Hanging Mirrors: Reflections of Women of color, Leadership, and Representation within Museums
By Brenda Salguero
I finished my Master's thesis in 2014 and have not really looked critically back on my work since then. A lot of what I wrote about in my thesis sadly has not changed much. Women are still over represented in the museum field, while being grossly underpaid. For Women of color this unfairness is even more blatant, and often paired with outright racism.
My hope is that this research can be used by future students to not only assess if they should even bother going to graduate school for Museum Studies, but also to help build future research studies.
Finally, ignore that Diaz quote. Sadly, I used it in my thesis before knowing what a terrible human he was.
Museums have historically been repositories of elitism and exclusion, which even today is still reflected in their staff and audiences. Despite this, I found so many women of color leaders who were actively hanging mirrors, so that people of color could begin to see themselves reflected in the institution. The purpose of my thesis was to examine if the decisions made by women of color in positions of authority and leadership has any impact in engaging audiences of color. Listening to my roommate’s story really drove me to begin asking, why does seeing a representation of oneself in the institution matter? Who made the
decision to emphasize certain stories?
My thesis is like a three layer cake, the first layer examines women of color and leadership, the second is an exploration of what influences their decisions, and finally I look at how those decisions possibly affect audience engagement. In order to understand each layer and how they are linked, I employed the following methodologies: a literature review, thirteen in-depth interviews, and two case studies.
First, for the purposes of this research paper I define leadership as a position of authority in which the, “probability that a command with a given specific content will be obeyed by a given group of persons” (Smith, 2002, p. 510). The literature review is divided into two sections: women of color and leadership and representation. There is a major gap in the museum literature regarding women of color, leadership, and museums. Although much more information can be found on women of color and leadership within the non-profit
and for-profit literature, it mostly concentrates on the barriers that bar women of color from positions of leadership. My second section examines the literature surrounding issues of representation within museums, focusing on exhibits that failed to reach their intended community of color and how ethnic museums work to fill the representational gap mainstream museums have created, as well as to look at examples where museums have made strides in exhibitions with representation.
For my in-depth interviews, thirteen women of color in positions of authority or leadership were chosen from a variety of institutions. I connected with many of them through my own networks, such as the Smithsonian Latino Center, and using LinkedIn, Facebook, and museum staff listings. The interviews were my second layer; their purpose was to gain a better understanding of how women of colors perspectives and experiences influenced their decisions and therefore the institution. The two case studies, however, concentrated on the third layer of my thesis: representation and audience engagement.
Read more by downloading the 100 page thesis below, if you dare.