Museums as Social Agencies and Their Autonomy

This week’s reading focus on the role of museums as social service, specifically their potential as social agents of well-being and social change, and examine how museums can adopt social work perspectives, methods, and practice in their field. I am very interested in the Richard Sandell’s discussion of museums and their social responsibility and how an increasing number of museums have been working on behalf of human rights and social justice.

I found a number of interesting articles talking about museums and social activism, like #blacklivesmatter. Yonci Jameson, an African American female activist involved in Minneapolis’s art culture, gave three recommendations for museums in her article “How Can Museums and Artists Help Advocate for Social Change?” The first one is One Word: representation; the second advice is Art Museums can Facilitate discussion on the intersection of art and activism; the final one is Museums could further advocate by facilitating community events. Similarly, Mike Murawski, in his keynote address to the MuseumNext conference in New York City, talked about the urgency of empathy, social impact, and social action in museums today, focusing on 5 actions: ACTION 1: Be More Local; ACTION 2: Recognize and Support the Movement for Black Lives; ACTION 3: Flip the Script (challenging the traditional museum authority and power relationships); ACTION 4: Have a Personal Vision for Change; ACTION 5: Build Communities of Action and Change. There are many other published articles and the ones spread on social media that are equally inspiring in the discussion of museums and social justice. Yet after reading the assigned book chapters and some of the online articles, the question of autonomy arouse my interest and attention:

  1. While we emphasize social responsibilities of museums and urge them to take a (political) stance in their exhibitions that explore social problems, how should museums maintain their autonomy and not fall to be the tool of social control?
  2. How do museums balance the urge to respond adequately to a diverse and rapid changing society and not be limited by “contemporary” issues and maintain its autonomy and something essential for the long run?

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