With dozens of museum professionals stopping by our booth and registering to our platform, The Vastari Exhibitions team had a fruitful time in St. Louis, Missouri, at the 2017 Annual AAM Meeting.  As a result of the many engaging conversations with them and attending the Conference’s speaker sessions, we had the chance to hear more about the importance of work towards diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion within the museum field. We thought the opening keynote -  focusing on the Universal Benefits of Inclusive Design - was an excellent primer for what we were about to learn.

In a theatre packed with enthusiastic museum professionals from across the globe, speakers such as the likes of Dr. Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, and Haben Girma, a disability rights advocate and the first deaf-blind student to graduate from Harvard Law School, gave a thoughtful speech on the collective need to tackle the struggle for inclusivity and diversity head on.

Dr. Cole stressed the fact that, although progress has been achieved through curatorial methods, innovative exhibition design, thoughtful HR and services, the road to a fully inclusive museum remains arduously long. Institutions in the cultural and heritage sector are ideally positioned to enable growth and understanding throughout ethnically complex communities. Dr. Cole’s career and past achievements have focused heavily on human rights, which are reflected throughout her museological career.

She urged museum professionals to join in the fight for equality across institutions, which can be realised through dedicated collaborative programs, standardized procedures, training and effective leadership.

Centered around the idea that disability is an opportunity for growth, Haben Girma joined the discussion by advocating for the advantages of using technology to bridge the gap between those abled-bodies and the less abled. Through an emotionally charged presentation, Girma gave an example of her own personal struggle to communicate and interact with people, highlighting the power of touch-centric tech for the deaf-blind.

As the concept of narrative is central to our understanding of ourselves, our communities, our organizations and products, Girma also advised museums to choose to present stories which highlight diversity of thought-processes, encouraging equality of opinions and knowledge. Whilst this might seem evident in theory, the existing narratives presented in museums often voice the mainstream opinion, suffocating the voices of alternative opinions. Girma urged to not be ashamed to recognize that enabling experiences for the disabled often appears as a box museums are trying to tick, rather than a conscious effort which underlines the very design of a fully inclusive museum.

AAM left us awestruck by the amount of progress that has been achieved in the main areas covered by the conference and the insightful ways in which the diversity, inclusion, and equality have been pursued. As it is Vastari’s mission to build bridges between institutions and individuals, so they may share cultural capital charged with knowledge and powerful stories, we are proud to put collaboration and technology at the forefront of our efforts, in ways that we would like to believe Dr. Cole and Miss Girma would commend.