NEELY MCNULTY, Hood Foundation Curator of Education
Hood Quarterly, summer 2023
Museums aspire to be places of civic engagement and public accessibility. To meet that expectation in our teaching requires honest interrogation of the ways in which inadvertent racism can impact how we interact with people and objects in our galleries. Developing inclusive teaching practices is more important than ever. To that end, docents and teaching staff at the Hood Museum engaged in a productive dialogue last winter facilitated by museum educators Keonna Hendrick and Marit Dewhurst, whose work in dismantling racism in museum education is nationally recognized.
Their approach centers a multiplicity of viewpoints and embracing ambiguity as counterpoints to a reductive way of seeing the world through one lens. To put this idea into practice, in one exercise Keonna and Marit invited small groups to select a work of art and identify connections to a specific term. The terms were power, privilege, racism, and white supremacy. Each small group discussed the ways in which the artwork engaged with their assigned concept. None of the art and concept pairings were obvious. Concepts like privilege and racism are often deeply embedded in cultural artifacts. This exercise led to fruitful conversations about what it means to hold multiple truths at once and what makes it so difficult for some people to discuss these concepts in the museum context—a difficulty that presumably impacts how we interact with our audiences.
In another exercise, we explored specific examples of everyday racism in our teaching practice and analyzed each scenario using questions such as these: How are we responding personally? What forms of racism and power do we notice? How might this situation impact the visitor? What strategies can we use in the moment to address racism? And ultimately, what long-term strategies can we develop to navigate or prevent similar situations in the future?
These tools are essential to our work. We will have plenty of opportunities to practice and grow, particularly in this exhibition year where the museum is focused on the theme "Art and the Construction of History."