, issues, and policy recommendations that arose during sessions and workshops were discussed and documented. Here are a few points that particularly resonated with us and reflect ideas discussed above:
- It might be beneficial for organizations interested in working more closely with community groups to move from a program-based approach to a relationship-based approach. Building and sustaining strong relationships should be the base on which programs or projects are co-created. As one discussion participant said: “get to know the community you want to work with.” Another participant emphasized this point by saying: “get to know their interests and values.”
- In the same vane, someone brought up the idea of “going to the table of those you want at your table,” meaning it is important to learn from the groups we want to work with. He emphasized the need to move away from talking about what we want a specific group to do to asking them directly what they want to do and how they want to be engaged.
- Finally we loved hearing another participant say: “don’t create programs for; create programs with.” This underlines again the need to build strong and sustained relationships with community groups we, as arts and cultural organizations, wish to work with.
What ideas did you take away from the symposium? How do you see your museum contributing to social change? How does your museum build strong relationships with community groups/organizations?