How diverse is your board, in terms of social and occupational background?
The key values for promoting restorative justice—inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility—must first be established at the top. A diverse board will serve as a foundation on which an inclusive museum can be built. Once your board reflects DEAI values and practices, there will be support for diverse staff and projects that aim for restorative justice. Without this foundation, commitments and efforts made by staff and volunteers often fall short.
Board member diversity is a challenging task for many museums. Smaller museums in particular are often faced with greater challenges, including a limited pool of stakeholders and therefore infrequent board member turnover. To remedy this, museums must look beyond traditional stakeholders and personal networks to identify people who will contribute to your museum’s mission. Not requiring financial support from all board members will open up new candidates who may be able to contribute much more valuable support in-kind, through materials, perspectives, and connections that can help your institution’s projects support its balance sheet.
Begin with a plan. A study released in 2020 reveals how most museums report committing themselves to DEAI practices yet fail to follow through in any tangible sense. A well thought out DEAI plan should include realistic short-term steps to reach the long-term goal of a more inclusive space. Plans should consider that board practices need to align with your museum’s vision and mission. If your mission statement includes creating an inclusive space for all, your internal practices should reflect this.
Have you hired from diverse outlets in the past? When was your last anti-bias training?
Museum staff play a crucial role in promoting restorative justice and conveying your museum’s values to the public. Diversity among your staff will culminate in richer interpretations, more innovative exhibitions, and greater public engagement. By working together to confront institutionalized issues, museum staff can contribute to a more equitable future.
Creating a diverse staff means thinking beyond traditional candidates in your hiring process. Advertise for positions widely and consider previously unexplored recruiting avenues outside of the traditional pool of candidates with formal museum experience and/or professional degrees. Recognize and challenge any inherent biases that have previously affected recruitment. Remember that all new hires will require some level of training, and hiring with the goal of diversity and equity will foster a more inclusive and just museum in the long term.
Hiring diverse staff is not enough to properly address restorative justice issues. Appropriate training and systems encouraging critical assessment of progress are necessary to ensure that museum personnel can communicate institutional shortcomings and work towards a common mission of restorative justice. Training should include topics such as anti bias training and how to talk about race. Mentorship programs are also a useful tool for helping new employees make connections between training and its application in their work. Mentorships are especially helpful for those with non-museum backgrounds to become comfortable with and accustomed to inclusive museum practices. Mentorships could be hosted by outside organizations or simply within your own institution. Systemic encouragement of critical assessment might include valuing or rewarding such feedback in annual reviews, or requiring all staff to evaluate institutional progress on restorative justice annually.
What biases might your volunteers have, and how are they hindering your restorative justice commitments? Are your volunteers required to receive training?
Because most museums’ visitors have more direct contact with volunteer staff, those volunteers play an important role in directly promoting social and restorative justice to the public. So, it is important to diversify and train docents and volunteers like paid staff, so that everyone’s work supports your museum’s commitment to restorative justice.
Volunteer and docent training should include presentational skills such as tone of voice, body language, and vocal language that create a comfortable environment and encourage and convey empathy. Staff fluent in multiple languages are certainly an asset, but The American Alliance of Museums offers many other useful examples for encouraging DEAI practices within volunteer programs. While Training should detail the institutional and social benefits of DEIA, paying docents has been shown to help ensure that docents apply their training.
How do you convey value and appreciation to your interns?
Interns can contribute new and creative ideas to your museum, as well as diversify your personnel. Their diversity increases when those who cannot work for free are offered internship opportunities. Considering how valuable interns can be, might your institution offer any kind of pay? If not, what are some other ways your organization can create a more equitable and inclusive internship program?
A good way to attract a diverse and creative internship pool is to offer internships beyond the usual ones related to curatorial and education work. To foster new ideas, consider giving interns the freedom to be creative by designing their own projects. Mentoring programs can also provide a deeper introduction to the field, allowing you to hire interns with little background in museum studies. An apprenticeship program at the New Bedford Whaling Museum offers an example of a successful program that strives to benefit the community rather than the museum itself.