Ford Bell Responds
A few days ago I was puzzled by the answer given by Ford Bell, the new president of the American Association of Museums, to a question posed to him during an interview. Read all that here.
In response to my question, Mr. Bell emailed me a clarification:
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.