Facilitating ‘Tough’ Conversations: A Case Study from the Evansville Museum

Karen Malone & the Community Relations CommitteeAlliance Labs, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion, Featured, P-12 Education0 Comments

Karen Malone is the The Ruby C. Strickland Curator of Education at the Evansville Museum. You can reach out to her at karen@emuseum.org or follow her on Instagram @TheMuseumKaren. Make sure to ask her about the on-going adventures of the #MuseumShark!

Image of Karen Malone holding a shark puppet "Reggie" and real shark toothHave you ever wished to encourage a place for dialogue in your museum? How about using a format that would allow for the community to ask questions on a potentially controversial topic? Then, how about on a topic as tricky as religion? Today, I’d like to share with you a case study of a successful program that did just that.

As part of the Evansville Museum‘s Community Conversation Series, we offered a three-part speaker program entitled “What it is Like to Be Muslim in Evansville” in the fall of 2016. This program was designed to combat xenophobia, racism and religious intolerance and to promote dialogue and conversation between community members.

The program developed out of an existing collaboration between community-members Iman Omar Atia and Zac Parsons. Together, they had created a series of Youtube videos addressing common misconceptions surrounding Muslims and Islam, under the channel name Reclamation Studios.

The partnership between Reclamation Studios and the Evansville Museum was brought together through the Museum’s new Community Relations Committee. This board of trustees and community member committee was established within the last year and came out of a desire to better connect, serve and represent our local community.

Image of a man standing before a group of interested attendees watching a screen.

Photo courtesy of Ellen Topper.

Zac Parsons, co-founder of Reclamation Studios, described the partnership with the Museum: “Honestly, the goal of our video series was to help start conversations that would lead to a more contextualized understanding of our neighbors, and to feel open to have discussions about a topic (religion) that has been taboo for too long in the public space. These events in the immersive theatre were a perfect venue to bridge our digital efforts with real-life conversation starters and the seeds for meaningful relationships. The Evansville Museum took our initiative to another level.”

During the event, community members were invited to join their neighbors and converse about being Muslim in Evansville. Each program would start out by showing one of Reclamation Studio’s 4 to 7 minute-long videos, each of which address a common concern, question or misconception about Islam. Then Iman Omar Atia and Zac Parsons would lead the group in conversation. Sometimes the conversation would center on the focus on the video, but would also address other questions.

The program was offered in the evenings on the Museum’s free admission Fridays and our open-late Thursdays.

Image of a large group watching a full screen presentation with a man speaking.

Photo courtesy of Mitch Luman.

This speaker series targeted primarily adults and college students and both our Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Overall, participants of the program indicated that they were highly pleased with the event. Numerous guests came up to staff members expressing their appreciation for the opportunity to engage in this community conversation. Staff also observed Muslim and non-Muslim community members exchanging contact information so further friendships, conversations and partnerships could develop out of these programs.

The Evansville Museum plans on continuing the Community Conversation series with other topics such as transgender awareness and highlighting our local Indian community.

About the Author

Karen Malone is the Ruby C. Strickland Curator of Education at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science in Evansville, IN. She holds a MS degree in Museum & Field Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder. Her passion is helping museums engage with their audiences by creating opportunities for life-long learning. 

Brought to you by Sage Xaxua Morgan-Hubbard, the American Alliance of Museums’ Ford W. Bell Fellow for Museums and P-12 Education. 

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