As museums have increasingly become a pawn of the global neo-liberal order of wealth and patronage, how can we ensure equitable forms of access, engagement, and storytelling? While these visitor-centered programs outwardly manifest a move towards a more democratic culture, they are fundamentally provisional, and at the discretion of our museum leaders. Instead, how to embed such a culture within the very fabric of the museum itself to ensure a socially sustainable future? What if we rebuild Museums differently, not following an insidious capitalist corporate model but one that placed ‘human-museum interactions’ of access, diversity, community, care, and people at its center? What if addressing the internal working structure—the static hierarchical power dynamic, stale departmental silos, and over-bureaucratization of larger institutions—could result in an institution that reflected twenty-first-century democracy ideals? This essay is the first to address the history of museum staff organization and envisions a different and sustainable model inspired by feminist theory, social entrepreneurship, and grassroots organizational structure. It will look at the way hierarchies of all types—between staff, objects, and sites—overtly and covertly reinforce white privilege within our cultural institutions, and proposes a new structure based on individual self-determination, collaboration, and community.
Paper given at College Art Association Annual Conference, 2021
PANLE: “Reimagining human-museum interactions in the pandemic age: models for a sustainable future” organized by Francesca Bacci, University of Tampa