This year’s theme for the International Museums Day is MUSEUMS ARE POWERFUL. And we agree. Museums are quite powerful, both as socio-cultural institutions and as places of work. It is interesting, though, that museum labor is predominantly done by women, and yet, most of them don’t hold the power.
Museums have the power to represent individuals and communities, to give justification and approval that can empower as well as enlighten. And this works in the reverse as well. Museums have the power to erase, neglect, oppress, and gaslight communities and individuals into thinking that they are unworthy, unimportant, and have no place in history or culture. Museums make choices everyday about which way to be.
It is within accepting and embracing this power that museums like ours—Girl Museum—locates the basis of our mission. To give representation and voice to girls should give girls power because that is where power belongs. Power does not belong to the institution, to be held in glass cases or clung to as a case for funding. Right now, museums have big jobs: to capture and conserve cultures under direct attack, from the physical destruction in Ukraine to the erasure of human rights and bodily autonomy being directed at women, trans, and LGBTQIA+ communities.
Museums are not neutral, as La Tanya S. Autry and Mike Murawski have taught us. As role models, Autry and Murawski have been inspirational as well as incredibly powerful. If anyone is in doubt still that museums are not neutral, they are not paying attention. Museums have never been neutral or without agenda. The power wielded by museums to make change, should they so chose, is immense. From the individuals and communities represented in their collections and exhibitions, to the programs and outreach conducted, museums have the power to shape not only their communities – but also our collective memory.
On this International Museum Day, we challenge other museums to check their power, to see who they are holding power for and why, and reflect on who they are empowering. Are there girls in your museum? Do they visit? Do they hear their own voices? Do they see reflections of themselves? Or is there a gap…and in that gap, opportunity to empower half the world?
-Ashley E. Remer