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The Urgency of Empathy & Social Impact in Museums

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Mike Murawski, Director of Education & Public Programs for the Portland Art Museum, and Founding Editor of ArtMuseumTeaching.com gave this presentation at MuseumNext New York on 15 November 2016.

In it Mike asked how we can start an empathy revolution in museums? How can we more fiercely recognize the meaningful work that museum professionals are doing to enact change around the relevant issues in our communities? How do we radically expand the work of museums in bringing people together and contributing to strong, resilient communities?

Questions like these seem increasingly vital for museums, especially in this time of polarized political discourse and highly-charged social debates.

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Mike Murawski: The visceral performance you’ve just heard was recorded by Janelle Monáe and The Wonderland Art Society Collective. It’s a striking protest piece that responds to instances of police violence against minorities in this country and honours the lives of those lost in a way that confronts indifference. Janelle Monáe said, “Silence is our enemy and sound is our weapon”, and the quote that she said that really struck me and made me want to bring this in to begin this morning’s day here at Museum Next, is she says, “It’s important we see each other as human beings. We need to take care of each other.”

Good morning, everyone. So on the way over here I got stuck in the rain. I feel like a wet dog right now, and you think that a Portlander would have a rain jacket but not in New York, apparently. I want to say thank you to everybody yesterday, all the presentations and panellists, just a great conversation and powerful conversation about the future of museums. I’m excited to be up here. Thank you, Jim, for inviting me to extend some of this thinking.

I want to spend some time talking about the urgency of empathy and social impact and social action in museums today, focussing on five specific actions. That’s right, I said ‘actions’. Not ideas, not concepts, not principles, but actions that we can all get involved in to help museums reach their full potential as meaningful, relevant, human-centred institutions in our communities. But before I begin that, I would like to recognise and honour the indigenous peoples on whose ancestral lands this theatre in Manhattan now stands, on which all of our museums stand, and on which we live and work every day.

Okay, so action one, Be More Local: It’s so important for museums to be a local place, intertwined and inseparable from local realities and local issues. We are located in our communities but we’re also a part of those communities. And for me, this idea of community; we talk about it a lot, we use that word a lot and I don’t think … some of us think about it but somehow we just say ‘community’ and even after yesterday there was some conversation about what is community, what is audience, what do we mean by these words? For me, it’s grounded in geography, the way that I use that word. How do we define our place, our neighbourhood, our town, our city, and how do we learn about the people in that place and how they come together and what connects them, what brings people together into a community.

The image up on the screen here is probably not what you’d expect to represent Portland, Oregon. It’s not Portlandia, it’s not the World Naked Bike Ride – I’ve used those images before – it’s rather a neighbourhood-based photography project that to me, more accurately represents the Portland that I now call home and that my family now calls home.

So what can we do to help museums be more local? First, I think digging into this idea of community, and when we use that word I think it’s important, especially this idea that we’ve set up some false binary between the museum and the community, and I think that separation, that division can be troubling. It’s so ingrained in the way we talk, I’m sure that you’ll hear me even fall into that practice of talking about sort of this community as external to the museum, and it’s something I’ve been trying to change in my own language but it’s ingrained in the way we talk about our work. We might even be feeding this gap and this divide by not simply addressing it.

What if the museum included the people in our local community, including our staff and our volunteers; we all live in our communities but yet we don’t think of ourselves as members of our community often when we’re in our museums, working for our museums, and so that separation can often put us in awkward positions. What if instead of just museums seeing themselves as wanting to be part of their community, we aspire for our communities to see themselves as part of our museums. We fight so hard for outreach and getting out into the community but sometimes we just need inreach – a way for us at museum to open our ears, open our hearts and let others in, let others get involved in new and different ways.

