How can your museum work alongside children, young people and families to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement?
This resource by Kids in Museums suggests some next steps for working with children, young people and families to address the need for change highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. It is not intended to be an exhaustive guide to decolonising your museum or becoming an anti-racist organisation but a helpful starting point for museums wanting to start to make this journey alongside their communities.
Kids in Museums has always wanted all families to be welcomed, involved, and feel they belong in museums, so every child and young person is part of the experiences and opportunities that museums offer. We believe that museums should be inclusive, equitable spaces and have a responsibility to facilitate and support conversations that lead to a fairer, more equal society for everyone.
In summer 2020, there was an international outpouring of horror, grief and anger after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. Following the killing, there were protests around the world calling for systemic political, economic, social and cultural change. The protests shone a spotlight on long-term racial injustice in all areas of society and were a catalyst for many cultural and heritage organisations to begin to act to address long-term inequality related to race.
We believe all museums and heritage organisations have a responsibility to take action alongside their audiences to become anti-racist organisations and decolonise their collections. We want to see children, young people and families at the centre of these efforts to promote long-lasting change in the sector and society more widely.
This resource suggests some next steps for working with children, young people and families to address the need for change highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. The resource is a work in progress, and we welcome suggestions for additions. It is not intended to be an exhaustive guide to decolonising your museum or becoming an anti-racist organisation. Instead we hope that it will provide a helpful starting point for museums wanting to start to make this journey alongside their communities.
Here is some information to put the Black Lives Matter movement into context in the UK in relation to children and young people.
The UK population
The next census is due to happen in 2021 (or 2022 in Scotland), so our current national population data is nearly ten years old. This means it may not be as good a reflection of the current UK population as it could be.
England and Wales
According to Government data, 86% of the population was White in 2001. The second and third largest ethnic groups were people from Asian ethnic groups (at 7.5%), followed by Black ethnic groups (at 3.3%). The percentage of the population that was White British had decreased by about 6% since the previous census. There are significant regional variations in the ethnic make up of the population, so it is worth looking for information specific to your local area.
The Northern Ireland Census 2011 shows that 98.21% of the population was White. The second and third largest ethnic groups were Chinese 0.35% and Mixed 0.33%.
In Scotland for the same census year, 84% of the population identified as White Scottish and a further 8% as White British. The Asian population was the largest ethnic group in Scotland making up 3% of the population.
How does racism and racial inequality affect children and young people?
According to a poll commissioned by iNews in June 2020, 85% of 18-24 year olds from minority ethnic backgrounds believe the United Kingdom is a racist country.
Systemic racism has a huge impact on children and young people according to this article from children’s charity, Barnardo’s.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on young people from minority ethnic backgrounds. They are more likely to be unemployed as a result of the pandemic according to a Resolution Foundation survey and are experiencing more negative impacts on their mental health than their White peers according to recent research (paywall).
From the limited data available, it seems that children, young people and families from Black or Black British backgrounds are underrepresented in museum audiences.
- The DCMS Taking Part Survey (Child Release) does not report on the ethnic background of children aged 5-15 visiting museums.
- The Taking Part Survey adult data shows that people who identify as being from a Black background are the least likely group to visit museums.
- The Audience Agency Museum Audience Survey (based on data from 140 museums using Audience Finder) shows that only 1% of 16-25 year olds visiting museums are from a Black or Black British background.
- According to the Northern Ireland Museums Council data, 95% of visitors to six specified Northern Ireland museums were White. 0% were Black Caribbean and 0% were Black African (out of 1,187 surveys). 2% of respondents preferred not to disclose their ethnic background.
- Research about visits to DCMS sponsored museums in London shows that only 12% of 16-24 year olds feel that these museums explore stories that are relevant to them and the majority would like museums to pay more attention to social justice issues.
- The Scottish government is sponsoring an independent expert group to recommend how Scotland’s existing and future museum collections can better recognise and represent a more accurate portrayal of Scotland’s colonial and slavery history.
- The recent Time and Time Again report from Beatfreeks reported that 54.1% of the young people of colour surveyed felt that British culture ‘actively excludes and appropriates other cultures’.
Once we understand the background to the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK, it can be hard to know where to begin with such an important and all-encompassing area of work.
1. Where to start?
Start by thinking about yourself and having conversations with your colleagues and your community.
Examine your own identity
It will be helpful to consider your own identity and relationship to race. Depending on your background, you might find something like a White Privilege Test a helpful starting point.
