By Jaden Hansen
I founded Museum of Minneapolis in 2014 in reaction to the lack of representation for marginalized communities in historical society collections and exhibitions. My previous position as an Executive Director for a prominent county historical society, showed me the tremendous impact that creating space for people to tell their stories in their own voices has on community. This was especially apparent in a project with the Bhutanese refugee community I worked on in 2013. The response community members had to having their stories gathered, and then seeing those stories placed on an interactive website, was emotional and very powerful to be a part of. I wanted these stories to continue to have life and evolve into other projects that intersect with the Bhutanese community in other ways. I didn’t want this project to simply end and amount to a “checked-box”. I knew then that I wanted to create something that opened the door for other voices to tell their stories, add their narratives to the historic record, and be represented in perpetuity.
What becomes increasingly clearer as our communities acknowledge the problem with homogenization of history, is that not everyone is able to find relevance in current exhibitions or even the museum archives. Important stories about Chinese immigrants, African-Americans, and Latino neighborhoods, for example, go unfinished because the archives don’t exist to support an exhibition. Or rather, the records had never been added to the archives in the first place. Historical societies tend to be long established organizations, which gives them the power to shape the narratives of the communities they reside in due to the collections they hold in the public’s trust. The historical societies come to facilitate representation. Whether it’s German, Swedish, Polish, or New England transplant, these stories are beautifully told throughout the state of MN. However, these stories are only the beginning of the narrative of the people that made up those communities and shaped what it is today. Enter Museum of Minneapolis…
Mission: The mission of the Museum of Minneapolis is to engage, represent, and collaborate with diverse communities through collection initiatives, education, exhibits and public programs.
Vision: Museum of Minneapolis works to celebrate the intersections of arts and culture in order to communicate our shared yet diverse community history and serve as a national model for incorporating inclusion as a core value.
Museum of Minneapolis was founded in response to this notable gap that exists in the history of who we are as a city. The city that it grew from happened to be Minneapolis, but this museum could just as easily exist in any city in America. As I spoke with arts and culture leaders throughout the country, I received consistent and positive feedback—it was clear there was a need and a desire to see a museum like this exist. People spoke with me about encouraging inclusion as a core value in other city museums, which served to refine the vision for the organization. The Museum formed in the context of the historical society community due to my experience there, but consistent access to inclusive practices is something that can and should resonate with any organization.
This work has always been meaningful to me personally, specifically with my own experience not seeing myself represented in museums as a transgender person. While this is something I never intended to be out about in my work, it very quickly became necessary for me to embrace that having that unique perspective could help to guide me in getting out of the way when others tell their stories. It is a constant reminder that no one is more qualified to tell a story than the people whom are actually living it.
The Museum’s first three years of life were spent in an incubation stage, which provided time to experiment, revise, determine direction, and gain community partners. We had our public launch in April of 2017 and since that time have begun work on a new brand package, brought on an intern from the University of North Carolina, and have been working our way through a new three-year strategic plan with great intention.
Since Museum of Minneapolis does not have a physical public space, we have been working to get our message out through social media. The first project is a Facebook Live series, which consists of interviews with diverse artists and local historians from around the Twin Cities. The goal of the project is to bring forward stories that are bold in their representation and create access to work happening outside of the mainstream. The first interview was with performer Hector Chavarria aka “The Big Gay Mexican.” Hector is a performer, playwright, and fashionista that has performed in many venues across the Twin Cities, including places like Mixed Blood Theater and the Walker Art Center. We spoke with him about his experiences as an artist, and about representation in cultural institutions. The aim is to learn about what representation looks like through a variety of lenses. Although this is still something we wish to get out of the interviews, community feedback guided us to the conclusion that a bit more curation will give artists an opportunity to share their work.
As Museum of Minneapolis prepares to curate exhibitions for public exhibition, questions we must necessarily grapple with are: should there be interpretation of any kind? Further, if the Museum does interpret, who does the interpreting and who determines the perspective? These are challenges Museum of Minneapolis looks forward to approaching with intention and open minds. We look forward to hearing your story!
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Support Museum of Minneapolis through a tax-deductible donation at www.minneapolismuseum.org. Donations go directly to the mission and activities of the Museum. Projects presently funded through individual contributions include the Art and Culture of Protest podcast with “Amplify: the Oral History Podcast Network” and a new oral history project with Southside Family School, a social-justice charter in South Minneapolis.
Want to continue the conversation? Please contact Jhansen(at)museumofminneapolis.org to inquire about becoming a board member or to learn more about our soon-to-launch membership program.
Museum of Minneapolis is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.