Redressing history is crucial. We must change the way we view the past to make changes for the future. As much as we want to move forward with inclusive practices on our boards, staffs, and programs, we must also ask:
• What is in our collection?
• What are the objects that we’ve been stewarding?
• Who has contributed them?
• How have they been collected?
• Is there another way of looking at our collections?
The Star Wars exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts illustrated that the influence of mass media and the draw of popular culture can be just as important as ethnicity in attracting new audiences. As the boundaries of communities change, this powerful phenomenon links all kinds of different communities together. Fiercely debated by the board, the exhibition raised questions about the whole notion of what is art, the distinction between high and low culture, the goals of the institution, and whether it is appropriate to cater to the mass market. When we’re exploring reciprocal relationships, we can’t settle for easy definitions of diversity. Popular culture, mass media, and youth culture are all part of the complex world in which we live.
Inclusion requires deep staff changes that go beyond the level of education and community outreach departments or guard staff. Our institutions must invest in young, emerging, diverse leadership. Rather than saying, “We’ve looked, but we can’t find any of those trustees for our board or any of those curators for our staff,” we must help them, educate them, bring them along. Community knowledge comes in many forms; it is not simply academic. It may be narrative history, oral history, or the wisdom of elders. The Galleria de la Raza has launched a project called Regeneracion that provides art students in California with opportunities to produce exhibitions, catalogs, and brochures. Most importantly, it teaches them how to find funding and organize themselves. In only three years, this project will produce as many as twenty young Latinos who will end up in the field of arts and culture. Imagine the impact if larger-scale institutions would commit to developing emerging, young, diverse leadership!