Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Kids, Coercion, and Co-Design

There's a constant dialogue in participatory work about how to make peoples' contributions meaningful. I've written about different structures for participatory processes (especially in museums), and recently, I've been interested in how we can apply these structures to the design of public space. Here in Santa Cruz, my museum has embarked on a major project to redevelop the plaza outside our doors into a vibrant, cultural hub for downtown, and we are trying to make the development process as open and useful as possible.

One of the key constituencies for this plaza are families. While we spend plenty of time talking with parents and adults about what makes a place "family-friendly," there's no substitute for kids' unique perspectives. In January, as part of a series of place-making workshops facilitated by the Project for Public Spaces, we worked with a local dad to coordinate a workshop explicitly for kids (full writeup here). Their ideas were delightful, and their contributions shifted the conversation about what family-friendly really looks like.

I came out of the workshop with a mixture of joy and unease. What should we do with the ideas the kids had generated? How does their participation, which is expressed in a somewhat haphazard and spontaneous fashion, integrate with that of adults? I'm not suggesting that the kids are less valuable as participants than their parents--or even less realistic in their impulses and desires--but that our whole adult approach to collaborative processes doesn't easily absorb youthful exuberance.

Kids frequently suffer from tokenism. We given them a gold star for participating and then sweep their drawings under the rug. Children are easy to applaud, and easy to ignore.

This grappling led me to a fascinating "ladder of participation" about kids' engagement in environmental design written by Dr. Roger Hart of Cornell (1992 paper). While Dr. Hart is focused on the design of public gardens, his overall message is broad: there is participation, and there is tokenism. He's explicit about different project structures and their implications, listing five levels of participation and three of non-participation. Here's a synopsis:


1. Child-initiated, shared decisions with adults:
  • Goal isn’t about “kids’ power.”
  • Young people feel competent and confident enough in their role as community members to understand the need for collaboration and that in asking adults for their input, the project may be strengthened.
  • Lots of trust involved
  • Adults serve as listeners, observers and sounding boards (i.e. they don’t jump in with their own designs on the project, or to organize the project). For example, young people may determine that they want to clean up an old wooded hang out area in their community to create a nature trail. They learn about all aspects of creating such a trail, hold meetings to plan it, but check in with a friend’s parent in local government, several parents, and a teacher with an interest in ecology, for their diverse ways of thinking about certain aspects the project.
2. Child-initiated and directed projects:
  • Adults notice a youth-led project emerging and allow them to occur in a youth-directed fashion.
  • Hart places this second on the ladder because occasionally young people don’t trust adults enough to seek their input. The caution with this rung is in children carrying out their projects in secret because of fear of adults, or being intimidated by them. An example is a literally secret garden/ landscape that adults are not aware of.
3. Adult-initiated, shared decisions with children:
  • Adults assume nothing about what children want in the landscape.
  • Children are involved to some degree on every part of the process of garden planning, design, and implementation.
  • Children understand issues such as fundraising, garden design, or organization and management
  • Children understand how and why compromises are made, if they are necessary. They may also begin to cultivate a “language” of talking about this with others.
4. Children are consulted and informed about project:
  • Project designed and run by adults, but the children’s views and opinions are taken seriously.
  • A good example is with a survey designed to gather young people’s input into a school garden: children are informed of the purpose, they may be asked to volunteer, and afterward, they are fully informed of the results.
5. Assigned but informed:
  • Children are assigned to a project and may not initiate the project themselves, but they are fully informed about it (i.e. a school garden project)
  • Children may still have a sense of real ownership of the project.
  • A key aspect of this rung is the degree to which children are engaged in critical reflection. For example, are children just viewed as a free source of help for the garden project, or do they have a chance to reflect on it, consider it, and learn from it?


