60. Stephanie Cunningham on the Creation and Growth of Museum Hue
Welcome to museum archipelago. I'm in Elsner. Museum archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums. Each episode is never longer than fifteen minutes. So let's get started people of color. Specially people have African descent have been fighting for museums to be more -clusive over fifty years ago. It's the reason why institutions like the studio museum in Harlem was rated at the reason why mocha the museum of Chinese in America. Also New York City was created El museo de Badio all these institutions came up, because of the lack of inclusivity within these institutions, what we've seen today is not actually a shift in inclusion in white mainstream museums. But a kind of two tiered museum, which is still the white mainstream museums and the development of these culturally specific institutions. And so it's important for us to realize that there has been need for institution building for people of color, but also these white mainstream institutions at hold a lot of our cultural heritage. You have to also include us into the scope and the framework of their institution, become more inclusive, as well a twenty eight teen survey by the Mellon foundation found that eighty eight percent of people in museum leadership positions are white. This imbalance continues through museum visitor ship numbers, even though many museums are within communities of color or within states that have high populations of people of color. Stephanie Cunningham has a clear answer for why these white institutions aren't changing, when you've been practicing exclusion for so long you can't change overnight. And that's one of the reasons why she cofounded museum, Hugh. Hello. My name is Stephanie Cunningham, I am the co founder and creative director of museum, Hugh and arts organization that works to increase the visibility of people of color, working in arts and culture in museums in particular. It's really important that we begin to think, more critically on how to change this how to shift this. A make museums more innovative inviting that will attract more people of color, and also be very honest about their history and their conflicting provinces as well within the institution. Stephanie Cunningham, co-founded museum Hugh, with strategic director Monica Montgomery, in two thousand fifteen the organization began in New York City as a collective of people of color working in museums and other cultural spaces. We realized that we really needed a safe space, a space, where we can have psychological safety where we can be ourselves talk about our experiences, working within cultural institutions, whether it be micro, Gretchen macro, Gretchen or racism and talking about hap- some best practices of the things that were also going well for people within institutions as well museum Hugh began infiltrating spaces with programs like he's Eum tours, which the organization leads in art museums and other performance venue. News. The tourists started in New York City, but have since branched out to different parts of the country. We go to an institution about teams of thirty deep and we'll have a conversation focusing on an staff and artists of color, and also narratives color as well, because what we also realize is that a lot of the narratives, within museums and cultural institutions don't reflect people of color. And so we kind of invoke, and incorporate those within our own tours and presentations within the spaces. The Huseyin tours are one example of museum Hughes focus on the Fenton participation within the arts world. Another is jobs. Particularly jobs in creative and leadership roles at the heart of the issue is not a lack of qualified creatives of color. But instead, that the doors of museums and the surrounding ecosystem are largely closed off to people of color through extending museum, Hughes Network and by pipeline ING. People of color in the museum and cultural fields Cunningham has seen how a mostly white cultural institutions desire to be more inclusive is necessary, but not sufficient when it comes to actual inclusion, and that's why last year museum Hugh became a membership based organization last year we decided to become a membership based institution, and this came out of our fellowship at race forward racial equity in the arts organization about fifty or so institutions throughout New York City were invited supports and we all had our own platform in ideas. But the basis was for all of us to create racial equity framework. And so we decided with the museum he membership that we can focus on institutions that are willing and wanting to work with us in changing the framework of their institution, making it more inclusive of people of color. So we've been able to facilitate a lot of opera. -tunities a lot of jobs for people of color within these museums, and also worked with them in trainings on cultural competency, because we know that these conversations, although well intention, they can fall short. And so we need institutions take action steps in so action steps, look like creating real policy and also procedures in ways that they are accepting people of color in allowing them to have a seat at the table. A railway looking at their board. And so looking at railways that we can begin to focus on the framework of the institution and working on them from the inside out in episode forty eight of museum archipelago, the whitest Q podcast. Co host Arianna Lee makes the point that many museums can claim by verse workforce's, if you take into account people of color working in the museum's janitorial services department, but less. So in the seats of power to that end museum. Hugh created an internal, sir. Survey that any, cultural or museum related institution can use to develop an assessment of their current staff, and institutional attitudes towards inclusion and diversity. This isn't a change that happens overnight, because you've hired people of color. We want it to be a core part of the foundation in the structure of the institution. So in order to do that, we have to think have to encourage them