This may sound radical but I believe it’s also a fact that our communities know more than we do. I think that there’s so much expertise and so much knowledge outside of our institutions, outside of this expertise that we’ve traditionally defined within our institutions, and we tend to reject and ignore all of that expertise that is outside of that, that comes from our communities or that has the potential to come from those people that live where our museum are located, and that knowledge is greater than what we hold within our institutions. I have challenged people on that and had very difficult conversations about that, but I ask you to sort of think about that and challenge people who push back against that, and have those conversations, no right or wrong, but to have those conversations.

We have to start breaking down the walls, listen more. We think the way we value some knowledge and some stories over others, identify the assets and values in our community, the stories, experiences, creative energies and knowledges, and the image that I have up here is from The Laundromat Project, and Jim mentioned the Museum Social Action Project, enormous thanks goes to Monica Montgomery. Every day she does ten incredible things and yesterday we experienced some of them and so tomorrow we’ll be going with a small group of you to The Laundromat Project’s, Kelly Street Initiative, and The Laundromat Project is this incredible organisation that brings socially engaged arts programming to Laundromats and other everyday community spaces here in New York. Their artists and staff work to amplify the creativity that already exists within communities, finding the positive aspects that we can pull from these neighbourhoods and communities instead of trying to address their needs and their problems from our perspectives.

They work to build community networks, enhance the sense of ownership and the places where we live, where we work and where we grow. Their Kelly Street Initiative, pictured here with an event, was launched in 2016 in the South Bronx in partnership with Workforce Housing Group, Kelly Street Garden, the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, transforming a two-bedroom apartment into a thriving, creative community hub, and for those that are going tomorrow, I know that we have a lot to learn from organisations like The Laundromat Project so I look forward to seeing some of you there tomorrow.

Okay, action two: and this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while; this is not a one-week thinking process. I believe there’s a need for us in museums to publicly recognise and engage the brave and transformative work of the museum, of the Movement for Black Lives. The Movement has forged a new national conversation about the legacy of racism, state violence, and the state neglect of communities of colour in the United States, a conversation grounded in those communities’ own experiences.

As stated in their ‘Vision for Black Lives’, this incredible policy document that should be required reading for all, so now you have homework if you haven’t read that, the movement’s vision is to ‘move towards a world in which the full humanity and dignity of all people is recognised’. I know that is something museums can stand behind unapologetically.

We need to engage with and learn from the movement, help support and expand this community of social justice activists without dictating and without distorting the work already underway. Supporting the work is not putting museums and its employees in a bubble, but rather powerfully unites us in support of basic human rights that have been wrongly politicised for the last 500 years.

Some examples of brave, courageous museums that are putting themselves out there to support this work: This is the Minnesota Science Centre. Back in July, they put a sign, after the killing of Philando Castile, in their entrance to the Race Exhibit, ‘Join their Community in Mourning’, and unfortunately the sign was removed but I want to identify that courage of those people that sat in the room – and I know some of them – who made the decision to put that sign there and put it out there so that we can have this conversation of whether museums can do this or not.

The New Museum here in New York had this incredible event and unfortunately I had to sort of watch and read about from a distance, ‘Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter’. A group of more than a hundred black women artists began meeting at the New Museum back in July, took over the museum for an event in September that included performances, workshops, videos, a procession. Reflecting on that September event at the New Museum, artist Ariel Jackson recalls, “Some of us wanted a space to laugh and celebrate our blackness in the face of trauma; others wanted a space to scream, cry and holler. We ultimately agreed we wanted to express our humanity, both joy and grief.”

The Mirror Casket Project is a sculpture, performance and call to action for justice in the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Created by a team of seven community artists and organisers, The Mirror Casket responds to Ferguson’s residents’ call for a work of art that evokes more empathy in this situation with an aim to provoke reflection and thinking about our humanity. The work has been acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum for African American History and Culture, and hopefully will be on view in future upcoming exhibitions there.

At the Portland Art Museum, we worked with, have been working with and partnering with an organisation in Portland called ‘Don’t Shoot Portland’, one of the Black Lives Matter activist groups that has been really working for change in our community and connecting across the entire community. On August 9th, the anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing we had a rally and the Community Social Action and Art Project gathering at the museum on our campus space. This is a photograph from that event, and these were conversations we were having in connection with exhibitions we were putting on view that dealt with racial violence, police brutality, and we wanted to be listening to our community and engaged with our community and so reached out and had these powerful things happening at the museum.

