Museums and anti-racism - Museums Association

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Museums and anti-racism

Our campaign and a call to action

Since the murder of George Floyd in 2020, museums across the UK have been reflecting on their commitment to anti-racism and many institutions have pledged to work towards becoming anti-racist organisations as a result.

The Museums Association (MA), along with other membership organisations, issued a joint statement at the time which committed to ending racism in the heritage sector.

The statement recognised that museums are in a unique position in society to tackle this issue because of our connection to audiences and communities, and because of the link between collections and buildings and Britain’s colonial past. The majority of museums are also public institutions which means that they have a legal obligation to address race inequality through the Equalities Act.

Since then, we have worked on our anti-racism action plan, with objectives including delivering anti-racism training, supporting anti-racism initiatives in the sector and supporting the development of skills and confidence in relation to decolonisation, with dedicated online training and professional development programmes (see what the MA is doing to tackle racism).

At the MA conference in Liverpool in November 2021, a keynote panel discussion, Turning Words into Action, assessed what had been achieved and what more needed to be done.

There was a clear call from that session for an anti-racism strategy for the sector and for individual museums to create anti-racism action plans. Since then, the panel, Nasir Adam, Black History Curator, Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales; Errol Francis, Chief Executive of Culture&; Miles Greenwood, Curator of Legacies of Slavery and Empire at Glasgow Museums  and Co-Chair of Museum Detox; and Sara Wajid, Co-CEO Birmingham Museums Trust, has met as a working group with the MA to discuss the actions that are needed to progress anti-racism in museums.

In May the working group convened a roundtable discussion with leaders from across the UK to hear reflections from anti-racist organisations and campaigners in other sectors about how they are tackling the issue and what they feel museums can do in this area. In summary, their reflections were that there needs to be tailored frameworks and actions plans, clear targets and evaluation, and that museums have a unique platform to tackle racism in society more broadly because of their collections and their engagement with communities.

Actions

The working group has recommended that the following actions are needed in order for museums to become anti-racist organisations.

  • Being honest that racism is embedded in the collections and structures of museums and acknowledging institutional racism.
  • Starting on anti-racism work with a critique of collections, operations, structures and workforce.
  • Gathering data and evidence and setting clear targets, KPIs and evaluation and ensuring accountability.
  • Giving authority, agency and capacity to communities to develop anti-racism work.
  • Ensuring board and leadership engagement.
  • Providing and prioritising budget, capacity and resources for anti-racism work.

Next steps

Anti-racism is a major theme at this year’s MA conference. The working group would now like to extend an open invite to museums across the UK to contribute to the creation of a national framework for anti-racism in museums.

If you are interested in being part of the Anti-Racist Museums Network please email us at: info@museumsassociation.org with the subject line “anti-racism network”.

This campaign has been supported by the knowledge and expertise of: Nasir Adams, Curator of Black History Wales, Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales; Antonia Canal, Programme and Engagement Manager, People’s History Museum; Errol Francis, Chief Executive of Culture&; Miles Greenwood, Curator of Legacies of Slavery and Empire at Glasgow Museums and co-chair of Museum Detox; and Sara Wajid, Co-CEO Birmingham Museums Trust.

With thanks to Nelson Cummins, Communities and Campaigns Officer, Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights; Ellie Ikiebe, Partnerships and Programmes Manager, Runnymede Trust; Dr Ima Jackson, Glasgow Caledonian University; Sado Jirde, Director, Black South West Network; Salma Jreige, MA Intercultural Conflict Management, Multaka Project Management; Hannah Kayi Mason, Museum Detox; Andrew Ogun, Agent for Change; and Arts Council of Wales; Amanda Parker Founder and CEO of Inc Arts, who provided reflections on anti-racism in other sectors and how museums can use their platforms to promote anti-racism.

Further reading and resources

Examples of commitments and frameworks

If you want to add your case studies to this list please email info@museumsassociation.org with the subject line “anti-racism case study”.

Landing page image: purpleSTARS participants hold Black Lives Matter banners at the Museum of London, credit to Orson Nava

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