Consider who is affected by racism in your organisation and community
People from ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK are not a homogenous group. They, their families, friends and communities will have different lived experiences of racism. Have open conversations, make space and listen to what your colleagues and audiences have to say. Every organisation is different and will have a different starting point which will inform who they want to engage with their work to make their museum a more equal space.
Think about your local community and who lives around your museum
Does your museum represent its local community? The government published regional breakdowns of the population of England and Wales by ethnic group. Your local council may also be able to provide more granular data.
The Audience Agency can provide an area profile report to help you understand your community and audience (there is a charge for this service). You can also find some free information using Audience Finder.
The Incluseum, a US non-profit that promotes ‘new ways of being a museum through dialogue, community building and collaborative practice related to inclusion in museums’ has a series of worksheets to spark conversations about who your museum is for. They are designed for a US audience, but can easily be modified for use in the UK.
The Open Up Guide offers a more in depth approach to thinking about your audience.
It’s also worth considering how ethnicity intersects with other barriers to accessing museums using the holistic model outlined in this report by Glasgow Women’s Library. This will help you make your organisation more equitable for everyone.
Reach out to relevant groups
Once you’ve begun to understand the background to your local community, start to reach out to relevant groups and involve them in your museum. It can take time to build trust and strong working relationships, but this will be a valuable part of creating positive change in your organisation. Be prepared to listen, set clear expectations at the start of conversations and make space and time to respond to what they say.
There are many examples of museums that are already trying to reflect their communities. This was something that Leeds City Museum was praised for when it won our Family Friendly Museum Award in 2018.
The Rethinking Relationships and Building Trust project, a collaboration between the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London, Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, and World Museum Liverpool, involves heritage professionals, community members, artistic and other stakeholders to develop thinking about the museums’ African collections.
Ask for their feedback
How do your audiences and those who do not visit view your organisation? National Museums Liverpool is trying to promote dialogue about its collections, asking audiences to give them feedback about what they see on visits.
Embed in your work in your whole organisational approach
Earlier this year, the Trustees and staff of Culture& and its New Museum School Trainees called on the heritage sector to take action in its Black Lives Matter Charter. Look at your organisation’s current position in relation to this charter and start to plan your work.
The Museums Association report, Power and Privilege in the 21st Century Museum, has some helpful reflections and tools about where to start in your museum.
2. Supporting participants and colleagues
The experience of racism can have a hugely negative effect on mental health as this BBC Future Article outlines. Your colleagues and participants in your activities may have directly experienced racism or have friends and family who have. Issues you discuss as part of work on colonialism, slavery and racial injustice may be triggering. Be aware of potential triggers and sensitive to the responses of colleagues and participants.
It’s important to create safe, respectful spaces to have honest conversations about racism. Participants may feel vulnerable sharing highly personal stories or fearful about expressing their opinions. Here are some useful links on how to hold these conversations:
- Kidscape has some helpful recommendations for facilitating conversations for parents and teachers in this blog.
- The Tolerance Project run by the Southern Poverty Law Centre in the US has a guide to having conversations about race and identity with students called Let’s Talk.
- Samaritans offers a range of resources for delivering sessions with young people to build effective listening and communication skills.
- The CIPD has some guidance for having conversations about race in the workplace.
Taking positive action often helps to reduce anxiety and stress but can be challenging. You can find more information about racism and young people’s mental health on the Young Minds website.
If you are working with young people who feel they need more support, you can signpost them to organisations like Childline (if under 18) or The Mix. This will enable them to talk at greater length about their feelings in a supported, non-judgemental space.
There is also a new organisation called BAMEStream which exists to bring mental health services for Black and minority ethnic groups into the mainstream. You can find the mapping document of services they created on their website.
Think about the words you use when having conversations about racism. Language around race can be highly politicised and highly personal.
This blog reflects on findings from the Cabinet Office Racial Disparity Unit about the terms used to describe ethnic minorities, in particular encourage a move away from using the terms ‘BAME’ and ‘BME’. This BBC article of actors discussing the terms is also useful.
This article from Arts Inc presents a different view on language from the Cabinet Office blog and makes the valuable point that the best way to understand how to talk about someone’s racial identify is to ask them how they prefer to be described.
Kids in Museums Black Lives Matter Steering Group has chosen to follow the guidance from the Cabinet Office blog above and use the term minority ethnic group or community.
The American website Racial Equity Tools has an extensive and useful glossary, but bear in mind some words may not have exactly the same meaning in the UK.