and support them in thinking about this more critically it's been a real blessing that story institution country have wanted to sign on with us. It's about over eighty and so we're looking at different ways to support them in creating the toolkits, and creating more towards and not just focusing on our as usual members will also mostly on people of color in the field as well. Coming hymns focus on Ziems and other cultural institutions comes in part, because museums can be more resistant to change than some other parts of society. And in the case of museums that resistance has knock on facts. Many people of color have the needed qualifications in many of our fields, but yet don't see them represented. And so we have to realize that there's a real epidemic that have people of color, not represented in leadership, or given opportunities. And so for me tackling museums. Number one for me is, is my focus because, you know, I have a degree in our history and cultural, heritage preservation, and also think that museums for whatever reason within the grand scheme of society, that's, that's been changing isn't a seen as a place of importance for the to be racial diversity. I think it's needed in all industries, but especially in museums when we're talking about cultural heritage or talking about artistic freedom of expression. It's incredibly important that we begin to look at museums I because. Museums create a narrative that we see through our, our landscape. And so it's important that people begin to see people of color representing history in our because that then opens up a new lands, and recognition of cultural contribution that people of color, do not get in this country. And so for me museums have to begin to create a lane that is really much more inclusive than they actually are for museum. Hugh increasing the number of people of color at museum leadership, levels begins to shift, the framework, not just of that institution, but of the entire museum ecosystem, for example, there is a very prominent I won't say, the name at sedition design company that works with so many using EMS throughout the country, and they went to meet with a museum that they were baking with to begin to work with on. Exhibition design and during the meeting, they were asked by the person that they will working with a person represented by items EM, who was a person of color, axe them. Do you have people of color on your staff? And they for whatever reason had not even thought about this. They're like, well during exhibition design. Why does why does this matter? But it does matter because perspective and cultural differences in understandings are also needed, and so they, you know, reached out to museum here because they were like do you know of anyone exhibition design that, you know, can can possibly work with us? People of color are also going to begin to ask these questions of companies that they're working with as well. And having companies think about this issue because it's gonna affect their bottom line museums. I have incredible cultural power, and most of it is on checked, Cunningham's point. Is that without serious change that cultural power won't last forever wisdom? Hugh is just, you know, working to change that. And to utilize our collective power in our voices to call out issues and help usher in a change. That is constant not a change that is dependent upon the funding that institution gets for diversity, and inclusion, but something that is a core part of museums, and other cultural institutions, because I honestly believe if museums do not change, become more inclusive. Expect obsolescence expect museums, shutting down, expect museums continuously become relevant for the greater public coming him also hosts an excellent podcast called black visually past guests have included Blake Bradford, who. Also featured on episode forty three of museum archipelago as the director of Lincoln university's museum studies program. Bradford also sees a pipeline of black students, exposing them to career paths that are largely closed off to people of color museum. Hugh has three different membership types. One is an institutional membership for organizations to align the diversity and equity efforts with museum, Hugh, and also to advertise job openings through museum, Hugh. Another is the heures membership for people of color interested in the museum, Hugh platform, and finally, the allies membership for those looking to support museum Hughes mission. You can listen to black visually and learn more about Cunningham at Stephanie, a Cunningham dot com. You can find more information about museum, Hugh and sign up by going to museum. Hugh dot com slash join when a person is being colonized or pressed one of. The first things that's targeted is, is arts and culture in artists works. You've been either destroyed or a commodified, or appropriated and these are the same things that we see within Newseum 's at we see within the realm of what exotic -ceptable within our culture. I want us to continuously strive to create opportunities to speak up against the restrictions or the barriers that have been placed on people of color within arts and culture. My work really out of you look at all the things that I've been doing falls under two, you know, two parts is, it's really just looking at ways to support people of color to increase our visibility to facilitate our employment and get us more entrenched in the creative economy. And also on the other part call out in challenge. Ange and address, you know they barriers and, and, and the, you know, hierarchies and, you know, issues that relate to specifically, you know, racism and lack of opportunity in the field for people of color. And so that's what I'm continuously doing is just working on ways to shift, this field and move it into where we can see much more equity, much more diversity much more Harrity, as well in the field is incredibly important to me. This has been museum or Pelayo. You'll find a full transcript of this episode along with show notes at museum, archipelago dot com. 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