Thursday, April 12, 2018

Museums Involving Communities: Authentic Connections

In Margaret Kadoyama’s vision, cultural organizations are vital members of their communities and are actively involved in community revitalization.  Margaret works collaboratively with museums and cultural organizations to create strategic community involvement and audience development plans, assess programs, and plan for sustainability. 

Margaret was kind enough to share some thoughts here on the ExhibiTricks blog about her new book, Museums Involving Communities: Authentic Connections.

Imagine this: You are on vacation, and you decide to check out a local museum. You have a professional and personal interest in visiting, and when you arrive, you notice that the people there – the staff and visitors – seem to be happy to be there, and there is a vitality and energy about the place. When you look around, the staff and visitors are all sorts of people – various ages, styles, races, ethnicities, groupings, and the place feels welcoming and inclusive. People are engaged with one another and with the exhibitions and programs. You think, “Wow – this is a great place to be! How did it come to be like this?”

That scenario is a guidepost for me, and writing this book has been a way to discover how to make that happen for more museums. I have been long committed to the quiet but tenacious goal of helping people learn how museums can be vital members of their communities.  Since the late 1980s this vision has driven my work, and when I was asked to teach at John F. Kennedy University Museum Studies in 1997, I hoped that this was a way to influence many students over many years to embrace and incorporate community involvement into their daily practice. It has been a great pleasure to see hundreds of JFKU students embracing community work and join with colleagues in moving this forward. To my delight, the museum field has grown and is increasingly embracing community-focused work.

At this time and place (the United States in 2018), colleagues in many museums and cultural organizations are articulating the importance of being inclusive. A current example is the April 2018 issue of National Geographic, in which Editor in Chief Susan Goldberg’s editor letter acknowledges National Geographic’s racist history, and notes, “Let’s examine why we continue to segregate along racial lines and how we can build inclusive communities.”

The purpose of Museums Involving Communities: Authentic Connections is to explore how museums can become vital members of their communities, actively involved in community revitalization, and how community members can become actively involved with their museums. This exploration examines the components of museum-community relationships, with the goal of creating more accessible, inclusive, and relevant museums and cultural organizations. 

This book provides insights and guidance into how museums can be more fully engaged with their communities.  We take you through the process, looking internally to learn about our museums and ourselves, and then externally to learn about our communities.  We’ve included key questions to help guide this process, such as:

• What is your intention for engaging in a museum-community involvement initiative?

• Why do you want to have stronger relationships with people and organizations in your community?

• What do you hope will happen as you become more fully involved in your community?

Also included are stories from the field to illustrate how organizations such as the Science Museum of Minnesota, Queens Museum, Arab American National Museum, Oakland Museum of California, and others are embracing community. The stories are not only about what the museum leadership and staff are doing, but also why they are doing it, the challenges they are facing, how they navigate through those challenges, and the short-term and longer-term impacts of their work for the museums and their communities. And, sample worksheets and charts are included as helpful tools for museum leadership and staff.

In the book, we ask questions about communities’ impacts on museum programs, exhibitions, collections, audience and internal culture, a museum’s impact on its community, and the role of leadership in fostering community engagement. The book guides the reader to a) understand how relationships between communities and museums can be forged, b) learn and weigh strategies for involving and advocating for communities in museums, and c) learn how to develop a community involvement action plan.

A question posed by my friend and colleague Leslie Bedford says it best:

Why are some museums comfortable and successful at embracing community and others not? How is that culture of inclusion created and sustained?

Museums Involving Communities hopes to help you find out.


If you would like a chance to win a copy of Margaret's new book, Museums Involving Communities: Authentic Connections, just become an email subscriber to the ExhibiTricks blog by clicking on the link at the top right of the blog's homepage.  If you are already an ExhibiTricks subscriber you can simply send an email to with the subject line "I want to win a book!" 

In either case, all entries must be received before April 30, 2018.  The randomly-selected winner will be notified after that time.

UPDATE: Congratulations to Blaire B. of the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery for winning the book!

You can also order a copy of Margaret's book directly from the Routledge Publishing website.  If you enter the code FLR40, you can receive a 20% discount at checkout.  (The book is also available at Amazon and other online booksellers.)

For those of you attending the 2018 AAM Conference in Phoenix, Margaret will be doing a book signing on Monday, May 7th from 3:00 to 4:00 PM at the Alliance Bookstore -- Booth #2448 in the Expo Hall.

Last, but not least, you can find out more about Margaret and her work by visiting her website.

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