Brown Bag 7th November 2013

Our first Brown Bag of the year! The write up this week is care of Ching-yueh Hsieh, who has been organising the BBs this year. And what a wonderful job of it he's done too.

“Intentional Civility in Museums”
Elaine Heumann Gurian

Elaine Heumann Gurian, as a well-known museum practitioner, she contributes to museum in diverse roles with huge successful records. In her personal website, people can see what did/does she achieved over 40 last forty years. She was the Director of the Exhibit Centre, the public facility of the Boston Children’s Museum over 15 years. She worked for one of largest museum institution Smithsonian museums and directly engaged with the initial works of national Museum of the American Indian and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum during 1990s. She teaches in universities and in-service programmes worldwide. Now she is a senior consultant for over six museums around the world.

Her passion and professionals to this field through her practical and straightforward thoughts could be seen as a vital mirror to the academic museology, if we think we hold a part of practical essence in this field.

Her Brown Bags session topic, the intentional civility in museums, is a good example of how she uses her insight to the world to articulate a fundamental goal of museums which museum practitioners may need to review and consider. That is, correct me if I am wrong, a social inclusion of different cultural/ethnic/habitus groups.

For Elaine, the concept of civility is not just formal or perfunctory politeness, but an act of showing regard for others. It’s not only about showing multicultural perspectives in society, but recognizes different worldviews, cultures and ethnics are equal. She thinks if the practitioners of social institutions begin take their responsibility to civil interaction more deeply than before and proactively review their methodology used in interactions with audiences and information receivers, stakeholders and staff, then institutions like museums may have opportunity to lead a peaceful and supportive engagement into publics and eventually into their mission and values statements.

She provides many aspects and profound questions of this topic that museum and museological practitioners may need to intentionally review and then consider amending their:
1. Assumptions about their audiences/practitioners and the ways that those assumption play a role in actions.
 - How does the museum expect its visitors to behave?
 - How does museum enforce that behaviour?
 - What is our tolerance or lack thereof of disruption and aggression?
 - Do we understand that what constitutes courtesy may be culturally or class-based and not universally acceptable?

2. Expectations about staff-to-staff interaction and the form and culture of the internal structure.
 - How can museum practitioners make the process of museum practice more transparently?
 - How is the work world changing and in what ways should museums accommodate to the new work reality?

3. Use of the terms “community",“forum"and“meeting ground”when applied to the interaction with publics.
 - How do we encourage public debate in formats and language that is welcoming and encourages thoughtful response?
 - Have we built in and encouraged opportunities for sharing knowledge those others have generated?
 - What is the language of response that allows for further discussion and respect?

4. Choice, process and treatment of exhibition/education contents
 - In what ways does displayed content need to reveal any underlying alternative position and how can museums promotes shared expertise within a diverse society?


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