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Anti-Racism Case Study: Adapting Our Collections Work

Museums Galleries Scotland is striving to be an anti-racist organisation, and we will share the approaches we have taken to embed anti-racism in our work.

This case study is by Jacob O’Sullivan, Jenny Youngson, and Victoria Hawkins, Museum Development Managers.

Since early 2020 we have been attempting to proactively implement anti-racist approaches in the support we offer around collections work. We recognise and embrace the fact that an anti-racist commitment to collections support is an ongoing process, and that we are still learning. We welcome the opportunity to embed this approach into all areas of our collections support, including in our collaborations with external partners and organisations.

MGS Knowledge Exchange

MGS Knowledge Exchange events are designed as opportunities for the museums and galleries workforce to explore new areas of museum practice in a peer-supported environment. These are opportunities to share expertise and experiences, rather than formal training courses. We have created a series of events aimed at providing a platform for innovative approaches to collections and interpretation, to be shared throughout the museum sector.

Across the Knowledge Exchange programme we are committed to ensuring barriers to taking part and presenting are overcome. This includes ensuring that speaker fees are offered at a reasonable rate and making sure that there is legacy to the presentations, so that anyone unable to attend can benefit from the learning explored.

While not all these sessions have been explicitly anti-racist in their subject matter, across the programme we have sought to support the sector to think about their work from an anti-racist perspective. Some of our sessions have explicitly looked at anti-racism subjects, including:

Decolonising Your Museum (January 2020), with guest speakers Bruno Verbergt from the Africa Museum, Tervuren, Belgium; Abeer Eladany from the University of Aberdeen; and Austin Ndala, Lara Lasisi, and Natalie Milor from the David Livingston Birthplace Museum.

Representing the Under-Represented (October 2020), with guest speakers Zandra Yeaman from The Hunterian and Zey Cussan from Museum As Muck.

Curating Public Unrest (November 2020) on displaying, managing, and interpreting objects with high symbolic links to anti-racism movements, with guest speaker Ray Barnett from Bristol City Council.

These sessions have sought to highlight good practice from across the museums sector in areas that are new for many museums. Across the sessions, we have deliberately avoided expressing an authoritative voice from the perspective of a development body: we are learning alongside Scotland’s museums during these peer support sessions.

Recognition & Accreditation

The Recognition Scheme exists to recognise and invest in collections of national importance which are not held in national museums. The scheme is administered by Museums Galleries Scotland and the Recognition Committee on behalf of the Scottish Government.

Recognised Collections form a significant distribution of collections of national importance. By taking on the accolade of caring for a Recognised Collection, museums have a responsibility to be sector leaders where possible. MGS have initiated discussions around active anti-racist approaches within this group; for example, we ran a session on Empire, Slavery & Scotland’s Museums (ESSM) consultation aimed directly at Recognised Collection Holders. This group of Recognised Collection Holders were significantly engaged in this session.

From an Accreditation standpoint, we take our commitment to increasing diversity and inclusivity seriously. We are working with the UK Accreditation Partners on a review of the Accreditation Committee recruitment processes to increase the diversity of the Committee. Our goal is to raise issues openly with our partners, highlight where improvements can be made, and initiate honest conversations that will enable us to use Accreditation to support museums to work inclusively. Our Accreditation team have also been involved in testing for the Museums Association Museums Essentials anti-racism module.

We ran an Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums session in November 2021 for the Accreditation Mentors. Accreditation Mentors individually are involved in a number of organisations (their own, usually large, museum or service, and the smaller independent museums they support), and have influence across the sector. They were able to reflect on their own practice, and to feed into the consultation about the challenges and concerns of a range of museums in undertaking anti-racist work. This session was important in helping identify how Accreditation can support anti-racism work, and in identifying the barriers encountered by the workforce in a range of museum organisations.