August 2018

Facing Change: MER’s 2018 Forum

MER Forum 2018. Photo Credit: Kate Reichert

Following each year’s board retreat, the Museum Education Roundtable (MER) hosts an open forum for museum educators. This year, we welcomed Dr. Nicole Ivy to share her experiences creating the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) publication, Facing Change.

For reference, you can download Dr. Ivy’s forum slide deck here: [download id=”975″].

Issued earlier this year, this report reflects the five key assertions from its 19-member working group:

  • Every museum professional must do personal work to face their unconscious bias
  • Debate on definitions must not hinder progress
  • Inclusion is central to the effectiveness and sustainability of museums
  • Systemic change is vital to long-term, genuine progress
  • Empowered, inclusive leadership is essential at all levels of an organization
Photo Credit: Kate Reichert

Facing Change serves as a guide post for museums at all stages of addressing issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEAI). The authors caution that these insights are not an end to themselves, but an invitation for ongoing institutional growth and reflection:

“There is much to be done, and the markers of success will not necessarily be the traditional ones. Measuring numbers of employees or ticking off visible signs of human difference is simply not sufficient. Expanding diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion requires a constant evaluation of whose voices are being represented or silenced. As the introduction to this report emphasizes, inclusion is a process. But the insights shared here point us to a path forward.”

Rather than providing a traditional lecture, Dr. Ivy instead facilitated an open-ended workshop that enabled participants to “try out” the key assertions identified in Facing Change. Present at the forum were representatives from the National Building Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the museum studies program at George Washington University, and other institutions local to D.C. Dr. Ivy began with an invitation for tablemates to share what our respective institutions are already doing to address DEAI:

Following Dr. Ivy’s outline of Facing Change and its authoring process, we spent the last 30 minutes of the workshop in small groups discussing key questions about DEAI topics. Taken together, these questions could easily frame a vigorous board or strategic planning conversation:

  • How can we practically use Facing Change at our institutions?
  • What are some signs of success or metrics that we could use at our institutions as a measure of progress at our institutions?
  • How can we document the work already happening or that is needed at our institutions?
  • What would a DEAI group look like at my institution?

While the forum participants’ organizational affiliations varied greatly, we discovered much common ground in this brainstorming exercise. We found that many of us face similar issues that inhibit DEAI work, such as an institutional reluctance to change, lack of budget, or unfamiliarity with DEAI concepts. Together we arrived at ideas and solutions that provide concrete next steps:

Driving impact Home

Like many organizations in the cultural sector, MER is considering how to effectively integrate DEAI into its core structure. For MER, Dr. Ivy’s workshop was particularly timely — during the annual board retreat, our 20-member board of directors dug into the difficult work of evaluating our past, present, and future DEAI efforts.

Due to the role that the Journal of Museum Education plays in advancing and formalizing our field, we believe it’s especially vital that we integrate DEAI considerations into every aspect of our work and to be held accountable by the communities we serve. In fact, the authors of Facing Change suggest its imperative to our survival. Indeed, the document states, “our institutions’ viability and financial sustainability depends largely on our ability to be relevant, magnetic, and inclusive.”

We will share more on this blog as we continue conversations about MER and DEAI. We invite you to share with us your ideas of how to make MER and the journal more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible. You can email us at [email protected], or find us on Twitter at @MuseEdRountable.

Adrienne Lalli Hills serves on the current Board of Directors for the Museum Education Roundtable.