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Letter from Erika: Navigating our Future with a Moral Compass

June 23, 2020 3:35 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

Lionni, Leo. Little Blue and Little Yellow 1959. NY Ivan Obolensky Inc.*

Dear Members of MANY’s Museum Community,

Perhaps after 100 days in quarantine topped by protests against police violence in support of Black Lives Matter, some of us would like to put away our moral compasses, open our museum doors, and return to business as usual. But if we are to successfully navigate our futures and thrive as a field, it is necessary to change our physical spaces in response to the COVID-19 health crisis and revise our policies and practices to ensure a culture of inclusion and racial equality. Museums need to chart a course beyond statements, to address long-standing disparities of power in our museum field, and to fight racism as we find it within our walls and in our programs. 

In song lyrics that hold hope for the political experiment we call democracy, Leonard Cohen wrote “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”  We are living in a time where light is flowing freely through the cracks revealed by COVID-19. Museums are in economic crisis without two thirds of our earned income. Our staffing crisis is a tragic result, as thousands of our museum colleagues are laid off in the wake of the inadequate and disproportionate federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Museums need to take advantage of this distinctively disruptive time and turn it into an opportunity for emergent solutions for our spaces, for our programs, and for our workforce. 

MANY is committed to the work being done to address racism in our museums and pledges to support our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) museum colleagues and their communities who support museums. At this time of year, we would usually be busy planning a fall travel schedule of Meet Ups and Workshops. Our fingers are crossed that fall travel might still be possible.  To accompany potential in person programs, MANY is planning a series of virtual discussions to amplify anti-racist actions and shine a light on best practices in Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion. We will provide a platform for conversation and reflection and invite staff from museums who are taking positive actions to share their ideas about how we change our future by changing how our museums operate today. If you know of someone we should include, please send me an email and share their contact information. 

I hope our museums will act quickly and proactively with deliberate and collaborative approaches that revise policies and practices to ensure a culture of inclusion and racial equality. I have been told that the answer to our nation’s structural racism lies at the end of a long road if we hold ourselves and those around us accountable. But for me, that road has no end. It is a path we travel our whole lives  with a moral compass in hand, with respect and integrity, acknowledging and celebrating differences, welcoming New Americans and celebrating the contributions of everyone who calls America home.

With thanks for your support,

Erika Sanger

*After retiring from a career as a renowned art director and graphic designer, Leo Lionni wrote and illustrated more than 40 highly acclaimed children’s books winning the Caldecott Medal four times and the 1984 American Institute of Graphic Arts Gold Medal. Lionni’s first children’s book Little Blue and Little Yellow raises philosophical questions about friendship, knowledge, and personal identity. More than 60 years after publication, it still appears at the top of banned book lists. Although the copy she had as a child is long gone, Erika recently purchased a first edition which she keeps on her bookshelf in the MANY office.

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