6. Tokenism:
  • The most challenging and most common among very well-meaning adults.
  • Adults are genuinely concerned about giving children a voice, but haven’t really begun to think carefully about the best approach for this.
  • The appearance of children’s involvement is there, but in fact, they have had little choice about planning the garden project, communication around it, and no time in which to critically reflect and form their own opinions.
  • An example is that adults select charming, articulate youth to talk about the garden in a public venue, but those youth haven’t had ample opportunity to critically reflect or consult with their peers. The key here is symbolic versus actual engagement and involvement.
7. Decoration:
  • Involves, quite literally, decorating children
  • For example, they may sport garden T-shirts with no involvement in organizing or understanding the program.
  • Adults use children to bolster the program as if the children were understanding participants.
  • For example, adults make children sing garden songs at a harvest festival, and it may even appear that they wrote the song, or that they were involved in organizing the garden or the festival, when in fact they were not.
8. Manipulation or Deception:
  • Adults consciously use children’s voices to carry their own message about the gardening project.
  • For example, they produce a garden poster, advertisement, or publication with drawings by children, when children aren’t involved in the program planning.
  • Adults may deny their own detailed involvement in meetings, planning, shaping the project because they think it diminishes the effectiveness or impact of the project – they may say that children are genuinely engaged, when engagement constitutes weeding or planting.
  • Adults may design a garden, have kids do a simple planting, then tell the local newspaper that kids designed and built the garden. 

Reading this ladder reminded me how easy it is to fall into the "non-participation" part of the ladder when working with any amateur participants, but especially with children. The explicit nature of the examples on levels six through eight (especially "decoration") may also be helpful in identifying times that we are treating adults as non-participants in more understated ways. We may not dress them up and make them sing songs about our projects, but sometimes, we might as well.

In the case of my project, level four is probably what is appropriate. We are engaged in active collaboration with so many stakeholders for this plaza, and kids are important but secondary contributors to the process. But more broadly, I can look at this and think about what we DON'T want to be doing--with any of our participants. Thank you, Roger Hart, for reminding me of the range of participatory opportunities and non-opportunities a project can provide... and how disastrous it can be when our words and our actions are misaligned. Let's make sure not to decorate our projects with false participation where real collaboration is possible.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Quick Hit: Long Story about the MAH

This week, the Santa Cruz Weekly's cover story is about my museum (the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History) and the work we have done to make it a more participatory, community-centered place over the past two years. The article captures a lot about our approach, from prototyping to perpetual beta to working with artists to developing successful frameworks for diverse visitors to participate. The author, Georgia Perry, talks about her own participatory reticence and how our programming invited her into active engagement in a safe and exciting way. Perry describes me as the "conductor" of a community-programmed orchestra. I love this image--not controlling everything, just helping steer the way and keep us moving forward.

I feel really lucky and grateful to live in a community that is so supportive of and engaged in experimentation in museums.

Let me know what you think of the article either here or on the Weekly's site. Enjoy!


