This was my first Museums Association Conference as Co-Chair of Museum Detox. I know from experience that there can be a sense of vulnerability into entering these spaces where you’re one of few people of colour, particularly when a lot of the conference programme focusses on themes of anti-racism and decolonisation.
I asked the Museums Association for the first slot of the Conference to host a meetup for Detoxers and people of colour attending who aren’t part of the network. I had no idea how many people would attend, considering it was 8am in the morning amidst rail disruption and long, cold Scottish nights. We set up some music in the background. I was expecting a trickle of people coming and going, saying hello and getting on with the rest of the Conference.
Quickly the room filled up. People were sharing chairs, getting to know each other, building a collective sense of confidence and excitement for the days to come. We introduced each other, our work, we spoke a bit about Museum Detox, we set up a group chat for the Conference. And that was it. For one hour we held space for each other, we established some familiarity in what can be an unfamiliar situation, and it was beautiful. One person who attended came up to me towards the end of the first day and said it was still the best session she had been to.
Thereafter my favourite parts of the Conference were finding opportunities to snatch conversations between sessions with other Detoxers and allies, to critically reflect, laugh and cringe. I did attend some brilliant sessions, some involving Detoxers. A highlight for me was the screening of Permissible Beauty – a stunning and emotive film that centres Black Queer British lives in a reimagining of our shared heritage. It really is a must-watch as soon as you get an opportunity. Then, of course, the session about the Our Shared Cultural Heritage programme, led by the brilliant young people involved in Glasgow and Manchester. I might be biased because I have the immense privilege of working with these incredible people, but it felt as though they stunned the whole Conference with their intelligence, insights and honesty.
It was an intense few days. I still don’t feel as though I’ve quite recovered my energy. But it felt worth it. It’s reminded me of the value of holding space in person to connect with one another, which is something we’ll strive to do more of as a network over the next year.