We’re excited to announce the launch of our collaborators Porchia Moore’s and nikhil trivedi’s timely new project: Visitors of Color. Underlying our field’s discussions on “diversity and inclusion” is a desire to serve more members of our local communities, especially those who have been historically (and are still currently) underrepresented among our visitors. These conversations are often devoid of the voices of the very visitors we wish to serve. Visitors of Color centers these voices. Here, Porchia and nikhil present their project. We hope that you’ll consider submitting your voice and/or follow along as the project grows!
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Visitors of Color is a Tumblr that documents perspectives and experiences of marginalized people. We named the Tumblr, Visitors of Color to centralize and draw attention to the concern that we have regarding the low rates of participation in our museums particularly by visitors of color, but certainly by people of many marginalized communities. We envision the Tumblr as a tool to help museum professionals learn from these visitors themselves about what the museum experience is like for groups which are often discussed but whose voices are rarely privileged.
In the surrounding communities of which our institutions serve, there are residents who don’t feel welcome in our museums, who don’t feel that our spaces are for them, and who don’t feel safe walking through our doors. This Tumblr works to ask marginalized people what, if anything, gets in the way of feeling welcome in museums, and to bring light to those answers.
This Tumblr could not have come about if not for the wave of scholarly and digital activism, recent social justice movements occurring across the world, and diligent calls for action to increase diversity and challenge oppression by veteran museum professionals such as Lonnie Bunch and pioneering others. We’re heading towards a unique point of transformation in our field with regards to the ways our institutions have historically benefitted from the domination of people and communities. This Tumblr exists within a historical context of people asking questions, listening to marginalized people, and pushing for change.
Over time, we hope this Tumblr will make clear that the issues it raises are systemic. These aren’t the voices of a few outliers. These perspectives are reflective of systemic injustices in our world that our institutions are not removed from. It doesn’t make our museums or collections bad, but we do have a great deal of work to do in order to hold ourselves accountable for our institutional privileges. Only then can we begin to build trusting relationships with our area residents who don’t feel that our institutions are theirs.
When I began my PhD program in 2011, not only were conversations about diversity barely on the the table, the literature was quite sparse in terms of recent scholarship and data on inclusion and diversity. I began writing, researching, and presenting on Diversity + Inclusion (D+I) issues then. Fast forward to 2015 and not only has the climate changed but D+I issues are at the forefront of a very active, charged movement to make museum spaces more inclusive at the highest levels. nikhil trivedi and I met when I presented on Open Authority and race and museums in 2014 at the Museum Computer Network. As I began to field audience questions, here comes this wonderful resounding voice speaking boldly and clearly about museums and oppression. nikhil uttered the most powerful assertions on D+I practice which mirrored many of my own about how current museum practices while honorable and great in so many of these efforts, still fall short of the kinds of deep inclusion that we believe would truly increase engagement with visitors of color and create a kind of restorative justice.
I realized that what was needed was a platform in which museum visitors of color’s voices could be heard. Then, nikhil wrote his epic manifesto on museums and oppression, the Mellon report was released, and Mayor DiBlasio sent waves across the city of New York when he mandated all cultural heritage institutions to collect and submit data on the number of visitors of color they serve and to identify the degree to which they are served. nikhil approached me soon after to discuss his desire to create a project which was same exact idea I had had for a project privileging visitors of colors voices to spell out exactly what is working and what is not working and what visitors themselves need and want from museums.
Just two summers ago, my South Asian immigrant mom came to my museum for the first time in her 40 years here in the U.S. I’ve worked at my institution for ten years. My museum was never on her radar for many of the reasons Porchia talks about in her doctoral research—because of an assumption that she wouldn’t be represented, that there wouldn’t be anything that she would connect with. After a few years of emailing her photos of works in our South and Southeast Asian galleries, she finally made the trip.
She spent a lot of time in those galleries looking closely at religious sculptures that sat in temples thousands of years ago. These were objects with which she carried a deep emotional connection. Once housed in places that were central to their communities, they were active parts of people’s everyday lives. After some time she asked me a question that really struck me: how did all this stuff get here?
My heart sank. It’s a question that’s occurred to me as well, whose answers surely lie in histories of colonialism. Of military and economic power and domination of my people. It’s a devastating, complicated history that I shake in fear and sadness just thinking about. I didn’t have to say much before my mom started connecting the same dots. She knew.
If in other galleries, in other museums, people whose communities have survived similar traumatic events like slavery, genocide and war asked “how did all this stuff get here,” what would the answers be? How many people walk through our institutions asking themselves similar questions?
I realized that this project was necessary when I found my and my mom’s experiences weren’t unique. As I shared my experience, others shared really insightful perspectives, and lots of questions of their own. Lots of people I talked to said they felt alone with their feelings as they hadn’t really heard others talking about these issues. For me, the seeds of the Tumblr were born.
A perfect moment of convergence was born. We envision Visitors of Color as a collaborative effort where the ideas that Porchia advanced in her 2014 Museum Computer Network Ignite Talk on Museums and Racial Inclusion and nikhil’s phenomenal 2015 Ignite Talk on Museums and Oppression are visualized and embodied in a powerful tool for transformative change.
Here are 3 ways to help us with this project:
- Follow us on Tumblr
- Share with other museum professionals and talk about how the experiences raised might be shared in your institutions.
- Consider yourself and ask your friends of marginalized communities to upload their pictures and share their thoughts on the Visitors of Color Tumblr.
As we continue to shape and develop this project, we hope that our museums continue to grow towards being places of true inclusion and representativeness and that the voices here reflect the joy, passion, and power of museums.
Our passion is museums. Our focus is people. Our position is intersectionality.
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Porchia Moore, is a doctoral candidate dually enrolled in the School of Library and Information Science and McKissick Museum’s Museum Management Program at the University of South Carolina. She is the recipient of the Cultural Heritage Informatics Leadership fellowship as endowed by the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Grant. Her work employs Critical Race Theory as an informative framework for interrogating and exploring the museum space as a means to advocate for inclusion in the museum world. In addition, she is interested in the intersection between culture, technology, information, and race. She is a 2013-2014 Humanities, Arts, Science & Technology Alliance & Colloboratory (HASTAC) Scholar. Currently, she serves a two year appointment to the Professional Development Committee, which helps design and plan the annual conference for the South Carolina Federation of Museums. She regularly presents on race, culture, and museums at conferences such as Museums and the Web and Museum Computer Network. She is an avid lover of museums, having explored museums from Malaysia to New Zealand and back. Follow her on Twitter @PorchiaMuse
nikhil trivedi is a web developer, composer and activist. He works at an art museum in Chicago developing web-based software in Java, PHP and Drupal. After hours, he creates music and art using a number of tools: guitar, sitar, composing noise, sound, and through collaborations with other artists. He’s a volunteer medical advocate for Rape Victim Advocates, and participates in movements to end oppression. When none of that’s happening, he likes to hike, make herbal medicines, and drink warm glasses of chai. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter at @nikhiltri.