It was a space of creation, a space of community and coming together. And this is one of my favourite photographs from the event. This young tall gentleman is a Portland-based artist, Arvie Smith, whose exhibit was on view opening in July and actually provoked some of these conversations which were amazing, and his exhibit has been extended to stay on view until March so that we can continue making sure that we can use art to have these conversations as well as just using the museum space.

And on my far right, I can’t put the slide up without calling up Teresa Rayford, who is one of the most powerful activists that exists in Portland and probably in many of our communities, who’s putting a lot of this together and who has for the past six days been on the streets in Portland with peaceful protestors standing up for basic human rights.

Following up the event in the Portland Art Museum on August 9th, we had a panel discussion where Reverend Tracy Blackman from Florissant, Missouri, one of the pastors that’s been involved in the Ferguson Commission with President Obama and also the Federal Government’s faith-based initiatives work, came and spoke with Arvie Smith and Teresa, as well as Mykia Hernandez, a young activist in Portland, and with two days’ notice or three days’ notice we had an incredible crowd from the community come, including docents and staff from the museum who I wouldn’t have expected to sort of come out to this conversation so it was really important internally and externally for the museum to be having these conversations and see the space for these conversations.

And in the words of the leaders of the Ford Foundation who publicly supported Black Lives Matter earlier this summer, they wrote, and I think it’s very timely now as it was back in July, ‘Now is the time to stand by and amplify movements rooted in love, compassion and dignity for all people.’

Action three: Flip the Script: Jim, am I allowed to show this photo? This is one of my favourite pictures from an initiatives that we’ve done at the Portland Art Museum, and for me it really is key to representing this idea of flipping the script. What does it look like when we flip the script in museums to work to descent to the traditional power narratives that exist within our institutions. How can we shift away from old traditional narratives that got us where we are today right now, right here? How can we work as museum professionals to shift power?

Letting go of these traditional historic notions of museum authority and power relationships is essential but it’s also very challenging, and I’m going to break the rules of conferences and do something that you’re not supposed to do. I’m going to read a text panel from a museum exhibition, and this is not a text panel that is a typical voice of authority, it is not what I call the Voice of God text panel for a museum. This text panel was the intro panel to our new Centre for Contemporary Native Art Exhibition, written by two indigenous artists and unedited and unimpeded by curatorial voice or museum voice and I think it says something powerful.

So, when visitors waked into the gallery they were immediately confronted by this wall text panel: By entering this space, you have an ethical responsibility to acknowledge that all indigenous thought, creativity, fantasy, activism and existence is grounded in continual acts of survivance. You have agreed to forfeit your misconceptions of indigenous identity and respect the sacredness of indigenous traditional practices. You are not stepping into the past or steering into a picture plain void of indigenous inhabitants, you are not glorifying Western historical inaccuracies or romanticising the cowboys-and Indians narrative. By entering this space you agree to never place your hand over your mouth in a mock war cry or teach your children to be ignorant of the indigenous peoples whose land you have claimed as your own. From this moment onward you promise to learn the history of the indigenous ancestral lands that were stolen and continue to be stolen through colonisation and genocide. By entering this space, you have agreed to become a lifelong agent against humanitarian and environmental injustice. And that’s by Demian DinéYazhi and Kali Spitzer, the artists for that exhibit.

I want that on the front of you museum. Can I do that? Can we all do that? It was such a powerful statement. So, flipping the script, changing who gets to write these narratives. The Centre for Contemporary Native Art at the Portland Art Museum is one of these spaces. This is a work by Demian that I really fell in love with this past summer. Changing these narratives, changing who gets to tell stories I think is so important in these narratives that museums tell for these centres.

