Last spring, amidst the unfolding and intersecting pandemics—COVID-19, anti-Black racism and structural inequity, climate change—the future of museums, and museum educators was anything but clear. In a “normal spring” (please excuse the incredible understatement here), the MER Board of Directors would have been planning our annual, in-person forum; recruiting and welcoming new Directors; connecting ideas for JME topics with authors and guest editors; making reader guides for our quarterly open access articles; awarding Excellence Awards; and preparing for our annual retreat where we make budget, vision, and governing decisions that guide our work for the coming year as a working board, devoted and dedicated to advancing and supporting leadership and scholarship in museum-based learning.
Instead, looking around at the total upheaval in our jobs, our museums, and our communities, we took a beat to reassess. Would our membership model remain viable, or even reasonable as museum education staff took deep hits? Were the issues we had planned out for JME content the right ones, as long standing movements for Black lives and racial equity took on new momentum and museums shifted audience engagement to the internet? What kind of scholarship were graduate students and museum scholars seeking to provide context in these unprecedented times? Seeking input from you on these important decisions, we sent a survey out in June 2020, and were grateful to hear back from 145 individuals, representing a snapshot of MER members and JME readers. We want to highlight areas of action we’ll be focusing on, thanks to your responses:
- Redesign our membership model, looking into sliding scale and pay what you can options, as well as our member benefits;
- Continue to seek scholarship and other contributions to our blog and forum related to antiracism, and DEAI action planning in museum education (over 70% of you noted this was an area you are seeking resources on). If you have ideas, please consider responding to our open call for journal articles documenting museum education during intersecting pandemics. Proposals are due December 14th!
- We are also seeking contributors for MER’s blog in our Open Call for BIPOC/Historically Underrepresented Museum Voices. Authors will receive an honoraria, and idea submissions for the first open call are due December 31.
- Host our forum virtually to meet you all where your work has shifted to;
- Bring a race-equity approach to our outreach to members, authors, and editors–with 89% of the respondents identifying as white, 4% multi-ethnic, 3% black, 2% Asian, 2% Hispanic, 1% Middle Eastern and North African, and 0% Indigenous, our demographic representation does not even come close to mirroring the racial diversity of most of our communities, nor the field, and indicates important work to do.
You may access the full report here. It’s worth noting that our results reflect only a partial view of the field, especially where it comes to employment and museum changes. The American Alliance of Museums put out a report in October with a broader data set, which we’re also looking to to set our course for the coming months.
On behalf of the MER Board of Directors, I wish you well, and send our best hopes for positive changes in 2021.
Emily Potter-Ndiaye is the Dwight and Kirsten Poler and Andrew W. Mellon Head of Education and Curator of Academic Programs at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College. She serves as the President of the Museum Education Roundtable Board of Directors.