How to become an inclusive heritage institute? Three in-depth toolkits to guide you

Museums around the world are looking to become more inclusive, but that is easier said than done. Because where to start? To help you and your organisation, EHT compiled a shortlist of three brand new toolkits. From restitution to gender inclusivity!

Restitution and Repatriation

Horniman Museum returns its collection of Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. Photograph by Mike Peel. CC-BY-SA-4.0

In August, Arts Council England released new guidance on restitution and repatriation for English museums called Restitution and Repatriation: A Practical Guide for Museums in England. It provides guidelines and recommendations, examples of best practices, and case studies for the museum sector. It also assists organisations in acting responsibly in response to requests for the return of collection items. It replaces earlier advice on the subject that the Museums and Galleries Commission had published in 2000.

The guidance reflects recent developments in the world of heritage globally, basing the approach around three core qualities of transparency, collaboration and fairness. The guidance is divided into two main sections: “Getting started,” which deals with issues such as before a request or claim has been received, and “Working through a claim,” which addresses the phases that arise after receiving a claim.

The toolkit suggests that museums can prepare for incoming claims by researching the provenance of items and having a restitution policy. For returning objects, the toolkit recommends that should form a deeper understanding of the object, and its claims from other parties.

Challenging Stereotypes and Preconceptions in History

EuroClio has developed a practical toolkit for educators to recognise and dismantle stereotypes and preconceived notions about history. The toolkit is an action to the extensive record of bias, exclusion and discrimination towards minorities throughout Europe. It will aid the history teachers in teaching such issues in depth and give an opportunity to the students to develop skills for retrospection, social engagement and critical thinking.

The toolkit emphasises a four-stage procedure for working on students’ empathy in the history classroom. It all starts when a student takes interest in a stereotype or character, the so-called ‘sparkling’ stage. In the next stage, the teachers ask them how they think, feel and care about the subject, while the third stage of ‘reflection and analysis’, helps the student to step inside the role of the character to learn their point of view. The final step is a ‘call to action’, wherein the student must translate what they have learned into practical actions.

Gender and Sexuality

The third and final guidance is developed by the BC Museums Association in Canada. The toolkit aims to support museums, galleries and heritage organisations in their journeys to increase 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusivity and representation in an empowering manner; in particularly smaller organisations that may not have abundant resources. The toolkit focuses on 3 important aspects of the museum namely, physical spaces, visitor engagement and communications, and queering content and curation.

The toolkit urges museums to have physical spaces that are non-threatening and supportive to visitors and staff. It stresses on implementation of at least one ‘all gender bathroom’ in museums. This cultivates an inclusive and free environment for people of kinds.

“Stad Amsterdam” alongside the Maritime Museum during the Canal Parade of the Amsterdam Gay Pride of 2016. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The toolkit also encourages museums to respect the pronouns of different groups of people and use them in communication. Also, use more inclusive language such as ‘folks’ or ‘everyone’ instead of ‘ladies and gentlemen’ while engaging in conversations.

The museums are encouraged to have queering curation and content exhibited. “Queering” is a term that came from queer academic theory and was originally a way of challenging the stories we have inherited about gender and sexuality. The toolkit asks museums to break away from their heteronormativity and cisnormativity narratives and look for different ways to interpret and challenge the stories that are told or invite queer histories to the forefront.