States of Belonging

At the end of a two-hour-long panel about inclusive practices in museum design, an audience member grabbed the microphone. “[Earlier] there was someone sitting next to me who was wearing a respirator mask, but recognizing how packed this was, how most people were not wearing masks and people were coughing, they got up frustrated and left,” the woman said. “Someone left because this was inaccessible to them.” Approximately 200 people had gathered inside Cooper Union’s Frederick P. Rose Auditorium for the discussion; I counted masked individuals on one hand.

Covid did not feature much in the presentations. Instead, speakers focused on spatial guidelines that aim to accommodate people with different abilities without stigmatizing them. In recent years, museums have embarked on diversity and equity initiatives intended to combat institutional biases, and yet 65 percent of museumgoers remain white and middle-class. Or as Joel Sanders, founder of JSA/MIXdesign, put it, museums actively cater to “a spectator who is able-bodied, cisgender, straight, white, and male.” He reca…

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