Tackling discrimination

Jess Turtle, 31.10.2018
Code of Conduct aims for a more inclusive sector
Next week we will be travelling to Belfast for the Museums Association Conference and Exhibition. The theme of dissent is an exciting one and it is also timely. I am looking forward to the launch of Power to the People, our framework for participatory practice, and to celebrating the sector’s ability to change lives at the Museums Change Lives Awards.

The drive towards more inclusive museums, increased participation and fairer representation has accelerated in the last few years, and is essential. We are living through a time when people’s hard-won rights are being eroded; hate crime in England and Wales has more than doubled in the last five years and the election of Jair Bolsonaro is another stark reminder of the rise of the far right, undeniably playing out on the global stage.

It is in this context that we need to position ourselves and our museums. We need to meet what is happening head on and work together to make sense of it all. We need to create spaces where permission is given to deeply explore political and social issues.

This is where Festival of Change comes in. Our 2018 participants have put together an amazing set of interventions, and delegates are invited to explore what a "normal" vagina is, spill the tea with drag queens and interrogate how colonial history is (mis)taught. Festival of Change will push boundaries and allow us all to have the conversations that we do not usually have. There is no doubt that it is going to be a whole load of fun.

However, social justice work is not always easy. The conversations and interactions that are required for social change are can be difficult and challenging. This can be magnified if the person leading the work is bringing their own life experience into the space, as I know personally through my work outside the MA with Museum of Homelessness. Social justice work can also, in a small proportion of situations, lead to harassing or discriminatory behaviour. We do know that this behaviour occurs within the sector - even if it isn’t always talked about openly - and this needs to change.

So for Belfast 2018 we have worked with peers in the sector to put together a Code of Conduct. This code guides our shared work towards a more inclusive sector and is a framework for how we can best have these conversations.

Among the humour, playfulness and creativity of Festival of Change we are addressing some really serious issues. Museums, as knowledge holders, have an increasing responsibility towards these issues as trust in the media continues to diminish. This week the BBC has pondered if Jair Bolsonaro is a "racist, sexist, homophobic politician or a refreshing break from political correctness".

It is so important at the current moment that we think carefully about the stories we tell, the way we behave with one another and the values we hold true.  The Code of Conduct is a marker in the sand for that. We hope that it will be a useful tool as we all continue to work towards more inclusive museums, have those difficult but important conversations, and make creative change. 

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