The Centre for Contemporary Native Art is a centre that we have developed dedicated to displaying the work by contemporary indigenous artists at the museum. It’s supported by an IMLS grant currently and it really gets the museum to step out of the way and let native people tell their stories and so we’ve been really privileging native voice, native language, indigenous knowledge, indigenous perspectives. It has been one of the most powerful things I’ve been able to work on in my work in museums and I have to give a shout out to Dina Dart who was recently our curator of Native American Art at the Portland Art Museum whose powerful vision made this possible and it’s been just an incredible space. Here’s Demian DinéYazhi in this image, talking to a group of leaders from different countries in the Middle East who were visiting Portland as part of a Middle East Partnership Initiative at the museum.

And I think who is telling these stories, whose voice counts, whose knowledge matters, making sure that … this is an image of Clarissa Rizal who is one of the most amazing knowledge-holders, one of the most valuable people in the Tlingit Community who is holding knowledge of Chilkat weaving and so many things; she’s such a valuable resource for the museum and brings in a different type of knowledge that is valuable for museums.

I bring this slide up because this question of who’s telling the stories and whose voice counts, this project has been long-running now at the Portland Art Museum called Object Stories, and these are just some of the examples of the people whose voices have been brought to the centre of our museum from Bernie and Mark here, who are to highlight the voices of people living with Alzheimer’s, and their caregivers, to recent refugees to Portland, and on the far right bottom, we currently have on view in that gallery, a project that highlights the voices of deaf artists and highlights their work in the gallery of Portland artists and this project has been one of these ways we’ve been able to really bring these voices out.

In her article from earlier this year entitled, ‘We need a decolonised, not a diverse education’, scholar Zoé Samudzi writes, ‘Until marginalised communities are the storytellers of their experiences, history will be rendered partially complete but wholly privileged the knowledge and perspective of the colonisers.’ So, I think these marginalised voices and stories, often rendered completely invisible, need to be brought to the centre. And one tiny little example – this is just something I thought was amazing project that I just read about this past week or so – at the Detroit Institute of Art, they’re working on an exhibit next summer to highlight and reflect on the 50 year anniversary of the summer of 1967 rebellion, and it’s a yearlong collaborative project to uncover home movies and perspectives from people living in Detroit in 1967, and the project aims to reflect on one of the most painful times in the history of Detroit and spur thoughts on how that region can continue moving forward. What an incredible way of bringing community voices and stories, and privileging those stories and knowledge into the museum.

Okay, action four: Create a Personal Vision: This is another rule-breaker I think. You’re not supposed to put a picture of yourself in your PowerPoint slides. Have a personal vision for change, create a personal vision. I think this is something that’s important and I hope you’ve had your coffee. It’s still early but I’m going to have you do something for me before we wrap up here. Put everything down, put your notebooks and stuff down just for a second for me because I know, and devices and things. Take a deep breath and clear your mind for a second. I know this is deep stuff sometimes.

Now I want you to try and think about what matters most to you right now. What matters most to you right now? Try to boil it down to a word or a phrase. What matters most to you right now? Now, when I raise my arms, what I want you to do is shout that out, shout that out. Everybody on board? Okay. I’m going to give you a second to frame that into a word or a phrase. Okay, alright, ready?

Okay, we’re going to try this again. I want to hear the passion. I want to hear the purpose. I want you to think about that energy you heard from Janelle Monáe. I want to hear your purpose. I want someone on the street outside to be, like, damn, what’s going on in there, so try this again. What matters to you most?

Thank you, thank you, and not only is that energy the energy that we need to make change happen in museums but it also illustrates this need for our own personal visions and purpose to help guide this work. What do you care about? What is your high dream? What is the change you’d like to see? Have a personal vision. Write it down. It doesn’t have to be some sort of wonderfully crafted … what you’ve just said, and I heard some of them, that’s what we’re talking about. Write it down, add it to your desktop background, tape it to your wall, share it on social media, wear it on a tee-shirt. Connect with your core values on a daily basis. Stand behind these values. Share them. Don’t be ashamed of them. After all, if we don’t know where we’re going, how in the hell are we ever going to get there?

