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BUILDING AWARENESSAT NOORDBRABANTS MUSEUM

Erna Baeten
Hoofd Development bij Noordbrabrants Museum

The context:
Diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I) at Noordbrabants Museum

 

Almost two years ago, we were granted funding from the Dutch Ministry of Education for a new education project at the museum. The Ministry told us that if we wanted to proceed with this project, then we needed to think about diversity, equity, and inclusion because, up to that point, we hadn’t really addressed it consciously. So, we thought the first step would be to bring awareness to the issue for our employees.

 

For a museum at this moment in time, it’s all about whether we are accessible to everybody – people should feel welcome to visit a museum, but it’s up to us. What are we showcasing? How do we tell stories? How do we connect to people that might not have easy access to a museum? This is all about DE&I. How do you make a museum part of the community that you’re in? It’s about being part of our local community and meeting the needs that are specific to our neighborhood here in the south of the Netherlands.

"For a museum at this moment in time, it’s all about whether we are accessible to everybody – people should feel welcome to visit a museum, but it’s up to us. What are we showcasing? How do we tell stories? How do we connect to people that might not have easy access to a museum? This is all about DE&I."

 

If you want to tell the stories of this moment, combined with the art of the past or present, then you have to be aware of your own history and what’s happening today in society. That’s how we see it.

 

The approach: Asking the right questions

 

JustB was one of the two agencies we shortlisted to help us with DE&I. We invited both companies for an informal meeting, and we ended up having a very interesting talk with Bernice . The big difference between JustB and the other agency was, while the other one said “you should do this, you should that,” Bernice asked questions to find out what we were looking for.  We thought that was a really nice approach – not telling us “this is how you should do it,” but asking questions to learn more about our organization and our needs.

"The big difference between JustB and the other agency was, while the other one said “you should do this, you should that,” Bernice asked questions to find out what we were looking for. We thought that was a really nice approach – not telling us “this is how you should do it,” but asking questions to learn more about our organization and our needs."

 

Together with JustB, we agreed to organize two full-day workshops for people to really engage and interact with each other and build awareness on this important topic. We were 50 people in total, divided into three different groups. Each group had a different combination of people and roles – I think this was one of the best choices we made.

 

The impact: Making space for discomfort

 

The first session took place in March 2022 and it was quite open; Bernice asked a lot of questions. Two months later, the second session took place, and it was more active and concrete. The topics that came up in each group were different. For example, some of our staff wondered whether people really “see” them in their jobs. It doesn’t have anything to do with the color of their skin, but it was more about, “Do people know what I do in this museum?” Some sessions got quite personal – there were tears in some groups – while others less so.

Bernice let the whole process go without setting a fixed direction. She was very skilled at asking questions and giving space to everyone to address their feelings. When people were uncomfortable, she invited them to talk about it. On the other hand, what I heard from a lot of colleagues is that Bernice shared a part of herself as well, which encouraged others to share their own experiences. I think people didn’t have a feeling that it was a program with a set agenda; it was organic in how it flowed and Bernice guided the process in a very natural way.

 

The future of DE&I at Noordbrabants Museum

 

For us, Bernice really helped ignite our journey to start working with DE&I. We can’t just tick the box after these two sessions. It will take some time, as we are currently in a transition with a new museum director. We’ve been talking about our mission and goals, and we’ve now agreed that DE&I should be part of that transition – it should not be separated from the whole. It has been difficult for some of our staff to figure out how to make DE&I part of their daily work lives, but we have to be patient. Bernice helped in the awareness phase, and now it’s up to us to take the next step.

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