Race in Museums

Museums around the world are embracing race as an importance aspect of their pasts, the histories they present, and their visions for their futures. Sometimes deemed controversial or harmful, discussions about race in museums are now essential to responsible stewardship. Moreover, it enriches museums and their relationships with their surrounding communities. The links below share resources, news and models for how to engage race in museums, including in hiring, outreach, programming, object interpretation and living histories.

Joining the Discussion on Museums and Race

The Danger of the ‘D’ Word: Museums and Diversity by Porchia Moore of the Incluseum Blog problematizes the idea of institutional diversity initiatives. This think-piece can help museums reflect on their approaches to community engagement and marketing. That way, museums can consider shifting goals reach racial “completion” in representation, attendance/ membership, and cultural heritage.

Museums and Race came out of a 2015 meeting of the American Alliance of Museums, and produced this reading list in the spirit of the #syllabus movement following calls for museums to become involved in the Ferguson protests. The reading list has something to offer for all needs and approaches, including bestselling books on race. Scroll down to the section called “Institutional Legacies” for articles from leading journals discussing current events in museums.

Museums are increasingly called on to “decolonize” their collections and exhibitions, meaning that museums should collaborate with communities to grapple with the legacies of colonialism that exist within exhibits. This TED-Talk by Cinnamon Caitlin-Legutko, “We Must Decolonize Our Museums,” is a primer for understanding the movement to decolonize museums, and offers a basic framework for implementing changes at your home institution.

The Visitors of Color blog is a resource for museum professionals who wish to engage with communities of color in their museums and to improve their visitor experiences. The blog provides insight into how visitors view the cultural competency of exhibitions, identifies issues that communities need museums to take public stances on, and stories of positive and negative visitor experiences. 


Tools, Resources & Models for Implementing Change

In 2016, The Museum As Site for Social Action project produced toolkit for achieving greater equity and inclusion of communities of color through actionable practice. In addition to using the site to track the cohort’s discussions and activities from inception through to their 2018 meeting, this page offers

  • A link to the MASS Action blog
  • Downloadable Readiness Assessment guide for determining the areas your institution could improve in
  • A downloadable Toolkit that outlines practices and plans for achieving equity
  • Lists of links to twitter feeds, blogs, museum websites, and projects about race and museums

In “Dismantling Diversity in Museums,” Curator of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Adriel Luis, suggests short-term, and sometimes digital “culture labs” as alternative methods for curation. These are done in collaboration with community members and artists. This article includes:

  • a Soundcloud file of Adriel Luis’ talk about diversity at the Rockwell Museum
  • a transcript of the speech, including tweets and images about diversity.
  • a video trailer of the first culture lab, Crosslines
  • photos and videos of previous labs
  • a transcript of the Q&A section of Luis’ speech at Rockwell Museum

“A Roundup of Decolonization News” by the Center for the Future of Museums blog reviews six museums across the world to share their decolonization efforts. These models for decolonizing museums span a range of types of collections and exhibitions, from art to cultural heritage to natural history museums. They also demonstrate how museums efforts can be successful in addressing the particular histories and communities connected to their locations and collections.

Communities of color are deeply impacted by mass incarceration. The Chrysler Museum’s exhibition Beyond the Block: Empowering Incarcerated Artists showcases the art of Virginian incarcerated people, and models one way to give a platform to this community.

Visit our page on African American First-Person Interpretation and Slavery to explore more about living history and first-person interpretations by actors/cultural historians who represent African American life.