This panel investigates risk at the intersection of institutions and the internet. To build a collective framework of online ethics for museums, we must first consider the frictions between risk and benefit between institutions and individuals. Panelists from various perspectives share how safety and agency vary across platforms and demographics, discrepancies between museums embracing values in spirit versus in practice, and responsibilities of museums for stewarding public agency and consent. Track:Ethical Responsibility
Unknown Speaker 07:09
Hello Hello Hello Welcome welcome. We have folks trickling in. So excited. But, you know, we're gonna, we're gonna go ahead and and begin, I'll do I'll do some more intros as, as folks are kind of making their way and I want to begin by just saying hi, my name is Adrian Lewis I am tuning in from Santa, a village in Topanga. This is the traditional lands of the Tongva people as well as Gabrielle, you know, quiche and some Chumash as well. And I think about the, the seven millennia plus of history that exists in this place, and how it continues to affect all of us in in this city, even though when people think about Los Angeles. Sometimes that might not be the first thing you think about, I think oftentimes I equate that to the ways that we operate on the internet where we're always logged in, where we don't really, you know like, think about with intention every time we open up our devices and sort of, like, enter, enter the space, but the internet itself is run by human beings at the end of the day right there's there's folks who are doing the work of mining the resources, building the infrastructure, building the devices, distributing the devices, and then also the different ways that the environment is impacted by the technology that we use, whether that's for the creation of the devices that we use, or even for the power that generates right where we're at MC N and I'm sure thinking about a lot of different kinds of emerging technologies and if T's, you know, Blockchain, things like that and, and I think also, you know, during this time we've all or MANY of us have come to learn about the ways that, you know, energy, coal, you know, just like things that are not necessarily the best for our environment, you know, power, power these these kinds of things that we're thinking about and so again kind of thinking about LA and 7000 years of history and what it means to think about emerging technology, in that context is really deep to me. And so I want to hold that space. Thank you all for coming through, and And I honor that I honor everybody's energy, all the other beings, the waterways the skies. All of that that makes possible us together today, and, and I'm really looking forward to, to making the best of that time, and all of us gathered from throughout the country or the world or the universe. So yeah, pop some ones in the chats if you are ready to talk about what are we talking about risk, we're talking about, we're talking about how to move forward in our institutions and within our institutions. I like to pop some ones in the chat that basically just be like I'm here I'm here we can't be in, you know, Marryat conference room a but, you know, We got our keyboards, and we can look, look, there we go, there we go. All right, cool, cool. So I, we're gonna hop right into it. We have some incredible panelists today and they'll each introduce each themselves in, in their own beautiful and unique ways. We have Illya Brown, we have Koven J. Smith, we have Jaclyn Russell and Sue's Andersen, and all of them are coming with, with not only expertise but, you know, a deep sense of care and compassion and over the last few months, I've had the chance to really connect with them and talk through what it means to work with and institutions to navigate risk and to really think through what it means to develop a relationship that is beneficial to humanity while at the same time, you know, really being able to take advantage of the technology that lays ahead of us. And so with that said, I'm very pleased to introduce our first speaker, Leah Brown, and, yeah, Leah, I guess, I guess I just want to, you know, ask you just kind of off the jump. Actually, before before I bring you in, I'll, I'll just share the questions that
Unknown Speaker 11:52
kind of folks are going to be addressing in different ways, just so that y'all, I know are still kind of trickling in and may just want to get a little bit situated. Also, we're not going to be using slides, so if you got to wash some dishes trim some hedges, you know, pay attention to this podcast style, rest your eyeballs, by all means, you know, digital conferences are intense, Zoom fatigue is real. So, you know, just like let our let are sexy voices, besides your, your ear lobes, for the next 40 minutes. So some of the questions we'll be asking is, how should museums assess possible harms and benefits of different technologies in their work. I'll also post these in the chat. What are the conditions of safety for you online. What are who are we protecting, and what is a tangible move toward the safety you envision. So with that said, pleased to welcome Les Brown.