The three years I spent as the girlfriend of a stand up comedian taught me one very important lesson: You do not, under any circumstances, sit in the front row.
I learned my lesson early on, after a knockoff Adam Sandler-type at a chintzy Long Island club spent three of his allotted five minutes commenting on the simple fact that I was eating a sandwich.
“She’s got a sandwich! What kind is it? Turkey? Turkey! Everyone, she’s got a turkey sandwich!”
I felt like I was on the bus to middle school and a bully had hijacked the driver’s PA system, announcing the contents of my lunch box to all the other kids. After that I stayed far away from the stage, watching from the backs of dimly lit rooms as other sorry audience members got trapped in the horrifying death march that is “participation.”
Because of Nina Simon.And yet, if all of what I described above is true—which it is—why then, did I leave the Museum of Art and History (the MAH) in downtown Santa Cruz on a recent Friday evening having (a) willingly contributed to a chalk-written poem on a staircase, (b) posed jauntily for a photograph intended for public display on the museum’s website while (c) holding up a colorful tissue-paper collage I made at some sort of wax art station, standing shoulder to shoulder with a half-dozen strangers?
While arts attendance is dwindling across the country, there is one place where Americans still are participating—the Internet. About 1 billion people use Facebook. YouTube has 800 million users. By contrast, the National Endowment for the Arts found that only 51 million people went to an art museum in the U.S. in 2008 (the most recent year for which they have data). But here in Santa Cruz, Simon is convinced that the two worlds can be merged.
Called a “museum visionary” by Smithsonian magazine, Nina Simon and her staff—one of whom moved here from Sweden solely for the chance to learn from her—have transformed downtown’s Museum of Art and History (MAH) from a traditional and largely unknown museum into a thriving, active hub for the entire city of Santa Cruz by asking one question: “How do we take what makes participation work on the web and embed it into a physical space?” 
Creators vs. Critics
In her book, The Participatory Museum, Simon references a study by Forrester Research, which found that online audiences participate in five different ways. There are “creators” who produce content, “critics” who rate and review, “collectors” who organize and aggregate links, “joiners” who maintain accounts on sites like Facebook, and “spectators” who read blogs and watch YouTube videos.  It is no surprise that there are far more “spectators,” “joiners” and “critics” than there are “creators.” Not everyone wants to be front and center, and thankfully that’s not the only way to participate.
Take YouTube for example. “While I agree that museums should not focus on showcasing videos of cats doing silly things, as a platform,” Simon writes, “YouTube is an extraordinary service…your participation as a view affects the status of each video in the system. Just by watching, you are an important participant.”
With an understanding of what works on the web, Simon has refocused the goals of the MAH and turned it into a warm, interactive place. The success of the museum since she became executive director in May 2011 is staggering. Attendance more than doubled in her first year, rocketing from 17,349 up to 37,361 visitors.
“Nationally, 10 percent growth in attendance is considered astronomical growth in a museum,” says Simon, “and so to have 120 percent growth is just totally wild.” 
Rocket Science—With Puppets!
Lacking an art history background, Simon instead studied engineering and math in college. She began her career at NASA, engineering prototypes for remote sensing of the Earth’s surface. In her spare time she volunteered at a science museum, doing electronics workshops and puppet shows about math. She eventually left the lucrative job at NASA to pursue museum work full time—a scary decision, especially considering her first museum job after NASA paid seven dollars an hour, and Simon was indeed scared. But she didn’t let that stop her.
“It’s not that she’s less worried or intimidated than anyone else at the start of a new challenge, but that she is very determined that she’s gonna overcome that,” says her husband Sibley. “If she needs to change then she will change and learn something new. She has a very strong can-do spirit.”
Her engineering brain stayed with her through the career change, and today she successfully uses the tools of prototyping, data-driven experimentation and what she calls “the engineering design cycle” to get back-of-the-room people like me to participate at her museum.
And participate they do. People are so involved at the MAH that Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Downtown Association Chip says that audiences not only participate at the museum, they create it.
“Nina has been brilliant in that she’s not programming [the museum]. She’s got an amazing staff, and they’re not programming it either. The community is programming the museum,” he says.
Sweatshirt Storytelling
If Santa Cruz is orchestrating the MAH, it’s safe to say that Simon is the conductor. In an afternoon spent at the museum with her—the careful engineering quietly influencing each participatory exercise, each community member contribution—this becomes clearer and clearer.
In her office, which features an entire wall covered in comment cards from the MAH’s visitors, she pulls a blue Post-It note off her computer monitor. “Kept her sweatshirt forever,” it reads.
A museum attendee wrote that as a contribution to part of an exhibition called “Love Gone Wrong” in spring of 2012. The staff at the MAH painted a broken heart on the wall with a prompt that said, “After the breakup I…” They left a bunch of Post-Its and pencils and let people finish the sentence.
After the breakup I kept her sweatshirt forever.
“I keep a lot of things people have made, but this is one of my favorites,” says Simon. “We can’t write a label that tells this story.”
