Commentary: Response to the IME Inaugural Conference’s Guest Speakers

Commentary on Closing Panel: “A Discussion on Defining Museum Ethics”

 

Panelists:
 
Emlyn Koster- President and CEO, Liberty Science Center
Dr. Janet Marstine- Director of the IME, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Art and Music, Seton Hall UniversityRobert McDonald- President Emeritus, Museum of the City of New York
Dr. Judith Stark- Professor, Department of Philosophy, Seton Hall Univeristy
Peter Welsh- Director, Central Division, Arizona Historical Society

Commentary by: Laura Browarny, graduate student in the Seton Hall M.A. in Museum Professions Program; IME travel stipend recipient.
The Defining Museum Ethics conference was brought to a close with a panel discussion among museum professionals and professors.  Seton Hall Professor of Philosophy Judith Stark began the discussion by letting the audience know that she was not there to merely clear everything up as many of her students had asked.  A question that Janet Marstine had asked at the beginning of the conference inquired whether ethics was based on a fixed set of principles, or if they were constantly in flux.  A poll of the audience revealed that their opinions were basically split.  Dr. Stark offered some alternative categories, saying that the principles of ethics are not, in fact, changing, but it is the application of those principles that must change in order to remain up to date with current events and practices. Peter Welsh, Director of the Arizona Historical Society, Central Division, responded to Dr. Stark, I can count on, at some point in the future, being considered a fool, because, as he explained, he recognizes that what he is doing now may become irrelevant as times and museum practices change.

Another theme of the conference that the panel discussed: ought museum professionals be activists?  Robert Macdonald, Director Emeritus of the Museum of the City of New York, pointed out that activism is not usually part of a museum’s mission, and later stated that it might be best in some cases for museums to stand back so as to focus on their responsibilities to the public.  Richard Sandell returned to some of the points that he made in his keynote address, emphasizing that by remaining silent, museums are not remaining neutral and objective; they are actually accepting and reinforcing stereotypes and misconceptions about museum practices.  Although the many voices on these issues may never reach an accord, it is important to keep the dialogue open so that the discourse can expand and evolve to incorporate the new concerns that are occurring every day.

So the question remains: what are museum ethics?  Although a definition may never be universally agreed upon, the panelists were able to compile a list of characteristics that are necessary to museum ethics. First is the devotion to maintaining the public trust.  Lisa Lee asked the question which public? and the response was that museums should cater not only to their members and donors.  The public includes every one-time and repeat visitor, every child of every school group, everyone living in the museum’s community, and every potential future visitor from everywhere in the world.  Second: since there is no definitive guide to museum ethics, it is imperative to keep the discourse open and to pass it along to other museum professionals.  The best way to advocate museum ethics is to talk about it with colleagues. Lastly, ethics is not concrete.  As times change, so will the expectations of and for museums and it is important to remain aware of and open to these changes.

 

Commentary on Lisa Lee: “Museums as ‘Dangerous’ Sites: Fostering Civic Engagement Through Radically Decomcratic Museum Practices”

 

Speaker: Lisa Lee
Title: “Museums as ‘Dangerous’ Sites: Fostering Civic Engagement Through Radically Democratic Museum Pracices”
Commentary by: Laura Browarny, graduate student in the Seton Hall M.A. in Museum Professions Program; IME travel stipend recipient. 

As director at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Chicago, Lisa Lee has had her fair share of controversy; in fact, it seems that it is rooted within the very substance her biography. Jane Addams lived a highly controversial life; she aligned herself with political activists, some who were considered Socialists, and other feminists.  Prior to hearing Lisa’s presentation, however, I was unaware of the more subversive side of Ms. Addams’ efforts.  General references such as encyclopedia.com and of course wikipedia.org and all of the information provided on her focused entirely on her achievements as a activist for peace, her reception of the Nobel Peace Prize, and her establishment of the Hull-House settlement.  These idealized and censored descriptions are precisely what Lisa Lee is attempting to move beyond at the Hull-House museum.

Many people view museums as neutral spaces, but what happens when a historic house or site commemorates an individual with very strong and often contested opinions?  Lisa Lee has given herself a challenging task in creating programming and exhibitions at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum that fully address all aspects of Ms. Addams’ life, even if the public may not be equally receptive to some of the details.  She has used creative labeling, community involvement, and food preservation to address some issues that were prevalent at the time that Jane Addams lived at Hull-House and are still pertinent to museum visitors today.

