Museums are not neutral

Museums are not neutral: why it matters more now than ever


#museumsarenotneutral © La Tanya S. Autry & Mike Murawski


As murderous racial violence continues to terrorise the United States right now, some museums around the world have chosen to show solidarity and take up their responsibility as community members. Good. Today, museums can’t remain silent and should see this moment as a, if somewhat late, crucial step into deconstructing prejudices in our history and inherent structures. Isn’t it about time to decolonize our institutions? Racism isn’t just an American issue, it’s a worldwide, deeply rooted, institutional one. As such, it is of direct concern to museums as well.

As a museum federation, we plead that this can be the moment to fully examine and deconstruct our structural bias, both on a personal and institutional level. We as museums cannot claim neutrality anymore. We have co-constructed (historical) views on society, and it is our task to question those perspectives. This approach goes further than simply examining our collections, although that is a good start. It’s also looking at our own power structures, making sure we can offer more seats at the decision-making table to those we have so often overlooked or interrupted mid-speech because the message they brought made us uncomfortable.

COVID-19 has exposed our vulnerabilities, showing how viciously racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism still discriminate within our society. Museums, like almost every other player in the cultural sector, are going through difficult times right now. If we are to reinvent the cultural scene in order to survive, why not immediately reflect on the biased foundations our institutions are built on? This is one of the main reasons we launched Open Museum. Open Museum is an awareness-raising project aimed at making Brussels’ museums structurally more inclusive and participatory. We ask our museum community, workers and audiences alike, to join us in this necessary conversation.

Ultimately we want to learn from our past in order to move forward, in order for museums to become safe spaces where everyone feels welcome, regardless of gender, skin colour, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, level of education and age.

Looking for more resources on this topic? Definitely check out @museum_detox!

We would also like to shout out these different organisations doing active anti-racism work in Belgium. If you have the means and are inclined to do so, see how you can support them financially.