But the appearance of that poetic Post-It wasn’t just dumb luck. At a staff meeting prior to the event, she and her staff each wrote a question related to breakups on a piece of paper. Then they passed the papers around and answered each other’s questions.
“When you look at the answers it becomes pretty obvious that some questions are good, and some questions are shitty,” Simon says. “We think a lot about how we design these prompts. You start to realize pretty quickly that everybody has good stories in them… And it’s my job as the designer of the space and the experience to figure out what kind of framework I can give you so that you can bring your best, most interesting self forward.”
One floor below Simon’s office, painter/sculptor Thomas Campbell is working on a behemoth 75-foot long mural, which won’t be finished for several weeks. But that’s precisely the point—his painting is intended to showcase the process of creating art, thereby making it more approachable. (It was part of the museum’s “Work in Progress” exhibit in March.)
Since starting the project, Campbell has played host to a number of school groups, and has tried to instill in them the essence of the MAH: “The first thing I say when school groups come in is, ‘Are you guys artists?’ Pretty much they’ll all say, ‘I don’t know!’ Then I say, ‘So do you guys all do art?’ And they say, ‘Yeah, of course.’ And then I say, ‘That means you’re an artist! You’re artists! Making art is being an artist!’
“Everyone’s an artist until they stop being one,” he adds.
Simon nods grandly at this. “I feel like what you’re talking about is what we’re trying to do on a big picture. Saying, ‘Yeah, you are creating, you’re not just here to look at stuff.’”
On our way out of Campbell’s gallery she points out an arrangement of three couches and a coffee table in the hallway, saying there used to be a “scary desk” there instead.
“We are always about incremental progress,” she says. “We had people donate furniture. Is it the most gorgeous thing it could be? No. But people want to sit down and have a social experience, and it’ll keep getting better.”
Unfinished Products
“A traditional museum approaches exhibits by saying, ‘We’ll design it. We’ll build it. We’ll open it. And then we’ll see at that point if it works.’ That’s not what we do. We say, ‘Let’s figure out a prototype we can make with just cardboard and some printouts, and let’s take it out onto the floor with visitors to test.’ We’re really comfortable bringing out things that are unfinished and not worrying that everything has to be perfect,” Simon says.  
The MAH wasn’t always this way, though. Before she came on board, Simon says the museum “was seen as a cold place. It was seen as a place where not a lot was happening. It was seen as a stuffy place. It was seen as a traditional place.” The museum’s board decided they wanted to cultivate more of a welcoming environment for the community to gather and participate. Simon, who was doing consulting at museums across the globe, was the right woman for the job.
Hiring Simon was “a really big moment for the museum and community in terms of the role of museums,” says the Downtown Association’s Chip. He calls what she did at the MAH “revolutionary,” and has been pleased to see how the museum’s makeover impacted Santa Cruz’s monthly First Friday events.
“When Nina came on board, right away they were open for First Fridays. They started stepping up and really participating and being active…The museum has played a huge role in First Friday’s growth. A lot of people have the idea, ‘It’s First Friday, let’s go start at the museum, and then we can fan out from there to all over town.’ There’s a certain gravity that has been really valuable to First Friday,” he says.
First Friday night events are by far the MAH’s most popular, generally drawing crowds of close to 2,000. Regular weekday attendance is rarely more than eight or ten people. In addition, the MAH holds themed Third Friday events and is open late on second and fourth Fridays, too. Third Fridays are organized by the museum’s Director of Community Programs, Stacey Marie Garcia, and usually bring in between 300 and 500 visitors.
For every Third Friday event, Garcia works with anywhere from 30 to 150 different organizations that come together to create themed events with dozens of stations for people to participate. Because of the MAH’s growing reputation as a hub for the community, more and more artists and organizations are coming to the MAH, asking how they can get involved in producing a Friday night event.
“Last year we had a woman named Anna Pollack come in and say that there’s this issue about the bee population depleting and she would love to raise awareness about that. So she worked with us to design this entire event around the idea. We showed the bee film, we had bee keepers come in—they stayed in a case, so it was good—we did some activities with encaustics using wax,” Garcia says.  
Garcia met Simon while in art history graduate school in Sweden. Simon came to lecture the same day she got the job at the MAH. Garcia immediately asked if she needed an intern, and followed her to Santa Cruz. She has since been hired full time. “I came because I knew [Simon] is doing innovative things in the museum world right now and making huge steps. I wanted to learn from that,” she says.
“It’s unique to work in an organization where your boss is pushing you to do the wildest and craziest thing you can. I think that’s why we’ve been successful in certain areas—because we take risks.” 
Let It Burn
The biggest risk they’ve taken, says Garcia, was last spring’s Glow/Fire Festival. Burning Man artists approached the MAH about doing a fire festival. “Go for it,” said Simon, and Garcia set about coordinating with the city, the fire department and, of course, the artists to ensure the event was a success. It was, and they have another one planned for October 2013.
Garcia has been consistently impressed by the community’s contributions, dedicating time to participate in and organize events.
“It takes a lot of dedication and drive. We’re lucky. We’re really lucky. Nina’s been a big driver in that. She really changed the way the community viewed the museum and the way the museum viewed the community, too.”

