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, 30 June 2009

Reflections on Diversity by an Emerging Museum Professional

Below is the reflective essay written by Aminatta Kamara, one of the scholarship recipients for the 2009 Texas Association of Museums Annual meeting.

Too often when the average person thinks of a museum professional, images of old men, as dusty as the objects they care for are conjured. However, as an emerging museum professional, I know that face is slowly changing. What began as an influx of women into an arguably male-dominated profession a couple of decades ago has evolved to include a number of other minorities. As a recipient of the Multicultural Initiatives Scholarship this year, I was asked to pen an essay discussing the topic of diversity in museum professions. I struggled with the topic as I feel that perhaps, just entering the museum world professionally, I do not have the right to critique. So instead, I have chosen to chronicle my feelings as they now stand.
As a minority, I would be remiss if I did not mention how disheartened I felt the first day I walked into graduate school orientation only to realize that I was one of two minorities enrolled in the Art History program. For the first time in my life, I wondered if my acceptance was based on my grades and accomplishments as I so hoped it was, or if it was steeped in the university’s needs to diversify their program. Early on, my cohort and I forged a relationship as comrades – it was “us” against “them.” I do not believe that either of us ever felt completely accepted - a fact we discussed ad nauseum along with the feelings of isolation and disassociation we felt as part of the system. Half-heartedly we joked about being “token” minorities and, viewing ourselves somewhat as mavericks bucking stereotypes and paving the way for other minorities, encouraged each other to change the face of art historians—all in the incredibly vintage year 2006.
The stereotypes persisted after college as I applied at and visited museums across the state. Thankfully, my first TAM meeting dispelled a number of myths that my graduate school friend and I formulated in the lesser used libraries of our hilly campus. In El Paso, I was excited to meet the new face of the museum professional. A face much more representative of a cross-section of cultures and decidedly more diverse than in the past; the new professional is increasingly a more cohesive blend of the multi-cultural society in which we all reside. Perhaps an awakening of sorts was required; one in which a younger generation realized that not only can one embrace their history, but that history may be studied and in time channeled into a profession. In my case, enlightenment occurred on the day I learned the different careers available at a museum – curator, director, conservator – they all sounded so exotic and interesting. I still remember the heady feeling I got when I came to the realization that I did not have to choose between my love for art and history and a professional career. I for one did not have to settle for a boring, everyday job, attempting to satiate my desire for culture and learning on clandestine lunch breaks from my cubicle or whirlwind weekend museum trips. I could work at a museum and do what I loved daily. Thankfully, no one told me otherwise.
I encourage those involved in museums to open your doors and bring in those who may never have otherwise stepped over the threshold. I challenge you to introduce yourself and your job at the next school field trip and answer the questions of that third grader—don’t just leave it to the docents. Perhaps among them will be born the next advocate for museums and preservation; ensuring that the doors of your institution will remain open for generations to come. And that is something we can all be proud of.

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