Unknown Speaker 12:54
Thank you, Adrian, thank you for creating space for us to have this
Unknown Speaker 12:58
live, I think we don't have your audio on your and
Unknown Speaker 13:05
I am hearing her just fine. Oh, oh,
Unknown Speaker 13:10
my but no you know what, my bad. Moderator. Had my volume down because I was bumping that Del the Funky Homosapien, sorry, sorry. Oh,
Unknown Speaker 13:19
we're here. We are each other wonderful I'm with,
Unknown Speaker 13:23
I'm with you too now Leah, I want you to thank you. All right, sorry, take to my apologies. All right.
Unknown Speaker 13:30
No I was just really gonna start out by thanking you Adrian for gathering us together and doing such a wonderful job at creating a space for us to come and have productive and thoughtful conversation, and that wonderful land acknowledgement that you did. I don't think mine is going to be as Grace, full, I'm, I'm on Anna Costin and Piscataway land and all I have to say is land back, I'm in solidarity with land back, and I can talk more about what that means and add some links into the chat, but that's where I'm at right now. And again, my name is Leah Brown. I am a dark skinned black woman with knotless braids long braids that I just got done, and I have blue glasses, oversized frames, and I'm sitting in my in my apartment. And so I think what I wanted to share with you all comes from my stance as a public historian curator and a museum professional, and also someone who is a community organizer so I am always looking at ethics and thinking about ethics and what that means in this particular digital space so I have also recently gone through a transition where I was at digital black Digital Humanities Center, and now I'm at the National Women's History Museum, but I say all that to say, um, my practice black digital humanities is centered in care in harm reduction in design and thinking and being critical in the ways that we use technology so that's a little bit of the framing, but the historical framing that I wanted to start with today is thinking about this, pressing it question that comes from W EB Dubois is so black folks at the turn of the century. How does it feel to be a problem. Right, it's such a heavy question, even when I say it and even when I read it, even though I've read it MANY MANY times over and over again, it's still like a knock in the chest. Um, but essentially, that alongside of his theory of double consciousness, reiterate how he even he knew that back then, and still today, black folks are seen as a problem, and a risk, and their identify were enumerated as a risk. And so that really framed my first understanding of risk is how other people see me and how I react to that risk. Right. And then moving further into the 21st century I think about the Combahee River collective who did the work that were the boys falls down, they did the work of thinking about what is what some folks kind of think about is the beginning of intersectionality of thinking about all of our identities so they were asking what does it mean to be black, what does it mean to be a woman. And what does it mean to be queer, right. And so they had the theory that if we are in a social, political, economic landscape if we are planning for that. And this is looking at what freedom means for that structure, then the rest of us would have to be free, it wouldn't necessitate everyone being free. And so, I take both of those things with me in how I understand risk how I understand protection, and then even bringing that forward into the lot and to 2020. I'm thinking about Sadat Harry's piece for Wired magazine called listening to Black women, the innovation that tech can't crack. And essentially, she's going through the ways that Twitter falls down
Unknown Speaker 17:42
in the ways that they did not listen to black women, the concerns that they had about Doxxing and so forth. And, and misinformation, all of that was kind of The Harbinger and in the early days of Twitter but were never addressed and then we got 2020 Right. And so those are the frameworks that I think about in my views and practice of what is risk who is seen as a risk. And what does that mean in the ways that we use different platforms. And also, what are the ways that those two things diverged what are the ways that how we personally think about and have our own personal ethic. How does that diverged from what museums, think about themselves. And, and I really like to hear what Adriel thinks and continue this conversation on how do we, like, think about the contradictions between our own personal ethics, or the museum's ethics versus the platform's ethics that we might use and use them.
