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Intentional Civility

Jim Richardson:

Hello and welcome to the third session of MuseumNext Disrupt. Today, we’ve got a real treat for you, a talk, a keynote from one of my favourite Museum thinkers, Elaine Heumann Gurian. Elaine’s going to muse on what’s happened this year, where museums have got things right, where she thinks they’re getting them wrong. It’s a really thought provoking talk. I hope that you enjoy it, I hope that you will leave your comments, your questions for Elaine before the film. I hope that you’ll share your ideas that this inspires in getting the conversation going. That’s what MuseumNext is all about.

Elaine:

Hello. This is Elaine Heumann Gurian and I am coming to you from my home in Virginia. I’m delighted to be asked by Jim to speak to you and MuseumNext. This is the first time that I’ve ever self-recorded so I feel very victorious but also very amateurish.

Elaine:

I’m going to try and figure out how to tell you what I think museums have done or have not done during this particular moment where we were all shutdown and where we came together and now are now beginning to open up.

Elaine:

I thought I would title this speech, Could, Woulda, Shoulda. It’s an American phrase, which is a kind of regret about what we could have done but it’s also a very casual sense of regret like, “I won’t coulda, woulda, shoulda.” I thought I’d title it that and then I went on trusted Google and discovered it’s a song. It’s a song made out of this phrase and the words of it say, “Don’t find a reason to say coulda, woulda, shoulda. You better give it a shot. Better believe that you don’t say could, woulda, shoulda. Just throw in everything you’ve got because in love, there’s no holding back.” I thought that’s what I meant. There we are. You don’t want to say after it’s all over, coulda, woulda, shoulda, so throw in everything you’ve got

Elaine:

I thought it was only fair to start with telling you who I am. Some of you probably know who I am. That doesn’t matter because I always begin with thinking that if I tell you more about me, then I know about you. There’s an uneven power going on, in which you have the power and that seems quite fair to me.

Elaine:

I think of myself as the Bernie Sanders of the museum world. I didn’t think of myself as that before, before Bernie Sanders was as well known as he is but Bernie Sanders has said the same thing all his life. I’m in the process of rereading all my papers because they’re about to be published and I’ve realised that I’ve said the same thing all my life, kind of unwaveringly, and it’s all been about museums are for everyone.

Elaine:

I come from an immigrant family. My mother and father were German Jews. They left before the Holocaust and they managed to save their family. I was born in New York City but the Holocaust, which ended when I was seven, is the light motif of my life and was certainly the obsession of my parents.

Elaine:

I am now almost 83 in a couple of weeks. I’m the parent of five, having given birth to three of them, and having inherited two others, which was a great pleasure. I’m the grandparent of seven. That’s important because my children and my grandchildren have kept me informed about how little I know about their generations but it’s been helpful to keep me not stuck in my own generation.

Elaine:

I’m semi-rich. That’s important to me now because what’s going on in our [inaudible 00:04:46] totally depends on how much actual cash you have and how you can keep you and your family safe. I live in my own home. I can purchase my own food. I am entirely conscious of the fact that because that’s true, I don’t really understand the desperate conditions of others, and while I’m completely empathetic to them and think that we need to talk about these desperate conditions over and over again in the museum world, it is certainly not the way I am living.

Elaine:

But I don’t have an acceptable social status. One of the things I think we all need to talk about is class and social status. In Black Lives Matter and the other social upheaval that’s going on, it’s almost not a conversation. I think class and economics needs to be part of the conversation. While I grew up with a rich father who made his own money, I never grew up in an acceptable way. While I am considered white, by the official standards of the American census, if I would check that, which I don’t, I am not acceptable to the white community, nor do they think of me as white. They think of me as a Jew.

Elaine:

I don’t have a PHD. I’m very feisty about that because I also am learning disabled and having learned how to be a writer by the fierceness of my own agenda, being unlettered makes me at least clear that we have imposed on our work a kind of academic requirement that now needs to be reinterrogated. Like Bernie Sanders, I’ve been 55 years in the business. Just like he has.

