UMMA's Commitment to Anti-Racist Action

UMMA’s Ongoing Commitment to Anti-Racist Action and a More Inclusive Museum

Black Lives Matter. The University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) stands in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). We acknowledge that UMMA, like museums generally, has been a part of a history of structurally racist systems and systemic inequality. We commit to challenging and dismantling systems of oppression that harm BIPOC communities. UMMA must be a better advocate and ally. 

Being actively anti-racist is much more than being “not a racist.” It means fighting against racism in all of its forms. In a society that privileges white people and whiteness, racism is embedded and reinforced throughout our media, culture, social systems, and institutions. 

Institutional racism is the policies and practices within institutions that benefit white people or prioritize the voices and experiences of white people to the disadvantage of people of color. Being an actively anti-racist museum means identifying those inequities in our structures, ideas, behaviors, systems, and policies and changing them so that they are equitable for all people. We acknowledge that UMMA, like museums generally, has been part of structurally racist systems, and that the museum sector has thus contributed to inequalities we now seek to rectify. 

UMMA will continue to use our platforms and collections to bring awareness to anti-racist issues and highlight resources that can help educate; while also doing the work necessary to deconstruct systemic racist and colonialist structures that may be embedded in museums, in the wider cultural sector, and in society more broadly.

This work is ongoing and will evolve in collaboration with our publics and partners. We are working to develop timelines and measures of success as well as methods for sharing our progress. These commitments represent an imperfect but essential starting place. Our hope is that they open a platform for discussion, feedback, critique, collaboration, and accountability.

Beginning in fall 2020 and over the next year, our action steps will focus on four main methods of transforming our practices, policies, and procedures to build an actively anti-racist UMMA.

Within the next year we commit to:

Amplify BIPOC perspectives and voices

We will open UMMA galleries, exhibitions, programs, and other platforms, onsite and online to redistribute our institutional power for a collaborative and equitable future by...

  • Developing exhibitions and programs in partnership with BIPOC artists and communities, among others, and supporting academic research into themes/issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, anti-racism, and social justice.

  • Establishing a process to review all UMMA exhibitions, programs, and initiatives through a lens of diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, anti-racism, and social justice, and making those reviews publicly accessible on the UMMA website.

  • Opening UMMA’s communications channels to the voices of diverse editors, curators, and staff from other organizations.

  • Building an UMMA Shop inventory that better reflects the diversity of the Michigan population—by seeking out new inventory from, among others, BIPOC artists, writers, makers, suppliers, and manufacturers or that feature diverse themes or experiences.

Be honest and transparent about our history and collections

We acknowledge that UMMA, as with museums generally, emerged from a fundamentally colonialist and elitist past and that our collecting practices were affected by these structures. We will work to correct this by:

  • Developing a plan for a comprehensive collections inventory to determine and make public the representation of art and artists across the collections.  

  • Establishing a target percentage for representation of BIPOC-related themes of works on display and new Museum acquisitions, especially including those of historically underrepresented ethnicities, gender identities, and sexualities. 

  • Establishing connections and collaborating with the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Bodawotomi communities to develop and make public land and water acknowledgements. 

  • Prioritizing exhibitions and research projects that investigate and make transparent a more complex history of UMMA’s collections, building, and the broader University campus.

  • Publishing summaries of the work above on our website to increase transparency.

Make the Museum an open, safe, comfortable, and equitable place by:

  • Translating the Museum map and visitor guide in languages spoken by our community (starting with Spanish and then Arabic, and Chinese).

  • Moving suggested admission/donation boxes away from building entry points. 

  • Completing a wayfinding audit to help improve signage, wayfinding, and Museum FAQs with a focus on inclusivity and accessibility.

  • Building upon our partnerships with Title I schools by collaborating with teachers and administrators on K-12 education programs.

  • Increase diversity of the Museum’s advisory boards, councils, and volunteer corps, including by recruiting BIPOC constituencies.

  • Acknowledging that UMMA is currently a predominantly white institution. We will build on and expand the Museum’s diverse hiring and recruiting resource guide with the goal of achieving a workforce that is broadly representative of our communities within the bounds of state laws, including Proposition 2.

Mandate anti-racist staff development and education by:

  • Providing a minimum of 16 paid hours for staff to engage in DEI and anti-racism training, education, and professional development throughout the year. This will include anti-racist management training, self-led learning and group reflection, as well as mandatory anti-racism training sessions for all staff. 

  • Requiring anti-racist training for all staff, docents/volunteers, student interns, UMMA Navigators, UMMA Shop staff, Student Engagement Council (SEC) members, and Department of Public Safety and Security (DPSS) staff assigned to UMMA to ensure all Museum visitors are treated with respect.

  • Articulating a process for reporting and taking action on reports from UMMA staff and volunteers that include incidents of unlawful bias, racism, and harassment, both past and present. 

In addition to these action steps, UMMA’s 2021 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan outlines additional strategic priorities, action items, and measures of success for the coming year. This plan is undergoing final revisions and will be made available on this page in the coming weeks. 

From winter 2020–spring 2021, UMMA will develop a new five-year DEI Strategic Plan that will focus on anti-racism initiatives—we will consult in particular with BIPOC-focused and BIPOC-led organizations on the U-M campus and in the southeast Michigan region to develop the commitments and action items that will lead our work for the next five years and beyond.

We welcome your feedback and comments on this commitment and these action steps. 

