Some thoughts are coalescing ahead of the 2017 MGS conference, Inequalities: Bridging the Gap. I hope to have wrangled these disparate ideas into a coherent contribution by the time we meet in October; but I thought I would blog about a couple of the issues surfacing for me three months before the gathering.
Pan-UK research commissioned by the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) is underway exploring Diversifying Museum Visitors. For AIM, ‘increasing the diversity of their visitors is one of the aims of many museums. It directly relates to the core purpose of museums, as well as offering the opportunity to support museums’ sustainability. Whilst there have been previous studies in the museum and related sectors, progress towards this goal has been limited for the majority of museums.’
This project selected twenty museums from across the UK to be involved as Pioneers or Explorers from over sixty applications. Of the Pioneer museums, only one (Glasgow Women’s Library) is from Scotland. Why? What does this say about Scottish Museums’ progress in addressing structural, institutional and attitudinal inequalities? How is our work on seemingly still-entrenched inequalities in Scottish museums (reflective of both social inequalities and that of the wider UK museums sector) impacting on the actual and perceived barriers for people with Protected Characteristics (and from specific socio-economical backgrounds, that is, the poorer people in our societies)? What strategies are making a difference to people’s accessing of the cultural and heritage resources to which they are entitled? Where diverse audiences are engaged, to what extent is their involvement ‘lite’ or more meaningfully impacting upon the shaping of the museums of the future?
The museums sector in Scotland, and in the wider context of the UK, is experiencing a paradigm shift as feminists whose personal and activist histories are increasingly taking their place in institutions as museum curators, directors and figureheads. Coincidently, ‘third wavers’, young women identifying as archive and museum activists (reflective of the Archival Turn in Feminism charted by Kate Eichhorn) are joining the field. They bring hugely different perspectives on and expectation about (in)equalities and how museums of the future should be experienced. How could the Scottish museums sector be in the vanguard of changing institutions to become more relevant to all? What would need to happen?
My feelings are that the case for equality has not yet been made powerfully enough for the widespread understanding and embracing of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion throughout our sector. In order to be sustainable (and especially when riding the tides of uncharted political waters) museums need to become places that are passionately championed by the widest audiences, visitors and users, and this happens when they are truly reflective of and responsive to people’s diverse lives and histories.
I am looking forward to hearing about the projects that are pioneering work when we meet in October; and to exploring the points of resistance to changing the EDI picture in productive and positive ways; before, during and after the conference.
MGS Conference 2017
Inequalities: Bridging the Gap
Thu 12 Oct: John McIntyre Conference Centre
Book your place here (prices go up to full price after 31 July)