Elaine:

I have a philosophy by which I look at museums. It is important to start with my philosophy, because it’s how I interpret all the input that I get. The first one, and I say this always when I begin, is I believe all things are philosophy. Let me explain what I mean by that, I have been a deputy director for almost all my life and if you look at my biography, you will see that when I have been the deputy director of is either experimental museums or giant museums that have come online but in the spectre of social justice.

Elaine:

Deputy director is a person who figures out where the dumpster goes, not where the exhibition content goes. Or to put it more bluntly, I don’t make that content but I do figure out where it goes and whether it’s going to be installed on time and whether we can manage all of the wires that they are thinking about.

Elaine:

The reason I talk about all things as philosophy is that I think we are endlessly signalling all of the time to our public about every single hidden decision we made, what are how we treat each other, what are conventions in our email or how many [inaudible 00:08:38] we actually have and what do offices look like.

Elaine:

I mean, every single decision, how big is the front desk and do we actually have to have one, is philosophy and is signalling to everybody who comes in contact with us what we really mean.

Elaine:

I am interested in stranger peace and place welcome. That is I’m interested in the building itself, the fact that most people who are entering are strangers, and that the place must welcome everyone because … I’ve written a paper about thresholds. The whole notion that you are going to enter is a decision being made way before you enter and it has to do with whether you think the place is meant for you, meant entirely for you, or not meant for you at all.

Elaine:

The [inaudible 00:09:44] about strangers being inside a building and thinking that they will be peaceable I think is an underrated issue for us to be paying attention to. Strangers don’t go to places where they think they will be unsafe. As you listen to Black Lives Matter, what you understand is for parents of Black children, what is going on in the United States is they don’t think their children will be safe, the minute they enter into a car, or walk on the street. No matter how innocent the issue that they’re doing their errand about.

Elaine:

For Black parents at the moment, there isn’t a single safe moment for their children except the house itself. If we’re going to talk about museums and museums welcoming people of colour, we have to start with that notion that for Black parents, there is no safety for their children. There is no safety for the menfolk in Black families. There is no safety for menfolk period at the moment in their sense of how to use the city. That’s an incredibly important beginning for us to deal with.

Elaine:

I believe that there are multiple worldviews … It doesn’t matter that I believe it. Everybody understands that there are multiple worldviews. The museum world has tended to deal with only one of them, which is the world of the rational and the world of the scientific experience. This notion of neutrality and this notion of science evidence has been the basis of the museum world.

Elaine:

One of the issues for the museum world to deal with when they start to deal with integration and acceptance and diversity, is the issue of accepting worldviews that are altogether other and negotiating how it is that they can not only display more than one worldview, which I think we do very badly, but how they can anticipate it and how even in the hiring practise, we can begin to accommodate the fact that worldviews, while they overlap, are not [inaudible 00:12:17] and that they all need to be presented with the same and equal respect.

Elaine:

I’m currently deeply interested in the issue of complexity, ambiguity, nuance, compromise, lack of resolution. I am believing that what we have done as our etiquette in exhibition development, which is the voice of the museum, has also fed into this simplistic unnuanced view of anything, that the authoritative view of the museum is also an attempt to flatten and simplify.

Elaine:

I hope we will begin to work on exhibition techniques that not only signal to the public that the issues we’re talking about are complex but that the public expects complexity, they expect unfinished, they expect differences of opinion, and that when they walk away, they understand it is not so clear what we should be doing about anything and that the clarity comes from making the next possible better out of compromise steps.

Elaine:

I am trying to get my head around the notion that inclusion means everyone and that while I am speaking to you before the election of the United States president and believe with great certainty, as now do many of the citizens, that the reelection of Trump will be the reelection of the possibility of the end of democracy in the United States.

Elaine:

I don’t believe all people who are going to vote for Trump are irredeemable, and that as we look at the issues of inclusion and we have looked at it for years and not successfully about marginalised people, the big issue for America should Trump lose, is that we reintegrate the people who voted for him as Americans. That will require a kind of citizen welcome everywhere, and in a certain way, I think it’s much, much harder but, certainly, in this country for those of us who have been quite terrified and who have been working in whatever way to make sure he does not get reelected, to reintegrate citizens who were on that team. It’s a little like thinking about what happens after wars in countries where people have to reintegrate the people they now think of as collaborators. I want museums to take that head on.

