Equal parts autobiography, cautionary tale, and actionable recommendations, this book is as candid and vulnerable as the author insists all seekers of justice be when they embark on a full-scale DEAI initiative anchored in anti-oppression.
Since the beginning of her professional museum journey, Cecile Shellman—like many who have been marginalized by systems ill-prepared to support them—has had to engage in cultural realms in which she was not fully represented and where she was sometimes misrepresented or understood. It’s difficult being the “only one in the room,” while trying to build relations and succeed in your chosen career. Ms. Shellman shares personal relatable stories that explain how harmful inattention to Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion can be to individuals and to the group dynamic. This rare peek behind the curtain of museum culture leaves no holds barred.
The telling is done in an entirely approachable, if humbling way. Poignant illustrations and vivid verbal descriptions are designed to take you further into the author’s experience as well as providing moments of reflection and humor.
Tales from the field—anonymized stories describing microagressions, discrimination, barriers, and roadblocks in the field—are accompanied by questions to spark dialogue and engender empathetic responses. These anecdotes refer to those who share the author’s identity and circumstance as well as those who don’t. As with all stories, lessons and messages about culture and patterns are told as a point of caution. What might you do if you were participants in these events? How can you build your emotional intelligence to a desired level for your current museum and personal needs?
Finally, there are calls to action at the personal, interpersonal, organizational, and systemic levels. True transformation requires complete reassessment of norms bolstered by a broken society. This book provides strategies for implementing change.
Cecile Shellman is a full-time consultant in diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion for museums. From 2014-2018 she worked for Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh as their diversity catalyst—a first-of- its-kind position on their senior executive staff, heading DEAI initiatives for Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, and the Andy Warhol Museum. She was the only African American on that institution’s institute leadership team, which included museum directors, institute vice presidents, and the chief executive officer. She specializes in group diversity and inclusion training, leadership counseling, public speaking, and workshop facilitation.
Cecile understands museums, having a long and varied history working in a variety of departments in museums from the early 1990s to the present day, from the Intermountain West to New England, New York, and Appalachia. Her past appointments have included education curator, exhibit curator, director of education, group and community outreach specialist, artistic director for visual arts and exhibitions, and culturally responsive arts education program manager at Pittsburgh Public Schools, connecting students to museums and other cultural assets.
Ms. Shellman has long served in leadership positions for the American Alliance of Museums, and is immediate past chair their Professional Network’s Diversity Committee, DIVCOM. She is a frequent presenter at the AAM Annual Convening on topics related to DEAI, has been featured and published in MUSEUM magazine and on AAM’s website, and was a contributor to Johhnetta Betsch Cole and Laura L. Lott, (ed.) Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in Museums (2019).
Chapter 1: The Only One in the Room
Chapter 2: Why DEAI? Why These Terms, and This Acronym?
Chapter 3: Places of Safety and Refuge
Chapter 4: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, Inclusion, Justice, and Anti-Oppression
Chapter 5: Case Studies and Practical Exercises for Deeper Engagement
Chapter 6: Our Duty to the Field and Each Other
Appendix: Additional Readings and Resources
About the Author
This book is a phenomenal resource for organizations working on DEI initiatives. Cecile highlights complex issues by sharing her deep experience from her work in the field while also providing a practical guide for institutions to work towards their goals. This is a wonderful pairing of knowledge and practice to create awareness and movement for institutions that desire to change.
The author, Cecile Shellman has provided a combination of her personal journey as a museum professional to a much needed and thorough template for DEAI implementation and success in our cultural institutions. Sharing her story is compelling and yet her providing a strategic approach to building a productive DEAI culture is brilliant. She not only ‘knocked it out of the park … she hit a grand slam!'
In this highly useful book, Cecile Shellman offers museum professionals effective practices and sage counsel on how to transform museums into places that tell the stories of all of us. Drawing on her personal and professional experience, as well as humorous illustrations by cartoonist Sam Day, Shellman's book is a guide to the difficult but doable process of creating more diverse, equitable, accessible and inclusive museums.
11/22/2021, Publishers Weekly: This book was included in the “New and Forthcoming Titles on Diversity” feature.