by Allyson Lazar
This past Wednesday, the Center for the Future of Museums hosted a lecture/webcast entitled, "Towards a New Mainstream," sponsored in part by Learning Times and, thanks to an anonymous donor, registration was free to all! For those who have not yet participated in a webcast, here's how this one worked:
Up in the top left corner of my screen was a box where first CFM director Elizabeth Merritt appeared in a headset and introduced us to the topic and how it was all going to work. Later on that same box would show the number of all of the webcast participants and list them by sign-in name. Later still, this box would show the panelists who spoke via conference call after the initial lecture.
Below the top left corner box was a long narrow box that ran the rest of the length of my screen. This was sidebar chat area where all of the logged in participants could chat--about whatever, or in response to the topic questions that were posed during the lecture.
In the middle of the screen was where the main video of a lecture by Gregory Rodriguez played and James Chung presented his population data slides. Interactive polls were also posted there for participants to respond to. Below the video screen was a closed caption box so that people could read what was being said instead of or in addition to listening.
Along with the lecture and the webcast was a pdf discussion guide (available on the CFM website).
The agenda was as follows:
-- Introductory comments by Elizabeth Merritt
-- Overview of data by James Chung (Reach Advisors)
-- Lecture by Gregory Rodriguez (Executive Director, Zocalo Public Square and LA Times columnist) with simultaneous sidebar chatting and polls
-- Panel Discussion (Lisa Lee, Director, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum; Cecilia Garibay, Principal, Garibay Group; Tammie Kahn, Executive Director, Children's Museum of Houston; Gregory Rodriguez)
-- 3 live-chat rooms moderated by Phil Katz, Assistant Director for Research, AAM; Greg Stevens, Assistant Director for Professional Development, AAM; Gregory Rodriguez
Elizabeth invited participants to engage at their own level of comfort--from just watching the video and listening to the remarks of the panelists, to chatting in the sidebar, answering the polls and discussing ideas in the follow-up chatrooms. At the height of the event in the middle of the lecture, I noted that there were 233 participants logged in. That number did drop by the time we reached the follow-up chatrooms to about 153, but that was still enough to have some strong discussions.
Just briefly I will touch upon some of the key ideas that struck me as I participated.
A picture is worth a thousand words and James Chung showed this snapshot of museum visitorship versus the overall US population in terms of demographics.
He went on to "unpack" (a current favorite term) that data to explain that one of the fastest growing populations in the US is the Latino population. But what does that mean? He was quick to point out that there are huge differences both in terms of English fluency and educational attainment just between the 1st and 2nd generations of Latino immigrants. This is an important fact that Gregory Rodriguez later touched upon in his lecture, as he explained that integration is not about offering multi-lingual marketing or labels; integration means second generation immigrants all speak English--Spanish is not overtaking English. In fact, it is a "crutch" and somewhat patronizing to rely on multi-lingual marketing to try to "reach" "diverse" audiences.
So at the heart of the discussion were notions about ethnicity and how we currently understand it and how we can better understand it in order to better serve our communities. Rodriguez explained that past attempts by museums to be "inclusive" were good first steps, but they were just short of tokenism and were designed to keep people in their separate ethnically defined boxes.
But, he explained that ethnicity "means nothing" We are all individuals, and we are Americans and *that* is our frame of reference. He stated that museums were missing the boat by assuming that being Latino only meant being a 1st generation immigrant who didn't speak English and therefore advertising in Spanish in the barrio. What about the rapidly growing English literate, educated Latino middle-class? They are currently being forgotten and ignored by museums. We have to allow for change and adaptability, he said, "it's not a revolution--it's an evolution"
Lisa Lee and Cecilia Garibay agreed with this idea of change and adaptability. Lee commented that identities were "fluid" and Garibay described identities as "multidimensional pieces."
Meanwhile, over in the sidebar chat area there was a big discussion about multi-lingual labels, a step that panelist Tammie Kahn feels is crucial for making 1st generation immigrant parents feel comfortable in a museum setting. Sure, their kids will grow up to be English language speakers, but unless those children grow up visiting museums, it is less likely that they will visit them as adults.
Also in the sidebar it was mentioned that in Toronto (and soon to be all of Canada!) all new Canadians (immigrants) are offered a one-year free pass to all museums as a way to introduce them to the museums and make them feel welcome. It is difficult to tell how many of these new Canadians remain active museum-goers after that first initial year, but it is a very interesting concept nonetheless.
One sidebar chatter mused, "It would be interesting to compare ethnic specific museum visitor trends with mainstream museum visitor trends..." Another chatter replied that her thesis had focused on museum staff diversity but had also touched upon visitorship for different categories of museums. A third chatter posited that she felt that "museums that are family focused have better success in attracting diverse audiences."
At the end of the lecture, in the chatrooms, I posed a question to Rodriguez:
"...we speak about America as being a ''melting pot'' when really it is a ''patchwork quilt'' that is largely stitched together by caucasian males--much as Gregory you mentioned that it is always the caucasian male who the moderator of the ''diverse'' panel. The society into which immigrants are ''assimilated'' and integrated is still largely the product of white men. At what point will this shift, do you think, and isn't integration problematic because this has not adequately changed yet?"
His response: "not sure we're a melting pot or quilt. hackneyed terms that never actually described the country. the truth is there was and never will be ONE Way to integrate into the u.s. ask the Amish"
But the best part about "Towards a New Mainstream"? The event may be over, you can no longer participate in the sidebar chatting, the polls or the chatrooms, but the *entire* event was recorded, which means that you can watch it all unfold--ever population data slide, every sidebar chat comment, the entire lecture video, everything! So if you haven't already--go do it now!