Upon meeting me in my position as Board President of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, I realize that many assume I am an art connoisseur. While I truly enjoy art and do buy the occasional artwork I am moved by, the art itself is not the basis of my enthusiasm for museums. Think about how meaningful it is when someone confides in you their feelings or thoughts about a work of art you both experienced. Art gives us something in common to talk about, and I believe we learn from each other when we give voice to our reactions, experiences and inspirations.
The events of the past year changed people’s willingness to listen to each other, to see the challenges and opportunities we need to address, and to feel the urgency with which we need to work towards meaningful change. It is this new understanding that positions art museums to foster transformation and innovation in their communities.
All who steward museums have an obligation to seize this moment in time and pursue the cultural changes that will enable the museum to truly be a place where everyone feels welcome, heard, inspired and challenged.
I include the word challenge here, for absent this, we do not come to see and understand perspectives other than our own. While I hope museum visitors will always find joy and peace in viewing art, I also hope they see things that cause them to pause and look at the world with a different lens.
Becoming places where everyone’s voice finds an equal footing is a new arena for historical institutions that have in the past moved slowly to evolve. The process, like any innovation, will take time, have failures and successes, and require authentic commitment from staff, board, donors and its community. Creating an inclusive culture is a shared responsibility in which we must all engage. It will not be fast or easy, but with consistent effort, we will find the way forward. As I sign my name, along with many members of our community, to the steel beam that will top out the new Gundlach Building, this is the commitment that I am making. On the one hand a small gesture, its significance is much larger – our commitment to incorporating the many faces, voices, and lives we hope will see the Buffalo AKG Museum as a hub of education, inspiration, and creativity for generations to come.
Photo courtesy of Joe Cascio