Museums are colonial institutions that traditionally prioritized academic knowledge and devalued traditional knowledge and lived experience. They have historically marginalized communities by hoarding their cultural objects while holding themselves up as the arbiters of cultural greatness. Current calls to action to address internal structures of racism in museums have inspired an uptick in hiring BIPOC staff for senior leadership positions, exhibiting work by BIPOC artists, and partnering with BIPOC community groups for exhibitions and programming. Alone these measures don’t do enough to address the systemic ways museums foster cultural homogeneity, bias, inaccessibility, and exclusion.
Monica M. Scott, Public Education and Volunteers Coordinator at the Spurlock Museum of World Cultures (at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), is leading a reinterpretation of the Museum’s Gallery of African Cultures through intensive community evaluation. Reinterpreting Africa: Centering Diverse and Authentic Cultural Voices in a Museum Gallery begins a formal process of deconstructing power by shifting the Museum’s intellectual and cultural authority. It honors the validity and authority of first-person narratives and promotes an innovative process and transmission of information that prioritizes DEAI in exhibit development. Monica discusses Reinterpreting Africa’s history and why museums should reconsider and reimagine how they exhibit objects from Africa.