Unknown Speaker 18:54
Thank you, thank you everybody please give it up for a layer drop your wins in the chats, blip, blip, blip, blip, blip, le is wonderful, I love you so much. And to just be able to have known you for the last five years and really think through critical museum studies in the ways that we have. So I know you've got to dip out a little bit early, and continue to do big things. So, you know just sending you my best Aaliyah, thank you. Yeah, I, I'm going to speak a little bit next. My name is Adrian Lewis. My pronouns are he, him, I am wearing olive colored shirts, I am in what my, my roommates and I lovingly call our Zoom throne, and it's basically the corner of my apartment out here behind me I have painting by DC artists challenge on Pier One of my very good friends as well. And, but a ram shaped pot from Las Vegas New Mexico that we've named Momo. So, yeah, I'm here to, to think through ethics, and and really what what Illya was talking about, you know, like where is the divide is there a divide between the human and the institution. So for me I'm I'm curator of digital and emerging practice at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, but when I first came in as Resident Alinea millennial I also got handed the social media accounts, and I found myself really struggling within the first two years, between my personal voice and institutional voice, but not only voice but space, you know like, what do I do when an exhibition opens and we have a staff of nine and I'm trying to like, you know, chill with my partner at like 1130 at night and then like a really triggering tweet comes in, adding, you know like, coming at us, you know, at the institution right but then it feeling the way it feels, in my body right,
Unknown Speaker 21:00
Unknown Speaker 25:15
And again, that that passes passes things on to the browser to to an exterior force without really considering the fact that maybe educating people about browsers and privacy policies and things like that, even if your contemporary art museum. Maybe something that's needed in the same way that it's necessary for a museum to let let people know where their emergency exit is. And so, I guess, sort of like as a parting sort of question I would have for you all, everybody is like, Are you ready to even think about what life would be like if your institution wasn't on one of these platforms you know in the same way that during this pandemic, we've all had to ask hard questions about because of risk because of the need for safety of our public that we would you know maybe close down our museums for a while, right. So, I know that was a lot, but I'm, I'm excited to hear from, from Koven, you know, especially coming from, you know, a curatorial perspective I'm applying for grants, they're always asking about, you know what is your impact and, and what would you even mean as curator of digital and emerging practice for me to try to measure or talk about impact, if I were to also try to consider life without some of these social media platforms that our institutions rely so heavily on so Koven How do you assess risk from an institutional perspective.
Unknown Speaker 26:43
Wow, that's quite a lead in so before I answer that question I'll just quickly introduce myself. I feel both honored to be on this panel and completely out of my depth, but I'm Koven J. Smith, I work at the Knight Foundation, and I acknowledge with respect, that the land I currently occupy is a plan that indigenous people lived and worked on and enjoyed long before this was called Austin, I'd like to acknowledge the Alabama Coushatta Crato, chorizo crudo Quire we tech on Comanche Kickapoo de Pon Apache Tonkawa and his letter dos webelo, and all the indigenous peoples and communities who have been or have become a part of these lands here on Turtle Island, and I am a tall white male, sorry I'm reading this off because I knew I would forget to describe myself with short graying hair and a scruffy beard. I'm wearing a green striped shirt, and a light gray suit jacket, and behind me is a bookcase, a cello leaning in the corner and a red cross flag hanging on the wall. Thank you. And so getting back to the question of risk. I think is an interesting one because I think certainly Israel, when I first had this conversation with you and when I started thinking about this, I think I was not thinking in terms of risk I was often thinking in terms of ethics, you know, and how the, the sort of ethics, conflict between, you know, organizations and then the outside agencies or organizations that we may work with. But I think ethics is hard because the you know the domain of ethics is mostly in policy from an institutional perspective, whereas thinking about how does ethics play out is really manifested as risk which is really a an output of practice, ie, it's something that we in this room actually have the ability to change, you know, policy changes slowly, often, you know, most institutions, whereas practice can change and alter very quickly. But so I think it's important when we, when we think about risk to think of something that I'm starting to call like the you know the law of conservation of risk, which is that it is neither created nor destroyed, it just kind of gets moved around. And we in the grant making world often asked questions about well how can we mitigate the risk. You know that a given thing will will will will cause a, you know, a unfavorable result. And quite frankly, in most cases mitigating risk is not often not possible, it's a question of where does the locus of that risk, rest. And I think, you know, there's really like in, in, in my work, what I've seen are kind of like four main types of risk that institutions take on or pass off, you know, as in passing the buck, I mean there's reputational risk. There's financial risk. There's strategic risk and then there's personal risk. And I think museums tend to overvalue, or get more worried about the reputational and financial risk and undervalue the strategic and personal risk. And so in a lot of cases, I think we have situations where we have, you know, in the case of Facebook we said, Well we have a, you know, a reputational risk of not being on Facebook, therefore we have to be on Facebook. But, in effect, we've mitigated that reputational risk by now putting the risk of participating in Facebook, on our users, especially if you're in a situation where a museum maybe only publishes its events there, and nowhere else. And then, then it becomes a question of now that risk has become very personal, and that we are asking, you know, in some cases, or social media managers, as, As Adrian talked about you know to take on very personal risk and in a lot of cases we're asking the, the, you know, communities the public's that we work with to take on that, that very personal risk. And so I think it's important to kind of understand when we make a decision like that where that risk is landing because we're not making it go away. It's just a question of who's taking it on and when we as an organization that are capable of actually managing and taking on a lot more risk than a person can, you know, what decisions are we making. And I think I'm gonna, I'm gonna kick it over to Jacqueline here, because I think, you know, this plays into the question of consent with the work with, and like to hear from, from Jacqueline on that on that issue.
