FRIDAY Fast Five: Diverse voices, inclusive organisations

In the spirit of our up-coming theme, DIVERSITY, and given that it was World Day of Social Justice last Saturday, I thought it would be a good time to look at some positive museum/gallery/cultural sector initiatives from around the world that promote/encourage/actively advocate social inclusion and diversity in their programmes, exhibitions and culture.

Looking in to this issue, even in the small I have for this post, is mind-blowingly encouraging. I will admit to getting a little emotional about the whole things. There are some truly AMAZING things going on in the cultural sector. Like, legit inspiring things. Organisations and people dedicated to making art and culture accessible to everyone. Making sure, to the best of their abilities, the no-one misses out. People and policies making sure that museums/galleries are positioned to make long-lasting positive changes in their communities. And in the process re-defining what those communities look like.

1. Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wale's Transforming Futures- Cultural Participation for Children and Young People Experiencing Poverty

Amgueddfa Cymru have a whooooole bunch of awesome socially inclusive initiatives going on including a Child Protection Policy, Disability Equity Scheme, Equality and Diversity Policy, and their Welsh Language Scheme. But it was Transforming Futures that really affected me. It reminded me of Matariki's excellent Barriers to Access piece, and speaks to the idea that a culturally enriched start in life should be available to all children. It is a real attempt to not only bring attention to the cultural exclusion often experienced by children living in poverty, but attempts to find real answers. They ask the question: "What steps can be taken to make sure that those whose lives are most severely affected by poverty do not miss out on the benefits that cultural participation can bring?" There's a downloadable PDF on their website - it's well worth a read. In fact, it's mandatory.

2. Queens Museum, Do you want the cosmetic version or do you want the real deal? Los Angeles Poverty Department 1985-2014, January 31 - May 11 2014.

In February 2014, Queen's Museum presented the first ever survey show of LAPD (Los Angeles Poverty Department). "Founded in 1985 on Los Angeles’s Skid Row by performance artist, director, and activist John Malpede, LAPD is made up principally of homeless or formerly homeless people and has been an uncompromising force in performance and urban advocacy for almost 30 years. " The show included documentation of works, live performances and residencies including the performance piece, States of Incarceration - "a performance, an installation, and an event architecture on the topic of the California prison system. Prison bunkbeds are crammed wall-to-wall into a gallery, and the audience sits amidst the performers, who deliver monologues in the narrow aisles, sweep or scrub the bedframes, or sleep or ruminate on their backs, individually or as a chorus in choreographed sequences. " Of the presentation, WNYC Art critic Deborah Solomon said, "Museums are supposed to do two things: One is preserve objects and the other is engage the community. A museum like MoMA is no longer engaging the community; its just engaging construction companies, to put up more space."

3. Royal Air Force Museum, Autism Friendly Trail

Initiated by Education Officer Ellen Lee of the Museum’s Access & Learning Development department, this initiative includes a dedicated section for accessibility within the Museum’s website and a downloadable autism friendly trail, including a quiet room, which visitors can utilise if they are feeling overwhelmed. According to Lee, the effect of this attempt at inclusion was immediately evident:

"Personally, this was highlighted during the summer holidays last year, when a young mother approached me. She had two children, one of whom had autism. The child was very distressed, and she asked me if there was anywhere quiet she could take him. I led her to the Quiet room and suggested that she could stay as long as she needed. I pointed out the dimmer switch and advised her that if she needed any help to ask for me. The look on her face said it all; she was so grateful, and told me it was nice to visit somewhere where the staff understood and did not just assume that her children were being naughty. It was a rewarding feeling to know that what we offer is not just tokenism, but is actually a tangible and valid provision that is really helpful to, and appreciated by, visitors with autism."

4. Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC)

This initiative brings together "a diverse group of 12 young artists and art enthusiasts who ensure that events for teens are part of the Walker’s overall program throughout the year. Meeting weekly after school, WACTAC members identify opportunities in the Walker’s exhibition schedule for teens to connect with contemporary art and artists. They also design their own creative projects to augment the institution’s offerings." Not only is this an act of social inclusion in itself (in my opinion teens are a neglected bunch when we are thinking about accessibility, relevance and programming in museums and galleries) these kids have ideas. GREAT ideas. Including initiating discussions with artists around how institutions can  be more socially inclusive and diverse: "Members of the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC) often discuss the role of artists and museums in social and racial justice—and these conversations have taken on new significance in light of recent demonstrations across the country calling for police reform and racial equity. To further these discussions and bring them online, we invited Yonci Jameson, a Twin Cities teen artist, queer black woman, and social justice activist, to share her recommendations for both artists and arts institutions interested social change."

5. Happy Museums Project

The Happy Museum Project "provides a leadership framework for museums to develop a holistic approach to well-being and sustainability.  The project re-imagines the museum’s purpose as steward of people, place and planet, supporting institutional and community wellbeing and resilience in the face of global challenges." It is guided by 6 founding principles:

  • Create the conditions for well-being
  • Value the environment and be a steward of the future as well as the past
  • Be an active citizen
  • Pursue mutual relationships
  • Learn for resilience
  • Measure what matters

And what matters is people: "Counting visitors tells us nothing about the quality of their experience or the contribution it made to their well-being... ask your audience how your work affects them emotionally; don’t wait for someone else to design the perfect metrics – talk to people, understand what makes them feel happier, measure that."

This has been a bit of a wordy edition of Fast Five, but these are topics worthy of words. If you made it to the end, congratulations! First prize. You are one in a million. Here's your treat. Trust me, it's a goodie: