In early 2007, the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM) opened an exhibition on the history, human variation, and lived experience of race. The groundbreaking RACE: Are We So Different? was created by a multi-racial team from the American Anthropological Association and Science Museum of Minnesota, with funding from the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation. The exhibition toured from January 2007 through January 2015 and generated intense interest, discussion, and engagement. Though not traveling any more, the learning and conversations sparked by the exhibition have contributed to greater awareness and understanding of the work yet to be done. The exhibition has been the topic of—and catalyst for—numerous articles, lectures, presentations, discussions, and training sessions for educators, schools, business leaders, and many others. Some of the most successful outcomes of RACE have been the numerous projects and initiatives that the SMM has developed to support its deep commitment to equity and inclusion (see box for examples).
SMM’s ongoing commitment to equity and inclusion is evident in its programs, partnerships, and collaborations. With efforts led by Joanne Jones-Rizzi, the SMM’s Vice President of Science, Equity, and Education, the institution also continues to work on productive organizational change with staff and trustees. In April 2019, SMM received a $1 million grant from the Otto Bremer Trust to revise and update the RACE: Are We So Different? exhibition.
ASTC caught up with Rizzi, Robby Callahan Schreiber, Director of Museum Access and Equity, and Liza Pryor, Exhibits Project Pead, about the legacy of RACE, SMM’s plans for the revised exhibition, and SMM’s other ongoing work on equity and inclusion. The following are their combined answers to our questions:
When will the SMM’s revised RACE exhibition be unveiled to the public? Can you give us any updates or examples of new content?
Original plans were to re-open the exhibition in June 2020. Because of the pandemic, we had to halt production when we closed the museum in March and were only able to resume in September. The revised exhibition was premiered on January 14, 2021 with a virtual event, but the museum was closed at the time due to the pandemic. SMM plans to open again to the public in early spring, when science tells us it is safe to do so. The revised design and content reflect the current crisis in our community.
Will it tour or remain at SMM?
The revised version of the RACE exhibition will not tour. Keeping the exhibition in long-term residence at SMM allows us to focus the content on local narratives within Minnesota and the surrounding region.
We are clear that all lives matter, but we live in a world where that’s not actually happening in practice. So if we want to get to the place where all lives matter, then we have to make sure Black lives matter, too.
— Alicia Garza, civil rights activist, writer, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement
In what ways (if any) will the exhibition specifically address the issues driving the social unrest of this past summer?
We’re adding a contemplative component featuring names of those who’ve lost their lives to racially motivated police violence and a panel explaining the goals of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We’re also adding content about mass incarceration in the United States and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Describe other ways in which SMM has been addressing race and issues of equity—as well as crucial lessons learned?
Internally, the SMM has committed to long term equity work. Equity and Inclusion are embedded within all departments of the museum and within the museums core values of Learning, Collaboration and Equity.
What advice, guidance, wisdom would you offer to other ASTC members that may be just getting started on equity work; who may feel that they don’t have the experience to adequately move the needle; or who believe they may not have an urgent need to work on equity?
Understanding systemic and structural racism is key to moving our institutions forward and knowing and acknowledging that our institutions are part of a larger system that has excluded the voices and perspectives of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) people for decades.
Equity work is just that: work. It’s a verb. It’s ongoing and it requires constant attention. It’s also something that can’t be achieved by one monolithic training series or initiative. It needs to be centered in a way that all staff (board members, paid staff, volunteers) recognize its importance and value to the organization, their department, and their individual lives. This is work that cannot be relegated to a committee or to BIPOC staff only. People need to see themselves reflected in this work. Recognizing the nature of equity work is similar to science and technology work—it’s iterative and it takes the collective effort of diverse voices and experiences.
Additional RACE projects
Several large-scale multi-year projects which utilize the RACE: Are We So Different? exhibition have advanced racial equity centered on institutional change and racial equity centered programming for community members in the Twin Cities metro and regions in Greater Minnesota.
A collaborative project with Marjorie Bequette from the Science Museum of Minnesota, Noah Weeth Feinstein at the University Wisconsin–Madison and Cecilia Garibay at the Garibay Group, the Race Forward project brought together staff from across the museum to work towards a common goal of decentering whiteness and questioning the culture of science and museums as white. Through several learning leadership groups, staff from across the museum embarked on developing a Theory of Change.
In 2018, Science Museum trustees approved the SMM’s Statement on Equity and Inclusion. This was a culmination of nearly two years of work of numerous staff representing a range of departments within the SMM. This Statement is in part, an outcome of our response to racially motivated violence in our community.
Through a 2017 Institute of Museum and Library Services Museums for America, Community Anchors grant, The RACE in Greater Minnesota project aimed to increase the capacity of organizations and communities to support meaningful conversations about race and racism. The SMM created and placed a 450-square-foot copy of the RACE: Are We So Different? Exhibitions—along with an enhanced educator guide for secondary school audiences—at three locations in Minnesota. We also developed intentional relationships with individuals and organizations in each of the communities. Through these intentional relationships we co-developed and shared community-based programming in conjunction with the RACE exhibit.