On Activism & Authority

Where does activism fit in the museum? With the museum curators and staff, with the public, or some combination between the two?

Robert James and Pablo Helguera seem to provide a nice balance in this regard. James tells us what museums should be doing and how they should be structured to best contribute to civil society – “that space between the individual and the government” (James 123). James doesn’t delve deep into how we might actually achieve this, but Helguera provides one example. Helguera is speaking specifically of socially engaged art, but I think (hope) practices of collaboration/engagement/conversation between artists and the public are possible in other types of museums.

Specifically, museum professionals seem to be moving away from a pretend neutrality towards open activism. This shift still allows the museum to remain the top authority without input from public or communities that a museum serves. I was impressed with the socio-environmental programs James mentioned, but wonder what each actually looks like on the ground. How were these exhibits or programs accessible to and received by the public?

I find myself engaged with new climate change networks in Canada and the UK (the US does not have a defined network). In each, professionals from multiple museums have come together to consider how museum collections, education, structures can address climate change. What should a new activist network take into consideration regarding shared authority and engagement?

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