27 February 2018




Just like that, 28 days dedicated to Black art, Black voices and Black stories is over (sort of).
As Black History Month 2018 draws to a close, what did you discover?  What inspired you? What surprised you? This year’s offerings, both at home and abroad, were extensive as they were impressive. For instance, the sound of Sylvia D. Hamilton’s installation continues to literally and figuratively resonate long after I exited the Royal Ontario Museum’s Here We Are Here. On the final day of Black History Month, perhaps the most important question to ask of museum professionals is what comes next? Or rather, what will you do next?

Sylvia D. Hamilton's Naming Names at the ROM. Photo courtesy of Kendra Campbell
It is my hope that the incredible content that intentionally and unapologetically centres Black experiences will not be de-installed and packed into crates to lie dormant for the next 11 months. In fact, I am elated to see that in Toronto the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), The Power Plant, and a number of other institutions will continue to feature and interpret these works well into the Spring. But beyond displays and programs, I’m curious to know how museums will continue the conversation.  How will you sustain critical conversations within your own institution and with audiences?  If you are struggling to begin, I recommend the following:

5 Questions Your Museum Should Ask in Your Black History Month Debrief

1.What was our greatest success this month? Would our partners (publics, teachers and school groups, communities) also consider it a success?  What prevents us from reproducing similar experiences the rest of the year?

2.What was our greatest challenge this month? What actionable steps will we take to mitigate this challenge in the future?

3.What did we learn about visitor needs, interests and expectations? What changes do we need to make in order to prioritize audience relevancy?

4. With whom inside and outside of your museum do you need to have further dialogues? What will we do to sustain reciprocal relationships and ensure ample space for critique?

5. What resources will we use to redress anti-black racism in our institutional practices? What is our plan to hold everyone accountable to this work?

This set of questions makes for a full agenda, but a Black History Month debrief is neither complete nor effective if it does not ask this final question: What are we doing to address staff diversity? The relationship between diverse audiences and a diverse staff is not exactly causal. However, I am convinced that staff diversity and the range of voices who feel safe and supported to respond to these questions will result in higher quality museum experiences.

Consider this debrief an opportunity to be proactive, rather than reactive to forthcoming changes in the museum world, not just in February but all year round.

There are 338 days and counting, but you need not wait that long.

2016 American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting and Museum Expo - Alliance Labs Source.

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