Elaine:

Finally, I believe there’s difference between tone and content and that tone, which includes normative behaviour or the words you choose for welcome, is every bit as important as the content, which is the position you take, and that museums have been quite lax in talking about tone and assuming that we all have the same normative behaviour when, in fact, I don’t believe that at all.

Elaine:

I believe museums are mostly the inheritors of the norms of the upper class and powerful, and that one of the work that we need to be doing is to make a frontal assault on the norms we’ve been using and invent norms for each of our museums by working with a much broader segment of our society because with those norms we’ll make it much more possible for us to have a more diverse staff and a more diverse visiting public.

Elaine:

If all things are signalling, what we are signalling in the way in which we sign things and the way in which we expect quiet and the way in which we serve food and the food we serve and what we sell in our shop, is all signalling our normative belief of who is visiting us and if we want other people to visit us, then we need to signal otherwise and if we need to signal otherwise, that means we need to change those norms that we think are, of course, but of course they aren’t.

Elaine:

I am more and more under the assumption that how you decide to judge things or what taxonomy you use, matters. If you use the gender and sexual orient frame, then you will make progress in that direction. As you can see from this very long list, there are many frames to choose from. When you draw them out, they overlap some but they’re different, some as well.

Elaine:

I think museums have to start to use different taxonomies intentionally when they judge their own success and failure so that if this exhibition is good in your gender and sexual orientation metre, it still might not be good in your linguistic metre or it will not be good in your culture metre.

Elaine:

How you judge what your level of success is matters first based on how on the frame in which you are going to judge from. This is an exercise that I think we do too little. We do ask ourselves how are we going to measure success but I don’t think we ask ourselves that question over and over again using a different frame of reference, and I suspect we should.

Elaine:

Before what I referred to as the tsunami, there was a whole lot of unresolved stuff in the museum already. To use our areas where we didn’t resolve in the museum community, our sense of what was the museum’s role. While we said museums, for example, you’re looking at the first thing … Let me point out that this PowerPoint will become available and you don’t have to be trying to read everything or do everything. We’ll just make it available to you.

Elaine:

When we said museums are for everyone, it turns out we didn’t have the same definition of everyone as I pointed out in the previous slide about who is … Do we welcome the Trumpers? For me, the big thing is now what are we really feeling is our role with the poor? Who is everyone? Even though, we all agreed we were for everyone, we did not at all interrogate who was the everyone.

Elaine:

We all agree that we have collections or that if we have collections, we have some responsibility but having been the deputy director for American Indians, I understand there are a whole lot of issues about who owns it, whose voice, who decides, who borrows, who can determine whether it gets shown. That’s been going on as this whole list has been going on for a very long time and within the museum community, not one of these things has been reconciled, that is there is no universal agreement about any of these and that is true from before the tsunami hits us. That includes we don’t understand what a charity really means and I’ll speak more about that. We don’t really understand about our building as an asset. And so on.

Elaine:

Then came the tsunami. In this tsunami, so many things happened at the same time, sometimes referred to as perfect storms, some of them as a result of each other, that is their sequential, but some of them not. COVID-19 is the first piece and the most obvious one. It sends us all to our houses, people shut things down. The result of that is the economic collapse and as things open up, the economic collapse will remain. Black Lives Matter happens, it happens because of or in spite of, it’s unclear, but global warming was happening before that. Massive income inequality was happening before that.

Elaine:

What the tsunami makes clear is, as I pointed out, if you were in the income unequal sector, you are much worse off now. If you were because you didn’t have enough money in housing, that required multiple families in a very small space, you are much worse off about COVID. If you had to go to work, what we call our frontline heroes, your exposure to getting COVID was much higher.

Elaine:

All of the things that were unresolved before get worse in this and we begin to talk about some of them because of COVID but that’s not how they happen. I am particularly interested in technology inequality.

