Museum Practices in Action
How do we do our museum work and why? Which philosophies if any inform our museum practice? Lorraine Bell and Michelle Willard of Mighty Museum engaged in an email exchange on adult education philosophies and whether they shape museum professionals practices. And of most interest, how and why do some professionals engage in activism work within their museums?
Lorraine referenced an article written by University of British Columbia Professor, Pierre Walter. Pierre’s paper creates a ‘typology’ of environmental adult education, and Lorraine suggested doing something similar with museum education/activism. Lorraine’s idea is to work on creating a typology that museum workers can reference about various dimensions of their work to help them identify their own learning philosophies; situate their own practices and evaluate whether and how they align with their educational and social philosophies. i.e. matching activist practice with the theory. (Pierre Walter’s article here: philosophies of EAE (2)
After reading the article Michelle reflected on how her museum practice is shaped. The narrative follows:
“I never thought I was radical! Funny, right!? I thought I was doing what a good museum worker should do!…(i.e. decolonising museums, breaking the settler narrative, collaborating with diverse partners and groups, showcasing uncomfortable stories/history)… I was trained at the University of British Columbia, Museum of Anthropology, influenced especially by the late Dr. Michael Ames, who highlighted that you need to hook the visitor. If you scare them away you can’t convert them! He was about activism too. Shaking things up in the museum. In ways, I am of various philosophies and I reference some here from the Pierre Walter article:
- Liberal (in the sense of how museum work can be for the enlightenment of citizens) this is where you can hook someone
- Progressive (as a museum worker we can guide citizens to learn in the museum space we have made with possible learning for the betterment of the human condition)
- Humanistic (museums can and should be places for self directed learning and my philosophy with coworkers is for cooperative learning)
- Radical (as a museum teacher and co investigator, reading the world, encouraging visitors to do the same, social transformation, and learners/humans as active agents)
I believe if you make the tone of an exhibit too radical you run the risk of alienating some visitors, making them move away from it, and you won’t hook those who tend to lean in another direction, have different beliefs and or who have never been exposed to radical thinking. There is a real balance to it – I guess it is about “sneaking in the subversive message” and still making the reader feel included in the narrative. So the tone I use in writing exhibit text is quite particular. I aim to try to present the information so that the reader can consider other realities and still identify in some way. Perhaps I am of the “missionary” activist school. It is a new philosophy we can add. (chuckles) Since I see museums as possible places to convert people’s thinking to social justice thinking.” How have your museum practices been informed? How has your work been shaped and influenced? We’d love to hear from you.