I’m most recently inspired by De Andrea Nichols, an activist, educator and artist in St Louis and she said in a commencement speech earlier this year at Washington University, “Do what makes you come alive!” Like that I want on my desktop; I want that on my wall. “Do what makes you come alive!” This project is worth checking out and you can follow her on social media. This was her ‘Sticky Note to Self’ project. She’s got a tumbler, she puts it on Instagram. It is so inspiring to see her inspiration, to see the things that she’s thinking about, done so creatively. She just writes these sticky notes to herself and it’s been something I’ve been doing more and more, is when you’ve got a moment of inspiration, write it down, stick it somewhere, keep it, reflect back on it on a daily basis so we can keep pushing ahead on this work.

Bring your passion with you to work and I think this is an important thing before I end this sort of moment, is we need to stop the unnecessary separation between our work and ourselves and this type of passion. We need to create environments and museums where we, as museum workers, can be our whole selves, can bring our passion and one of the things that I’ve been attaching to my emails over the past year has been this inspiring quote from James Baldwin: Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

Okay, last actions, now we’re at five. Action five: Build communities of Action: I firmly believe, and you can read about this more, I’m not going to go into detail; I firmly believe museums are people-centred institutions. Museums are us. If we don’t bring in other people too, our work cannot grow. We need to identify change agents within our institutions. Bring them together; invite people to meet with you over coffee. I think this is always a strategy that can be useful, think in your head about the barriers to your work: how are they people-based, what people are involved with those barriers and go have coffee and listen, and listen to what those people are talking about in terms of why those barriers might exist, and then work to grow the group, positively recognise when others take steps in the right direction towards this work too.

And I think it’s time for, no matter where you are in your orgnaisations, you could be … I just started … I met people yesterday that just started working in museums; it’s time for us to stop thinking of ourselves as followers and thinking of ourselves as leaders within our organisations. You can grow a community of change in your organisation and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been there. And remember museum are made of us people, and as empathetic, connected and engaged people, the museum are as empathetic, engaged and connected as the people who work for them. There’s no ‘it’, there’s no ‘they’ that we can point to, there’s no big, bad ‘no’ to blame when this work isn’t happening, only us, the people who work for these institutions.

And finally to this idea of building these communities of action, recognising these new collective platforms and movements that exist now. If you are on social media, museum worker-speak, museums respond to Ferguson – these are hashtags that are bringing people together to talk about these issues. [Muse] women, A11Y, an accessibility hashtag, and then blogs, Incluseum, Brown Girls’ Museum blog, Visitors of Colour Tumblr site. If you haven’t been to it, go, check it out. Queering the Museum Project, the Museum of Impact, Museum Hue. We know we’re experiencing Monica’s power last night and will continuously; so many more projects that are bringing people together to create these communities of change and communities of action.

And the last slide in this is my team, the team of education people at the Portland Art Museum. We took this photo here last Wednesday morning, which I regretted scheduling that photo the morning after the election here, but we immediately gravitated to this empowering work by artists, [Carida Cant] who’s also been feeding a lot of our souls in Portland with this exhibition on view of her work, and I include this photo only to give recognition, honour and support to this amazing group of educators and to the power that they bring to all of this work at the Portland Art Museum, to our vision for doing good, meaningful, more local work and in building communities of change across our institution. It is not ‘me’; it is a ‘we’ situation and there is so much power in the people in this image and many who are not even this photograph.

And as we bring on more people to rise to this challenge with us we can convert aspiring to change into real change. The time has come to move beyond symbolically standing up for social justice. This may often mean breaking the rules but it never involves silence. We need to permanently, permanently put to rest the idea that a museum should be a neutral place and that its employees should be dispassionate.

