How can museum professionals advocate for museums to be a place for difficult conversations?
In September 2022, Janet Dees, the Steven and Lisa Munster Tananbaum curator of modern and contemporary art at the Block Museum joined colleagues Angie Dodson, director of Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Ashley Rogers, Director of Museum Operations for the Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, and Dietrah Taylor, Public Historian for a public dialogue on this challenging topic. The conversation was presented in conjunction with the exhibition A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence, which toured to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama, after its presentation at The Block. The conversation offers additional relevance for The Block’s audiences as Whitney Plantation is the subject of one of the chapters in Clint Smith’s book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with The History of Slavery Across America, the 2022-23 One Book One Northwestern selection.
The professional conversation ranged from discussions of staff care for cultural workers; to ethical institutional choices; and to shared challenges of presentation and interpretation across museums, theaters, and historical sites.