Some topics that are discussed in the museum setting include sexual orientation, immigration, sustainability, and child labor.  All of these were hot button topics around the Hull-House dining room tables, and Lisa Lee created an environment in the museum that allows for discourse on these issues that are still prevalent today in that same dining room next door. Lee considers herself to be an activist both within the museum and in her life outside of it.  She believes that museums should strive to tell the whole story.  But what are the risks to the museum itself if a line is crossed?  The Hull-House museum is part of the University of Chicago; does this identity give it intellectual protection that other historic houses and sites might not enjoy? When is it necessary to cause a stir for social justice and when do museums put themselves in jeopardy by sparking controversy just for the sake of sensationalism. Lisa Lee spoke about how she is able to confront these issues diplomatically and successfully.

 

Commentary on Jane Werner: “Rebuilding the Neighborhood with Sustainability at the Core”

 

Speaker: Jane Werner- Director, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Title: Rebuilding the Neighborhood with Sustainability at the Core
Commentary by: Laura Browarny, graduate student in the Seton Hall M.A. in Museum Professions Program; IME travel stipend recipient. 

The issue of the ecological status of the world is becoming more and more urgent every day.  Many non-profits and corporations are taking great strides towards become greener and more sustainable, but what obligation do museums have to improve their sustainability?  Jane Werner, director of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh was the only presenter to really tackle this issue at the conference.  She stresses the importance of a museum’s relationship with its surrounding community and the imperative that a museum set a good example.  The Children’s Museum has undergone a great deal of change since Jane began her tenure there, and all of that change was for the better.

Not many people in the audience were representing children’s museums, which Jane described as a unique entity within the museum sphere, being the only type of institution that is defined by its audience rather than its collections.  Because of the extreme emphasis on teaching that a children’s museum mandates, the need to be aware of community responsibility is of even greater importance than at other kinds of museums.  In her presentation, Jane spoke about environmental, program, neighborhood, and financial sustainability and explained how the Children’s Museum is working towards goals in all of these fields.

Ultimately, the community in which the Children’s Museum is immersed is what has made it possible for this dynamic institution to become so successful in achieving its goals.  The Northside of Pittsburgh is home to many cultural institutions including the Andy Warhol Museum that have been willing to collaborate with the Children’s Museum in order to strengthen community and work to transform the Northside in the “family district” of Pittsburgh.  All of these goals seem quite idealistic and a lot for any museum to take on.  Does the nature of the Children’s Museum and the fact that it relies on activities and programs make it a particularly conducive environment for community building?  Are large art or natural history museums be capable of carrying out the same types of collaborative programming without sacrificing their obligations to their collections and exhibitions?  What are the applications across the museum sector?

 

Commentary on Claudia Ocello: “The Development and Progress of a Collaborative Program for Teen Parents and their Children

 

Speaker: Claudia Ocello- President and CEO of Museum Partners and Consulting, LLC; adjunct professor for the M.A. in Museum Professions Program at Seton Hall University
Title: The Development and Progress of a Collaborative Program for Teen Parents and their Children.
Commentary by: Jennine Schweighardt, graduate student in the Seton Hall M.A. in Museum Professions program; Graduate Assistant for the IME
Claudia Ocello’s talk, Making a Difference: The Development and Progress of a Collaborative Program for Teen Parents and their Children in Museums, addresses the ethics of museums providing customized programming in meeting the needs of the underserved in its community. Ocello uses a an educational program for teen parents and their children, with which she was involved in during her employment at the New Jersey Historical Society, to show how a museum can uniquely provide programming that fills a need not being offered by any other public service.

Through Partners in Learning educators worked with Newark High School’s Infant-Toddler Center, which assists teenage parents with academic support to help them graduate while providing programming for their children, and guiding them in learning parenting skills. The Infant-Toddler Center had no cultural segment to their program, and therefore both the Center and the NJHS felt there was a natural advantage to a partnership.

An eight visit course was developed with the central objectives of teaching parents the skills necessary to feel comfortable in a museum or library while using these places a way to interact with their children. The ultimate goal is for parents to understand their children better, have quality time with them, and to use resources in their community that will add to their child’s education and cultural experiences. The program was successful, with most of the participants, including young fathers, learning more about their children through these bonding experiences. They also gained confidence in their parenting skills by learning how to get the most out of a public institution and making it their own space.

