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From the President and CEO: Rebuilding for Our Future

Category: Influence of Museums

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Museum magazinea benefit of AAM membership.


The past year has demonstrated where we, as a society, have found strength: in our capacity to care for one another, our perseverance to hope in the face of devastating loss, and our boundless creativity even during times of distress.

Simultaneously, it has shown us where we have unfinished work: in the inequities of our education, law enforcement, and health care systems, to name a few. As institutions that reflect, present, and interpret history and contemporary society, museums must challenge themselves to address these societal deficiencies proactively, to be pillars for our communities’ healing, and to be leaders in our nation’s recovery from the pandemic and the rapid rise of disinformation.

Boldly addressing many of these issues requires a deep examination of our past but also strategically planning for our future. The Alliance will be with you every step of the way through recovery and rebuilding. One example is the TrendsWatch: Navigating a Disrupted Future report from our Center for the Future of Museums, excerpted in the pages of this magazine. The new report responds to the events of the past year by examining five primary themes: redressing systemic inequalities of wealth and power; essential technologies for success; caring for the vulnerable; shifts in higher education; and surviving the pandemic through strategic foresight.

It includes critical and timely questions about power, sustainability, community, education, and survival for museum professionals at all levels to ask of their institutions. We urge you to use this report with your boards and in your planning processes, to ask yourselves difficult questions, and to be bold in how you decide to change, experiment, and be part of your communities’ rebuilding.

When museums first closed in an effort to slow the pandemic a year ago, a comment I first heard from Scott Stulen of the Philbrook Museum of Art, that “the museums we closed will not be the museums we reopen,” reverberated across our field.

We must embrace that reality, difficult as it is right now, and use this disruption to address many of the structures that have not served us—from precarious business models to the inequities embedded into how we work. We need new models to be successful and meaningful in the future. Our publics are calling on museums to be relevant to them in new ways—to be integral in addressing societal issues, not just a reflection of them.

Now is the time to dismantle the old and rebuild anew; it’s time to rebuild a better museum field. While difficult work, we hope that as you use TrendsWatch to envision and plan for your and your museum’s future, you will find joy and hope for the future we are boldly building together.

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