Wednesday 18 December 2013


When I look back on the last five years of my career, there's a cluster of influential people who have shaped the way I think dramatically. I've been lucky enough to spend time with Michael Edson, Seb Chan, Shelley Bernstein and Nina Simon through my involvement with the National Digital Forum (in itself one of the best reasons to first build up your confidence and become a speaker, and then pull finger and become an organiser). 

This year in particular, as I fit myself into and around The Dowse, I've been following Nina's observations about evolving participatory exhibition design into programming explicitly focused on social bridging at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. Her piece from earlier this year on social work and museums provided a crucial piece in my mental jigsaw puzzle, and was a corner-piece of my talk this year at NDF (I'll post those notes in the new year).

A new interview with Nina on The Incluseum extends these thoughts and I found the following extract particularly powerful:

When we talk about working with communities that don’t have a historical relationship with a museum, often, the best thing to do is be present as a partner in their space first. These art activities are in their community center–a place where they feel safe and welcome. Should we be trying to invite them to the museum to connect with people who are unlike them? Or can we connect with other groups in a third place entirely? How should we think about this complex issue? 
Another example is our teen program, Subjects to Change, in which teenagers work together to change our community through art. When we started it, we knew we didn’t just want the “A” students who are looking to puff up their resume. We wanted to include kids who come from different walks of life in our community. We started talking to people who run different youth development programs in town. There are some programs that focus on youth who are really struggling–with drug addiction, or coming in and out of juvenile hall. In talking with people who run these programs, we realized that we are not able to serve those teens because they require a level of staff involvement and expertise that we just don’t have. We had to get comfortable with the fact that we are not going to bridge kids in juvenile hall and kids in prep school. Instead, what we do is focus on geographic distribution, different high schools, and focus on kids with wide-ranging ideas about educational attainment and involvement. We have a very diverse group of teens, but we know there are limits to what we are able to do in terms of social bridging based on our capacity. That is something we continually have to confront and be realistic about.

Colin McCahon painted about necessary protection, and Stephen Bambury took that and made necessary corrections. Those are two phrases I think about a lot at the moment. 

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