Ignite MCN 2021: Are Museums a Cult?

Are Museums a Cult? (IGNITE)


Unknown Speaker 00:00
Next up, we have cmo Rao. Sima is the deputy director and chief experience officer at the Akron Art Museum and she's also the incoming vice president of MTN. She has been connected with with this community for a really long time. This is our second MC n. Ignite as well. She last presented in 2017. So, really excited to have you here at SEMA. I want to say so much more, because I'm just so excited that you're here. But why don't you go ahead and take it away?

Unknown Speaker 00:45
This talk starts with the pretest. Put your hands up, answer the following questions with a yes or no. Put your hands down, fingers down for each Yes. Do some people in your organization claim to have a special corner on the truth? Are you told not to question leadership? Do people speak dismissively about those who aren't inside your organization? our finances transparent? Are there special requirements to get ahead? If you answered yes to most of these questions, you might have a problem. These are the same questions. They ask people who might be in a harmful group or cult. There were a few months this year where I thought I can't handle one more scathing museum article about someone I know. In the New York Times, I ached for my friends, I ached for my field, and I felt impotent and lost. I got into museum work because I love art. I love the ideas around art, and I love sharing those ideas. I figured everyone here has the same plan. They're excited to share. Then I got into museum work. And I found that people were only excited with sharing if they got to control every aspect of learning. sharing with parameters is not true sharing. It was disheartening. I realized the field often preferences things to people, give them the capitalistic matrix we live in I shouldn't have been surprised. But I was. And I was saddened and I wasn't alone in my disillusionment. Everyone I knew was wondering if they were in this field that was problematic. We went into this work for good. And we were wondering if somehow our idealism had blinded us. If we were on the side of good or not. Then I started wondering, was 2020 the great Cataclysm of our field? Now the standoff wasn't as dramatic as Jonestown or waco. But those built big cult combustions have one thing in common with the museum reckoning of 2020. Stepping back a minute. What is a cult? This is a term which is somewhat problematic, but in this context, a useful learning age. cults control their adherence to maintain the power of the group leaders, outside voices are minimized, so they can maintain the status quo. Changes avoided to squash dissent. Ideas are vetted through the cults thoughts, not critically considered much of the premises of our field are boid by excluding ourselves from the world. Just like in cults, we work in echo chambers, we vet our plans amongst ourselves, we try to make the best museum experiences without question it the music, questioning if the museum experience is the best. And as appealed were in crisis, why? Because of the system, it trained us not unlike a coach to question only enough to keep the system going. The system sucks. The system gives a few people great tax breaks, and a few more people the chance to do scholarship. It's a system reinforcing scarcity. And like all hierarchical systems, it means a lot of people get less. Basically this system has been supported by the idea of special power. It's not a system that has led to Universal successes and attendance is waning investment isn't worth it. We must deprogram ourselves. So what does that mean? deprogramming ourselves means we need to question everything we do. We need to be critical about every aspect of work, and no one person can be the final answer. Sure you study that artwork in school, but you can't look the cleaner in the eye. You don't get to be the final word on interpretation. sure you understand dinosaurs, and you wrote about it in a science journal, but you don't understand business. You will need to honor someone else's ideas. Sure your fancy person with a European design degree, but you won't go to jewel or CVS. You can't be the only voice and messaging for our audiences. deprogramming means not centering all power in singular leaders. It means not giving into whims of curators. It means honoring those whose knowledge comes from interacting with people, not books. It means standing up to donors. It means looking at our budgets critically and reassessing who gets the money and why. More voices means more success. More shared decision making means better decisions. More honesty means more trust. It means the leaving the cult of the past and meet moving forward to a better future. Yeah. Thank you

Unknown Speaker 05:52
so much. fire in your thoughts Sima. Thank you so much.