In the last few years the museum industry has become increasingly aware of the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) movement. While many are aware of the movement, it has been difficult for the museum industry as a whole to understand how it applies to them and what they can do to positively contribute.
I refer to DEAI as a ‘movement’ because it emerged as a direct result of people working together to advocate for change. More specifically, the movement is asking society to evolve, be mindful and respectful of others, and be purposeful in how we support diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion practices.
It’s easy for organizations to become immobilized when trying to determine how to effectively implement DEAI practices. Before we dive in, it’s important to first understand the meaning of each DEAI aspect. Here are the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Definitions as provided by the Alliance of American Museums (AAM):
- Diversity is all the ways that people are different (and the same) at the individual and group levels. Even when people appear the same, they are different. Organizational diversity requires examining and questioning the makeup of a group to ensure that multiple perspectives are represented.
- Equity is the fair and just treatment of all members of a community. Equity requires commitment to strategic priorities, resources, respect, and civility, as well as ongoing action and assessment of progress toward achieving specified goals.
- Accessibility is giving equitable access to everyone along the continuum of human ability and experience. Accessibility encompasses the broader meanings of compliance and refers to how organizations make space for the characteristics that each person brings.
See my previous post on Making Museums Accessible for more information regarding this topic.
- Inclusion refers to the intentional, ongoing effort to ensure that diverse individuals fully participate in all aspects of organizational work, including decision-making processes. It also refers to the ways that diverse participants are valued as respected members of an organization and/or community.
DEAI First Steps
Industries and professional fields across the spectrum are grappling with understanding DEAI and how they can positively engage with a movement that is still evolving in meaning and implementation. The museum and nonprofit fields in particular have largely been open to DEAI practices and are entering into dialogues on how the fields can adjust current operations in order to address any DEAI gaps. When working towards being diverse, equitable, accessible, and inclusive, there are two elements that are critical to any DEAI foundation: 1. A DEAI statement for the museum; and 2. Clearly defined DEAI practices that will be implemented within the museum structure and programming.
Often, the best place to start when implementing a new practice is to craft a statement on what DEAI means to the museum and how the museum intends to implement the new practice(s). To get started, look at AAM’s and peer museum’s DEAI or DEI statements. Here’s AAM’s Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Statement:
‘Museums are a vital part of how we tell the stories of who we are, who we’ve been, and how we will live together. They maintain our cultural heritage and teach us about all the ways we are different and the same. Reflecting the diversity of that heritage is a critical part of museums’ work. We cannot claim to be truly essential to society if we are not accessible to all.’
In addition to reviewing existing DEAI statements, it’s important to listen to staff and museum stakeholders when crafting a DEAI statement and resulting practice.
DEAI Resources for Developing Practices
Professional associations such as the AAM have applied DEAI to themselves and have created resources and toolkits for museum members to read and employ at their home institutions. They offer DEAI resource toolkits for collections stewardship, education and interpretation, facilities and risk management, governance and support organizations, human resources, and mission and institutional planning.
Why is DEAI Important?
In order for museums to truly be open to and serve all audiences, they must be aware of societal disparities and gaps in their own operations and programming. There are academic articles and working groups reporting on this in more detail, but to begin, here are the top 3 ways a sincere incorporation of DEAI practices can change the museum for the better:
- The collections and exhibits will include additional, diverse perspectives and histories. As a result, the exhibits will reveal new aspects of our collective history; which leads to increased discoveries, visitor enjoyment and engagement.
- Working towards truly accessible museum exhibits and programming will help to bridge the visitor experience gap; broadening the museum’s appeal for persons of all abilities.
- DEAI (or DEI) is quickly becoming a required component of any funding proposal. Only museums who’ve begun to implement DEAI practices will be eligible to apply for funding.
While this is not an exhaustive approach, museum staff can move past the overwhelm and begin by adopting a DEAI statement and developing practices that will help them meet their DEAI-related intentions.
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