Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Reflections on 2020

Learning from challenges is one of the hardest things for me. I can’t help but wallow in my mistakes and relive my frustrations. So, if you’re not quite ready to learn from 2020, that’s fine. Also, if you have quite got it into your mind to think about The After, that’s okay. But here are some of my reflections from this year in museum work:

Camp Life: I came to camping late and through my children. What I thought of as dirty and cold often turned out to be that way. But, also, it was fun to put whole potatoes in roaring fires and eat wild blackberries. Much of this year has been a bit like camping. We did many of the things we did before, but with many fewer resources. Some of those things were about as much fun as going to the bathroom in the woods, but others were as magical as sleeping on the beach under a forest of stars. We probably won’t entirely be able to assess the latter. It will only come to us later.

Grief: My most significant take away from this year is that grief in the professional sphere is real. I’ve had plenty of personal work problems, as anyone would. But those were localized. The widespread national loss we’ve felt as a field is enormous. The long-term ramifications of this year on museums will transform the field.  

When People Show You Who They Are, Believe Them: When we experience fear and loss in our personal lives, we also got to experience people acting like themselves. This was not also welcome. Some people came through their worst work experience by making it worse for others. Others didn’t. I appreciate the latter.

We’ve been hurt: I asked people for their museum trigger words. Wow, did I get a response. Many of the words were ones that we’d used and overused. Community anyone? We’d denuded these words to fit our agendas. We’d transformed their meaning to fit our context. We’d said them and meant something else. But, mostly in that enormous, edifying thread, we’d not done right by ourselves. By not saying what we meant or using language to mask our intentions, we’d decreased our ability to do good.

We’re Careworn: In that thread, too, I noticed how part of the reason we felt triggered by language was that we cared. People took advantage of our desire to do the work we cared about. We got little out of our care; many were too low on the rung (or not in curatorial) to get credit, and most of us were underpaid.

Change is Possible: We were change and risk adverse, until we couldn’t be any more. For example, we like subtle signs until it was life or death. And it didn’t kill us to add more signs. That should be a sign that many of the things we were dragging our feet on, we’re worth it. 

The Future: I’ve not been so exhausted about thinking about the future since I was a senior in high school. It’s uncertain, and it feels out of my control. Like with college admissions, I did have some control over my grades and my essay, so I was partly in control. I just had to admit that to myself. Similarly, our future is somewhat in our control.  I’ve been thinking a lot about 2006, one-half decade after 9/11. If you asked me in 2001 where we’d be, I’d have no idea what exact changes would come out of that transformative moment in society.

Similarly, I don’t have the foresight for what 2025 will be like. I’d be careful not to say your guess is as good as mine. Once you feel ready, you should start making not only educated guesses but also educated actions.

In the dead of winter of this terrible year, this is the moment to start creating your hopes for the future. You can put into place small changes. You can combine forces with others to put in place larger ripples. You can improve yourself. You can start planning for the better. 

Said, differently, the future can be the one we collectively make. It won't get better anytime soon. But soon is when we need to act to make it better. 

One change, I’d love is more collaboration. For example, I have an idea that we have all this great content we produced this year. I bet together we could come up with something, like an online course, to meet the needs of people in what will be a long winter. Interested? Join me. (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd3V10RVkr_EbOL0mDh2WPFu1xUXzAlKDtgXlXblXBZiGEJTA/viewform)

What are your biggest takeaways from 2020? Also, would love to hear your favorite blog posts (from other blogs) about museums from 2020, so I can give them a shout out. 

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