This blog is the place to exchange ideas, news, issues and thoughts about diversity and multiculturalism in museums. The Multicultural Initiatives Committee is a Texas Association of Museums Affinity Group.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Embracing Diversity within Museums: Texas Museums Take a Stand

Below is a wonderful essay written by one of the TAM scholarship recipients, Kendra A. Jones. Enjoy:

I would define “diversity” as the celebration of the uniqueness and distinctiveness of various types of people and their cultures. As the United States has entered into 2009 with the ushering in of the nation’s first African-American president, a man whose own background consists of a multi-ethnic cultural heritage, the importance of promoting diversity within American institutions has become evident. Throughout the history of the nation, the population of the United States has increasingly grown to include various cultures from around the world. In particular, boarder states such as the state of Texas, experience an influx of immigrants from neighboring countries such as Mexico; thus resulting in a large Hispanic population residing within the state of Texas. In response to this situation, the museums of the state of Texas have decided to make a conscientious effort to address the issue of diversity within their institutions.
In 1995, the Texas Association of Museums made a significant attempt at addressing the issue of diversity within museums in the state of Texas with the development of the Action Plan for Multicultural Initiatives in Texas Museums. This twenty-page publication emphasized the need for Texas museums to acknowledge, accept and further support the state’s ever-increasing diverse, multicultural population in order to remain culturally-relevant to the communities they serve. The Action Plan was designed to function as a guide for museums to follow in order to effectively increase the diversity present within their programs, staffs, board members, volunteers, audiences and other supporters. The guide presents a step-by-step approach for self-evaluating the performance of an institution and also assists with the development of a feasible plan of action based on the assessment of the results of such evaluation. Providing supplementary resources such as model case studies, a diversity glossary, an extensive bibliography, and additional resource lists, the publication serves as a vital asset to any institution desiring to promote and embrace diversity.
The 2009 Texas Association of Museums Annual Meeting in El Paso, Texas offered sessions highlighting the issues surrounding diversity and multiculturalism to the hundreds of museum studies students and museum professionals who attended this year’s annual meeting. Such sessions included “Cultural Foreign Affairs: Mexico's Commitment to International Cultural Exchange with the United States,” “Diálogo: Becoming Bilingual Museums,” and “Does Your Board Reflect Your Community?” These sessions covered such topics as the politics of the collaborative efforts and cultural affairs between the United States and Mexico in regards to the international exchange of art and culture, the philosophy of museums as catalysts for building community by creating inclusive environments through the use of bilingual programming and exhibitions and the conscription and development of a multicultural and diverse board that reflects the community it serves. The inclusion of such sessions into the programming for the Annual Meeting reinforces TAM’s commitment to increasing the awareness for the need to address issues of diversity and multiculturalism within the museum field.
During the 2009 Texas Association of Museums Annual Meeting in El Paso, Texas, I had the opportunity to attend the “Diálogo: Becoming Bilingual Museums” session and walked away with a greater understanding of what it means to be a “bilingual museum.” I initially went into the session thinking that the only requirement of a “bilingual museum” was to have someone (preferably an in-house staff member; to keep costs low) translate all of the exhibit labels into another language and offer audio tours in a secondary language. However, as the presenters in the session explored the topic of being a “bilingual museum,” I was pleasantly surprised with the various other factors that must also be considered. The session provided me with such insights as the essentialness of collaboration between museums and the audiences that they desire to reach in order to effectively create inclusive environments in which diversity thrives. Another insight I gained was that museums should seek to design and create exhibitions based on topics that are relevant and significant for the communities they serve, allowing for audience involvement with the development of the museums’ public programs and exhibitions. Museums are relevant to the communities they serve because, through successful public programming and exhibitions, these institutions establish connections between themselves and the lives of the people living within these communities. The input of a diverse group of people from within the community should result in museums having a better understanding of the various and particular needs and desires of their audiences. Equipped with this knowledge, the museums should be able to develop a strategic plan for their public programming efforts that addresses the need for creating inclusive environments within their institutions that embrace and promote diversity and multiculturalism.
As a staff member of a museum who recently underwent a name change, adding the word “multicultural” into the institutional name, in order to construct fashion a more inclusive image of the institution, I benefited greatly from attending this year’s annual meeting. I returned to my home institution with a notebook full of ideas that my museum team can begin to implement within our museum in order to compliment our new name as we move forward with a goal of highlighting the value and relevancy of diversity and multiculturalism within our museum, in the hopes of helping to shape a nation that is ready to embrace its diverse population.

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