Let me wrap up with one sort of personal note and then I hope we’ve got time for some questions and discussion. Let me look at my clock. We do, good. So let me wrap up with something just a little bit more personal. One week ago this morning, like many of us thinking back to that day, I was proud to go and turn in my ballot with my wife, inspired by her power, her energy and her resilience. Just hours later that night I found myself in tears, holding my confused, questioning, seven-year-old son in my arms as I put him to bed, and I know I’m not alone when I say I felt numb and paralysed, and I want to close by connecting with the words of writer, Tony Morrison, who many of us read during the past days and weeks. Twelve years ago she recanted her own election-induced feelings of depression, paralysis and being unable to write, to create, when an artist friend interrupted her and said, “No, no, no, this is precisely the time when artists go to work. That’s our job!” So, I want to channel the power of Miss Morrison in this difficult moment because this is precisely when museums go to work. That’s our job. Thank you.

And I want to open it up to … I don’t call it Q&A because that pretends I have the answers but questions, discussion and listening, I’d love to listen instead of be put on the spot to answer questions but I’m happy for some discussion if there’s any thoughts or questions. Yeah, it looks like there are.

Question: Hey, Mike, this was a great discussion. One of the things I wanted to comment on is when we talk about being more local or bringing the community, integrating them more into the museum that you work at, is that we kind of silo the communities and so we bring them in when we have an Native American exhibition or an installation, or an African art installation but that people are more than their cultures and so they could have and probably do have a level of knowledge that’s beyond that, and so I think for a lot of museum professionals we have to look at the people we want in our museum and see how we can integrate them across the board.

I also think it’s really important to look at staffing and to have that voice always within the museum so it’s not just once a year, and that we really have to consider who’s essentially calling the shots, who’s on your board, who’s in your curatorial department, who has access to your director who will ultimately yay or nay something so I just want to put that out there.

Mike: Yes, and thank you so much. It’s good to see you. So, thank you. I don’t have to jump to respond but I think one thing that you made me think of is in the work that … I’m sharing little, tiny little slices of the thing that’s been at the core for the last few years and I think four years ago when I started the Portland Art Museum it wasn’t; it was a problem but now is at the core, is sustained investment in the community, it’s sustained relationships and partnerships, and this has been so important with the work that we’re doing with the native communities of Portland.

Portland has one of the top urban Native American populations in the country and so reaching out to them holistically and in a sustained way has been important. And the same, a lot of the exhibitions that I sort of talk about happen to be sparks for these sustained conversations and so when we, just this past, a week ago from Monday we had a group of members from the community to talk to us about an upcoming exhibition and I sat down and said, this isn’t a one-time thing, like if we’re not talking to you in a year we haven’t done our job. We’ve got to bring you in and build relationships that are longer than this project and this programme, than this once-a-year or this exhibition that might be your cultural group, we’ve got to break that down so thank you. I think that’s so important. Other questions or thoughts? Great. Thank you all so much. Looks like somebody had their hand up Jim says. I can’t see; I’m blinded by the light. Oh, down front.

Question: Thank you very much. It was very inspiring. I just have two questions and the first one is I think it’s very important that we have to stand for our values and also take this social kind of responsibility, but then it’s always hard because creating change means also that you have people who are against you and it’s also hard for the whole team, of course, to work on something when you still are seeing a resistance, and on the other hand side you don’t want to hurt these people, like our value systems are so different so you don’t want to hurt these people so how to avoid that the museum comes [disturber] in a bad way and try to be disturber in a good way; how to unify people instead of making conflict between people or increasing this conflict. And then the second question is related to that and that’s how you keep the passion and shine in the eyes of your people, how they couldn’t get tired with all of this responsibility.

Mike: Good questions, thank you. So the first one, yeah, I think the way to, for me at least, is to sort of prevent there from being an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ way of going about this work or … I think it’s, but I think that idea of empathy, we could spend a lot more time breaking that down and talking a lot more about that and I’ve reflected on that. I feel like a lot it is important. I think it doesn’t shut people out. I think listening is so important. It doesn’t mean, I think it doesn’t mean that … it’s not about agreement or disagreement but it’s about having those conversations.

