Inclusive futures for museums

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Nicole Ivy talks with an audience member after her presentation at Washington Hall

In Washington Hall, a place that has soaked up the creative vibes of everyone from Duke Ellington to Elvis Costello, Marian Anderson to Mark Morris, and Danish theatrical productions in the early 1900s to Nu Black Arts West Theatre in this century, the spirit of inclusion was operating in full force on the night of December 6 when Dr. Nicole Ivy came to town, courtesy of 4Culture and the University of Washington’s Department of Museology.

As the first Director of Inclusion for the American Alliance of Museums, Ivy had come to discuss her work in studying museum trends, with a particular focus on diversity and the future of labor in the field. Prior to her current appointment, Ivy served as a museum futurist for AAM under a fellowship of the Mellon Foundation and American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). 

In her Seattle appearance, Ivy started invited the audience to consider demographic trends in the United States. One hundred years ago, more than 90 percent of the United States’ population was Caucasian, but over time that number has slipped to 66 percent, and is continuing to trend downward. Meanwhile, the percentage of museum-goers in the United States today is still predominantly white – over 90 percent.

And when it comes to people currently working in museums, while approximately half of the security and facilities maintenance jobs are held by non-whites, leadership positions continue to be dominated by Caucasians at around 90 percent. With the population becoming increasingly diverse, unless museums transform with the times, they are in danger of losing their relatability and relevance.

Ivy dug into Seattle’s demographic trends in particular — the two most rapidly growing populations in Seattle are the people under five years of age or over 60. Creative aging is becoming increasingly important, Ivy noted, and she challenged museums to figure out ways to address that. She also proposed that intergenerational activities involving these two fastest-growing sectors could be successful.

Seattle is also recognized for its significant population of Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000). With that sector’s propensity for ethical consumerism, Ivy challenged museums to think about what that could mean in the years ahead as that generation inherits the wealth of their Baby Boomer parents. 

“Inclusion is a process,” Ivy said, “not a destination.” She encouraged her listeners to exercise strategic foresight by considering the acronym STEEP – Social, Technological, Economic, Ecological and Political trends that the museum world may be able to interact with in a multitude of ways

“Museums are a force for social change,” she concluded, and left the audience with some questions to consider: 

  • What is the work force we want to see?
  • How do our processes help us get there?
  • What do our hiring practices look like?

Preceding Ivy’s talk, 4Culture’s Brian Carter and Chieko Phillips gave a reprise presentation of their King County Heritage Report, completed earlier this year. 


Heritage Advisor is published by the Association of King County Historical Organizations as a service to members and those who support its mission. We update our website continually throughout the month, and on the first of every month we e-mail a condensed version of Heritage Advisor to our mailing list – you can subscribe to this service by filling out the requested information in the right sidebar on this page.

AKCHO was established in 1977 to encourage cooperation among historical organizations; promote and encourage the study and preservation of the history and heritage of King County through member organizations, individual members, and the community they serve; and support such preservation efforts through public awareness and understanding of legislative issues.

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AKCHO was established to encourage cooperation among historical organizations and to promote and encourage the study and preservation of the history and heritage of King County through member organizations, individual members, and the community they serve, and to support such preservation efforts through public awareness and understanding of legislative issues.

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