Unknown Speaker 31:46
Everyone just echoing like I'm absorbing and like have such a such appreciation for everything that's been shared so far so if you had. I'm connecting from the lands of the Miami people in North Central and then Mexico is the reservation and home homelands of my partner. I'm so grateful to these labs because these are the lands that embrace me as a burned out museum professional and burned out museum educator when I left from being on staff in what it feels like, like light years away from the lens of the awesome people in so called Phoenix, and I came to this place and it's the lens of the public people that nourish me that helped me to see the path forward. And that also prepared me prepared me for the journey of being an entrepreneur and a consultant, but also I think most importantly to be a mama. I'm in my home, where I was fortunate to be able to have my youngest via homebirth and brought her into this world with indigenous doulas and indigenous midwife and, and to be in this space, in this place where we also had our son. I'm so grateful to do this place and these lands and the medicines and the ways that it's nourished and healed. Our family and continues to provide assistance as we move in this time of the continuing pandemic to. I identify as a dinette Assad Navajo woman. I'm originally from the northeastern corner of Arizona, and my pronouns are she they Assad. And I and I, light colored indigenous woman with long hair, the middle part. So I'm trying to stay up with this next generation I hear that side parts are not. Where's that, but I'm trying to rock this as the mid part. I have big copper earrings, made by a public man whose name escapes me in this moment. And I'm wearing a beautiful top that was designed by my friend Bethany, and I'm sitting in our co working studio that in front of my collage that I make every year. And then some artwork by my friend. And, yes, I'm thinking about like what does, what does it risk and harm, think like I think I come back to like what grounds me in my practice as a cultural equity and cultural justice like advocate and consultant. And that is really to think about how our organizations and institutions can
Unknown Speaker 34:57
in our inner frame our interactions with indigenous people, as really existing on this healing spectrum as moving us closer toward healing transformation or further away from it right like that, especially in museums like we are always in our every day as museum professionals working toward repairing harm that our institutions inherently occupy and simultaneously from that like, can, can move us away from it. Can we can uphold the harm that exists we can we can play into the invisibility and eraser that like exists, just because of the systemic institutional structure that we are engaging with. And so from that frame point and thinking about the, this idea of like what are really two things I'm processing in this moment are this idea of like continuing consent, which really comes from language that I developed in relationship with my colleagues at the Museum of San Diego Museum of man now the Museum of us and our ability to think about our colonial pathways policy that was approved, just as I was leaving for maternity leave in 2008 and it's a idea of like what does it look like for communities to give continuing consent. What does it mean for us to always be in this relationship. So I think from that, that model that was just really framed and from a cultural resources perspective of being in continuing consent and being given consent continually to steward our cultural belongings as indigenous peoples. What is it, what would it look like to kind of take that same frame of reference and framework from a visitor perspective right from somebody engaging with a public institution, that is, is in conversation with a museum. And I think to adopt that type of a model and to shift the paradigm like into that sphere. I think it also requires museums as institutions to enter in to this framework of what my friend Dr. Adrian Kean named like learning in public. And so this idea of like how are we consenting to learning in public, and how are institutions, giving consent to say, like we are going, like, from this real like place of like radical transparency, right. So thank you from this place of like how are we going to really explicitly name, like what we're grappling with, understand that we will make mistakes, but there will be days when our messages are off. There will be days when we harm people, right, but that if our intent is to be in connection to be in relationality like with each other with living beings on the planet like how are we able to move in ways that that are less rigid, that are not constructed by that like, you know the four walls white box mentality like how are we able to like move beyond that and I think that's something that I'm thinking about as a way to contextualize what essentially like decolonizing could look like right like essentially like what healing transformation could be.
