Chloe Hayward is an educator, artist, art therapist, and the Associate Director of Education at The Studio Museum in Harlem. She believes in the power of art to transform systems, selves, and structures. Her latest written work “Museums as Therapeutic Space: Centralizing the Voices of People of Color”, is part of a larger anthology Museum Based Art Therapy: A Collaborative Effort with Access, Education, and Public Programs. Hayward has worked in museums for over two decades, and regularly serves as a consultant for art institutions and cultural organizations.
Hayward was the Opening Keynote speaker at the 2022 annual conference, Envisioning Our Museums for the Seventh Generation in Corning, New York. We are pleased to share her opening remarks.
Chloe Hayward speaking at the 2022 annual conference in Corning, NY
"I want to talk about the concept of Seven Generations, and the potential this holds for museums. I want to begin with a quote about love by author, bell hooks, “Love is a combination of care, knowledge, responsibility, commitment, and trust.” When we think about what it means to consider the preservation of culture, making long-term decisions, and drawing from the past while laying the groundwork for the future - I believe these principles, the foundation of love, are exactly what is necessary and vital as we dream together about the future of museums.
How do we create spaces of care? And what does care look like? Why should we care?
I’m going to make some assumptions, and I know that’s a bold move, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. When I talk about care, I am talking about why we do this work. We care. Museums matter. We want to see our institutions thrive. We all do our very best to make this a reality, nurturing our works of art, our exhibitions, our projects, and our programs. At the same time, museums are facing a moment of reckoning, of questioning, not if we care, but how are we enacting care? Not just for objects, but for people and for communities. There is more work to do, more changes to make. I believe true change is about collaboration,co-creation, and about making as much space as you take. This is one of the ways that museums can show up for community in the spirit of care. Community in the biggest sense of the word possible. Not just our stakeholders, but our internal ways of operating as an institution. Our colleagues, our museum community. We are all individuals part of a greater collective, and it’s important that we recognize who we are in the spaces we occupy, who we are in relationship to the communities we are with and in, for I believe it is individuality itself that is the seedling to the enactment of care we hope and need to see within our institutions, and within the museum field.
Growing up, I never had the opportunity to visit museums. When I finally did, I either didn’t see my experiences reflected on the walls and in the space, or if they were, the perspective from which stories were told, didn’t ring true for me or my culture. So who are we calling in? Who are we recognizing and giving space to? The decisions we make as museum professionals have impact in the present moment and the future, and we must remember that the how is just as important as the why. Yes, we care, but if we aren’t calling in the voices, vision, and perspectives of all people, then we are actually causing harm. As a museum professional today, I deeply value and honor the voices of artists and artwork that speak to history, culture, and identity not from a singular narrative, but from perspectives that are rich and wide.
One of the first steps we can all take in creating spaces of care is to ask. Ask what people need, what people think, and what people want. Part of that understanding is sharing knowledge.
How do we decipher what knowledge is valid, valued, and prioritized? How do we dismantle systems that negate the experiences of others? Change begins and ends with us, but we must also make space for others, leaning into the knowledge of those whose experiences may differ from our own.
I often consider the concept of “professionalism,” when I think about these questions, and how that concept has been used within institutions over the years to exclude the culture and knowledge of others whose race and identity are deeply connected to the ways in which they show up to these professional spaces. Being an individual within the collective, how do you fit or not within the spaces you occupy? Do you see yourself? Do you see your culture? I am privileged and honored to work for an arts institution that upholds and uplifts my culture. The ways in which space is made for community stems from collaborative and co-creative efforts. How are we as museums co-creating with the communities we are with and part of? How are we making space? How are we showing appreciation and not appropriating? How are we collecting, not colonizing? Are we doing the work of building care, commitment, knowledge and trust? In what ways are we aware of our privilege and how are we using that privilege to be better allies to those in the world who have been and continue to be marginalized?
Working at The Studio Museum in Harlem, there is a shared knowledge and understanding, a recognition of the importance of care, that allows me to show up as my full self. My identity is not erased but uplifted and celebrated. Through my individual experience I am able to make space for the larger community so that they may feel all of this as well. When we talk about museums and about preserving, protecting, and making decisions for the future generations; making space is part of the responsibility of this work.
