Wednesday, June 05, 2019

A Long Interview as I say Goodbye to the MAH (and Thoughts on the Privilege of Leading Change)

Some of our courageous team. We are strong together.
I'm in my final week at the MAH. It's everything I hoped and feared: sweet, exciting, sad, poignant, and full of delicious treats and surprises from my loving, zany colleagues.

Geoffrey Dunn, a fabulous writer and collaborator, just published a big cover interview with me in our local weekly, the Good Times. We talked Abbott Square, community issue exhibitions, surfing, and the beauty and struggle of community-driven change. If you're curious to hear more about what I'm most proud of in my eight years at the MAH, I hope you'll check it out.

I was proud to work with amazing colleagues to lead major change at the museum. We made it a more inclusive, relevant, and successful place. It was not easy. But it was needed. And it was worth it.

My favorite question Geoffrey asked me was about engaging with people who were critical of the transformation of the MAH. Here's his question and my full answer (which was edited down for length in the published article).

Geoffrey wrote: 
Some of the changes you imposed on the museum, including Abbott Square, generated criticism, mostly from some of the old guard types who wanted more traditional explorations of art and history.

Here's my full response:
Not everyone liked how we, and I, led the MAH. But as a leader, I have to weigh those small number of critical voices against the hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic people who got newly involved - including many who had never felt welcome in a museum before. For every critic, there were literally a thousand new people telling us how grateful they were for the changes.

In a lot of ways, I’m embarrassed I spent as much emotional energy on those critics as I did. I had to remind myself that every minute I spent worrying about someone who didn’t like what we were doing - someone who was never going to like what we were doing! - was a minute I wasn’t spending on someone who could and would benefit from being involved. Over time, I learned to bless and release those critics, so I could focus on the people who were ready to engage.

When I think of the loudest critics of our work, I think of people who wanted the MAH to be a more exclusive, elitist, academic place. I think that’s the wrong vision for a public institution. I think it’s the wrong vision for Santa Cruz. For a museum to survive and thrive today, it must be relevant and meaningful for many people from many backgrounds. It must sway to the pulse of the cultural community in which it resides. It must be radically inclusive, constantly working to invite new people to connect for new reasons. That’s what we tried to do at the MAH.

And these changes were not just my doing. The board hired me with the specific mandate to make the MAH “a thriving, central gathering place.” I hired community organizers and creative convenors. We made it our mission to open the museum up. To younger people. To Latinx people. To people who were unsure if their story, their art, their voice mattered in our community. We made the MAH a museum of “and” - art AND history, participation AND contemplation, loud Friday nights and quiet Tuesday afternoons. The friction, the hybridity, different people from different walks of life colliding through art and history and public life - that’s what building a more connected community is all about.

People often are afraid to lead change because they know that some will resist that change. That’s true. But it’s also true that if you are changing an organization to be more inclusive and relevant, many, many people will fall in love with the change. They will thank you for the change. They will push you to keep changing. I don’t see leading change as hard or painful. I see it as a great privilege and I feel lucky to do it.


To all the inclusive changemakers out there: I honor your courage. I honor your struggle. It's worth it. 
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