With the recent election results and the politically correct movement the point that is made is that the words that we use are very important. How we talk to a person can either make them feel included or push them far away and make them feel like an outcast. As a museum these same principles apply, how we talk to communities- are we warm and inviting? Are we open to the community? Or as Monica Montgomery calls it do we have transactional diversity? Transactional diversity is the idea that the museum has a transaction with a person or community and then when it’s over, the transaction is done and the connection severed. Monica’s whole PowerPoint talks about how we as museums and we as individuals need to connect to people and puts forth rules for community engagement and base building for a museum. This final blog will focus on how a museum can bring people in, involving the people, and then once they leave to keep the involvement going.
Within many communities there is the idea of threshold fear- the sense of discomfort upon walking into an unfamiliar and potentially threatening space. This idea in the museum world translates into community members being scared of the content inside or members that don’t feel warm or welcome inside the museum space. Using Monica’s 5 levels of community engagement we can get people involved and make the museum into a place that as everyone in the class listed about themselves, feeling safe in a museum. The five levels are as follows- inform which means to let people out there know that the museum exists; consult which is going out and asking the community what they would like; involve takes this one step further and lets the community have give and take allowing their opinion to be important; collaborating is actively involving community leaders and asking their opinions on relating exhibits or projects; and community leads is the highest level where the museum gives the space to the community and allows them to use the space as fits them and allows the museum to be a space for the communities voice.
Using these levels as our measurement of growth we can ask ourselves relating questions, such as do the people around us know that we are here? In Monica’s case, at the beginning the people in the surrounding areas did not know that the museum was there but after much time they came to associate the house with community events that they had been invited to. Other questions such as do the people outside of our immediate circle know that we are there? Which in the case of the Lewis Howard Latimer Historic House many even after community building was done, people outside that area did not know about it. However in the case of the Guggenheim even people outside of New York know about it because of its commanding size, location and stature. The final and most important question that must be asked is do people feel warm and welcome? The answer to that is very complex. A small historic house such as the Latimer in Queens can connect and feel homelier then big institutions like the Met who can’t possibly focus on each individual group that will come through its doors. The Latimer under Monica seems to have successfully catered to the African Americans in the area as well as the Chinese, Spanish and White so that no matter what your language, color, gender, or level of knowledge you are able to get the full positive experience.
But reaching the people is not necessarily confined to the museum space. The Laundromat project, which is not actually run by a museum, is a project that combines many different aspects bringing art and social justice to the people where they already congregate, instead of trying to get the people to come to the museum. Using laundromats or areas of congregation and utilizing them as vocal centers is an idea that social activist have used but museums have been sorely lacking in. Museums have always used artist to connect to ideas or to get people to connect to museum through art but the laundromat project aims to use artist’s ability to bring unconventional perspectives and creative solutions to challenges in an open public space. The community does not want to be treated like a child where the idea and biases that are in an institution put forward works that connect how they feel. However, pieces should be put together to let the individual, and community as a whole, unleash his/ her curiosity and get the mind thinking on its own without having someone else voice putting thoughts in their heads. Free thought is something that is hard to come about in a museum because of biases of the institution and its curators. Therefore, going back to the highest level of community engagement is the idea of community leads where the individual community comes up with the program getting rid of any institutional biases (with the hope that the community is open minded)
In conclusion, I thought this last class was a great way to finish the semester off. The whole semester we have been talking about inclusion- inclusion of people of color, people with disabilities, people outside of the museum. But as a whole this focus has been on people outside of the museum usually further away. This final week, with the very energetic presentation by Monica, closes off the semester by reminding us that while it is very important to bring people in, it is just as important to make sure that the people in the immediate environment of the museum know that they are always welcome. This brings to mind the activity that we had sometime in the middle of the semester where we asked ourselves if certain museums were targeting local audiences or if their targets were for the general public. No matter where the “focus” of the museum is we should always be welcome and open to each and every person no matter where they are from, who they are or what background they come from and always with a smile.