Exploring the ethics of partnering with an underserved community, Ocello asks: “Why should museums even be concerned with these issues?  Is it our ethic responsibility to provide for this audience? Does a museum educator’s responsibility in audience development extend to creating programs that fulfill a community need even if they serve a relatively small percentage of the population?  Or are our limited efforts and limited resources better served in distinguishing the largest possible audience we can serve?” She responds by saying that the museum, if able to meet the unfilled need of the public while supporting its mission, would be acting unethically to not act on such an opportunity.

Ocello’s example made me realize the complexity of the issues when museum leaders are deciding whether or not to run a program. It is not a matter only of financial efficiency and numbers served. It is the ability of the New Jersey Historical Society, or any institution, to build a real connection with people who would not traditionally use the museum, expanding the support these visitors have for themselves and their families, while making the museum more accessible to its entire public, not just the self-motivated museum-visiting public.

 

Commentary on Beverly Robertson: “Politics in the Museum: Rights and Responsibilities”

 

Speaker: Beverly Robertson- Director, National Civil Rights Museum
Title: “Politics in the Museum: Rights and Responsibilities”
Commentary by: Laura Browarny, graduate student in the Seton Hall M.A. in Museum Professions Program; IME travel stipend recipient. 

It was no doubt, from the moment that she stepped up to the podium, that Beverly Robertson is a woman with a tremendous presence and a great deal of personality.  During her past year as President of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN, Beverly was certainly put to the test and “baptized by fire” as she herself put it.  It is intrinsic to the Civil Rights Museum to represent some sensitive subject matter and a very controversial part of America’s past, but the ethics of museum governance were called into question recently when the museum decided to privatize.

In her presentation, Beverly itemized some of the responsibilities that museums have to their audience.  One of the most important of these is to “maintain a positive public image.”  If Beverly adheres to her own standards, it may be difficult to understand why she was made the decision to get involved in a hugely controversial and political undertaking to privatize the museum.  The decision was met with explosive opposition and what had begun as a strictly financial matter had escalated into an issue of politics and race.

At issue was museum governance but the debate that occurred had much more to do with race and who owned the past. The people of Memphis and its surrounding communities were concerned about what would happen to their museum if under private ownership and control (the new board consisted mainly of upper class white men).  Robertson handled the situation by building trust through maintaining accessibility and transparency.

Many museums attempt to avoid controversy at all costs, often at the expense of overlooking important issues, but sometimes it is necessary to address these issues in order to carry out a museum’s mission.  Robertson took a risk in her decision to support the privatization of the Civil Rights Museum, but was there a way that would have made the process a little less controversial?  Could she have involved diverse stakeholders in the decision-making? Are there other models of power-sharing that could have been helpful in the transition process?

 

Commentary on James B. Gardner- “Ethical, Entrepreneurial, or Inappropriate? Business Practices in Museums”

 

Speaker: James B. Gardner- Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs, National Museum of American History
Title: Ethical, Entrepreneurial, or Inappropriate? Business Practices in Museums
Commentary by: Xue Wang, graduate student in M.A. in Museum Professions program; IME travel stipend recipient

James B. Gardner, Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs, National Museum of American History, at the Smithsonian Institution, presented “Ethical, Entrepreneurial, or Inappropriate?” during the first session “Identifying Problems/Negotiating Solutions.”

Gardner’s lecture was the only presentation at the conference that focused on the ethics of business in museums. His talk addressed the ethical issues that museums must address in this new era of entrepreneurial activity and accountability.

Gardner discussed the current economic crisis and presented the financial challenges affecting museums. Gardner believes we have to come up with creative solutions to our problems, not wait for larger economic changes to trickle down. Museums operate in the public trust, and unethical activities are never justifiable. For example, Gardner argues that museums should restrict the sale of assets to cover operational costs.

Gardner questions the way museums earn income through “commodification” such as product development and blockbuster exhibitions. He stressed that the market should never drive the mission of the collection and the museum. Other ways to generate income include education programs and blockbuster exhibitions.

