Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Blog Committed to Space-Making and Equity


Hi, all! This is Nicole writing to recommend an addition to your summer reading list. I’m excited to share a source from my scanning files, Brown Girls Museum Blog (BGMB). You can check out the full blog here. Co-curated by Ravon Ruffin and Amanda Figueroa, BGMB encourages people from marginalized communities to find space for themselves within the museum field. Both the blog and the BGMB Instagram account feature visual art created by people of color, LGBTQI persons, women, and people who are otherwise part of minority populations.
Brown Girls Museum Blog

Ravon and Amanda utilize photography and the written word as space-making tools to help diverse groups of people envision themselves as part of museum audiences and as museum professionals. Their fresh use of the now-ubiquitous museum selfie helps re-frame stereotypes about who museum visitors are and who they can be. They also create community in the digital space by talking frankly about their experiences as young women of color navigating graduate school, work, and self-care in the DC area.

One of the most striking things about the blog is its insistence on reflecting the vocabulary of young people of color. Slogans like “Bout That Life,” “Wise Latina Hustle,” and “#MuseumBaddies” bring the voices of everyday youth into the rarified world of arts discourse. I find their blending of black and Latin@ vocabulary with images traditionally considered as high art to be extremely powerful. They challenge the neat distinctions between high and low art and between insider and outsider audiences.  

As a good starting point, I recommend their recent post, “AAM: What’s The Feels.” 
In it, they grapple with the size and scale of AAM’s annual meeting while reflecting on the possibilities for space-making inside of it. “AAM is just huge and there’s no way around that,” Ravon notes, “and that’s also not necessarily a bad thing.” The post explores how conversations on diversity and inclusion can be affected by a lack of depth, despite the repetition of the terms throughout a number of sessions. “ ‘Diversity and inclusion’ became a spectacle,” she writes. Amanda expands on this sentiment adding, “It became about the checkmark, being able to say you did your requisite diversity and inclusion panel, along with your skill-building workshop and your keynote.” She elaborates:

Ravon Ruffin (l) and Amanda Figueroa (r)
“Diversity doesn’t work when it’s an entity unto itself, it works when it is included as an element in everything we as museum professionals do, but that doesn’t seem to be the way people want to treat it, maybe because of the emphasis on history and tradition that comes with the museum field.”

As a person who planned a suite of activities during this year’s annual meeting that engaged issues of diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the museum workplace, I am compelled by their epistle. I agree, too often D&I is highlighted as a separate project, a field apart from the regular operations of museum education, collections management, curatorial work, development, and administration. One step toward alleviating this division, as they point out, is for museum professionals to consider how inclusion intersects with their work at multiple levels—from the creation of text panels to the work of audience engagement and evaluation.

I also recommend the "Post-GraduateSurvival" piece, in which Ravon talks candidly about her strategies for navigating academia, the job market, and the expectations placed on recent graduates. As a not-so-recent graduate, I found her insights about the “journey of adulting” to be spot on. She urges readers to “determine your skills in your own terms” and to “know your value for yourself.”

BGMB also thoughtfully critiques the trend toward murkiness in current D&I conversations with a two-part meditation on “TheLanguage of Diversity and Inclusion.” I agree with the authors that often, “the cliché of diversity becomes a burden on people of color that only requires the appearance of change.” By explicitly prioritizing equity and working to actively challenge hierarchies and borders that render some communities more marginal than others, museums can ensure that the burden of creating equity doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of minoritized groups.

I encourage you to follow BGMB and to share what inspires you to “find your space” within museums!
 
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