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It has been a highlight of my SOCL traineeship to have been on the list of speakers at the last SHARE Front of House Forum at Chelmsford Museum, particularly when esteemed guests like John Orna-Ornstein were present!
I want to thank all those who had attended in the name of support, there was a team of cheerleaders in the audience who I greatly appreciate. You all motivate me to do my best!
I decided to present three questions to the audience for discussion. This was my opportunity to learn what my colleagues in the sector already think about diverse communities and to think about what we can do moving forward to tackle some of the challenges in engaging with them.
What is your definition of diverse communities?
The general response to this question was holistic. Diverse communities involve a mixture of race, religion, background, sexuality, gender, age, economic background. The term itself defines all communities. The most relevant point that stuck with me through the discussion was about how one person can identify with many of these things and is able to represent more than just one of these groups. For example, with my complicated story, I can identify as an American national with a Pakistani background and being a practising Muslim. The mixed society that has built the UK shows how we can encourage people to come together when they draw out similarities in the many identities they connect with.
How can we provide a platform for diverse communities to engage with museums and ensure their stories are told?
My favourite answer to this question is obviously the work that the SOCL programme promotes in terms of community engagement. It also provides a solution for diversifying the workforce, which is important for representation. The trainees and I have been that invitation for those who would not normally visit museums or heritage organisations to get involved. We have been that personal link which has brought diverse communities through the doors and engaged them through our work. We are passionate about sustaining these relationships and ‘strengthening our common life’ by persevering, having patience and listening.
The discussion concluded with the feeling of taking things one step at a time. Starting with a targeted group to reach out to and listen to their stories and then be able to discover something which links back to your museum or heritage organisation.
What are the challenges you face when working with diverse communities?
The common response to this question was about building trust with diverse communities and connecting with them through personal relationships, either directly or indirectly. Another challenge involved finding different stories within a collection. Finally, being clear about challenging stories is something we need to learn as well as allowing for debate.
Watch the full presentation below.
Sana Khan, SOCL Trainee, University of Cambridge Museums