Rethinking the 21st-Century Museum: Equitable Design, a series of workshops convened by AEA Consulting, Snyder Consultancy, and Perkins&Will, with the support of Agnes Gund, brought together a diverse group of professionals and designers in June and July 2021 to reimagine the future of the museum's built environment, recognizing the need to expand who a museum is for, as well as fundamental shifts in technology, visitor behavior, and community interests. 

To carry the conversation forward, a website was created to offer workshop findings to the museum community. Don't Call It a Museum offers redefinitions of the concept of placemaking that provide greater depth and insight into the dynamics of spatial equity and will continue to present case studies to demonstrate good practice and lessons learned. 

Read Managing Principal Daniel Payne's Perspective on a consultant's role in the early stages of cultural infrastructure development projects and why community participation is vital to the equitable design process. 



As consultants who are called on to assist cultural projects in the earliest stages of development, my colleagues and I are highly attuned to how the planning process can impact the long-term success of an idea. We think deeply about who should be part of the conversation to create a strong foundation of support, how to create buildings that are homes for interesting programs, and what ensures that long-term operating realities are addressed in a project’s spaces and in the organization that will animate them. Equity sits as a critical part of this, both as a moral imperative and as a practical one – building a larger audience, as well as a more just culture. The results of early-stage planning efforts often are encapsulated in a “critical path” for the project; our workshops on equitable design, summarized on this site, suggest that we need to reconsider a critical element of the process: time.

“Time is money,” we hear: our economic systems reward speed, yet this work requires an atypical patience. We must deliberately and knowingly push to disrupt our context, which otherwise grabs hold of a project and pulls forward with an unearned momentum. The things that veer projects away from a tidy timeline are also what acknowledge their humanity: the realities of relationships and the complexity of our contexts – emotional, social, political – that we live with. We need to ask ourselves how we can re-harness time, not in a way that artificially imposes an outside order – likely to be Western and colonial – but as Roberto Bedoya, Cultural Affairs Manager for the City of Oakland, said in one of our sessions, “establishes a civic narrative of collective belonging.”

Equity starts with the time to ask questions: How do you care for your community? Your neighbors? Walking down our own block, we might start this by saying hello, expressing an interest in the people around us and how we connect with them. How can we extend that same hello when creating spaces for cultural institutions? We should expand the planning process to make sure community engagement and genuine connection is a priority, and that project leaders – founders, Boards, funders, and staff – build in the focus and the funding to do it.

Existing focus and funding will also need to be redeployed in new directions: identifying the people who will be impacted, spending on the materials required to engage with non-experts, and honoring their time and input, either by paying them directly or by defraying costs of their participation (transportation, food, and especially childcare.) We also need willingness to spend our time circling back to participants with updates, keeping them looped in as part of a significant communication process.

Disrupting time in these interactions establishes a more equitable power relationship and changes perspective on economic equity, in stewarding assets, and in ownership of spaces. Projects we examined as case studies in our workshops are beginning this shift: NXTHVN is looking to a model of equity ownership that works against the traditional (equity) owner-less (though not control-less) not-for-profit model: working as an agent within the system to funnel funds to artists. Destination Crenshaw is, in part, promoting small-scale economic development opportunities alongside a major state transportation project: a new take on transit-oriented development. Others pushed a new perspective further: Poor Farm was directly oppositional to the dominant forces of the market, with artists serving as resistors in the usual free-flowing circuit of power, money, and space.

Exemplifying these alternative perspectives allows us to consider new paths: changes in how we think about space as a container for past, present, and future needs of people and objects. Considering who these projects are for requires us to ask: what did this space mean for people 50 years ago? 500 years ago? What will the space mean for future generations? These questions require us to switch between perspectives and build in flexibility as a new sort of political device: one that leads to a deeper, more direct and equitable, reinvestment in communities.


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