Article reposted with permission from Santa Cruz Weekly.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guest Post: Oh Snap! Experimenting with Open Authority in the Gallery

Visitor-contributed photos surround a collection piece
in Carnegie Museum of Art's Oh Snap! project.
It can be incredibly difficult to design a participatory project that involves online and onsite visitor engagement... so I was intrigued when I heard about a recent success from Jeffrey Inscho, Web and Digital Media Manager at Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. In this guest post, Jeffrey shares the story behind their big hit with a visitor co-created exhibition.

Several months ago, a cross-departmental group of staffers at Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh got together to explore ways the museum could become more flexible, nimble and interactive with respect to way we engage audiences, both on-site and online. The result of those meetings and brainstorming sessions recently manifested itself in our Forum Gallery as an experimental photography project called Oh Snap! Your Take on Our Photographs.

Project Background

I don't want to get lost in the weeds with respect to the mechanics and back-end details, but I think it's important to include some context about the project so we can effectively explore what's working and what's not. At its core, Oh Snap! is a project that lets real-world and virtual visitors share their work in our gallery. The museum selected and is featuring 13 works recently added to our photography collection. Each work was specifically chosen for its potential to inspire creative responses. We then invited people to submit their own photographic responses (via the web) inspired by one of the 13 works from the project.

Each day, the museum prints out new submitted photographs and hangs them alongside their inspirations in the gallery. When a participant's work is selected, we let them know via email when it will be on view, and send out a free admission pass so they can visit their submission in the museum.
It's a bit complicated to explain in writing, but this video does a good job of summarizing the project.

We're seeing tons of excitement around this project and a huge level of participation, especially for a museum just dipping its toe in the waters of open authority. Since the project launch on February 21, we've received 685 submissions from participants across the United States, Europe and South America.

Here are some reasons why I think Oh Snap! is killing it:

We See Participants as Partners

The thesis of Oh Snap! hinges on the ideas experimentation, uncertainty and partnership. We opened the gallery with empty walls (save the 13 collection works) and it could have very well stayed that way until the project closes in April. We took a HUGE risk when we trusted our audience to help us create something cool, not only on the web, but in a museum.

A website can fail softly, however there's no avoiding the awkwardness if we open a gallery and have nothing on the walls for several months. I think participants realize that we're relying on them to make this work.

We Make it Easy

Another key to the success of the project is that we lowered the barrier of entry for participants. Graphically, both on-site and online, the project is very inviting. Warm purple tones invite curiosity and modern iconography convey relevance to a younger, digitally-connected demographic.

We built a responsive website that renders elegantly across all devices and capitalizes on user impulse by allowing participants to submit photos instantly from their mobile phone or tablet's camera roll, as well as desktop computers. We also developed the site so each submitted photo had its own URL and threaded comment stream so discussions could take place around the submitted works. Social integrations are important so we infused easy sharing via Facebook and Twitter wherever possible.