It might seem daunting to talk to younger children about racism, slavery and colonial history. There are some useful online guides designed to support this:
- UNICEF: Talking to your kids about racism
- Barnardo’s: Talking to your children about racism
- BBC Woman’s Hour Parenting Podcast: How to talk to your children about race and racism
- Early Childhood Education resources from the National Museum for African American History and Culture.
There are also a range of resources about teaching Black History and colonial history online:
- The Black Curriculum
- Institute of Historical Research: Teaching British Histories of Race, Migration and Empire
- Runnymede Trust: Our Migration Story
4. Supporting workforce diversity
Museums lag behind other art forms in terms of workforce diversity, as shown by the most recent data from Arts Council England’s regularly funded organisations. (This does not include the other three nations that make up the UK, for which it has been hard to find publicly available workforce data.)
This matters for your work with children, young people and families. A diverse workforce will strengthen your work to be a more inclusive organisation, programme more widely and attract more diverse audiences. Jerwood Arts highlights the need for diverse role models in its Toolkit for Employers.
It’s beyond the scope of this resource to address museum recruitment, but we would like to encourage you to think about how you can support a broader range of young people to think about a career in museums.
Kids in Museums Takeover Day is an ideal opportunity to bring new groups of young people into your museum and introduce them to a wide range of museum careers. This will increase awareness of opportunities to work in museums and show that a museum career can be enjoyable and rewarding.
Once young people have had a taste of what it’s like to work in a museum, think about how you can offer work experience, traineeships, apprenticeships and opportunities for young volunteers and leaders. The Museum of London has established a good model for open access work experience and we have a guide on setting up a Youth Panel with the Museum of the Home.
If you are regularly asking young people to give their time as consultants for your programmes, consider whether to pay them for their time. There is more information about this issue in this Jerwood Arts report.
There are currently several national programmes offering traineeships to young people from groups currently underrepresented in the museum workforce. Museum Futures will train 27 young people over three years to give them the skills to pursue a career in museums and heritage, and New Museum School aims to create a vibrant passionate workforce to help diversify the audience for heritage.
Now you have explored how to embed being anti-racist in your organisation, here are some practical and creative ways to work with children, young people and families on this subject.
1. Engage with Black Lives Matter locally
Research in the United States shows that people attending Black Lives Matter demonstrations were predominantly under the age of 30. Newspapers in the UK have reported participants to be similarly young.
Could your museum reach out to local groups and explore areas where you might be able to work together? This could include offering space for meetings, creating joint events, or opening your facilities during demonstrations.
During the protests in America over the summer, theatres and other public spaces offered their lobbies for protestors to use, for example to use the bathrooms or charge their phones, under #OpenYourLobby.
Another option when workshops are possible again could be to host events to enable young people to make protest banners as some museums did last year for the climate emergency school strikes. The National Justice Museum runs regular creative workshops inspired by protest.
Some museums, including National Museums Liverpool, are documenting the young people involved in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in their area. The National Library of Scotland has changed its collecting policy in the light of the protests to address ‘silences’ in the collection and include more material by young people, women and ethnic minority communities among others. There is similar work going on at National Museum Wales.
2. Plan activities with children, young people and families in response to existing national events and initiatives
We acknowledge that in the long term, we do not want the heritage of communities from minority ethnic backgrounds to be pigeon-holed. We want it to be a part of ongoing museum programming. However, trying out ideas in response to an existing event or initiative can be a good way to begin. We have listed some ideas below that we intend to be starting points.
You could work with young people to research your collections to create content for events. Once you have successfully piloted and created content, you should be aiming to programme it across the whole year, so these stories are not consigned to a single day or month.
October – Black History Month
Many museums already run events for Black History Month in October. Can you collaborate with a local group of young people that is relevant to their interests? Below are some examples.
- Resources: Black History Month
- Black History Month in Scotland
- Black History Month in Wales
- National Maritime Museum: Black History Month: Families and Schools
22 June – National Windrush Day
Several venues have marked the occasion with programming for families:
- Ashmolean Museum
- Museums Association article – Storytelling, poetry and podcasts: how museums are marking Windrush Day this year
1 August – Emancipation Day
23 August – Slavery Remembrance Day
You could also work with a young people’s group to research your local area and see if there is a local story or event you could commemorate. In Birse in Scotland, students at Finzean School worked with the local community and historians to research the establishment of their school and its connection to the slave trade. They collaborated with Magic Torch Comics to tell some of the story.
Glasgow Museums have also joined together to create a website exploring connections to slavery in their collections. There is also work going on in Edinburgh exploring links to the slave trade, which you can see on the Historic Environment Scotland website.
3. Hold tours for children, young people and families
Think about how you can tell a more inclusive story about your collection in tours designed for children, young people and families.
The Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam has been involved in a thorough process of decolonising its collections since the early 2000s. This can be seen throughout the museum, particularly in the Afterlives of Slavery display which places personal stories of the enslaved and their descendants at the centre of the its interpretation.
Using a similar approach, it has created tours of its Suriname collections (page is in Dutch, so you will need a translation tool) in the museum stores for families and 6-13 year olds. Stories of objects can be activated during the tours to tell their stories and provide activities to do at home. The tours are immersive, active and interactive, and bring an inclusive approach to the story of this former Dutch colony.
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has created two trails with objects chosen by their African Heritage Gallery Guides: Britain and the Caribbean Trail and Africans in Europe Trail. While these are not specifically designed for children, young people and families, they offer a new perspective on the collection.
4. Working with children and young people to reinterpret your site and your collections
Young people are the least likely group to see museums as being relevant to them, according to recently released data from DCMS about their funded museums in London. Only 12% of 16-24 year-olds agreed that these museums told stories that were relevant to them. The data also showed an appetite among young people for museums to address social injustice.
There are some great examples of organisations working alongside young people from ethnic minority backgrounds to tell new stories about their sites and collections. This will help your museum to tell stories that are relevant to all young people.
The Colonial Countryside project involves primary school children in the Midlands working alongside historians to reinterpret and write about the colonial history of ten National Trust properties. This helps to build a new generation of advocates for Black British History, addressing the current lack of Black and Colonial History in the school curriculum. There is information about how to access project resources on the University of Leicester website.
The Beatfreeks Don’t Settle project works with young people from ethnic minority backgrounds from Birmingham and the Black Country. In 2019 they worked alongside artists, historians and the local community to retell the story of Soho House in Handsworth. This included developing a new tour and commissions for local artists. They also created Campfire events, which are safe spaces for young people to talk about personal culture, identity and representation.
At National Museum Wales, the Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel (SSAP) youth group is holding workshops to reinterpret three objects from the collection. You can read more about the organisation’s commitment on their website.
Our Shared Cultural Heritage is a project run by Manchester Museum, Glasgow Museums and the British Council that involves testing new ways of engaging young people from the South Asian diaspora and their peers with heritage.
5. Create digital content
National Museum Wales launched their new online magazine Cynfas with an edition dedicated to Black Lives Matter.
The People’s History Museum has created a show of photographs taken of Black Lives matter protests in Manchester in summer 2020.
Being anti-racist means fighting against racism in all its forms. There is a useful definition from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which clearly explains the different types of racism people from minority ethnic backgrounds encounter in their day to day lives.
It is difficult to come up with a definitive description in relation to museums. Decolonisation is not just about restitution and repatriation (returning objects either on request or following research about their provenance to an individual or community or state or nation respectively), but that can play a part.
It is about making space for communities – whose stories have been ignored or excluded from how museums document, interpret and present their collections – to become involved in shaping a museum’s work. It is part of the role of all museum staff to bring these diverse voices from their collections and the communities around them into their practice.
The Abbé Museum in Maine in the USA explains how decolonisation is woven through all the work of front and back of house staff in their strategic plan. This article from Museum Next highlights different examples of decolonisation in museums around the world.
Black Lives Matter
#BlackLivesMatter started as a movement-building project in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer in 2013. It was a statement about the systemic injustice inflicted on the Black community. The movement has grown into around 40 locally led chapters around the world, each focusing on the impact of racism in their communities.
You can find out about the activism of the UK chapter of Black Lives Matter on their website.
73% of 18-24 year olds polled for iNews said they agreed with the stated aims of the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Black Curriculum
- Black Lives Matter UK
- Museum Detox
- Runnymede Trust
- Intersectional GLAM
- National Museum for African American History and Culture
- Being Human Festival resource list for humanities
- Carry Our Weight
- It’s Nice That
- Museum Detox
- National Literacy Trust book lists for 0-16 year olds (You have to create an account to access the lists.)
Tell Kids in Museums what you think
This is a quickly evolving area of work. Kids in Museums would love to hear your thoughts about what support you would like for your work with children, young people and families in this area. It would also be fantastic to hear about your best practice examples so we can include them in future versions of the resource.
Please get in touch by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This guide was created in collaboration with the Kids in Museums Black Lives Matter Steering Group. Thanks to:
- Kids in Museums Trustees: Stephen Allen, Emmajane Avery, Yasmin Ibison and Rosemary Laryea
- Catherine Ritman Smith, Head of Learning and Skills at V&A Museum of Childhood.