Elaine:

In fact, in my bio, I forgot to tell you that three days a week, I run a meeting for a very small island in the Caribbean where I live for half of every year. That island, which has 9000 people, and is at the bottom of the food chain of the United States, because it is the smallest, or it is a small, island associated with Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico, certainly, under the Trump administration, is way at the bottom of the food chain and we are not even connected by land to Puerto Rico.

Elaine:

There are 9000 people who live there. By all measurements in the United States, many of them live in poverty. The way in which you look at poverty in the Caribbean because it’s warm and because you can grow a certain amount of your food is slightly different. We don’t have starvation. We have food insecurity but not starvation. We have the capacity if it’s not hurricaning, to rebuild our houses with our own hands.

Elaine:

But that doesn’t add to now we are distanced learning. We have no landlines and, technologically, no broadband. All of a sudden, the entire way in which you think about education or what museums are doing, you realise you have to start at a different level. Because I run this meeting three days a week, it keeps me clear that when we talk to each other in museum land, we generally don’t start at the baseline where many, many of our citizens are starting, so that when the museums made a great deal of progress in their online work, they have calculated that we all have online accessibility and in this island, we don’t.

Elaine:

One of the ways you can tell that we all had this unresolved difficulty before is the icon definition controversy, which I won’t go into but I will point out the conflicting definitions because the definitions that are conflicting really are split about the museum community, which is that half the community really does believe in their classic educate, open to the public, acquire, conserve, research, tangible, study and enjoyment. The other half really does believe participatory and transparent and partnership and diverse communities.

Elaine:

They are both clear that either one of these definitions will overcome them or prevent them from doing the work they want to do. This is the simplest, at least, for me, way to understand the unresolved aspect of the museum community with itself and, therefore, not only the backstory of the definition controversy but, in fact, the definitions themselves that are the basis of this [inaudible 00:27:10].

Elaine:

The museums closed worldwide. At that moment, there were a whole lot of things they could have done. As I was trying to muse about it, they fell into these kind of categories. I began with my assumption that I was going to be disappointed in museums because they would not have done what I wanted them to do for my particular Bernie Sanders point of view.

Elaine:

The reality is that someone, some place, did something of every one of these things. Someone, some place, did every single possibility. If you want to see what they did, then there are websites that are really particularly helpful, including, Museumnext and the Museum Association in Great Britain and the AAM in the United States. They each celebrate over very long period, all of the very wonderful things that somebody did. I think we should not take that lightly and should applaud every single place that did something extraordinary.

Elaine:

In fact, much to my political chagrin, I think we should celebrate that every single museum under the circumstance took a step that was new for them, wider for them, broader for them, than they did before and tried to save their staff and their institution, in themselves in ways that was their next step.

Elaine:

I don’t think we should go over that lightly. I think that’s very hopeful and quite wonderful. What you do come away with is that everybody did something and some people did extraordinary somethings but everybody didn’t do the same extraordinary somethings but the difficulty of that definition can be seen in what people chose to do. While everybody chose to do something that is look uppable and copyable and thinking about, they aren’t the same somethings.

Elaine:

Here’s where we are now, now the museums are opening, slowly, almost every, or absolutely every, museum that has decided to slowly open has figured out a way to make it COVID-safe and making it COVID-safe is a new thing for them to do. What I find and mostly find disappointing is what they’re opening or what they’re hoping to open is the place they closed because in my own realistic hope, I was hoping they would open an entirely new reformulated idea. But they are opening them in ways that are safe for people to come.

Elaine:

We have to pay attention to how much job loss there’s been and how much closing forever there is and take that really quite seriously. Museums were fragile or, at least, a percentage were fragile, and that fragility is not going to save them here. We are in the business everywhere, worldwide, about testing and possible vaccination and so in our lifetime and maybe within the year, COVID has the criteria that decides our ability to move around maybe lessened but those who were fragile and those people who lost their lives will not come back quite as fast and we need to pay attention to that.

