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Did the President of the American Association of Museums Put His Foot in His Mouth?

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Ford W. Bell, a former Minnesota Democratic candidate for the US Senate, is the brand new president of the American Association of Museums, replacing Edward H. Able, who retired last years after 20 years at the association.

Bell may have already put his foot in his boca mouth.

Bell was interviewed by Nicole Lewis for the Chronicle of Philanthropy earlier this month. Read that interview here.

His answer to one of the questions caught me a little off guard; here's the question and his answer:

What are your priorities?

How can we partner with other organizations around promoting diversity in the field. I'd like to set up a fellowship program with some of the historically black colleges and universities. Also, in 30 to 40 years, when 50 percent of the country is Hispanic, the halls of Congress are not going to look the way they do today. If the people in Congress then have had no experience with museums it's going to be hard to get support. And high on my list is collaborating more closely with other groups, including the Association of Art Museum Directors. We are not competing; if we succeed in strengthening museums, there is plenty of credit to go around.

Surely I am misreading this answer and Bell is not implying that the Congress people of the future, simply because they may be 50% Hispanic/Latino(a) will have "no experience with museums"?

What does that mean anyway?

Visiting a museum?

Serving on a museum board?

Knowing that there are such things as museums out there?

Why would someone who has been elected to Congress in 2037 or 2047 have less "experience" than someone elected in 2007 simply because they are from a different ethnic group?

Am I misunderstanding Bell's answer?

What "museum experience" do current Congress people have anyway that would be different in 30 years because of the ethnic demographic change being predicted?

Or is he saying that currently Hispanics have no "experience" with museums and thus the American Association of Museums needs to start working with Hispanics so that in 30-40 years…?

This gives me a headache. Surely I am misreading this answer in some way.

I have sent the American Association of Museums an email asking for a clarification; let's see what response I get.

 

Update: In response to my question, Mr. Bell emailed me a clarification:


Lenny:

Here is the context for my answer. Perhaps I wasn't clear enough.

Museum attendees, boards, staff, and volunteers do not reflect the diversity of our society. In Minneapolis, where I am from, we have the largest population of Somalis in the United States, the second largest population of Hmong, the largest population of Tibetans, and substantial populations of Hispanics and Native Americans. However, these ethnic and racial groups are substantially (almost completely) underrepresented on museum boards, and are not users of museums. I think it is incumbent on museums in this country to "demystify" museums, to make them less "white", both physically and programmatically, and to reach out to minority communities with creative, and relevant, educational, social and cultural programming. In the increasingly pluralistic society in which we are fortunate to live, museums will struggle if they are unable to reach out to different communities in meaningful ways.

In regard to the question, "Why would someone who has been elected to Congress in 2037 or 2047 have less 'experience' than someone elected in 2007 simply because they are from a different ethnic group?" I would submit that the vast majority of people now serving in Congress have experiences with museums, in fact, have visited museums since childhood. Today, school districts don't have the money for field trips, and school children don't go to museums in many states they way they did when I was a child. Will childhood trips to museums depend now on parents? And if the parents don't speak English, and/or are illegal immigrants and/or work three jobs and/or don't know what a museum is, are they likely to take their child to a museum?

AAM is committed to conveying – to funders, legislators, policymakers – the importance of museums to communities large and small, across the United States. We are committed to carrying the message that museum experiences are important for school children of all ages, and that these expe riences contribute significantly to their educational progress and intellectual development. And, we hope to work with museums, our fellow museum service organizations, and museum professionals and educators to help insure that museums are welcoming and relevant to everyone in the community and that they resemble the community at every level – boards, staff and volunteers.

I hope that helps. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify my answer.

Best wishes.

Cordially,

Ford

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About Lenny Campello

  • http://jonsobel.com Jon Sobel

    Maybe he was working from some statistics about Hispanics’ current museum attendance or presence on museum boards, to give him a basis for his statement. If so, it could be a legitimate concern for the museum “industry.” I’d be interested in the answer too.

  • gonzo marx

    well, since my better half is in the Museum world, i asked her…

    she takes it that what was meant is just that the new Legislators have not had experience in the financing/legislating functions towards museums under the scenario listed…as well as these new Citizens being unfamiliar with just how the entire Museum structure works here in the U.S.

    this is directly proportional to the fact that so many of these Institutions are privately funded in many cases, with only a small fraction of funds coming from any governmental Agency

    this problem has been exacerbated over the last 30 years or so, as some political factions have denigrated the societal contribution that such Institutions bring to the community

    but i also would like a direct Answer, however it appears that the Thread here is naught but the proverbial tempest in a coffee mug…

    could just be me

    Excelsior?

  • http://dcartnews.blogspot.com F. Lennox Campello

    In response to my question in the article, Mr. Bell emailed me a clarification:

    Lenny:

    Here is the context for my answer. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough.

    Museum attendees, boards, staff, and volunteers do not reflect the diversity of our society. In Minneapolis, where I am from, we have the largest population of Somalis in the United States, the second largest population of Hmong, the largest population of Tibetans, and substantial populations of Hispanics and Native Americans. However, these ethnic and racial groups are substantially (almost completely) underrepresented on museum boards, and are not users of museums. I think it is incumbent on museums in this country to “demystify” museums, to make them less “white”, both physically and programmatically, and to reach out to minority communities with creative, and relevant, educational, social and cultural programming. In the increasingly pluralistic society in which we are fortunate to live, museums will struggle if they are unable to reach out to different communities in meaningful ways.

    In regard to the question, “Why would someone who has been elected to Congress in 2037 or 2047 have less ‘experience’ than someone elected in 2007 simply because they are from a different ethnic group?” I would submit that the vast majority of people now serving in Congress have experiences with museums, in fact, have visited museums since childhood. Today, school districts don’t have the money for field trips, and school children don’t go to museums in many states they way they did when I was a child. Will childhood trips to museums depend now on parents? And if the parents don’t speak English, and/or are illegal immigrants and/or work three jobs and/or don’t know what a museum is, are they likely to take their child to a museum?

    AAM is committed to conveying – to funders, legislators, policymakers – the importance of museums to communities large and small, across the United States. We are committed to carrying the message that museum experiences are important for school children of all ages, and that these experiences contribute significantly to their educational progress and intellectual development. And, we hope to work with museums, our fellow museum service organizations, and museum professionals and educators to help insure that museums are welcoming and relevant to everyone in the community and that they resemble the community at every level – boards, staff and volunteers.

    I hope that helps. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify my answer.

    Best wishes.

    Cordially,

    Ford