This week the digital edition of AAM’s latest issue of Museum Magazine was published online. A letter to the editor from the Incluseum was included on page 6. Because not all our readers may receive the print copy or be able to access the digital copy, which requires AAM membership, we wanted to share our original letter here.
In 2014, Museum Magazine centered an issue on the theme of social justice. We, of course, applaud the occurrence of this discussion in these pages as we also believe museums can be intertwined with social justice objectives. We do, however, want to issue a caution that within this discussion lies the risk of espousing or projecting the idea that we (museums) have something special others lack and that, due to these special qualities, we are the chosen group to help those perceived to be without the means to help themselves. There are some clear problems with this line of thinking, sometimes referred to as “savior complex/mentality”. First, this assumes an exceptionalism that distances museums from other organizations or institutions trying to address social justice. Rather than distancing, museums can benefit from engaging with people and resources in other fields to build community around social justice. Second, this line of thinking obscures the fact that museums have many issues to deal with internally too. Sure, museums can be strong partners towards positive social change, but this ought to be accompanied by critical self-examination and internal institutional change. For this reason, we would like to see Museum Magazine “turn the social justice lens inward”, to quote Alyssa Greenberg. Issues that we would like to see discussed include, but are not limited to: (1) Structural institutional legacies, (2) Staffing, and (3) Language.
Under structural institutional legacies, which constitute the root of the injustices to be tackled, questions to be explored could include: How has your museum benefitted from white supremacy (dominance of white people in society)? Who were your founders? What money founded your institution? How was that money made? How was your collection assembled? How has your museum maintained practices over the years that reinforces service to some groups over others?
Under staffing, topics the magazine could explore include: Internal labor practices, such as the perpetuation of unpaid internships, and their impact; hiring practices that integrate museum goals to have a staff more representative of local communities and desired audiences (on that note, what ever happened with AAM’s Diversity and Inclusion policy?); and support for staff to understand their personal privilege and build habits of awareness about how this functions in their personal and work experiences.
Under language, the magazine could help support critical inquiry into concepts such as social justice, inclusion, diversity, access, equality, etc.; words that might be narrowly understood.
We love museums and are invested in seeing them become places that all people can equally choose to participate in. Many, including The Incluseum, a multivocal project to promote critical discourse and reflexivity on inclusion in museums, have been working at the margins of the sector to raise awareness and build community around the above three topics. We would like to see these points of internal injustices move towards the core of our field. Let’s turn that social justice lens inward to be better partners for social change!
Rose Paquet Kinsley and Aletheia Wittman, co-founders of The Incluseum.
A PDF of the letter can be viewed and downloaded here.
A link to read the digital copy, by using your AAM member login, can be viewed here.
Let’s keep this conversation going!