Just yesterday we were talking about what happens when disagreement happens and I’m, like, oh, bring it, like that is when the best conversations are happening and we can … when I’m working with … I’ve done a lot of docent training and that sometimes is where these really challenging conversations can come up about what is the role of the museum and should we really be doing some of these things when we’re working with groups in the galleries and should we be highlighting these issues, and I think listening to those concerns or not shutting any of those down and just opening up spaces where people can share those thoughts and we can talk about it, but I think it’s connecting to us, connecting to these issues around humanity and dignity of all people is something that ideas of empathy aren’t political; they’re just human issues that we can listen to and talk about so I feel like we keep our focus on that we don’t have as many divisive conversations but I don’t know if that addresses your question but I think it’s a key thing.

Listening; listening sounds silly and I was that a gathering at [Belbar] Park in San Diego a couple of months ago and leadership symposium, Smith Leadership Symposium, and they, like, there’s so many people who were just listening; people were, like, what would the recommendation be, listening and it sounds like an easy concept but we’re not doing it enough. If we really look at ourselves and think at the end of our day, at the end of a work day, how have we listened to ourselves, to our colleagues, to people, to visitors, to security guards, to volunteers, to anyone that walks in the museum, to those people that aren’t even in the museum, how are we listening and I think that’s really important – to listen with care and to listen deeply to address some of those issues. And then the energy thing, yeah, I don’t know, I think that we’ve got to find … and I think self-care is probably the most important way to keep energy enthusiasm and keep pushing forward.

When we … this photo, Wednesday morning we were, we were not smiling when we came into the museum that morning and everybody kind of looked at each other and people were giving each other hugs and talking about our own personal experiences and thoughts and feelings, but then we went to the gallery and we, we took this group photo, we let art fed and nourish us a little bit and then I said everybody do what you need to do today because everybody needs to take care of themselves in their own way and I think self-care is … I know a lot of us talk about that. It’s so key that we don’t let the work that we do wear us down and that we have those moments to take care of ourselves, whatever that means for each individual museum employee so thank you. Yes, there’s another.

Question: Hi, thanks, it was a great talk, as usual, from you. I just wanted to push us a little bit on empathy not being political actually because I’m not so sure, especially with current climates as it is, and I guess I’m just calling for all of us … I’m not asking for you to respond to that. I think in the next few years it’ll be really interesting because we can feel like this is the way to go, going the high route but as funding sources and everything get, and there’re more fears with boards or with administration and I think we’re going to have to have these discussions with people who are in leadership positions because if it’s looked at that if you’re going in a certain direction, that funding might … it’s just going to be an interesting discussion. I don’t know if you’ve thought about that because that’s the part of how do we make sure that we, our values and we know that our directors have these values too but also the pressure of what happens when you have that kind of viewpoint.

Mike: Tell me a little bit more about the pushing empathy as political thing because I think that’s a great sort of thing to be looking at and talking about.

Question: I don’t know if it is a political if you, if I’m a person that likes to listen and wants to have conversations with a lot of people different than I am, that I’m a person who … just thinking in terms of my family and I, the way I deal with the way I live is different and politically and seen as that a framing of who I am. I’m not articulating this well, but that the people in my family who vote a different way, that empathy or how you think about other people or how you allow yourself to think about other people, I think the way that we either employ empathy or not is actually political. Does that make sense?

Mike: I think so, yeah. I think these are …

Question: I’m so sorry! I’m going to give this up right now.

Mike: No, these are … a lot of these thoughts here too are also in process and shaping, not shaped so I appreciate. I think these are conversations that we’re having and I appreciate that we’re having them and these days here in New York are an important space to have them. I know that we’ll have them online and continue having them, and I think it’s important that we have these open spaces to think about these conversations and how do we address the moment that we’re at now and what empathy means from …

Mike Murawski, Director of Education & Public Programs for the Portland Art Museum, and Founding Editor of ArtMuseumTeaching.com gave this presentation at MuseumNext New York on 15 November 2016.

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