The Abbe is thrilled to announce that it has secured funding to develop and launch, along with a team of consultants and advisors, the Museum Decolonization Institute (MuseDI). Through a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, we’ll work over the next years to produce a program with impact.
We have written about MuseDI concept before, but now it is real!
When we developed our current strategic plan, it became apparent to the board and staff that our work is not only important to the tribal communities we work with in Maine, but it can have an equally positive impact for other tribal communities. Devising a way for the Abbe to teach decolonizing museum practices easily became our advocacy position in our strategic plan and practice.
In keeping with our decolonizing practices, the staff has considered why the Abbe is the right or appropriate organization to develop a training institute and create resources. Certainly the demand on our training services is growing and we are developing as a leading resource on museum decolonization. Organizationally, there are more reasons why this is a fit for the Abbe:
- In practice, we are open to collaboration and partnerships with colleagues and peer organizations. This makes us available to others.
- We’re still figuring out museum decolonization in our own practice and our openness about this makes us accessible and relevant to other museums and historic sites.
- We operate with a small budget and our staff size is also small. If the Abbe can do it then any museum can do it.
- Since we are a work in progress, creating a community of practice will help us develop our processes, policies, and strategies better and with greater resources, which in turn will benefit student learning.
- Despite recent recruitment efforts in the Native American communities, the Abbe is still predominately a white-led and run museum. Our training style will be inclusive, collaborating with Native academics and educators in Maine, Canada, and as needed, from other tribal communities. This balance of instructional voices is something we are willing to be critical of and evaluate regularly.
- There is a purpose for white allies. It’s not the “job” of Native people to tell white people how to behave or how to be appropriate. Because of our history and our present, the Abbe is positioned to demonstrate how the onus is on white museum professionals to make change, not communities of color.
- Because of recent staff presentations at national conference and staff networking, it has become clear that the field is watching what we’re doing and the expectation is growing. To not deliver training opportunities would be a missed opportunity and would adversely impact our strategies. And, Native communities are watching too – discussions at a recent creative summit and at Native Advisory Council meetings, and our work with tribal museums proves this to us.
- Our core exhibit, People of the First Light, was created through a decolonizing exhibit development process and provides visual representation of MuseDI goals.
Relying on tribal partners locally and nationally, and securing partnerships with organizations who are actively adopting decolonizing practices, the Abbe will serve as a convener and clearinghouse when needed. As we build the methodology, assessment tools, and overall training structure, we will keep in mind that our goal is to help museums and historic sites develop their “right” content and practice. Our job is to help them get started in museum decolonizing practice. They will have tools for museum decolonizing work that can be customized for any setting or organizational culture. We can’t tell them which direction to go in but we can fix their compass. Working collaboratively with tribal communities, museums will then know where to go once they’ve initiated.
Certainly, the Abbe Museum family will benefit from focused activity, but the primary beneficiaries of MuseDI are tribal communities and their members. Museum spaces will no longer be “painful sites for Native peoples” when the effects of colonization are acknowledged and remedied. The de-humanization of Indigenous people and their history is unacceptable and perpetuates intergenerational trauma. Motivating museums to engage in decolonizing work is the higher goal for MuseDI. Furthermore, the learning that takes places in decolonizing museums by non-Native visitors and students will in the long-term build cultural competency and empathy more broadly, hopefully reducing bias (acknowledged or inherent) towards Native peoples and cultures.
The museum field will also benefit from the creation of MuseDI as it will offer professional development specifically designed to alter modern museum practice. Decolonizing museums will be positioned as more inclusive and reactive to societal needs, and will certainly be more attractive to diverse audiences and the funding requirements of grant makers and foundations. The museum field is consistently white-led and staff members are predominantly white. This is not the result of demographics, but it is the result of an industry that is slow to change and recognize power structures that repel communities of color from museum audiences and the workforce.
As noted above, MuseDI’s launch is being funded by a generous grant from the the Institute of Museum and Library Services Museums for America (MFA) program. MFA is the Institute’s largest discretionary grant program for museums, and supports projects that strengthen the ability of an individual museum to serve its public. This year IMLS received 472 applications for Museums for America. 133 projects will be funded with a total of $19,931,618. Institutions receiving the awards are matching them with $27,703,523 in non-federal funds. To read the full news release, please click here.
As our plans progress, be sure to watch the Abbe’s website and social media channels for the latest news about MuseDI. For now, we celebrate!
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). She recently appeared on Museopunks.