Since we opened our museum in 2015, we have been proud to participate in ICOM’s International Museum Day, a day to celebrate the wonder and diversity of museums all around the world. That changed for the first time this year, when we saw ICOM’s announcement of the 2021 International Museum Day theme and its corresponding poster (above, left).
While we agree fully that 2021 should be a year of recovery and reimagining museums, their poster’s accompanying illustration – of a museum visitor wearing headphones and a ‘plugged in’ VR headset (containing a white person’s hand offering an olive branch to the hand of a black person) – is exactly the wrong kind of message for this critical time.
Rogue International Museum Day’s theme is ‘Unplug • Listen • Reform’.
For the first International Museum Day following the year of Coronavirus, Black Lives Matter protests, and growing pressure on museums around the world to repatriate objects in their collections that were acquired via violent colonialist looting, this year’s official theme and poster sends a chilling message, as if to say: ‘we’re all really tired from working from home, so let’s make this year the year that museums become a techno-dystopia of VR and AR, while the white museum workers who traditionally hold all the power over museum collections can digitally repatriate 3D scans of important objects back to whomever the originals were stolen from, keeping the originals for themselves’.
This is the same kind of status quo-style thinking that led to museum boards world over releasing toothless statements of solidarity with Black Lives Matter while simultaneously erasing the jobs of front of house staff – one of the few categories of museum employment that traditionally hires people of colour.
This is not the time for the status quo. The pandemic showed us that the status quo was never sustainable.
In response, we are proposing the creation of a Rogue International Museum Day this year, to take place on the same day as ICOM’s. Our alternative theme is Unplug • Listen • Reform. We believe this coming year should not be about shiny new technology toys and digital repatriation cop-outs. We believe this coming year needs museum workers to truly listen to the important cultural conversations happening around the world concerning heritage, racism, colonialism, and capitalism. We believe this coming year needs museums to implement real reforms – in their collections, in their staffing, and in their roles within their local communities. Museums can bring about real change if they take risks – by using their own influence to take moral stances that can improve the lives of their audiences. This is not a time for the status quo – the pandemic showed us that the status quo was never sustainable.
By posting content online with the hashtag #RIMD2021, participants can take the discussions of recovery and reimagining much further, more bluntly, and say the things that truly need to be said in order to make legitimate progress on a number of the most important issues confronting museums today.
Start preparing discussions you’d like to have on Rogue International Museum Day! Help us spread the word about RIMD2021 by sharing our official poster, or the link to this website. Feel free to Contact Us with any ideas you might have for Rogue International Museum Day – we look forward to lively discussions on 18 May.