Director's Blog

Director's Blog

Thoughts on Staying Connected

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center - Friday, July 14, 2017

I was listening to the radio the other day and struck by a phrase that one of the commentators, Philip Smith, made in referring to differences of opinions in his organization. He said, “We agree to disagree, but not disconnect.”

In the often divisive country in which we live, his words struck me as profound, but I wondered if they could have relevance as we think about museums. We’re currently in the process of writing an interpretive plan for the museum. Interpretive planning is a strategic process designed to communicate core themes, messages, and mission across the museum. Interpretation by its nature is about choices and the stories we choose to tell (or don’t tell) and the ways in which we do that. So you can probably guess that the opportunity for disagreement and differing of ideas as we interpret is expected.

As a manager, one my goals is to prepare my staff for whatever challenges they might face. When I think about the daunting task of interpreting 180+ years of Arkansas African American history and coming up with cohesiveness I definitely have some trepidation. From wanting to get it right to making sure that we’re not further silencing or marginalizing voices — all the while not imploding as a staff as we do this — is a formidable task. How do I navigate through rough waters and keep the crew together through it all? I mean, if lots of marriages don’t survive building houses together, how do 15 people from different social, educational, and cultural backgrounds do it?

Maybe one way is to reflect on Mr. Smith’s words, “We agree to disagree, but not disconnect.” Perhaps in creating a foundation built on mission and which emphasizes and re-emphasizes our willingness as a staff to work together and to keep sitting at the table no matter what disagreements arise is one way to keep showing up even when we differ from each other.

Winston Churchill said, “history is written by the victors,” but I don’t want our history to be written by the person with the loudest voice at the table — by the person who wins the argument. You see, too much of history has been written through this lens. As a result, whole people groups have been marginalized, silenced, and excluded by history books and by museums. When we only hear the voice of the victor, we lose out on so much of what makes history interesting, unique, and accessible to all. We miss out on what is quintessential about being an American — the willingness to disagree (with all its messiness) and yet still come together to make something beautiful.

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