Museums and a Community-Connected Staff

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It’s Sunday morning. Leadership Matters has just returned from 36 hours away. We went to Seneca Falls, NY, to join 10,000 people in support of women’s rights–but particularly women of color and transgender and queer women–whose workplace issues, even in the august halls of museums and heritage organizations, dwarf complaints from their more privileged white sisters.

Why Seneca Falls? For readers from outside the United States, Seneca Falls was home to the first women’s rights convention in 1848. Yes, it’s dismaying that we’re still having a variation of the same conversation 169 years later, but so be it. The day was glorious. The speeches, from march organizer and Auburn, NY mayor Marina Carnicelli, to tribal leaders from the Seneca and Akwesasne Mohawk nations, to our own Sally Roesch Wagner, a professor, author, speaker, and museum founder who we interviewed for Leadership Matters, were inspiring. They were uplifting not just for their words, but because while we listened we were part of the 4+ million people on seven continents who took time to stand up for what they believe in.

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Which brings us to our real focus: How important it is for museum staff to participate, not just in the life of the museum, but in the community. Don’t say you don’t have time. Do you vote? Can you recognize your state representatives, your city council people people, your town select people if you see them on the street? Do you speak to them? What do you do as a staff or as individuals to make your community a better place? If the answer is not much, think about what would happen if your staff showed up to help pack or serve food at the local soup kitchen, if you picked up trash in a local park or took old photographs to the community nursing home?

Museums are like novels or poems. They provide visitors a chance to step outside their own lives, to experience something different, and to make connections to the world they live in. As museum staff, how can we do our best work, interpret the past, link art and culture or connect to the natural world, unless we actually live in it? So as we begin 2017, make a promise to participate. Do what you can. Do what engages you. If you need inspiration, check out the Womensmarch 10 actions in 100 Days. Even if this isn’t “your” issue, it’s a great model for engagement. That way on January 1, 2018, when you look back, maybe it will be with a new understanding and commitment to some part of your community, city or region.

Good luck and let us know how you participate.

Joan Baldwin

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4 Comments on “Museums and a Community-Connected Staff”

  1. evelyn says:

    Definetly important to get involved in your community. I do through youth sports. I am staying out of politics and marches. There are many other ways to make a difference without alienating those whose politics differ and making feel fearful to speak their minds. Women can make as much difference working in a soup kitchen or men’s shelter as they can marching, screaming slogans and holding signs.

  2. Michelle Zupan says:

    Excellent post, Joan. I served as one of the organizers for the Atlanta Social Justice & Women’s March this weekend; my co-worker volunteered as a peace marshal for the March. It was important to us to not only represent our beliefs, but also the thousands of children we see every year — the majority of whom are black and Central American and from Title 1 schools. If the budget proposal from he who shall not be named goes through then funding for NEA and NEH will be gone. Museum professionals will have to become more politically proactive to keep those cuts from spreading to IMLS and at the state levels.

  3. Ka says:

    I think interacting with the community to make it a better place is important, especially as a museum employee. One of the things I am involved in is cemetery preservation. We have many family cemeteries here and many rural ones that all need protection. It’s an important cause to many people here.
    I do not engage in politics and choose neutral territory. I I live in a red state and do not want to anger any donors/potential donors. Besides, I’d rather listen to all sides of an argument.

    • Evelyn Fidler says:

      Well said Ka! I was always told that it was in the best interests of Museum employees to not engage publically in politics from one side or the other.


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