When early feedback indicated users were confused about the submission process, we fine-tuned our language and quickly produced a promo video that distills the complete process in a hilarious 2-minute story.

In the gallery, we hung custom-made Post-It note pads on object title cards so visitors could take a reminder to submit an image with them when they left the gallery. We put couches and a coffee table in the room to entice visitors to spend time with the works and create a comfortable environment.

We did all of this to make it as easy as possible for someone to be a part of the project. We don't have control over whether or not a visitor participates, but we can control the participation environment so it is a delightful experience.

We Blur Digital and Real-World Experiences

The biggest difference between Oh Snap! and other crowd-sourced photography projects is the physical manifestation of tactile objects in the gallery. Too often, projects like this live exclusively on the web and have no "real-world" presence. We knew from the beginning that this project needed to effectively marry the digital with the real-world, with the goal of blurring lines between the two.

We found humor and fun to be great bridges between the physical and digital environments. From the language used on the website and in automated emails, to the promo video, to the gallery texts and Launch Party, we took every opportunity to infuse fun at every interaction point, be it online or in the gallery. This common thread unifies a multi-platform project like Oh Snap! and creates a consitent experience no matter how or where a user interacts with the project.

We See No Finish Line

Finally, and perhaps the most vital component to the success of the project is its unfinished nature. Oh Snap! is truly an "exhibition in beta." It's evolving and living and organic. We can change up the gallery if we need to. We can change the way the website functions or add elements as we need them. We're not locked into a traditional exhibition format and we have the ability to stay nimble.

We've also structured this project so we can maintain an ongoing dialog with participants even after the Oh Snap! gallery closes. When this project is officially over, we'll take what we learned and apply it to the next experiment, hopefully building on the work and insights gained from this project. We're not sure what that next experiment will be, but we're looking forward to trying something new.

If you have a question or comment for Jeffrey and the Oh Snap! team, please share it. Jeffrey will be checking in here over the next couple of weeks to respond.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

On White Privilege and Museums

Two weeks ago, Roberto Bedoya asked several arts bloggers, including me, to write a post reflecting on Whiteness and its implications for the arts. I am in no way an expert in issues related to racial and ethnic representation in the arts. I write this piece in good faith about the organizations I know best: museums.

As a feminist, when I really think about this issue, I realize that it's not solely one of Whiteness. It is one of privilege, and so for the most part, I'm going to cast it in that way.

The vast majority of American museums are institutions of white privilege. They tell histories of white male conquest. They present masterpieces by white male artists and innovations by white male scientists. The popular reference point for what a museum is--a temple for contemplation--is based on a Euro-centric set of myths and implies a white set of behaviors. Other reference points for museums--as community centers, as place-based narrative vehicles, as social or performance spaces--are suspect and often branded as "unprofessional."

