Connected \\ April 13, 2018

Working toward radical inclusion

In a crowded ballroom at the Portland Art Museum during MuseumNext 2017 last November, Dr. Amber Johnson gave a talk called “Revolution Requires Forgiveness”, about using forgiveness as a tool to create dialogue between diverse audiences, specifically among museum staff. In just 35 minutes (35 minutes!) we discussed implicit and explicit bias towards social identities and how institutions’ engagement with diverse staff and audiences can overcome such bias through the work of radical inclusion and radical forgiveness.

Radical inclusion requires us to allow people to bring their whole selves to the table, our whole self at that table, and now you can start engaging in new ideas,
— Dr. Amber Johnson

We also discussed how this work is put into action with The Justice Fleet, a mobile network of experiences that foster community healing through art, play and dialogue. In keeping with PEM’s mission to create experiences that transform people's lives by broadening perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of ourselves and the wider world, my colleague Liz Gardner (Interpretation Planner at PEM) and I instantly knew we needed to bring this experience to our own museum.


Courtesy photo.

In fact, we tracked Dr. Johnson down at a networking event at a nearby bar in Downtown Portland to express our awe and amazement, and then proceeded to set our plan in motion.

The role of play in contemporary art and culture with the PlayTime exhibition and the PEM’s Present Tense Initiative, which celebrates the central role that creative expression plays in shaping our world today, provide a perfect platform for The Justice Fleet and the Radical Imagination exhibition. Radical Imagination invites the community to come together to imagine new systems and build a world without injustice and oppression. Using reclaimed goods, craft items and miscellaneous art supplies this pop up makerspace will allow people to work in groups to create their just worlds, and then, as a large group, discuss their worlds, the societal structures they built, how those structures challenge or perpetuate social problems and ways we can begin changing our community.

In such divisive times, museums and other cultural institutions can play a pivotal role in the work of social justice by breaking down social constructs within our own walls and communities to create space(s) for audiences to be and to bring their whole selves. Being a museum professional of color and proud resident of the diverse city of Salem, I knew that this experience should not and could not be limited to the PEM audience.

As a predominantly white institution, both in terms of staff and audience, in order to do the work of radical inclusion, we need everyone to have the ability to participate, not just the “typical” museum goer. Having collaborated with PUNTO Urban Art Museum on previous projects, I see this as an awesome opportunity to bring the two museums and our respective communities together. My hope is that this experience will not only bridge the gaps within the greater Salem community, but change the way participants view others, as well as themselves. A culturally rich community with people from all walks of life, we have so much we can learn from one another and create together, if given the chance to do so.

The murals on view in the Punto Urban Art Museum located in Salem’s Point neighborhood. © 2017 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert.


A collection of the murals on view in the Punto Urban Art Museum located in Salem’s Point neighborhood, just a 10-minute walk from PEM. Murals from left to right: Don Rimx, Tiranda con Piquete; Bikismo, Untitled; Silvia Lopez-Chavez, Untitled; and Ruben Ubiera, El Campesino (The Farmer).

Join us Saturday, April 28th from 11am-4pm at Espacio (105 Congress Street) and Sunday, April 29th from 11am-4pm on the Axelrod Walkway at PEM (161 Essex Street) to participate in the Radical Imagination exhibition pop ups. Projects and conversations will be documented and photographed and displayed to encourage more dialogue, questions and imagination.

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