Archives and Inclusivity: Exhibitions for All

This blog post is the third, and last, in a series of blog posts where I discuss the importance of diversifying archives in collaboration with underserved groups, which I will refer to as empowered collaboration.

This blog post will start by analysing the efforts to diversify audiences by The Museum of High Art in Atlanta, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and The Fizwilliam Museum in Cambridge, it will conclude with practical steps to achieve inclusivity within cultural institutions.

The Museum Of High Art, Atlanta: 

The Museum of High Art, like many Museums, had a low percentage of BAME, LQBTGIA+, Neuro divergent and disabled visitors. In 2016 they decided to create exhibitions catering to their diverse communities, starting with ethnic minority groups. In just two years, their ethnic minority visitors tripled from 15% to 45%. That’s close to the percentage of people living in the whole metropolitan area of Atlanta. (1)

How did they do this?

Reimagining content and changing marketing styles:

The Museum of High Art drastically changed their content, by focusing more on exhibitions from marginalised groups. By ‘allowing curators to tailor projects to their own audience,’ (2) the Museum of High Art allowed their surrounding communities to see themselves represented as artists and in art. They also changed the marketing strategies to target under-represented groups. They started a ‘here for you’ campaign, creating t-shirts and translated the slogan into the four most spoken languages in Atlanta.  The budget focused 60% on promoting a cross section of exhibitions as opposed only the large ones. (3)

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In 2015 the MFA conducted an audience survey and discovered that 79 percent of visitors identified as Caucasian. In 2017, under Director Matthew Teitelnaum, the MFA began a three year project to diversify their audience. This aim was to ensure their audiences feel they belong and are empowered through representation.

During these changes it is important to continue to ask, ‘how are they represented? How do they feel empowered by their visit?…because it is a subset of a feeling: ‘I belong here because when I come here I feel comfortable.'(4)

How will they achieve this?

Reimagining content, empowered collaboration and diversifying staff:

According to the Teitelbaum the Museum is intent on finding content that is representative of their surrounding communities whilst diversifying their staff. They plan to highlight works linked to underserved groups through empowered collaboration. They will begin by collaborating with a paid college intern with Native American Heritage to re-imagine the Native American Collection. (5) This results in fair representation of underserved groups and creates pathways for diversifying museum professionals.

Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge.

The Fitzwilliam Museum has created a Change Makers Action Group to challenge the lack of diversity in its museum audiences and staff. In June 2018 I attended ‘Museum Remix,’ a workshop organised by the Change Makers Group and facilitated by Museum Detox. We were challenged with decolonising an exhibition space. My group and I were assigned the permanent European and Japanese Gallery.

How did we do this?

Re-imagining content and Empowered Collaboration:

The gallery held a series of ceramic objects and was the least visited gallery in the Museum. We noticed it had racially insensitive labelling and accessibility issues with no clear narrative and context. We decided to decolonise this space and improve the issues above it was imperative to collaborate with a diverse intersection of the museums current and possible audiences.

We created a time line and concluded that over a year we could achieve the following:

  • Advertise for co-curators in the form of an inter-sectional volunteer group from underserved communities. (e.g. First peoples, LGBTQIA+, Neuro-divergent, Differently Abled, People of Colour, Working class)
  • Set up regular meetings and deadlines with co-curators to discuss changes to the problematic labelling, disability issues, collection narrative, interpretation, and any public programmes linked to the exhibition.
  • Work towards implementing these changes within the exhibition space.

Following my experience at the Fitzwilliam Museum and other research I have conducted I created an outline of ways to increase visitor diversity through content creation and empowered collaboration.

Month 0 – 6

  • Empowered Collaboration: Advertise for the creation of an intersectional volunteer group from underserved communities, who are under or misrepresented in exhibitions. (e.g. First peoples, LGBTQIA+, Neuro-divergent, Differently Abled, People of Colour, Working class)
  • Plan scheduled discussions with the co-creators to discuss narratives, exhibition items, text panels, and potential public programmes and assess accessibility.

Month 6 – 12

  • Keep co-curators up to date on the exhibition implementation deadlines.
  • Invite co-creators to the opening of the exhibition.
  • In addition to standard promotional methods ensure targeted promotion to underserved groups and social media and local working groups.
  • Evaluate new exhibition space with the working group
  • Acknowledge feedback from visitors/working group

Collaborating with the groups museums hope to represent will result in a fair and authentic representation, and ensure surrounding communities will feel welcome and visible within the institutions. This will result in an increase of material usage and visitor numbers.

What are the challenges?

There are two main financial challenges when implementing empowered collaboration in exhibitions.

  • Financial support is needed to ensure that museum staff have time to develop trusting relationships with communities to take part in empowered collaboration
  • It is imperative that when collaborating with underserved groups Museums and Galleries compensate them for their time and treat them as equal parties to the project.

These challenges are very real and can only be over come through making underserved groups a priority in cultural institutions.

Thank you for reading,

Here’s some references!

(1) Bazemore, J , (2017) How an Art Museum is reaching a more diverse audience, Available at:

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Shea, A (2017) Museum visitors and employees are mostly white, the MFA are trying to change that. Available at:

(5) Ibid

(6) Ibid.

Published by Jass Thethi

I am a Library and Museum professional. I am passionate about fair representation and diversity arts and heritage. I created theconcept of Empowered Collaboration, which describes how to increase diversity by respectful coproduction with under-served groups. I discuss real life experiences of being a minority in arts and heritage and potential ways to diversify collections through my blog and twitter account. All views in this blog are my own and not that of my employer.

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