Hello everyone, we are back after a short summer break and we hope you are all doing well and are thriving! We’re kicking it off this fall with a blogpost post on community building co-authored by one of our friends and regular contributors, nikhil trivedi, Aletheia, and myself. Community building is foundational to creating lasting change. Yes, individual agent’s determination and hard work is crucial, but individual efforts won’t get far in creating lasting, systemic change. We need collective action. We need co-conspirators. We need community. We hope hope you find this post helpful. If you’re already engaged in community building with folks inside or outside of your institution, we would love to hear about it! -Rose
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Community = trust + dependable + fun
On this blog and offline, we continuously talk about inclusion, diversity, oppression, institutional change, etc. We’ve heard from many museum professionals that they don’t know where to begin when it comes to taking action, that they feel overwhelmed, and sometimes isolated (“I’m the only one at my museum who talks about inclusion”). We want to acknowledge those experiences and state: Yes…if you are interested in changing things in your institution, you will most likely feel overwhelmed and alone at times. Chances are that however motivated you are at the moment, you will burn out if you remain isolated. In this blogpost, we want to encourage readers to build community with others in and outside of their institutions to make progress on the work to be done. Here are a few tips:
- Don’t do it alone: Find at least one other person (just one is perfectly fine) who is committed to building community around issues of inclusion in museums with you. Who from your museum or another organization (museum or not) could be that person? They don’t have to be the perfect person, and your relationship with them doesn’t have to be perfect. The idea here is that communities are not about individual goals and intentions, but about shared ideas, goals and responsibilities. Don’t do it alone.
- Focus on building relationships first: Don’t get caught up in thinking about what actions and outcomes you’d like your community to have before it exists. Nothing can happen until trusting relationships have been built between people. Start with a focus on building relationships–which is fun! This could simply mean picking a place and time, maybe providing food if you have the resources, and asking people to come and hang out. That’s it! People want to meet people they have things in common with, and people want to build relationships with others. Providing a space is a basic, fundamental, and significant part of building your community.
- Be consistent: Make an effort to bring people together on a regular basis. You may not always get a big turnout. But if you’re consistent, and you know people believe in what you’re trying to do, your numbers will slowly grow bit-by-bit. Consistency = dependability. Being consistent is part of building trust.
- Be open to other people’s ideas: Remember, don’t get caught up in thinking about what actions and outcomes you’d like your community to have before it exists. Part of that includes being flexible, and letting the community move as it grows in directions you may not have thought about.
- Connect with people one-on-one and in a group: Have you ever felt uncomfortable going to a party or gathering of mostly new people unless you knew just one person there? Have you tried to recruit a friend to go with you just so you would feel alone? People feel safe in communities when they have connections with the group at large as well as with individuals within the group. As your community is growing, make an effort to connect with people one-on-one in between large group gatherings. Don’t connect with people with an agenda in mind. Just get to know one another. You’ll both feel a little more comfortable the next time you’re in a group setting.
- Laying Foundations: As said above, building community with others in and outside institutions is key for making progress on the work to be done. Unlike building community, project-based work requires well-defined outcomes, an action plan and leadership. Project-based work is the kind of work most recognized and incentivized in our workplaces. It’s natural to feel you are pressed for time and finding and investing in a community focused on inclusion in museums is a luxury. Your investment in community might not feel like a good fit to your work environment but all the more reason to challenge it and invite others to create spaces that invite relationship-focused practice. You are laying the foundations for effective work and investing in the well being of yourself and others.