The Intergenerational Museum: Towards a Century of Dialogue

Museums are many things to many people, yet at their best museums offer up quiet spaces for looking and pondering. It should come as no surprise then that museum professionals, too, occasionally take a step back to look and assess their museum’s inner workings related to diversity, inclusion and equity. Last month, Greg Stevens, Director of Professional Development for the American Alliance of Museums, hosted “Getting Started With Working Across Generations,” a webinar on the intergenerational workplace covering five generations with the acknowledgement that the most recent, barely out of middle school, is “on deck”.

Museum colleagues Marsha Semmel, a Baby Boomer, and Millennial Sam Moore also joined Stevens, a self-described Baby Boomer/Gen X Cusper. The webinar’s guiding questions asked how to align the intergenerational workforce with the museum’s mission and at the same time acknowledge employee assets that sustain a flourishing workplace. The three skillfully modeled a collaboration marked by multi-directional cooperation, that of back and forth, as well as bottom up. For example, Millennial Sam Moore, in putting forth the concept of “reversed mentorship” expanded the conversation to imagine a workplace with individuals attuned to not one, but multi-directional flows of knowledge. The presenters deftly wove the strands of information from the latest research with those colored by personal experience—or as Moore summarily noted, relationships.

In the lead up to the museum webinar, I happened on a podcast of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s talk titled “Embracing the Beauty of Diversity in our World.” In it His Holiness said that although we cannot change past, we can learn from it in order to change the future. He pointed out that in the past century obstacles were often met with force. Now we are seeing a resurgence of the same in this century, which His Holiness attributes to past mistakes and negligence. Despite differences and conflicts that will always exist His Holiness insists that the 21st century can be the Century of Dialogue, one in which people come together in love as brothers and sisters. Only by working together will we find the means to reduce differences through dialogue stewarded by actions of mutual respect.

Museums lend themselves naturally to a stewardship model given their mission to collect, preserve and display the guiding “ideas” of the past for both the present and future generations for re-seeing, re-creating* their world. The webinar mirrored what His Holiness described as “genuine respect, genuine love” that goes into building trusting friendships. What then would the intergenerational workplace look like? It would be one that welcomes the “fresh eyes” brought to it by its youngest members with the more experienced members committed to guiding the younger generation as “elders” who support the younger generation emotionally.** In this way our young adults can take their rightful place in the workplace and globally in fulfilling what His Holiness envisions as the Century of Peace.

https://www.dalailama.com/videos/embracing-the-beauty-of-diversity-in-our-world
*Malcolm McIntosh notes this in his Thinking the Twenty-first Century: Ideas for the New Political Economy, pg.33.
** Doors drummer, Boomer, John Densmore. On “the 50th Anniversary of the greatest band, The Doors!” http://wapo.st/2y2UWEg
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