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UMMA FY 2021 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan

This plan outlines additional strategic priorities, action items, measures of success, and work plans for the coming year while UMMA works towards becoming an anti-racist institution.

Download FY 21 Plan [PDF]

Related Exhibitions

These recent and upcoming projects continue UMMA’s focus on exhibitions that feature BIPOC artists and address issues of systemic racism, colonialism, and oppression.

Questions you may have

Museums haven’t been places of equality and solidarity, where everyone feels like they belong—and UMMA wants to change that. But, in order to have an art museum that truly is for everyone, structural changes need to take place to address the history and culture of racism, colonialism and white supremacy in which all museums (including UMMA) were created. Adopting an actively anti-racist stance is one part of how UMMA is attempting to confront that history and take steps to repair and make up for the damage done by that history.

For the past several years, our work has been focused on pointing out and addressing issues of systemic inequalities in museum collections, exhibitions, and practices — though not always in public ways. These public commitments are coming now as a recognition of the fact that equality, justice, and peace for those who have been marginalized is long overdue.

Being actively anti-racist is much more than being “not a racist.” It means fighting against racism in all of its forms — many of which may or may not be visible. In a society that privileges white people and whiteness,racism is embedded and reinforced throughout our media, culture, social systems, and institutions. Institutional racism is the policies and practices within institutions that benefit white people or prioritize the voices and experiences of white people to the disadvantage of people of color. 

Being an actively anti-racist museum means pointing out those inequities in structures, ideas, behaviors, systems, and policies and changing them so that they are equitable for all people.

The list is long. A few are highlighted here, and additional reading is linked at the end of this page.

  • Colonialist collecting practices that include looting, over-valuing art from white/european artists, and ignoring the violence and exploitation that these collecting practices have and had have on others
  • Writing object labels from a eurocentric point of view and using terms based in white supremacy
  • Cataloguing and data collection practices that don’t account for or allow non-western attribution styles
  • Developing and prioritizing educational programs primarily for students from affluent, mostly white school districts or neighborhoods
  • Communications and marketing practices that favor white voices and experiences while tokenizing BIPOC individuals
  • Police-izing museum security
  • Creating spaces that are intentionally unfamiliar and unwelcoming to BIPOC audiences - upholding aesthetics of sterility and seclusion that affirm white senses of security, quiet contemplation, and privilege
  • Creating and upholding hierarchies that place art by white artists at its zenith, while relegating works by BIPOC artists to the realm of the less-visible, less-funded, less-important spaces of the museum. Acting as if such hierarchies are normal and natural, instead of particular racist constructions.
  • Promoting values of objectivity and scholarship and speaking from an “institutional voice” - failing to acknowledge the (overwhelmingly white) authors behind these highly subjective statements  
  • And many more

The Black Lives Matter banner is about both a public show of support and public accountability. We hold ourselves accountable to the public, and it’s the public who will ultimately decide if we’ve made good on our commitments. Signifying our support and accountability with a banner on the building is just one small step on this journey.

BIPOC is an acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The term is used in UMMA’s commitment to anti-racist action because it is currently the most inclusive term of the communities that have been marginalized by colonialist, racist, and white supremacist ideology, specifically acknowledging that not all people of color face equal levels of racism or discrimination in our society.

There are many more details outlined in our FY 21 DEI Plan that is available to download above and via this link. Working out other details is part of the work we still need to do. That may not be a satisfying answer, but these are complex issues without satisfyingly simple solutions. 

We will be open, honest, and transparent about our progress towards defining those details and we will be held accountable by both the public and our committed staff, volunteers, and partner organizations who care deeply about these issues.

We would love to hear from you and value the input of all of our visitors and publics while we engage in this important work. There is a feedback form on the bottom of this page where you can easily submit anonymous (or not) comments. 

Click here to leave a comment

Recent Updates and Progress

This is a living commitment and we will be adjusting it as we work towards refining and accomplishing the goals set forth. We will use this space to announce and keep track of updates but also to share progress reports. 

The Anti-Racist Commitment to Action Statement was made live on the UMMA website. 

Continued Reading

What else can we collectively do about institutionalized racism? We as a community can educate ourselves about how to be effective, respectful allies, and how to speak up and not speak over. Here's some good, basic advice from the anti-oppression network and some continued reading you may find helpful.

Social Identities and Systems of Oppression

Part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s “Talking About Race” series.

Read More

The Myth of Objectivity in Memory Institutions

A First Nations perspective on museum objectivity and neutrality.

Read More

Bigoted Tropes, Slurs, and Dog Whistles

A glossary of bigoted terms and racial microagressions seen online and in public everyday. Developed by Jeff Witt, Organizational Development Lead, University of Michigan Libraries

Explore the Glossary

5 Ways To Take Action Right Now

A list of to-dos for those looking for where to start. Put together by Shifting the Culture, a racial justice consulting firm run by three women of color.

View Slideshow

Shareable Anti-Racism Resource Guide

A guide to readings, teachings, videos, and other educational resources put together by Tasha K Ryals.

Explore the Guide

Lesson Plans for Continued Personal Learning

Learn to be an Anti-Racist in 10, 20, or 45 minutes a day by following detailed lessons plans developed by Bryanna Wallace and Autumn Gupta.

View Lesson Plans

Help, Empower, Affirm, and Love (HEAL)

U-M undergraduate student JC Garcia put together a helpful list of mental health resources.

View Resources

Anti-Racism Primer: What can I do?

A Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training and Education professional development module from the University of Michigan.

View More

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