As an American museum – and as the only one of its kind outside the United States – we have a responsibility and an opportunity to celebrate and represent our diversity. We don’t want to tell just one side of a story, particularly one of privilege representing only a few people. The history of America includes rich and varied cultures spanning many centuries. But this history comes with a difficult past and legacy, including inequalities that remain to this day. This legacy and these enduring inequalities challenge us all to review and better understand both our past and our present as we look to present a more inclusive offer at the Museum and a more thorough representation of the world around us.
We know that we have more work to do to bring more diverse stories to light, to ensure that all sides of American history (both historic and contemporary) are told, and to provide relevant programming for our audiences. We have outlined where we are in this journey below, and we will continue to review and supplement this plan as we look forward.
The story of our founding as an institution is an inspiring one to tell. The Museum was founded for cross-cultural exchange by an Anglo-American couple, Dr Dallas Pratt and John Judkyn, who were partners in both their personal and collecting lives. Dallas wanted to share with the British public the aesthetic charm of early American furniture and decorative arts and their historical background. John wanted to inform the British of the outstanding American achievements in these arts and crafts and promote Anglo-American understanding.
As we look to the future, we can take inspiration from Dallas and John’s original vision. While keeping the original decorative and cultural focus of the collection at the heart of our museum, we will also emphasise an ever-important cross-cultural exchange so that we can expand opportunities for dialogue while inspiring new generations.
We have already established several initiatives at the American Museum to support our diversity and inclusion goals. These include:
- Ensuring our permanent galleries, special exhibitions and events programme represent more diverse perspectives and feature a wider range of voices including regularly reviewing and updating our content
- Celebrating our LGBTQ+ heritage as an institution, we will continue to share and highlight the inspirational and trailblazing story of our founders while celebrating the diversity of our staff and communities
- Participating as a partner in the Pathways to Wellbeing programme, which supports people with experience of mental health issues through creative programmes delivered in inspirational settings.
- Offering a range of visitor services such as:
- Significant investments in making our site as accessible as possible with wheelchairs available around the site, a tramper for hire and the recent creation of lifts, accessible ramps, and pathways
- Noise cancelling headphones that can be borrowed from our ticket office to support autism and other SEND needs.
- Large-print format and closed-captioning on newly commissioned films and hearing loops
- Dementia support including signage such as ‘way out’ in small spaces
Recent and current activities include:
- The formation of an internal Diversity and Inclusion Task Force group comprised of staff members and volunteers working collaboratively to make and champion change.
- Creation of an Advisory Group composed of external and internal members with various backgrounds and expertise who provide advice on updating of content in our permanent galleries.
- Successfully obtaining a grant of £10,000 from the AIM (Association of Independent Museums) as part of their Tackling Inequality programme. We will use the funds to support our permanent gallery updates. We are grateful for the support from AIM who provided funding as part of their AIM Hallmarks Grants scheme.
- We are one of eight cohort museums in the South West who are part of a Travelling Together EDI training programme led by South West Museum Development with funding from National Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council. https://southwestmuseums.org.uk/what-we-do/projects/travelling-together/#:~:text=About%20the%20project,a%20wider%20range%20of%20people.
- Curated a special exhibition Dress to Redress: Exploring Native American Material Culture. The exhibition featured artwork from contemporary Anishinaabe artist Celeste Pedri-Spade whose wearable artworks invited visitors to consider issues of Colonisation and decolonisation and the impact they have had on Indigenous and settler communities. The exhibition was accompanied by an artist’s residency and series of public programmes and was part of a funding partnership with the University of Hull Treatied Spaces project.
- Started a pilot project with Somerset Sight to offer a special tour of the house for blind and partially sighted visitors. The tour took place before the public opening time and offered our guests vivid descriptions of the period rooms with the opportunity to handle objects relevant to each room. We now offer the option of having Audio Descriptive Tours as a bookable offer.
- Training for staff members and volunteers which included a series of diversity workshops and continuing to find how best to support all members of our team in providing a welcome for all.
- We have updated our induction to ensure all new team members feel like they belong and to highlight the importance of EDI across all that we do.
If you have ideas about what we can do – and if you would like to be involved – then please be in touch on [email protected]. We would love to hear from you, and we look forward to sharing progress on our initiatives as we continue to look to the future.