Pandemic – From collecting to engagement: Resources for understanding the impact of COVID-19 and supporting Diversity in Cultural Heritage organizations

Rich Cherry, Museum Operations, USA, Tyree Boyd-Pates, Autry Museum of the American West, United States, Omar Eaton-Martinez, Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission, USA, Elena Gonzales, Author, Exhibitions for Social Justice, USA

Abstract

This plenary panel will continue a critical discussion focused on the response of cultural heritage organizations to the twin pandemic: COVID-19 and systemic racism. Guest panelists Tyree Boyd-Pates, Omar Eaton-Martinez, and Elena Gonzales will explore these issues from the perspectives of collections and exhibitions, educational and public programs, audience engagement and organizational innovation.   

Keywords: Diversity, Collecting, COVID-19, Pandemic, Engagement, Racism

The page provides text of the full proposal as well as resources mentioned and authored by the speakers in the plenary panel.  We hope that they will help you take the discussion regarding the response of cultural heritage organizations to the twin pandemic: COVID-19 and systemic racism to your own organization or one you support.

Elena Gonzales (website) (MuseWeb bio)

  1. Gonzales, Elena. “Exhibitions for Social Justice.”  London, England: Routledge, 2019. ISBN 9781138292598 212 Pages 45 B/W Illustrations

Exhibitions for Social Justice assesses the state of curatorial work for social justice in the Americas and Europe today. Analyzing best practices and new curatorial work to support all those working on exhibitions, Gonzales expounds curatorial practices that lie at the nexus of contemporary museology and neurology. From sharing authority, to inspiring action and building solidarity, the book demonstrates how curators can make the most of visitors’ physical and mental experience of exhibitions. Drawing on ethnographic and archival work at over twenty institutions with nearly eighty museum professionals, as well as scholarship in the public humanities, visual culture, cultural studies, memory studies, and brain science, this project steps back from the detailed institutional histories of how exhibitions come to be. Instead, it builds a set of curatorial practices by examining the work behind the finished product in the gallery. Demonstrating that museums have the power to help our society become more hospitable, equitable, and sustainable, Exhibitions for Social Justice will be of interest to scholars and students of museum and heritage studies, gallery studies, arts and heritage management, and politics. It will also be valuable reading for museum professionals and anyone else working with exhibitions who is looking for guidance on how to ensure their work attains maximum impact.

Worksheets from Exhibitions for Social Justice  are great for museums that want a tool to help them brainstorm about what curatorial tactics to use as well as brainstorming about their institutions:

  1. Gonzales, Elena. View from the Field: Equity-oriented and Anti-racist Curatorial Practice – The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook. Inclusivehistorian.com. Published December 23, 2020. Accessed April 23, 2021. https://inclusivehistorian.com/view-from-the-field-equity-oriented-and-anti-racist-curatorial-practice/
  2. Gonzales, Elena. Exhibitions for Social Justice: An Appreciation from Chicago to Providence. Brown University Humanities Blog. Published 2020. Accessed April 23, 2021. https://www.brown.edu/academics/public-humanities/blog/%E2%80%9Cexhibitions-social-justice%E2%80%9D-appreciation-chicago-providence

Omar Eaton-Martínez (AAAM bio)

  1. The Inclusive Museum Leader. It is available for pre-order https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781538152249/The-Inclusive-Museum-Leader. Omar wrote chapter 6 “How Should Inclusive Museum Leadership Respond to COVID-(16)19?”
  2. What Kind of Ancestor Will You Be? AAM Facing Change Blog. https://www.aam-us.org/2020/01/24/what-kind-of-ancestor-will-you-be/
  3. Truth + Reconciliation: Museums as Advocates for Human Rights and Healing AAM museum Magazine Nov/Sec 2017

Tyree Boyd-Pate (website) (MuseWeb bio)