Gardner identifies ethical concerns that can arise during fundraising, such as conflict of interest, donor recognition, confidentiality and donor influence. In the end, he stated that there was a difference between the concepts of a museum as a business and the business practices of a museum. The museum should not be viewed as a business. Gardner concluded that there is not a need for new standards, but we do need to reconsider how to more effectively apply existing standards to business practices to make our museums more ethical institutions.

As a graduate student in Museum Professions taking a course entitled, Principle, Practice and the Environment of Arts Administration, I mostly agree with Mr. Gardner’s points. Many museums and art institutions are cutting their budgets in a response to the economic crisis. Some even adjust their mission or business strategies to cater to the needs of the market. This is often against ethical practices and the public’s trust. An alternative could be to develop their programs and products. Mr. Gardner’s speech may not be a solution to individual problems, but it is inspiration for us to think about the ethics in museum entrepreneurial activities.

 

Commentary on Dr. Patricia Capone: “Post-NAGPRA: Ethics for New Ideas/ New Relationships/ Future Leaders”

 

Speaker: Dr. Patricia Capone- Curator and Reparations Coordinator, Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, Harvard University
Title: Post-NAGPRA: Ethics for New Ideas/ New Relationships/ Future Leaders
Commentary by: Rachel Dudek, graduate student in the Seton Hall M.A. in Museum  Professions program; IME travel stipend recipient.

Dr. Patricia Capone is Curator and Repatriation Coordinator, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University has a background in historical archaeology and researches indigenous cultures, particularly those from Southwest and North East United States.

The topic she discussed at the Inaugural Conference of the Institute of Museum Ethics was Post-NAGPRA: Ethics for New Ideas/New Relationships/Future Leaders. Capone was the only speaker to focus on repatriation. Her talk reflected on her own experiences at the Peabody and provided insight on how repatriation has affected museums. Capone focused on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990. Capone discussed how this legislation has oriented museums in society. Historically museums have represented colonial imbalance through their interpretation of objects created by indigenous cultures. These material objects are our connection to the past, and the display of these objects are portrayed reflects current ideas, and possible misconceptions, of the past. This is especially prevalent when a colonizing culture exhibits objects from a culture it has colonized. NAGPRA and other legislation has called attention to these injustices, leading the way for an ethical shift towards equal protection of all cultures and their sacred objects though barriers still remain.

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology has 1.5 million objects that are affected by NAGPRA. This legislation has led the Museum to reassess the collection and find new understandings of the collection and its past, which has led to the revision of the museum’s mission. The Museum has tried to establish intercultural respect and understanding through its collection and affiliated programs. Its staff has worked with neighboring tribes and communities to understand the complex history of the Harvard Indian College founded in 1655, and located in what is now Harvard Yard. Campus Archaeology is a three semester course at Harvard intended to raise awareness of the intersection between Harvard history and Native American education. Students in this program dig at the Harvard Yard to collect artifacts at a yard associated with the Indian College, while reflecting on the shared past.

Capone demonstrates that legal mandates, such as NAGPRA, can create relationships of trust which are ripe for collaborative projects in which new models of leadership emerge and new learning occurs.

 

Commentary on Malcolm Collum: “Responsible Utilization: Balancing a Conservator’s Obligations with Society’s Expectations”

 

Speaker: Malcolm Collum- Chief Conservator, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Title: Responsible Utilization: Balancing a Conservator’s Obligations with Society’s Expectations.
Commentary by: Jennine Schweighardt, graduate student in the Seton Hall M.A. in Museum Professions program; Graduate Assistant for the IME

During the first session of the Institute of Museum Ethics conference, Malcom Collum, Chief Conservator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and previously senior conservator at the Henry Ford Museum, addressed the subject of responsible utilization of museum collections in a presentation aptly named, Responsible Utilization.  In this presentation Collum declares a need for an objective process to decide how much an artifact should be used in its original capacity for “experiential education.” He also questions how museums can reconcile their responsibility to educate the public by using “experiential education” and preserving the object for “posterity.” Collum outlines the difficulty in making an ethical decision about artifact utilization by showing the conflict between the reasons why the public believes the mechanic artifacts should be used, and the reasons conservators want them to be operated as little as possible.

Many people without the background of a conservator are of the opinion that an artifact is still authentic even when the parts of that artifact are replaced. To illustrate this belief, Collum used the example of a 1929 Bentley Old #1 racing car. A court had declared that the authenticity of a machine, even with all its parts replaced, is as authentic as the original machine. The court believed that machines were intended to have their parts replaced and so this was expected. Collum disagrees with the court and holds that the original components of the object make it more valuable as historical records than a largely replicated operating artifact.

