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August 22, 2016

Are you Brave? Reflections on AAM and Taking Action Towards Inclusion

Michelle Ivette Gomez

The annual American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conference brings together museum workers from around the world on an annual basis to discuss the state of the museum sector, participate in professional development sessions, and engage in dialogue about important issues affecting museum workers and museum visitors today. This year’s conference was centered around the theme of “Power, Influence, and Responsibility”. While I applaud their good intentions to focus dialogue on “diversity and inclusion”, I still found the overall conference, and conversations to be problematic, conflicting, and exhausting, as Seph Rodney perfectly summarized AAM in this Hyperallergic post.

My colleague Veronica Betancourt invited myself and other Latina museum leaders to participate in a panel at AAM called “Listening to Latino/as: Research and Outreach for Inclusion” where we discussed various outreach and research methods in order to encourage museums to be more inclusive of Latinx visitors through actionable items

(left to right) Ravon Ruffin, Amanda Figueroa from Brown Girls Museum Blog

Serving as a panelist in this session gave me hope, and reignited my love for museums. This panel re assured me that I am on the right track, and that museums need people like me and my colleagues to create change. But in order to achieve inclusion in museums, museums must get to work beyond AAM panel discussions.


(left to right) Michelle Tovar, Michelle Ivette Gomez, Dr. Cecilia Garabay, Veronica Betancourt

Beyond Talk: Taking a good look at yourself

While museums have good intentions, talking about diversity and inclusion is not enough. Here are some questions museums can ask themselves before taking action:

  • “Who are we excluding? Is our content relevant and accessible to them? If not, how can we make our content relevant and accessible through co-creative methods?”
  • “Are we empathetic?” Feel free to utilize the Empathetic Museum Rubric Maturity Model to measure how empathetic your museum is internally and externally.
  • “What is our relationship to our surrounding communities?” “Are we sensitive to the needs, wants, and interests of our surrounding communities?”

Work, work, work, work, work, work (Rihanna voice)

After asking yourself these questions, here are just a handful of actions and strategies to implement in order to be more inclusive. By more inclusive, we mean identifying who is excluded, and naming it. For example: race, age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, etc.

  • Hiring token Black people, and non-Black people of color solely in education and community outreach departments won’t help you. Your staff may be diverse, but it does not mean it is inclusive of people of color across all departments. Diversity is about appearance, inclusion is about involving diverse perspectives across all aspects of decision making, structures, and thought processes.
  • Develop authentic and trusting relationships with your surrounding communities. In the panel, we encouraged museum workers to go beyond their cubicles and offices, and out into the community to build trust with patience and time. This means supporting locally owned businesses, volunteering, sparking conversations with people on a routine basis, getting to know people in authentic ways.
  • Collaboration and co-creation as a result of trusting relationships are key towards inclusive programming and exhibitions. This can involve research and collecting feedback through community focus groups and townhall meetings, collecting oral histories and surveys, utilizing people’s archives, stories, and objects in exhibitions, and so much more. Just remember that you are not the single authority, you are a facilitator. All parties involved must benefit from the collaboration and work together to come to a consensus at all stages of planning.
  • Be more inclusive in promotion and marketing strategies. This means going beyond digital platforms to promote via partnerships. You can print flyers and posters in multiple languages, ask community leaders to help promote museum programs and pass out flyers, go to community events such as town hall meetings, local festivals, farmers markets and more to promote and pass flyers and so much more. Be creative, and have fun!
  • Be sustainable. Don’t have one time exhibitions that cater to one type of community in order to check off your diversity task list. Museums must maintain healthy relationships with their communities all year round. In addition, museums must recognize the power and leadership within people to inform and lead museum initiatives such as exhibitions, or programs.


Image by Michelle Ivette Gomez from the Smithsonian “Crosslines” exhibition. Featured artwork by No Kings Collective.


How can Quatrefoil help museums become braver?

All of the above methods are great, but one point is missing. How can exhibition design be more inclusive too? As socially engaged art, nomadic museums, pop ups, and collaborative exhibition models are becoming more and more popular, Quatrefoil Associates is considering new ways to be of service to our museum clients through innovative and inclusive exhibition design, and collaboration.

Quatrefoil is actively exploring partnerships with organizations and individuals to expand inclusion and diversity in multiple forms. Currently, they are exploring what a potential partnership may look like with The Museum of Impact. It’s important for all organizations to recognize their strengths and weaknesses in order to identify what partnerships and collaborations can help fill in those gaps. With collaborations like these across the museum field, we can have greater capacity and impact to be more inclusive and mutually support each other’s goals, together.

As a museum, are you brave enough to stop the talk around inclusion and diversity, and instead take action? If so, let’s collaborate.

Special Thanks

More often than not, full time museum workers have the privilege of attending this conference with the financial support of their institutions. AAM is financially inaccessible for an independent curator/arts organizer/creative consultant like me who recently started working as part time Curatorial Manager for The Museum of Impact. This trip was made possible, thanks to the generous sponsorships from Quatrefoil Associates, and Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator (DVCAI). I want to thank them for giving me the opportunity to access AAM, so that I can have a better idea of how the museum world works, and realize why people like me, and organizations like Museum of Impact are needed to create the change. Quatrefoil and DVCAI are led by strong and powerful women who believe that the arts should be as diverse and inclusive as possible. When we support each other as women, incredible things happen.

About Michelle Ivette Gomez

Michelle Ivette Gomez is an independent curator, arts organizer, creative consultant, and artist who advocates for audience diversity and inclusion within the arts. Originally from Miami, FL, she moved to Baltimore, MD in 2008 to pursue her BFA and MFA in Curatorial Practice from the Maryland Institute College of Art where she focused on expanded methods of art presentation and co-creative community-focused exhibitions. She is currently the Curatorial Manager for The Museum of Impact and recently moved back to Miami, FL where she co-founded Museum Workers Speak Miami and continues to work as an independent curator, arts organizer, and creative consultant with the hopes of promoting dialogue and action around arts activism in the Miami arts community, and bringing Community | Art | Exhibitions to her own native hometown. For more information, please visit www.michelleigomez.org.

August 22, 2016