Elaine:

In the governments that sent an infusion of money, thank goodness, they thought about cultural institutions as part of the things they should save and while they didn’t send enough money or to enough people, they didn’t leave out museums and we should be grateful for that, for the anglophone countries that I know about.

Elaine:

We should thank the associations of those anglophone countries that worked very hard to make them eligible for the infusions of money, wherever they came, not enough but [inaudible 00:32:47] came.

Elaine:

Here’s the same list, which said closed museums could have done this and here’s the same section … I didn’t go through that but rather I decided to give you my list of what I wished they had all done.

Elaine:

The first one, and I have alluded to it before, is that the poor, as a frame, and I understand that using the term the poor, like using the term Black or Jew, is to dehumanise but I’m completely unclear about what to do with it. I understand every poor person has a name and a history but what has become frighteningly clear to me and in my life of having worked in museums, is that I have personally not spent enough time with people who are really impoverished and I have certainly not written enough about museums’ responsibility.

Elaine:

The easy question to ask, because at least in my country when schools shut, nearly 50% of school age children became food insecure and needed food parcels. It’s an example of America, a rich country’s lack of social responsibility of the deepest kind, 50%. In my neighbourhood, 50% of my school became food insecure and the other 50% of my neighbourhood has organised to feed one half of the neighbourhood. That’s just extraordinary.

Elaine:

Did museums think that poverty, which was happening outside their door, was their responsibility? The answer is a few did. You can look up who distributed food or made their facility available for food distribution and a few did. But by and large, we have not thought of ourselves as socially responsible for that kind of ongoing issue. While we believe something should be done, we believe in social good, the definition of what museums are responsible for is, in fact, has not included these kind of baseline issues. At least, for me, I think they need to now.

Elaine:

That leads me to the next one on this list, which is the reformulation of not-for-profit. I understand not-for-profit is a US term. It’s a legal term in the United States. In Great Britain, the word is charity. I don’t know the word in other places. All of our countries have a definition about institutions of social good that are not in the business of making a profit, and that’s a distinction from not in the business from making money. In the United States, not-for-profit means you can’t earn income, you cannot distribute it as shares or stock. You can’t save it.

Elaine:

I think we have to go back, museums themselves, and talk about our relationship as an institution of social good and that we understand there are private businesses and we understand there are government entities and for a long time, there has been an understanding of the institutions who are in-between NGOs, they’re sometimes called, as having a kind of foot in both doors. I don’t think the museum world has looked at this enough.

Elaine:

What is our responsibility when 50% of the school children in the United States, when schools shut, became food insecure and did that responsibility fall on anything for the museum world? On this page, if you go down, it says focus on the building as assets and not yours. These are tied together so I’m going to skip over some things and come back. You are living in you, every one of us who works in a museum are living in a facility and the facility has assets and the assets are not yours. I usually then talk about toilets. The assets include heat and air conditioning, water, electricity, toilets, front doors, roofs.

Elaine:

I come from the part of the museum world that believes these assets are in service to the community. For me, that building is not yours and not private. When you go back to the definition of museums, I come from the side of the new definition rather than the old definition because I don’t think of the building as a housing for the activity that happens inside. I think of the building itself as an asset over which you have huge responsibility. That responsibility includes making your assets available in time of crisis.

Elaine:

There was in New York during the demonstrations, a movement called Open Your Lobbies. It was run by the theatre groups, which made their lobbies available because all public toilets were closed because of COVID, all water fountains were closed, electricity was therefore not available, and your cellphone being your lifeline would run out of juice.

Elaine:

New York City theatres opened their lobbies and so did about three museums. But most of the museums in Manhattan or anywhere else, where they could have opened their lobbies, did not do so for a number of reasons. The most sympathetic ones I’ve heard is that the frontline security officers themselves were liable for COVID but there are ways in which you could have figured something else out about that.

Elaine:

Mostly, they didn’t open their lobbies because for museums, the building is not a public utility. For me, it is. I would ask that people start to think about what that means in the not-for-profit definition. If we are midway between the government and the private sector, do we have social responsibility? Which includes making our assets available.