Unknown Speaker 38:24
And then if we are engaging with each other in a way that respects like our living essence. And, and I'm including in that realm like everything from like plants, insects like we're at this critical moment where even museum like cannot be neutral and like thinking about them just from the preservation of like objects right like so called objects and so called like on the wall that, and we want museums to exist like they need to also recognize the realities like of like the existential crisis that were a part of them this moment collectively, and recognizing that, you know, their big expect Bill bills are something that are also contributing to like our climate change and climate scenario so like how are we thinking from a holistic perspective of our living relationality like to each other, and how are we thinking about risks and this really like in indigenous like cosmovision that allows us to be in conversation, that isn't about necessarily like the the start and end cycles like a budget year. Right, but that it really is something that is cyclical that it is moving, moving forward and allows us to be generative like in our response. And I think if we're able to adopt that framework, inherently, we then are dismantling like white supremacy culture like we're dismantling a lot of these other systems of oppression that are also plaguing and and constructing like the museum space as well. So I'm really excited to kind of bring in and weave into the conversation. Sue, who is going to just, you know like bring, I just, I just like want to just introduce you, I feel like so MANY people and just hand it over like give the mic to you in terms of thinking, What are you thinking about in terms of just assessing like harm and assessing like the benefits but also weaving together everyone's thoughts as well.
Unknown Speaker 40:33
Thank you so so much it's so lovely to continue on from you, so hi everyone my name is Suzanne Dixon, I'm an assistant professor of museum studies at George Washington University, where I teach courses including ethics and values and history and theory. And I think that they're really helpful as we'll come into this conversation. I am a middle aged white woman. I have quite short hair at the front right now because my nine month old son has been pulling all of my hair out when he feeds. So I'm really about a fifth shorter hair, compared to normal. I'm wearing a black sweater and I have long earrings made out of rooster tail, and I am coming here I'm located in Baltimore and I'm on the unseeded lands of the Piscataway Lumbee and Cherokee peoples. And I think I mentioned this at the start of the overall session on ethics but I think it's really important that we consider history as this is as Adrian mentioned at the start of our session, consider histories and how they impact the present. I'm also in, in Maryland which is was a slaveholding state so, you know, these histories that feel this country, they shape where we are and they shape the ethical questions that we come to, in fact Adrian started by talking about the hundreds of years of history, or the 1000s of years, sorry 10s of 1000s of years of history of Los Angeles, in its various stages of development, and he mentioned that, as we think about technology, that there, he will talk about emerging technology within the context of MC n, But arguably there is no emerging technology that all technology is built on two normative values assumptions that were built upon the ideas of their creators that were built on foundational national narratives and other ideas that have been constructed these narratives have been constructed over years and when we think about an emerging technology, no technology is coming without history just like museums are not coming, you know, without history. And when we think about this idea of normative values, and how that shapes ethics. Well normally values tend to be built around the people who have power. So going back to the quote there W EB Dubois quote that Elia brought us of how does it feel to be a problem. I think it's such a prescient quote, because it helps us consider that those who are often creating systems that those are creating institutions, and those who are defining ethics are often, those who have power. And when we talk about risk when we talk about consent that where we're mostly thinking about risks, those risks are often also being defined around risks to those who have power. And what I'm, what I've been talking a lot with my students about is how we redefine risk to the risks to those who don't have power in these spaces and don't have traditional power or continuing power, and so I think when we think about consent, and we think about risk that the question we need to be asking ourselves is, who is defining the risks, who are these publics that we think about and that includes social media managers and other staff that includes publics whose physical presence will be at risk if you're doing facial recognition, who you know, victims of domestic violence and other forms of
Unknown Speaker 44:24
Unknown Speaker 46:04