What does it mean to be responsible within society? What systemic impact do our decisions have on the larger community? As humans, like it or not, we can be inherently selfish. When I think about responsibility, I think about what it means to be human and to evolve. We have at times as a society had to be selfish in order to survive, but where has that gotten us? What are we actually trying to survive for? What obstacles do we face, and what are we trying to overcome? I think the answers to these questions are very different, and depend on who is answering.
I can and will only speak for myself. As a Black woman working in what has been a historically white male field, it has been challenging to be recognized, to make space for my voice to be heard. It was not until I found my home at The Studio Museum in Harlem that I was able to surmount these challenges. I share this with you so that you may consider the ways in which you give opportunity for others to share space because this is something which has impacted me tremendously as an individual working in the field of museums. It is something I carry with me always as I work with generations of Museum professionals even younger than myself today. The solution cannot be to leave museums, which I know often happens, I’ve seen it, but how can we uplift and make space for everyone who is a part of this museum community? This institution? How can we create spaces of support? My existence here and now in this space is an example of what it means to give opportunity and make space for others, for the future generations of museum professionals.
I’d like to invite each of you to consider personal challenges you’ve faced in this world, and in this work. How have you worked to overcome them? Have you? It’s not easy to continue to do this work day in and day out. Showing up, even when things are challenging, is commitment. Choosing to work in museums and continuing to renew our commitment to this work, to our communities, is important now more than ever.
I always like to say that art is a mirror, it offers a view that reflects whomever gazes upon it. We project what we know, our thoughts, feelings and experiences onto the art work or object. In this way, museums are uniquely positioned to be spaces of reflection, a sort of psychological excavation of society. Museums offer a space for people to come together in dialogue about the world, about life, about ourselves.
The consistency we show for ourselves and others in working within the museum field lends itself to trust. When we consider the concept of Trust within museum spaces, we must ask ourselves: are the decisions we are making within museums offering spaces of safety? Are we showing up for our communities, giving care to people, places and art work within our institutions, sharing knowledge and honoring the viewpoints of others, creating not from a singular narrative, but one that is rich with the nuanced and layered fabric of our society?
Museum work is not easy, and we have done a lot. During my time working within museums, I’ve witnessed openings created for broader representation across institutions. I have created systems and structures which are collaborative and creative in nature, and provided space in the form of programming that reflects the community in which the museum resides. All of this was done through the lens of care, commitment, knowledge and trust. Even so, there is more work to be done and we have farther to go. Although I speak to you from the perspective of someone from New York City, I want to make space and acknowledge that this work is happening around the state, and around our nation. I’m sure each of us can think of examples of positive change from where you live and work, I am sure I am not alone. So how do we inspire change and growth within this field? Change begins and ends with the individual. Change comes from within.
As I’ve grown in my position and leadership within museums, one thing is very clear: never underestimate the potential of small wins. It is these small wins, when collected and put together, that create systemic change. So I ask each of you how might you win small? For I’ve witnessed over the years how these small shifts in thought, in implementation of ideas, programmatic changes, have a ripple effect. Small impacts lead to larger ones, and you truly never know the impact your small wins have on others.
I would lastly like to offer a fifth element to bell hooks' definition of love: and that is creativity. I believe museums must lean into their creativity. By definition, creativity is a process and process is an energy. It flows and is always moving. To be in the creative process is to be in the process of change. We must lean into this and always be in the process, always be in the flow of change. I’m going to make another assumption: if you are reading this now, you are a creative person and a resourceful person. How many of us don’t have enough room on our business cards to write our true title because we are doing the job of five people?
Now I may joke, but this is a very real thing. At the Studio Museum we always say we are small, but mighty. To be small, while also doing big things, takes a certain level of creativity. Let’s tap into our innate creativity to be vehicles of change in our institutions and in our communities. As we make decisions that will impact the direction and the future of museums, let's consider creativity. There is so much value in this room today. We are rich. The creative energy when we gather together as museum professionals is abundant.
In the museum world, there needs to be a commitment to care, a responsibility to share knowledge, for it is these very principles that begin to create and build trust. All these elements are interconnected, woven into the very fabric and fibers of what it means to be in community. Museums are about community as much as they are about art, about preservation, and education.
In our commitment to care, we have a responsibility to share knowledge. The ways in which we share, and what we choose to share, is what builds trust, and creates spaces of inclusivity and representation. Creativity is the fuel that drives our change, it is, by definition, change. All these elements are what we should hold in our minds as we plan for the future of museums. This is the power of intentionality. The heart of museums for the Seventh Generation is moving with intention, and with care."