WMA 2018 Keynote Speaker Stephanie Johnson-Cunningham


Stephanie Johnson-Cunningham and Museum Hue

by Hillary Ryan, Communications and Programs Strategist

In 2015, Stephanie Johnson-Cunningham co-founded Brooklyn-based Museum Hue as a collective of people of color to come together to talk about what was happening at their institutions and to visit and explore other museums and arts organizations. Since then, Museum Hue has evolved to become an arts organization working toward the advancement of people of color through the arts both within and outside arts organizations.

“Our goal is to challenge the museum field to bring inclusion and equity to the forefront of their practice and nurture a community who supports these efforts. Museum Hue as an arts organization works beyond diversity, because we recognize that there is a need for structural intervention within the creative economy and society,” shared Johnson-Cunningham.

If you have been following topics related to diversity and the arts on social media, you have probably come across Museum Hue. Recently, they have been active in a number of high profile conversations about museums and representation. Omar Eaton Martinez, Board President was instrumental in the Minnesota Institute of the ArtsMuseums As Sites for Social (MASS) Action, launched in October 2016 with a gathering of 50 museum practitioners. This collaborative project seeks to align museums with more equitable and inclusive practices. Through a series of public convenings and the creation of a toolkit of resources, this project's intention is to share the strategies and frameworks needed to address these important topics. The exhibition Art and Healing: In the Moment which presents artwork inspired by the fatal shooting of Philando Castile is a reflection of this action step. The exhibition, which opened June 15 and runs until July 29, 2018, tackles the trauma of loss through 15 artworks given to Castile’s mother by artists from across the community.

Pop culture has also served as a launching pad for Museum Hue’s participation in conversations about museums and representation. The commentary around a scene in the recent Marvel Comics superhero adventure film Black Panther caught on fire in the museum community with insightful and provoking exploration of the history of museum collections and audiences affected by colonialism. Utilizing an active social media presence and weekly #Huesday tweetchat, Museum Hue has become a leading source of relevant and interesting content related to their mission and core values. 

Museum Hue continues to look for other connections to organizations interested in increasing the involvement of people of color in the arts. Johnson-Cunningham notes, “This movement isn’t just in the U.S. We regularly connect with Museum Detox in the UK and are open to other international contacts.”

Pointing to the importance of community and the growing need to seek IRL activities where we can speak and interact with each other as one of the biggest takeaways Johnson-Cunningham has learned thus far in her work with Museum Hue. “I’ve learned to no longer work in silos. It’s hard because we focus on the day-to-day, but we really need a chance to come up for air [and that] it’s important to expose and involve yourself to other fields and sectors, participate in programming (you didn’t create or manage), and constantly read,” she noted.

Expanding on this, Johnson-Cunningham believes that a personal interest and openness to learning can be the most important way museum professionals can contribute to diversifying the field. Reading is critical to expanding your understanding of ideas and issues, but the next important step is being in dialogue with others about that content. It’s creating this shared knowledge and discourse that helps to build the foundation that causes a change to happen.

In order to continue to shift the museum field towards greater equity, Cunningham-Johnson encourages museum professionals to ask themselves some basic questions:

  1. If my position is that everyone belongs, how do I affect change in my organization, community, and society?
  2. What is my sphere of influence?
  3. How am I using my time and is it reflected across all parts of my life?

Through her work with Museum Hue Stephanie Johnson-Cunningham brings a  strong, clear voice to the museum field and the need for concerted efforts around inclusion and increasing opportunities. Attendees at this year’s Western Museums Association Annual Meeting will have an opportunity to hear from Johnson-Cunningham as the keynote speaker.

Johnson-Cunningham’s picks:

Anarchist's Guide to Historic House Museums” by Deborah E Ryan and Franklin D Vagnone

Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work” by Edwidge Danticat

“Flies in the Buttermilk: Museums, Diversity, and the Will to Change” by Dr. Lonnie Bunch in Museum News

Mounting Frustrations: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power” by Susan Kahn

Objective Lessons” by Seema Rao

Whitewalling: Art, Race, and Protest” by Aruna D’Souza


Reference articles: 

Cascone, Sarah (March 3, 2018). The Museum Scene in "Black Panther" Adds Fuel to the Debate About African Art Restitution. ArtNews
Davis, Angela. (May 17, 2018). MIA Exhibit Shows Works Inspired by Philando Castile. WCCO4 CBS Minnesota
Haughin, Casey. (February 22, 2018). Why Museum Professionals Need to Talk About "Black Panther". THe Hopkins Exhibitionist
Ragbir, Lise. (March 20, 2018) What "Black Panther" Gets Right About the Politics of Museums. Hyperallergic.
Ross, Jenna. (June 19, 2018). Philando Castile Exhibit at Minneapolis Institute of Art embraces beauty and trauma. The Star Tirbune
No Author. (December 14, 2017). Minneapolis Institute of Arts to Establish Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts. Art Forum




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