This section will explore and provide resources for successful methods, approaches, and initiatives that achieve greater racial and ethnic equity in exhibitions and programming across the GLAMP fields.
Exhibits and programs can take different forms, but all of them present a museum’s values through the many decisions made while planning and staging it. A recent study by ARTnews found that, despite growing calls for diversity, art exhibition programming over the past decade continues to be white-centric—even comparable to figures from a similar 1987 study.
The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State opened an exhibition on Asian and Asian American Art one year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of a sustained Global Asian Initiative, rather than just an isolated one-time exhibit, accompanying programming was offered over zoom. The practice of engaging communities of color in a sustained way was furthered by the exhibit and programming content, which not only highlighted a wide range of ethnic Asian artists but emphasized “shared humanity” in response to the heightened racism Asian Americans face during the pandemic.
The Smithsonian launched a programming initiative to address race in museums. Complete with forums and resource banks, the Reckoning with Our Racial Past programming initiative is an example from one of the nation’s largest museum institutions on making equitable practices within the museum a source of social justice.
Another display of museums centering their practices around racial justice and equity comes from the University of Virginia’s Fralin Museum of Art. In response to the white supremacist “Unite the Right” March in Charlottesville in August 2018, the Fralin is dedicating half of its exhibits moving forward to artists of underrepresented backgrounds.
Collaboration between organizations (local or otherwise) is, at times, a topic of tense consideration. Many organizations have funding models that depend upon visitors, meaning that similar institutions are often seen as competitors for attendance. Collaboration can, however, be a powerful tool in sharing and implementing visions of antiracist and decolonizing action.
In 2019, the American Jewish Historical Society and the Museum of Chinese in America partnered to develop a grant-funded project that will research and exhibit the intersectional stories of the Jewish and Chinese communities in New York City. This partnership reveals the potential for these two culturally specific museums to tell a broader story about immigration and discrimination in the United States.
Additionally, for the 2021 Asian Pacific Islander Latinx Festival, the host museum, the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, California, partnered with the Japanese American National Museum and the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum to develop programs, such as one that discussed and reflected upon mass-incarceration in the U.S. The collaboration demonstrated connections between the experiences of these communities and uplifted their stories and celebrated their art.
For an example of a broader partnership, consider how Sumner Hall (one of two remaining Civil War era Grand Army of the Republic buildings still in existence) partnered in 2017 with the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives and Records Administration, the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, and a local high school and community members to create a traveling exhibit. Entitled “The Way We Worked,” the exhibit explored American jobs during the 19th and 20th centuries, highlighting jobs that African Americans in Kent County, Maryland held during this period. The exhibit also incorporated oral histories and personal objects of community members to tell a history specific to them. By collaborating with larger institutions, Sumner Hall was able to receive funding to provide paid internships to students who researched, curated, designed, and installed the exhibit. Students also received training and experience as museum docents. As a wide-ranging collaboration between small and large museums, a high school, a college, and community members, the project lowered barriers between them that may have stemmed from notions of hierarchy and competition.
For another example of a college partnership, The Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) and Tougaloo College, both located in Jackson, Mississippi, institutionalized their decades-long relationship in 2017 with the creation of the two-year Art & Civil Rights Initiative (ACRI). Working together, ACRI hosted a five-part exhibit and lecture series centered on the Civil Rights Movement in hopes that it would catalyze greater conversations about racial justice in Mississippi. The five exhibitions between 2018 and 2020 became the foundation for more created opportunities between MMA and Tougaloo College, including:
- Creation of a Tougaloo College course, “The Art of Civic Engagement”
- 6 paid semester-long internships
- Tougaloo’s digitization of their entire American art collection
- A grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for expanded internships on Tougaloo’s campus in collections management and art gallery work
- MMA’s new Department of Academic Affairs, established to help connect local graduates to museum industry jobs in Mississippi, also funded for 3 years by the Mellon Foundation; expands MMA’s internship abilities and reach to other Mississippi colleges and universities
The opportunities that have come from ACRI are another example of how transformative a collaborative partnership can be for a museum, its communities, and their shared futures.
The Slave Dwelling Project (SDP) creates a more inclusive narrative of United States history through the preservation, maintenance, and interpretation of extant slave dwellings and other structures related to enslaved Americans. An example of an initiative that comes to museums rather than out of a single one, SDP accomplishes this goal through their unique programming that partners with institutions and organizations of varying sizes and goals. SDP works towards more restorative practices in the GLAM fields through their collaborative efforts.