According to Collum, private collectors are increasingly valuing original components in machines. He cites, for examples, the fact that car auctions are now rating automobiles by authenticity and correlating value. Collum’s perspective is that, as replacements are made, the machine becomes more and more of a “replica,” rather than the actual object, lessening what it is worth.

Because the conservator’s point of view is frequently in the minority, Collum voices the concern that conservators may not be in the position to stop the restoration of a machine that they believe should remain in its original state. Collum asks rhetorically if there is a process in museums to allow those concerned about the preservation of an object’s authenticity to have as much of a say as those who support the restoration.  According to the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, it is the responsibility of the conservator to lobby for “what is best for the collection.” To perform this duty, conservators must be involved in the decision making process regarding artifact utilization; however, due to the increased desire of the public to see artifacts in operation, the input of conservators and curators has been disregarded in favor of realizing increased visitor-ship through the pull of experiential education. For a decision on the method and extent of object utilization to be objective, and therefore ethical, those determining that method should be a balanced representation of an institutions staff.

Collum recognizes that there must be some kind of compromise between employing and preserving functioning artifacts. However, he urges that if they are to be used, then we need to make sure that they are being used in a way that is least damaging to the artifact. This compromise leads to one of the key questions of Collum’s lecture: “How do we find a rational and responsible way to utilize functional artifacts without compromising our professional standards?”

To show how the Henry Ford Museum went about answering this question, Collum presented a “ranking system” that was devised by the institution in 1992. The system is a 1-4 scale which rates the artifact’s “value,” one being highest and four the lowest, based on “historical significance, rarity, institutional connections and/or monetary value.”  When choosing the ranking, how the artifact will be used should not be known. This keeps the process more objective.

Another part of the Henry Ford Museum’s decision-making process is a Collection Operations Team that includes a spokesperson from each part of the museum, achieving the balance mentioned above. All of the museum’s representatives get a chance to voice what they recognize as the risks and benefits of operating the artifact. Aspects that are taken into consideration are fragility, disturbance, transportation, the environment, security, reliability, whether it “promotes the institution,” if it is educational, and if it is entertaining. The curator brings a proposal on usage, written by the Collection Operations Team, to the Collection Committee, who votes to make a final determination.

Conservators will often support the use of an artifact if it allows them to learn more about the object’s condition. Objects do not benefit from being used for any other justification from the conservator’s standpoint. Use is not a method of preservation, and Collum declares this theory is a myth.

Collum illustrates how the process above works by giving examples of specific vehicles, and how the Henry Ford Museum ranks them. He also discloses that the risk versus benefits analysis frequently engaged to determine the use of an artifact can be flawed. Such is the situation when the time and resources invested in the restoration of the artifact to achieve operating capability does not justify the benefits.

Collum states that in order to make ethical decisions on the use of artifacts in “experiential education,” each institution must have a process that allows for the objective analysis of the artifact, and a open discussion from all key areas of the museum that work with that object, including conservators and curators.

As an educator, I can attest to the desirability of “experiential learning,” however, my love of history and historical objects brings to the forefront a concern for the object’s longevity. It is so difficult to decide how to use an object when you are aware that any use results in damage. The process adopted by the Henry Ford Museum, and presented here by Malcom Collum, is a welcome option that assists museums in identifying an ethical decision when presented with the complexity of object utilization. I ask, however, if this method can be used with other objects in the same way, or if Mr. Collum is presenting this as a process only to be used for automobile museums?

Author’s Note: Quotations in this commentary were taken from the speaker’s conferencepaper.

 

Commentary on Dr. Richard Sandell: “On Museum Ethics” Keynote

 

Keynote Speaker- Dr. Richard Sandell: Head of Museum Studies, University of Leicester
Title: On Museum Ethics
Commentary by: Jennine Schweighardt, graduate student in the M.A. in MuseumProfessions program; Graduate Assistant for the IME

Dr. Richard Sandell, Director and Head of the Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, began his keynote address by explaining that museums need to take an activist approach toward issues in museum ethics. To illustrate his position he used, as an example, the work of the project Rethinking Disability Representation, and the nine institutions the program partnered with. The result of this partnership was nine different projects that took an activist approach to assume what is a sensitive topic for many museums and their staff; representing people with disabilities in a socially responsible way. Sandell warned of a backlash against access, inclusion, and the socially responsible museum. He also identified some of the challenges that come with engaging ethical practices in the museum when it comes to representing people with disabilities. At the start of his talk, I found myself wondering how a historian would represent historical figures with disabilities without offending others.