Three quick lenses on Whiteness and privilege in museums:
  1. Whiteness is in the language we use to describe the objects that we show and the programs we produce. When non-white stories are told, they are always flagged as such--an exhibition of Islamist scientific inventions or women pioneers or African-American artists. I will never forget walking through a major art institution in San Francisco and being shocked by the fact that artwork in the African and Oceanic sections was often labeled with modifiers like "beautiful,"--words intended to legitimize that only exacerbated the sense that these objects were not legitimate artworks in their own right. I never saw comparable adjectives used in the European art labels at the museum. I remember a photography exhibition in Boston where one photograph of three young ballerinas was labeled with their names. A second image, of three ballerinas with Down Syndrome, were labeled with their difference. The message, when museums produce targeted campaigns or events or exhibitions for non-white audiences is: we acknowledge you as others in our midst. Not as humans, or artists, or scientists, or dancers. As others.
  2. Whiteness is in the way professionals react to non-white projects. I wrote an angry response post two years ago to Edward Rothstein's New York Times denunciation of "identity museums" as inappropriately attention-seeking and "me"-oriented. As if every white museum is not itself an "identity museum" of the privileged, white "me." The insidious thing about privilege is the opportunity to stop using a modifier like "identity" or "white" and instead refer to your culture as canonical.
  3. Whiteness is in the behaviors we expect of our visitors, volunteers, and staff members. I recall one particularly ugly incident in St. Louis in which museum marketers required staff members to delink a signature youth program's web presence from the main site because the kids involved were "too black" for the brand image of the institution. Just last month, there was the story of the low-income family kicked out of a Paris museum for being "too smelly." Privilege sanctions white institutions to make ugly assumptions and choices at cross-purposes to their messages about diversity and inclusivity.
The white privilege frame distorts the extent to which museums can represent and reflect the diversity of humanity. This distortion is not merely political or theoretical. The sad irony is that the Whiteness of museums is crippling their future--not just for multi-racial or marginalized audiences, but for everyone. When the NEA reports twenty years of declining participation in traditional arts institutions, it's not portraying a mass exodus of African-American and Latino audiences. It's talking about white people. One of the odd artifacts of white privilege is the privilege to ignore the fact that an increasing percentage of white people don't find museums relevant.

The "temple for contemplation" construct is the most damaging myth about museums in existence today. It doesn't match actual visitor behavior (most people visit museums in groups and self-report that their social experience is one of the top three reasons for their enjoyment of the museum). It doesn't match visitor motivation (John Falk's extensive visitor identity research has shown that "spiritual pilgrimage" fits a small minority of visit motivations). It doesn't match arts engagement preferences for active, social experiences. And yet it looms in the popular culture, preventing would-be participants of all backgrounds from discovering the ways that a museum visit can fulfill other identity-related needs.

Unsurprisingly, the museums that are bucking these trends are those that have embraced a different reference point: one of an interactive, educational, social experience. I'm talking about zoos, aquaria, science centers, and children's museums--all of which do a much better job supporting and stewarding diverse participation than traditional art, history, and science museums. These museums offer more inclusive experiences, and they reach broader audiences.

The most galling artifact of white privilege in museums is expressed in their extreme reluctance to confront the reality of increasing irrelevance. Only an organization in the most privileged position could experience declining participation and argue that its relevance is increased because of its relative rarity. Only an organization suffering from extreme delusion and a healthy endowment could dismiss inclusive forms of engagement as "pandering." I have worked with white museums in majority-black cities that are neither willing nor forced to accept the fact that they are not representative of their communities. The fact that a city or state history museum could blithely disenfranchise the majority of its citizens is shocking. And it's made possible because of the privileged position of Whiteness.

How is this discussion different in 2013 than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, when the "diversity wars" were raging at museums and other arts institutions? When I look back on debates and writings from that time, the statements about inclusion and fairness are just as apt as if they were written today. The difference, I think, is two-fold:
  1. On the positive side, there is more data, and therefore more arsenal, to mount an argument that the position of Whiteness and privilege in traditional museums and arts institutions is unrepresentative of our entire population's interests and needs. Shifting ideas about authority, access to information, and arts participation crosses racial, socio-economic, and generational boundaries. White privilege is becoming increasingly antiquated and indefensible. 
  2. On the negative side, increased efforts at inclusion have been treated primarily as add-ons and not as necessary changes to the heart of white institutions. Now, when asked about diversity, most white institutions can point to a particular program or initiatives and say, "we've got that covered." In the worst cases, demographically-targeted programs can be used as fundraising shills ("poverty pimping") to protect the white privilege machine that most of the budget fuels. The overall result is that white museums are grossly unprepared to meet the challenge of dramatic shifts in demographics and cultural engagement interests. They've added colorful patches to their garments when the whole cloth needs to change. 
I am a white woman. I cannot change my race or gender. What I can do is acknowledge the privileged frame which I have been granted, and try with humility and openness to relentlessly challenge and expand it. I feel this is something that we have to do both personally and institutionally to make our organizations as relevant and essential as possible.