April 2021

#DearMuseums: Where is DEAI after 2020?

Bolded text written, as if by a typewritter, reads “Dear Museums” and “Submit to:”

Last year, at the beginning of the global pandemic, MER launched a series called #DearMuseums, in which we asked museum professionals to let us know how they were doing (personally, professionally, and/or all of the above). #DearMuseums proved to be a valuable platform for people to respond to the museum field as a whole.

At the beginning of 2021, we brought back the #DearMuseums conversation with a more targeted approach. We reached out to several organizations asking them to respond to the question “Where is DEAI after 2020?” Below are their responses.

We invite you to share your thoughts on this important issue. If you’d like to respond to the question “Where is DEAI after 2020?” feel free to email us at [email protected]. Unless otherwise noted, we publish anonymous responses.

Workplace Reset (@shadescollective): 

A lot has occurred in the past year, and the weight of these changes has been felt differently by all; but it has absolutely been felt. So where does that leave DEAI? For many, it still reads as an initiative, and nothing more. Quite honestly, the work that needs to be done requires a complete lifestyle and mindset change. It requires an overhaul of systems that have previously functioned on inequity, lack of accessibility, and a complete ignorance around the true realities that many Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) face. To truly be working towards this goal, the methods of working not only have to shift, but so do the people implementing these changes. Seats at the table need to be given up.

Shades Collective is an online collective dedicated to examining the experiences of BIPOC who are in personal and/or professional positions of creativity. We recognize those who create and design in ways that have not been traditionally recognized by academia, the art world, etc. At the present time we maintain an active commitment to challenging the  limitations created by racial, patriarchal, and socio-economic  oppression, specifically for creators, educators, and thinkers of color (not limited to, but with a particular emphasis on the  Baltimore (Piscataway Land) community. We are aware of the broader communal challenges faced by the dismissal   of intertwined systems of oppression. Though, our work is specifically focused on examining the experiences of BIPOC (Black Indigenous People   of Color) creators, whether or not they consider themselves artists or  designers, and regardless of experience or background. We originated as female identifying artists of color, from different  generations, ethnic ancestry, and professions; but who are tied together through artistic practice and a social justice framework. Our union represents a multiracial, multicultural, multigenerational coalition that advances BIPOC resilience and liberation.

Salary Transparency (@onyxmontes):

I hope DEAI stops being used as a bandage for a wound. DEAI work needs to start with transparency on the part of museum leadership and a heightened awareness of the vast disparity when it comes to director vs staff-level salaries in museums. As an emerging museum worker of color, it has been revealing to see and experience how institutions have treated workers (especially front facing staff, educators and people of color) as disposable. After 2020, DEAI will be a crucial component for museums to begin the work of healing their relationships with their constituents and staff. Emerging and aspiring museum workers have come into this field full of energy and hope, only to be treated as expendable, when we are the most vulnerable. Museums need to be held accountable for their investment (or lack thereof) in prioritizing DEAI initiatives. This is urgent.

Salary Transparency: Onyx Montes is an arts educator and cultural worker, who moved by herself to the U.S. from Mexico, at the age of 17. She studied art history and women, gender & sexuality studies at the University of Washington in Seattle becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college. She has a Masters degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s  MA in Museum and Exhibition Studies program, and is part of the inaugural Arts & Culture Leaders of Color Fellowship by Americans for the Arts. Onyx has worked as a museum educator at the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Chicago. She currently works as the social media manager for Hyde Park Art Center. Two projects she is proud of include the art history workshops she taught for incarcerated women in Mexico as well as the publication “Anthology: Artists and their Snacks”, which she edited in collaboration with the organization United States Artists. She is an avid reader and a solo traveler with 19 countries and counting under her belt.