The politics of diversity
In January 2017, the US museum community was shaken by a series of unprecedented Presidential actions that undermined the core values of diversity and inclusion, foster bigotry, and generated fear and isolation among communities across the nation. The executive orders signed by President Trump included ordering the construction of a wall along the US border with Mexico, restricting federal funds to sanctuary jurisdictions, and imposing a ban on travel to the US from several Muslim-majority countries.
A few weeks later, the Trump administration repealed Title IX of the Education Amendments that offered protection to transgender students in schools and colleges, including allowing them to use bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity. In March, the political climate became even more hostile when a 2018 Fiscal Year Federal budget proposal called for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and proposed tax deduction limitations on charitable contributions.
These presidential actions generated a climate of confusion, growing xenophobia, intolerance, and public distrust of institutions that required a redefinition of the role of museums. To what extend do museums facilitate safe spaces for conversations and inspiring civic engagement? Can museums play a significant role in fostering tolerance, promoting mutual understanding and dialogue? Should museums remain neutral in such a turbulent political climate? Should museums become less social and more political? The paper emphasizes critical roles museums play in affirming cultural diversity and fostering inclusion, and presents examples of US museums actively assuming new roles as an effort to respond to the current climate of increasing xenophobia and intolerance.
Antonio Rodríguez is a senior-level consultant with more than 25 years of experience in museums, arts management, touring exhibitions, strategic planning, project management, and strategic partnerships. Mr. Rodriguez serves as Chair of the ICOM ICEE, and Past Chair of the Latino Network at the American Alliance of Museums, AAM.
Images: Antonio Rodriguez