Elaine:

Now there are many examples of museums who believe, as I do, and have done that, my favourite example is usually in Ecuador where they believe that neighbours have access to the facility in ways that visitors don’t have.

Elaine:

All right. Let’s go to the whole issue of we have stuff, we got it through all kinds of history, we displayed it through all kinds of power, and now through Black Lives Matter and its associated work, there is more pressure on us to do something about that then there ever has been before. Make no mistake about that issue, that issue has been going on from the beginning of museums. Who owns the stuff? Who can speak about the stuff? Who can get the stuff back? Who are we talking to when we talk about it? Who do we hire? Who do we collect? What do we say? That’s been a long ongoing matter. It’s been a matter for every single minority-owned institution. Certainly, every memorial institution. But now it is everybody’s issue.

Elaine:

Because, and thanks to Black Lives Matter, museums are not immune, they can’t pick their own timing about this issue, the issue is upon them. One of the institutions I would suggest you look at is the Met and their response, 13 point response, Met and the Black Lives Matter interrogations were fascinating because the Met said something, people in the streets said that’s not enough, the Met said something else, people on the street said that’s not enough, and then this 13 point manifesto came and I think one wants to hold the Met’s feet to the fire but I think everybody else wants to read it.

Elaine:

It includes changing the ways they buy things, changing not only the makeup of their board but the definition of board members and the like. It is not a simple matter about what they should be buying or how many staff people but it includes the way in which they rewrite their job descriptions and things like that.

Elaine:

Many, many people lost their jobs and one of the things that people have looked at is, A, the way in which people lost their jobs are different, one from another, more humane, less humane, more savings of their healthcare, at least, in my country, in your country probably you have healthcare. There are now members of museums trying to send money to people who have lost their jobs in museums, so there’s fundraising going on. There is social service going on. There’s a lot of Zoom meetings going on.

Elaine:

I’ve been struck that a kind of brotherhood or sisterhood has happened about who has jobs, who don’t have jobs, and there have been … On the very high end, everybody has gotten a salary cut. I’m really interested to know whether that’s going to last. The reason I’m interested to know is that the difference between income inequality is I think a profoundly important issue and museums, while they’re not going to be the first on this, I think should take on income inequality as they rewrite all their job description.

Elaine:

What you haven’t seen is as much shared authority as I would like and I believe shared authority is part of the issue of who speaks and how they speak and what is collected but what is said about collections. As I said in the beginning, I’m the most interested in how you produce exhibitions that are unclear and have multiplicity of outcomes but are also filled with multiplicity of information, some of which contradicts each other.

Elaine:

Let me talk a little about HR. I think in the human resources department lies the very bedrock of inclusion and diversity. The notion of what a job is, the latter of the job, the way in which you hire, what they have to have known as a prerequisite and what their academic qualifications are, all needs to be relitigated. I say that because I have no PHD so it’s sour grapes but not only, I don’t think we are looking at replacement theory, we’re not looking at people of colour replacing the white people in white jobs.

Elaine:

I think we are looking at thorough going reassessment of if we own the material, then everyone’s right to be there has to take into account everyone’s life experience. There is nothing about the way in which we write job descriptions and ladders and pay curators disproportionately to other work that will lead to the kinds of change that I am hoping for.

Elaine:

I think the nexus of the social equity issue lives in the HR department and that everyone needs to go into that department and that piece of work and reinterrogate absolutely every assumption we’ve made about that.

Elaine:

I’m very interested in small. We have for a long time looked at small being able to be replicated and we have looked at big places like the Met as the defining way that we look at things but it’s very clear to me that small and few is the way impact lives happen. Food is about showing up on your plate, not as a social issue.

Elaine:

I think the more we relook at our ability to make a difference in our immediate neighbourhood and having what I call viral contagion about the things we have done in small, not by making them big but by making them many, is the way to go.

Elaine:

I have just read about this group called Micro. There’s a wonderful TED Talk by the woman who helped found it. They produce a single exhibition plinth. It goes into public space. It involves therefore a single waiting room in a hospital. I think they are making a very good case but so does complexity theory, that small aggregates to each other in ways that we don’t quite understand and that we have to relook at it again.

