In October, I had the incredible honor to join a dynamic group of 50+ museum professionals for MASS Action, Museums as Sites of Social Action. The Abbe’s decolonization initiative and relevant and timely programming found us on the radar of MASS Action’s organizers. Over the course of three days in Minneapolis, the group participated in an intensive, skillfully facilitated discussion led by Creative Catalysts and the project advisors that affected everyone’s hearts and minds.
The museum field is problematic when considering diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility. Museums were historically built as temples of culture and art, reflecting images of Europe as the ideal. Natural history museums especially used, and continue to use, classification systems that lead to a troubling practice of “othering” by those who work in museums, people who are predominantly white. The issues, the problems, and the challenges around this historic pattern are significant and long overdue for correction.
Right after the event, I jotted down my feelings and takeaways –
MASS Action has left me with a racing mind and full heart. I even find that I’m anxious, nervous, and re-dedicated to making change. Here was a convening of some of the brightest minds in the museum field – poring over the sins of the field, interrogating assumptions and thoughts, and developing solutions and opportunities for a better museum profession. There were some gaps, sure, but we now have a way, a forum to troubleshoot what needs to be done and to get started.
Made possible by the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, MASS Action is a three-year effort with clear milestones and deliverables. The following is borrowed from Mia‘s website and related planning materials.
“What is the role and responsibility of the museum in responding to issues affecting our communities locally and globally? How do the museum’s internal practices need to change in order to align with, and better inform, their public practice? How can the museum be used as a site for social action? Over the next three years, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, in collaboration with stakeholders across the field, proposes to provide a platform for dialogues on these topics to take shape publicly and move towards an actionable practice.
YEAR ONE: MASS Action launched in October 2016 with a gathering of 50 museum practitioners for an action-oriented conversation around topics of equity inside the museum, creating relevant programming, and community engagement. Participants are working collaboratively to develop a toolkit of resources, including shared language, strategies to address inequity, and actions and exercises to build more inclusive museums practices.
YEAR TWO: In fall 2017, a larger convening will be held to include staff teams from museums who intend to use the toolkit and are committed to embed strategies of inclusion into their institutions. The convening will feature case studies, peer-to-peer learning opportunities, and other discussions of how to put theory into practice.
YEAR THREE AND BEYOND: The following year, participating museums will act and build upon the commitments to equity and social change agreed upon at the 2017 convening, creating more inclusive practices in the museum field and in our communities.
This multi-year initiative seeks to build and advance more equitable practices in the museum field. The idea for MASS Action was born out of the continued conversations and interrogation into the internal equity and inclusion work museums need to do, as well as the role and responsibility museums have to be sites for social dialogue and action around issues affecting our communities locally and globally. These are pressing issues, and yet many museums still feel they lack the capacities to support growth and change in these areas.”
While MASS Action’s work is just beginning, the momentum is building and I anticipate rapid results and meaningful impact in the museum field. In future blog posts, I plan to offer updates and deliverables as they become available.
Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko is the President and CEO of the Abbe Museum. Working in museums for more than twenty years, she believes they have the power to change lives, inspire movements, and challenge authority. A museum director since 2001, Cinnamon is a frequent presenter at national museum meetings and is often asked to comment on national museum issues. She has been the driving force behind the Abbe Museum’s decolonization initiative, working with the Native communities in Maine to develop policies and protocols to ensure collaboration and cooperation with Wabanaki people. In 2016 Cinnamon gave her first TEDx talk, We Must Decolonize Our Museums. She’s the author of Museum Administration 2.0 (2016), The Art of Healing: The Wishard Art Collection (2004), and co-editor of the Small Museum Toolkit (2012).