Sandell believes that those who criticize these changes and contribute to the backlash feel these new trends force the museums focus away from its collection to external issues. These critics also believe that governmental demands on museums in the U.K. to reach a quota of diverse visitors is wrong, forcing them to try to bring people into the museum who don’t want to be there. There is also a fear, among this contingency, that the museum will be forced to “dumb down” its content for those who are not already museum visitors. Sandell uses quotes to illustrate these views, and warns that although some of the voices may sound shockingly wrong to us, we cannot ignore them. We must take an active role in debunking these ideas. Without a counter-viewpoint, these dangerous arguments can gain substantial support.

Sandell argues that the criticisms above create false oppositions: inclusion versus core activities, audiences versus collections, scholarly research versus social engagement, and the inspiring versus didactic learning experience. These concepts, in Sandell’s view, can coexist, and need not be seen as competing or threatening each other. Another problem with the critics’ argument is the obvious reliance on seductive language, which includes the use of fear, and dangerous logic. Some examples are; “Art can be difficult, and why shouldn’t it be” (Appleton, 2004), “Museums should stick to what they do best- to preserve, display, study and where possible collect the treasures of civilization and nature. (Cuno, 2003), and “I would suggest that we could begin by clearing away some of the clutter in our museums, the many distractions we have introduced into them- the commercial, the alimentary, the promotional, the entertaining, even- to the extent that it comes between the viewer and the work of art- the educational.” (Cuno, 2003) Sandell takes on each of these quotes and calls to our attention that all have one central thing in common: they assume that there are no barriers to people who do not go to museums, and reinforce the belief that no attendance equals lack of interest by these underserved populations. These quotes also shy away from challenges and seek to allow the museum to exist in a world separate from the public it is meant to serve. Sandell reminds us that museums, as public places of learning, should be spaces where ideas can be challenged through discourse, visual and verbal.

In Sandell’s view, the museum has an ethical and moral responsibility to take on the mindset representing the quotes above. Museums not only reflect social views, but often create them. Museum visitors think for themselves, but also look to the museum as a trusted resource, expecting the truth, and what is socially correct. Museums play too important of a role in the conversation on identity in our society not to take an activist role against the backlash.

Sandell’s project, Rethinking Disability Representation, has several components to it. The project also has a think tank with members of the disabled community. This group serves as a sounding board to ensure that voices of the disabled community are heard, and projects are developed with sensitivity.

The project’s research revealed that curators’ and educators’ largest barrier to doing exhibitions and programs people with disabilities is the fear of “getting it wrong.” They do not want to represent that community in a way that is offensive. Museums need to look to the Disabilities Rights Movement, and the resulting Social Model of Disability. It follows that museums need to represent people with disabilities in their everyday lives, and not focus on disabilities as a medical condition with themes of pity, hardship, and success in overcoming disability in a “cure.” The idea is to show how society disables people, not their medical condition.

Sandell ends his talk by saying how important it is for museums to be activists for the underserved populations and that the loss of incredible insights from people with disabilities would be the price we would continue to pay if we did not attempt to change our direction.

Dr. Sandell’s talk offe0 Comments in moderationrs several suggestions as to how the museum can foster an ethical relationship with those who have disabilities. I found his arguments against the critics of inclusion effective. His explanation of the social model of disability exposed the true source of limitations to the disabled. It was incredibly helpful to me as an educator, historian, and museum professional to have the social model presented to me, as well as the reminder of how important it is to respect community voices in representation.

It is exciting and encouraging to think of the museum as a place where we as a society can challenge ourselves, as well as a place that is accessible in practice as well as theory. The concepts represented here can be applied to all underserved populations of the museum, and it should be our goal as professionals, to strive for that reality. It is clear from Sandell’s presentation, that it is not enough for institutions to be activists, but that all of us need to be activists for change to occur.

Author’s Note: Quotations in this commentary were taken from the speaker’s conference paper.

 

 

 

 

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