Elaine:

I have two more. The one about bunching an overlapping economic models is really about poverty but the example I want to use is something called learning pods. In the United States, at the moment, because we’ve done so badly about COVID, almost no public school will open. Private schools, when they open, will open as a completely locked-in situation.

Elaine:

For those of our children who go to public school, it will be assumed that they can do online learning because they have online equipment. But they don’t. Certainly, not the poor ones. The other thing that we have in America not come to grips with is the fact that our public schools are really daycare for the poor. They’re also daycare for the rich. That one of the reasons we are not fixing our schools in terms of all the ways educationally we know how to fix it, is that we need our children away from the home, our economics depend on it. We need them safe and in a single spot.

Elaine:

What are the rich doing about the fact that our schools are closed? They’re inventing something called learning pods and learning pods are the following, in my neighbourhood there are three of them or four of them. It means two families have decided that they are COVID-exposed to each other, their children are about the same age, they hire a group babysitter, the group babysitter works with two fourth graders and two second graders and two kindergarteners. They work in a room in one of the houses or the rooms rotate. They get fed, they do their homework, and their parents work from home because their parents are not frontline workers.

Elaine:

The children are in daycare and in educational daycare. The babysitter/pod teacher makes money. The children are well cared for. In fact, from my point of view, the children are better taught than anything because after about an hour of looking at the screens, this pod teacher says we’re going outside and looking at the flowers. This is a really good system. It’s dependent on money.

Elaine:

I thought to myself, well, this is perfect for museums. I started to put in pod learning and museums and lo and behold, many museums, especially children’s museums and science museums, have begun to offer pod learning only for money. They’re dependent on money and they’ve lost a lot of income and they think this is an alternate income source for them and they’re doing very good work. I realised that I hadn’t spent enough with the poor.

Elaine:

What is the outcome of this? Museums will be better off, know how to do better learning, they’ll do more concentrated learning, but only for those who can pay for it. We’re back to what is our definition?

Elaine:

You see, some museums who say, “Well, we’ll give scholarships” and that’s not what I’m talking about. The only way for this to work is to setup pod learning in poor neighbourhoods and for somebody to pay for it. The other extraordinary thing is what museums have is the stuff that makes this learning fascinating. We could be the leaders of this. There is not a single indicator that we are doing that.

Elaine:

I am left with this notion that the economic model that, at least, not-for-profit institutions in the United States need, means that they can justify the services that they give but only for the wealthy, and that the scholarships that they give are only for the organised who are really the temporarily poor students, people who know how to organise. The big problem for me is that one. What is our responsibility to the poor? What is this income inequality and the results of it? What is our responsibility for that? Do we have any?

Elaine:

Finally, the last is about the role of norms and civility. What we have really understood in Donald Trump and other authoritarian figures is that we have been dependent, we in the museum world, we in civil society, we in going shopping to the supermarket, have been dependent on norms that we believed kept us safe. What Black Lives Matter has shown us is that no Black family believed the norm that policemen kept them safe. Now we don’t believe, for instance, that we will necessarily have a safe election or that we have safety in the way in which we talk to each other or treat each other.

Elaine:

Finally, I think museums have to reinterrogate the way in which they do everything. What is the nature of civility in museums? While I guarantee you that museums are very civil, they are not civil equally to everyone. They work on the assumption of leftover etiquette. That is a hard piece of work. I am not talking about free-for-all but the personal responsibility of deciding what kind of behaviour is and is not acceptable inside of a museum but not the behaviour we always thought was the behaviour that should happen. Why [inaudible 00:56:25]? Why can’t we eat? Why is the way in which people sit around? What is nursing? What’s the nature of our science? How do we welcome people? All of that needs to be reinterrogated again.

Elaine:

I wished more of this had happened but, let me say again, before I close, what did happen was good and almost everybody did something and congratulations. Now as we get better, could we decide to do more? Thank you very much.

 

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