I described my intentions for this blog to a friend as “another white voice screaming into the void,” which is true.
I had a lot to say about museums before this year, but who could resist from adding their voice to the din now? Museums are a hot topic (and a hot mess) right now.
As a person who lives and breathes museums I get my eyeballs on all sorts of articles, blog posts and Facebook posts about ’em. I’m subscribed to many list serves, have a membership to Museum Educator Roundtable and receive their quarterly journal. I attend professional development opportunities. I irritate my coworkers by inserting at least once per weekly meeting, “I just read this article…” I grasp wildly at knowledge and endlessly seek to understand more about this field. I follow other museums and accounts about museums on social media.
Recently, my Instagram feed has almost been equally balanced between pictures – what it built its reputation on – and words. Many social justice-leaning accounts use the 10 carousel slide format to convey information. Stories are crammed with narrative. Captions are long.
In the past eight weeks since we sprang into action following the bubbling over of anger over the deaths of unarmed black people, I have hungrily read even more about social justice than my usual. I’ve began to question the amount of words we use in short snippets. On the other end of the spectrum, the articles I do read are meaty and scholarly. On the continuum of hashtag to hegemony (hegemony is my substitute word that I use to mean “academic jargon not for the layman”), there is little I’m getting my hands on regularly that falls in the middle. The same imbalance exists with podcasts. Hannah Hethmon’s has influenced museums and encouraged us to enter this realm of information. In my experience, 99% of the museum podcasts are about specific museums. It’s hard to find an outlet for people talking frankly about the field. We have blogs and podcasts about fashion, comedy, literature, education, so on and so forth, but the realm of the museum field remains restricted to hashtag, or hegemony.
Social media is a bombardment. Disparate messages and images lie atop each other. The swirl of information is dizzying. Twitter threads??? Someone, help me understand how and why Twitter threads became the way that we analyze our world in 2020. I’m trying to read the narrative, the replies start popping up, I worry that if I step away from my phone I won’t figure out where I left off. Fam, we can do better than Twitter threads. There’s nothing wrong with using social media as a platform. Lizzo does it. I do it. But this practice, the “hashtag” end of the spectrum, doesn’t tell a complete story. Deeply meaningful personal experiences are reduced to click bait. Read that again – the experiences are deeply meaningful. But they’re shortchanged.
On the hegemony side, folks are diving deep into theory. This theory is true, and good. But mention of practice is often lacking. We would like to democratize museums, but we struggle to even democratize our thinking about them. Educators strain to prove that we are equally as educated as our curatorial counterparts by over-academizing our arguments, instead of working side by side to demand recognition from our administration that we are equally important and powerful. We’re like the Air Kingdom and the Fire Kingdom.
The issue I take here is that we claim that we want people to be able to see themselves in the museum. We claim that it’s important to us to break down barriers. Yet, we often can’t get out of our own way. We don’t value the real lived experience of the family that we chat with on our way through the kids’ corner. Instead we furiously research in order to endlessly categorize and quantify in order to write papers that will make us feel like we’ve said something. (And will help us present at an elite conference.)
This disconnect of lived experience from theory is showing up in the ways that we choose to educate ourselves, in addition to the ways we choose to write. Educators and concerned individuals (myself included) have gobbled up resources such as White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism and How to be an Anti-Racist. These texts are useful, but they will not save us in the way that diversifying the art we consume and people we surround ourselves with will. When these types of resources are consumed without the context of people of color in our lives, they function as a handbook. Similarly, if we seek to diversify our museum practice, and explain how museum learning is important for equity and inclusion by theorizing it, we shoot ourselves in our desperately hoping to be welcome foot. We must do, and write about what we do, to ground our theories about what we do in the real world with the real people that make our work possible.
Museum Drip is by no means the only blog occupying a middling ground, of course. One of my favorite resources that I am inspired by on nearly a weekly basis is https://artmuseumteaching.com/. Nina Simon and Museum 2.0 are OG sources of inspiration, and she continues to do great work. Kimberly Drew is not to be ignored (by anyone, anywhere, ever.) I’m super thirsty for folks to share who all else is living in this middling ground, too, so please don’t be stingy with your resources.
Above all, this post is a plea to remember that thoughtfulness is tantamount to the work of undoing and unlearning. Our Tweetstorms (who is in charge of making this no longer a word) and our Instagram stories can wake us up when we think we’re getting comfortable – but please don’t stop there. Please keep reading, keep surrounding yourself with the opinions and perspectives of people who don’t look like you, and please explain to me what “hegemony” means one more time, thank you.