Dr. Irma McClaurin, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant for RMSC’s Exhibit “The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World”

On April 23, 2020, the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC)  launched a virtual announcement of  their upcoming exhibit. “The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World.”

This project has been in the making since 2019 and is unique because of its involvement of community members on various committees to develop content, provide feedback on the exhibit design, conduct research on the Rochester women who will be featured, participate in label writing, and provide input on communications and marketing.

The Changemakers exhibit marks a new direction for museums, which historically have been viewed as “white public spaces,” and were often inaccessible to under represented communities.  This inaccessibility is historic, because museums were segregated, and when they opened, often did not make under represented communities, like African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Latinx feel as if their stories, from their own communities point of view, had a place in the museum’s narrative. Museums often replicated dominant stereotypes of social groups (e.g., the “savage” African and the Noble “Savage” images of Black and Native Americans).

Such representations made museums places to be avoided for Black and other nonwhites, and a moment of embarrassment for children from these groups who came face to face the with these stereotypes on the obligatory school trip.

Moreover, some of the objects they displayed, especially from AFrica and Native American nations, were often stolen.  A process of repatriation is part of every museum’s agenda now.

The 2019 Call for papers for the Council on Museum Anthropology’s Biennial Conference that was held in Santa Fe, NM described this new direction:

“Join CMA as we discuss imagined and practical realities of collaboration between anthropology, museums, and communities. With the goal of overcoming institutional silences and so-called mute collections, this conference is about the spaces between the objects on museum shelves, and the communities who created them. The conference will focus on how institutions can close the gaps between the theoretical and ‘doing.’”

The Rochester Museum and Science Center has taken up the call to action for “Museum Different,” and is making every effort to change its history as well as  the dominant narrative that is part of its past to create a new more diverse and inclusive narrative.  This  new exhibit will reflect that commitment to change.

With funding from local foundations, RMSC hired three diversity and inclusion consultants, of which I am one, to work with them from the very beginning to ensure that the exhibit is representative of racial and cultural diversity, gender and sexual orientation, well-known and not so well known figures, and different abilities communities.

They also have worked with community curators, comprised of people from all walks of Rochester’s social world, as well as educators, school children, and young adults to help shape a new direction in museum exhibits.

The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World is scheduled to open in October 2020, and will follow guidelines established by the State of New York and the City of Rochester.

Keep watch.

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