As I continue this quest to diversify the museum field, I feel the need to share about young professionals in the museum field that are researching about collections, diversity and engagement of audiences in our field. I located two young professionals who recently completed studies at The Cooperstown Graduate Program. Check out Ashley Bowden & Catherine Bayles!
Ashley Bowden is Program Coordinator for the Laboratory for New Audiences, and the Family Audience Visitation Tracking Project at Cool Culture. She has experience in the programming and institutional planning aspects of museum work. Ashley formerly served at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Glimmerglass Festival. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Development Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s degrees in African American and African Studies, and History Museum Studies from The Ohio State University and The Cooperstown Graduate Program, respectively.
Ashley speaks candidly about her research: What constitutes African American material culture? What makes African American material culture unique? How should well-established museums augment their collections to include African Americans? These are just some of the questions my research seeks to explore. I am interested in how museum professional define, identify and collect material culture that tell broader narratives about the experiences of African Americans in the United States post-emancipation. My research is an intellectual inquiry into why museum curators collect what they collect; it functions as a framework for bringing narratives about marginalized groups to the fore of museum exhibitions; and it focuses on the challenges associated with collecting African American material culture and the ways curators overcome these obstacles.
While most discussions about the material evidence of African Americans are predominately associated with slavery in the Americas, my work bring discussions about African American material culture into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. By interviewing museum professionals at arts and cultural institutions that vary in size, scope and focus, my work explores the ways museum profession have brought and continue to bring the experiences of African Americans and their material culture into the fore of museum exhibitions. Ultimately, their testimonies can serve as a framework for professionals interested in conceptualizing or re-conceptualizing their current collection to convey broader narratives about all Americans and American history.
Be sure to follow Ashley's research and her work with Cool Culture!
Catherine Bayles (Cate) is currently Education Program Coordinator at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. A lifelong educator and advocate for inclusive museum experiences, she recently presented her thesis, Not So Black and White: Racial Diversity in the Museum Professional Field, at the Museum Association of New York’s Museums in Conversation conference. Catherine earned a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology & Educational Studies at Illinois Wesleyan University. A recent graduate of Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program, she has focused her career around the idea that through community outreach, creative partnerships, and innovative evaluation, museums and other informal learning institutions can become conversation generators and agents for social change. A native of the South Side of Chicago, Catherine often credits the diverse surroundings of her youth with inspiring her to see museums as catalysts for dialogue and promoters of action. Her thesis examines model programs designed to increase the racial diversity of the museum profession. Informed by reports compiled by the American Alliance of Museums over the course of over four decades, interviews with leaders in the field, and the study of current professional development programs, her body of work identifies and analyzes current successes regarding the diversification of the museum workforce and encourages continued action throughout the field.
When asked about her views on diversity, she explained that if Americans are to “contend with larger social issues relating to the development and maintenance of a more democratic society, we will need the tools to engage with people of all backgrounds.” The creation, evaluation, and experimentation of new and innovative programs aimed at increasing the diversity of the field will allow ideas pertaining to diversity to flourish throughout the museum professional world. Catherine sees America as a country full of stories waiting to be told, and believes that increasing the diversity of our staffs will enable these stories to grow in complexity and candor. When it comes down to it, she asserts that every institution should work to actively increase the diversity of the field, because it is through this diversity that real change can be accomplished. As she continues down her career path, she strives to always ask the question, “What can our institution do now to be a catalyst for change?” She encouraged others in the field to do the same.
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