  1. Boyd-Pate, Glorifying the Lion: Telling the Other Side of L.A.’s History – Civic Memory Working Group. Published 2017. Accessed April 23, 2021. http://civicmemory.la/report/glorifying-the-lion-telling-the-other-side-of-l-a-s-history/
  2. Autry Museum. The Autry’s Collecting Community History Initiative. Autry Museum of the American West. Published 2021. Accessed April 23, 2021. https://theautry.org/research/blog/topic/collecting-community-history-initiative
  3. Boyd-Pates T, Canada G. Tyree Boyd-Pates In Conversation With Geoffrey Canada: “America’s Future Is Predicated on Knowing the Full History.” Time Magazine. Published August 20, 2020. Accessed April 23, 2021. https://time.com/5880936/rethinking-education-race/
  4. Galarreta, L. The Autry Museum Wants To Collect Your Coronavirus Artifacts To Document These Strange Times. LAist. Published May 5, 2020. Accessed April 23, 2021. https://laist.com/news/entertainment/the-autry-museum-wants-to-collect-your-coronavirus-artifacts-to-document-these-strange-times
  5. LA Weekly. Tyree Boyd-Pates: Curating at the Historical Frontier – LA Weekly. LA Weekly. Published July 2, 2020. Accessed April 23, 2021. https://www.laweekly.com/tyree-boyd-pates-curating-at-the-historical-frontier/
  6. Boyd-Pates T, Canada G. Tyree Boyd-Pates In Conversation With Geoffrey Canada: “America’s Future Is Predicated on Knowing the Full History.” Time Magazine. Published August 20, 2020. Accessed April 23, 2021. https://time.com/5880936/rethinking-education-race/
  7. Mosley T. Black Curators Reimagine Future Of Museums During Pandemic, Protests | Here & Now. Wbur.org. Published September 14, 2020. Accessed April 23, 2021. https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/09/14/future-of-museums

 

Pandemic – From collecting to engagement: Resources for understanding the impact of COVID-19 and supporting Diversity in Cultural Heritage organizations

This plenary panel will continue a critical discussion focused on the response of cultural heritage organizations to the twin pandemic: COVID-19 and systemic racism. Guest panelists Tyree Boyd-Pates, Omar Eaton-Martinez, and Elena Gonzales will explore these issues from the perspectives of collections and exhibitions, educational and public programs, audience engagement and organizational innovation.

Defined as a noun and adjective, a pandemic is characterized by a widespread, rapid growth of a disease, outbreak or development:

“The pandemic of COVID-19 has affected economic growth.”
“A pandemic of fear could tip the economy into an undeserved depression.”
“a problem of pandemic proportions.”

By definition, museums have been experiencing a pandemic of systemic exclusion and marginalism for as long as there have been “modern” museums. Because early museums began as the private collections of wealthy individuals, families, institutions, and nations, they represented the biases of the time and the collectors’ selection and interpretation of rare or curious natural objects, artifacts and art they deemed important. Public access to a privately-funded museum was often only possible for the “respectable,” and at the discretion of owners and staff. With this exclusivity, the elite gained a higher social status as collectors and interpreters of these important, preserved objects and reinforced the beliefs and construct of racial hierarchies to support political beliefs and validate eugenic ideas. Publicly-funded museums reinforced nationalist endeavors by informing museum priorities and interpretation.

In the last several years, museum staff has become activists to increase pressure, especially in the public eye with the use of social media, to highlight barriers to change within their organizations and provide unrelenting pressure either to address past wrongs or suffer the consequences of public displeasure. Staff no longer accept heavy-handed responses by tone deaf directors and out of touch boards, as well as the failed non-response to wait for it to go away, then continue business as usual.

In the midst of this shift, as some organizations were just beginning to scramble to address these issues, museums witnessed the impact of systemic racism, amplified by global movements of anti-racism to address long-standing issues of social injustice, including public protests against police and mass violence, advocating for increased diversity and inclusion, and educating all generations to understand and diminish bias. Museums also were called upon to record and respond to the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on the same communities that museums need to include, uplift and serve.

During this in-depth discussion, panelists will share their experience and research to support the change and growing movement of the 21st Century to decolonize museums and to dismantle the concept that ‘museums are a box of things’ and distilled narratives that support chosen ideologies. Historically, these museums have catered to middle-aged and middle-to-upper class White visitors by developing collections, exhibitions, and educational programs focused on Western places, ideas, and people. However, modern museums serve millions of people of all backgrounds and political persuasions in communities around the world. Therefore, their collections, exhibitions and programs must change to reflect and engage a global audience.

Panelists also will address many questions that museums—like so many other sectors—are grappling with: How can we reimagine ourselves in order to transform during this twin pandemic? How will exhibits change? How can we reopen safely? How can we ensure that equity is being pushed front and center, and remain at the center? Can we permanently offer online programs that created new ways for the public to experience our exhibitions virtually? Can we sustain our goal to connect with traditional audiences—those who regularly visit museums and often become members and donors—while reaching out to new audiences via podcasts, virtual tours, YouTube videos and social-media posts?

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Cite as:
Cherry, Rich, Boyd-Pates, Tyree, Eaton-Martinez, Omar and Gonzales, Elena. "Pandemic – From collecting to engagement: Resources for understanding the impact of COVID-19 and supporting Diversity in Cultural Heritage organizations." MW21: MW 2021. Published April 20, 2021. Consulted .
https://mw21.museweb.net/paper/pandemic-from-collecting-to-engagement-resources-for-understanding-the-impact-of-covid-19-and-supporting-diversity-in-cultural-heritage-organizations/