As a complement to JME 47.1: Radical Reimaginings in Museum Education, we are pleased to share this blog post by the guest editors Wendy Ng, Audrey Hudson, and Jaclyn Roessel.
The calls to action and ongoing efforts to decolonize museums on Turtle Island (1), also known as North America, have been imagined, led, and sustained by Indigenous, Black, racialized and marginalized museum workers and communities. Collectively, we have contributed greatly to the reclamation of community belongings, knowledge, and interpretation to realize a new future for museum education. The initial seeds of this issue were planted during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. After the unjust killing of George Floyd by police, as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), we could not go back to work/life as museum workers without taking action. Further injustices followed including the initial, and now ongoing, findings of children’s remains at sites of Indian Residential Schools, and a mass killing in Atlanta based on anti-Asian racism. While racism and violence rooted in white supremacy is not new, these incidences and existing inequities were now amplified by the pandemic, and people around the world were taking action. Within this societal context, we decided to bring the voices of BIPOC museum workers and allies/co-conspirators together for this special issue.
Museum educators and their departments are often at the forefront of change within their institutions given they are the main catalysts for connection, interpretation, and relevance between collections and communities. When we invited authors to contribute, we put forth the following question: How can museum educators simultaneously recognize and navigate their complicity in the systems that maintain the imbalance of power and privilege in museums, and their role as change makers? The issue is full of diverse perspectives that all contribute critical dialogue to the field, with articles by: Brandie Macdonald; Wendy Ng, J’net Ayayqwayaksheelth, and Sarah Chu; Quentin VerCetty; Marissa Largo; Kendall Crabbe, Oona Husok, and Amelia M. Kraehe; Adriel Luis, and an introduction by the guest editors. We have chosen to provide free access to the opening article, “Pausing, Reﬂection, and Action: Decolonizing Museum Practices”, from author Brandie Macdonald who interrogates the complexity of museums as both sites of enlightenment for white dominant culture and pain for racialized communities. Through physical and digital initiatives that aim to hold the Museum of Us in San Diego, California accountable for colonial harm, Macdonald demonstrates how anti-colonial and decolonial practices can decenter Euro-American historiography in an educational context.
Our collective humanity is witnessing and participating in vast changes from the climate crisis to racialized violence. In many ways, these crises limit our ability to foster time to dream and imagine what is possible beyond. As guest editors, we intentionally and conscientiously approached and worked with authors from a place of radical love rooted in the ethics of care. We held close to the influence of bell hooks’ conversations on radical love (2) and to Keri Day who speaks to love as a movement and practice of self-actualization rooted in Black feminism and womanist perspectives, where that love is not merely an ideal sentiment, but a concrete revolutionary practice (3). We embraced that revolutionary practice in the way of publishing these important articles so that we may shift viewpoints and holistically influence other BIPOC museum leaders to use their voices. We embraced care as an ethic grounded in voice and relationships…and where everyone is listened to carefully (in their own right and on their own terms) and heard with respect (4). Guided by these two frameworks, we listened, responded, and shared our love with the research in this collection.
This entire issue was conceived, written, and published during a pandemic that has disproportionately and negatively impacted BIPOC communities. Both ourselves as guest editors and the authors were, and still are, navigating different types and degrees of grief and trauma. There were also moments of great joy – Jaclyn birthed a new life into this world while we brought this issue together! We approached communications, feedback, and editing with as much care and grace as we could harness despite the academic publishing process. It was vitally important to us that we center our collective humanity, first and foremost.
As museums reckon with their origins and current state, the articles in this special issue question, what does it mean to decolonize museum education? In confronting the power and privilege of museums, from museum workers to institutional systems, the discourse around decolonization on Turtle Island has centered on whiteness. This issue centers the discourse on reimagining museum education rooted in the world views of Indigenous, Black, and racialized people. By shifting to the reclamation of ancestral and community belongings, polyvocal narratives, and futurity in museums that are founded in radical love and the ethics of care, this issue proposes powerful approaches to museum education.
(1) “Turtle Island” is a name that some Indigenous nations including the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and Algonquin use for the land also known as North America.
(2) hooks, bell. All about Love: New Visions. New York, NY: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2018.
(3) Day, Keri. Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism: Womanist and Black Feminist Perspectives. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
(4) Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016.
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Day, Keri. Religious Resistance to Neoliberalism: Womanist and Black Feminist Perspectives. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016.
hooks, bell. All about Love: New Visions. New York, NY: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2018.
Guest Editors’ Biographies:
Wendy Ng is a senior education and programming leader who has conceived and implemented strategic plans, change management, and culture transformation initiatives rooted in anti-oppression praxis throughout her career managing educational programming in large public institutions including the Ontario Science Centre, Royal Ontario Museum, and Art Gallery of Ontario. She is the principal owner and consultant of Twin Muses Consulting Services, presents regularly at national and international conferences, and is a published author with a focus on social justice in museum education. Wendy holds a MAT in Museum Education from George Washington University, a BFA and BEd from York University, and is a certified teacher in Ontario.
Audrey Hudson is an educator, artist, researcher and futurist. She holds a PhD from University of Toronto/Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (UT/OISE), focused on Hip-Hop and photography as sites of resilience and solidarity for Black and Indigenous communities. Audrey is part of the Leadership Team at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), where she is the Richard & Elizabeth Currie Chief, Education & Programming and teaches Black Canadian Studies at University of Toronto. Audrey has developed and taught undergraduate and graduate level courses at OCAD University, Ryerson, and University of Toronto, and has been an Art Educator and programmer for 22 years. Audrey believes museums are spaces for cultural change, creative community engagement, future thinking and joy.
Born and raised on the Navajo Nation, it is the wisdom of her homelands that shapes Jaclyn Roessel’s cosmovision. Experience as a museum professional, cultural arts producer, and curator confirmed her belief of the inherent power of utilizing cultural learning as a tool to engage and build stronger communities. Molded by her grandmothers, Jaclyn has fostered a praxis that utilizes Indigenous ways of knowing and decolonized methodologies as a catalyst to build cultural equity in organizations. Whether it is as the founder of her company Grownup Navajo, in her poetic writings, or in her work as a cultural justice & equity consultant, Jaclyn is motivated by the pursuit of Indigenous excellence and the action to radically imagine futures where Indigenous peoples’ lands and cultures are thriving, revered, and protected.