A Conscious Collaboration

Museums frequently struggle with how best to include community voices in their institutions. This is particularly problematic when (largely white) museum staffs want to address issues of identity and race. One of the ways museums have dealt with this challenge is to collaborate with partners or “cultural ambassadors.” These partnerships situate museums more as facilitators rather than authorities. In doing so, museums empower communities and allow diverse voices to be heard and experiences explored. One good example of such collaboration is the Brooklyn Museum’s Triple Consciousness Discussion Series, held in the fall of 2014. Through this program, the Brooklyn Museum facilitated meaningful conversation about the experiences of black women by working with partners in their community. By reaching out to specific cultural institutions whose missions matched the program the museum developed, they invited new perspectives, voices, and audiences

Brooklyn Museum Exterior
The Brooklyn Museum

The Triple Consciousness Discussion Series consisted of three different discussions intended as a “vehicle for reimagining black female identity in America.”[1] One of the panels used a “Long Table” format that “invites the audience to the table with preselected discussants to encourage an informal dialog on a serious subject,” while the other two were more traditional.[2] Sessions included “Body Rock,” an exploration of the objectification of the black female body, “Mythologies of the Diva,” which examined the “diva” figure in popular culture, and “Beyond Binaries and Boxes,” which involved reimagining black feminism in the 21st century.[3] Access to the event was generally open, as it was held on Saturday afternoons in the museum and was included in the admission to the museum. For those who could not make it to the event, the museum posted a live stream on their website. Videos of all three panels remain available on YouTube.

In order to stage this conversation, the museum partnered with several organizations whose missions matched the goals of the program. The curator of the series, Ebony Noelle Golden, founded Betty’s Daughter Arts Collaborative, LLC, which “works to inspire, instigate, and incite transformation, radical expressiveness, and progressive social change with community.”[4] Additionally, the museum partnered with 651 ARTS whose mission is “to deepen awareness of and appreciation for contemporary performing arts and culture of the African Diaspora, and to provide professional and creative opportunities for performing artists of African descent”[5], and MAPP International Productions, which “develops sustainable environments for contemporary artists to create and perform their work, and uses arts, humanities and dialogue to advance appreciation of diverse cultures and perspectives.”[6] All three of the collaborators are based in Brooklyn or New York City, and all focus on using the humanities to promote social and cultural awareness. The panel consisted of scholars, activists, cultural workers, educators, artists, and writers.

Partnerships like these become especially important when discussing topics like black feminism. As the title of the series suggests, black womanhood encompasses many perspectives. Adding onto W.E.B. DuBois’s idea of “Double Consciousness,” this panel discusses the “Triple Consciousness” of black women: their identities as Americans, black individuals, and women. The topics of discussion address the “crooked room” Melissa Harris-Perry writes about in Sister Citizen, saying, “When they confront race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up. Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion.” [7] In the panels, black women confront the crookedness of how society perceives and portrays them, first by talking about the media’s depiction of the black body, then exploring the stereotype of the “diva,” and finally reclaiming their identities from society by redefining black feminism to include their own perspectives and experiences.

Much like the choreopoem, For Colored Girls, which Harris-Perry also mentions in her book, this series intends to, “give voice to black women by acknowledging the challenges they face, not to invoke pity or even empathy either from black men or from white viewers.” [8] The panelists do not concern themselves with being a “bridge” for white people, but rather empower black women by allowing them to respond to and reclaim the ways others perceive them. Panelists talk freely about identity with others who understand and have had similar experiences. Members of the audience occasionally join in with their own ideas, making the sessions feel more like a conversation. The result is an honest and empowering exploration of black womanhood. In addition to discussion, the series included performances of music, poetry, and monologues that offered expressions of identity.

When dealing with complex issues of identity, including many voices of authority is crucial. Rather than trying to go it alone, museums can create more successful programming by inviting cultural institutions whose missions align with their goals to partner with them. These partnerships will lend a sense of authority, expertise, and authenticity to programs. Additionally, they will bring in the audiences who usually attend and are interested in the partners’ events, which may differ from the traditional audience of the museum. Successful collaboration can be accomplished, as evidenced by Triple Consciousness.

 

 

[1] Blackman, Toni; Allen, Desiree; Braithwaite, Charlotte; Johnson, Karma Mayet; Washington, Shannon. “Body Rock.” Panel at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Triple Consciousness Discussion Series, Brooklyn, NY, Oct. 18 2014.

[2] “Triple Consciousness: Mythologies of the Diva.” DowntownBrooklyn.com. http://downtownbrooklyn.com/events/art-literature/triple-consciousness-mythologies-of-the-diva.

[3] “Triple Consciousness: Black Feminism(s) in the time of Now!.” The Brooklyn Museum, 651 Arts, MAPP International. https://tripleconsciousness.splashthat.com/.

[4] “About” Betty’s Daughter Arts Collaborative. http://www.bettysdaughterarts.com/about/.

[5] “Mission” 651 Arts. http://www.651arts.org/about-us/mission/.

[6] “Mission and Vision” Mapp International Productions. http://mappinternational.org/about/.

[7] Harris-Perry, Melissa. Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America (Yale University Press, 2011), p. 29.

[8] Harris-Perry, Melissa. Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America (Yale University Press, 2011), p. 30.

 

Image Credits:

Feature Image of Melissa Harris-Perry: “2014 University of Missouri-Kansas City MLK Lecture” by the University of Missouri-Kansas City http://bit.ly/1T8dR4Y

“Brooklyn Museum Exterior” by the Brooklyn Museum http://bit.ly/1oBWOuP

One thought on “A Conscious Collaboration

  1. This triple consciousness is a great concept.. DuBois’ Double Consciousness is a good foundation, but as we move into more intersectional discussions of social justice it is no longer adequate. These sorts of dialogues are exactly what we need.

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