Portland Art Museum Announces Equity Statement

Visual notes from the March 2018 all staff equity training.
Visual notes from the March 2018 all staff equity training.

Founded in Oregon, a state with an exclusionary past, the Museum has 127 years of history and a collection that encompasses centuries. Today the Museum shares a vision that commits the institution and its employees to advancing racial equity now and in the future.

Shared knowledge around art and film enriches our communities and helps all thrive and engage in a global society. Equity, diversity, and access to art, film, and education are critical to the ongoing work of the Portland Art Museum and Northwest Film Center.

We recognize that at the heart of modern museum work is a tension between our mission to preserve the past, and a moral obligation to confront bias and inequities entangled with that inheritance. Museums have historically highlighted certain stories while marginalizing and oppressing others. Influential elements of political, cultural, and economic systems maintain injustice and inequity through the control of power and resources, resulting in limited access to and engagement with art and film. As one of the oldest art museums in the United States, we acknowledge our role in supporting these systems.

As an institution and individuals, we commit to advancing racial equity and inclusion now and in the future as a foundation to address other disadvantages or forms of inequality. To fulfill our Mission, our commitment means including, serving, resourcing, validating, and centering our colleagues and community members of color on an institutional and individual level. We will:

We will hold ourselves accountable to this important work by:

We understand that equity and inclusion work is difficult, and we acknowledge that we will make mistakes as we learn and grow. However, we believe that beginning with a focus on race is critical to eliminating the inequities of other historically marginalized groups. We embrace the opportunity to keep learning and evolving and challenge everyone to do the same.

Visual notes from the March 2018 all staff equity training.
Visual notes from the March 2018 all staff equity training.

Equity and inclusion at the Portland Art Museum

The Museum’s formal equity and inclusion work began in 2016, with guidance from Portland-based Center for Equity and Inclusion. Twenty staff members from across nearly all departments and one Trustee formed the first-ever Museum Equity Team. During the first year of work, the Equity Team met monthly, exploring critical race theory, terminology and agreeing on definitions and terms. They also began a review of existing Museum policies and practices. A Board of Trustees Equity and Inclusion Committee formed and began meeting the next year. The Museum closed its doors for two days in early 2018 so that all staff could participate in rigorous equity education. That same year also saw the formation of racial affinity groups to allow employees a place for relationship building and support. One tool that was adopted early in the equity journey is the Racial Equity and Empowerment Lens. The Lens is a decision-making method that questions the status quo and prioritizes multiple perspectives. The Lens has been a critical tool in advancing policy changes and creating more inclusive job descriptions. 2019 brought more opportunities for staff, volunteers, and docents to continue equity learning, including participation in the Fair Housing Council of Oregon Equity Bus Tour, unconscious bias training, and art museum specific anti-racist docent and volunteer education.

The Museum’s content generating departments including curatorial, education and the Northwest Film Center have been focused on equity and inclusion over the past several years. In fact, in addition to new Museum and Film Center programs and exhibitions, the education department’s recent name change to the Learning and Community Partnerships department reflects an institutional shift that values community knowledge and the importance of shared voices in exhibition and program development. The Museum’s Equity Statement affirms the vital work of these departments alongside community partners.  

“Although we have accomplished much in our 127-year history, our institution’s underpinnings have been founded on a narrow, incomplete, and exclusive historical narrative,” said Portland Art Museum Director Brian Ferriso. “Our Equity Statement acknowledges that the Museum was founded and operated in a past that was imperfect, and will strive to do what is just and right in the future. I am so grateful for the hard work of our Equity Team and for the support of our staff and board. This Equity Statement is a powerful moment for this institution.”

With the Equity Statement as the foundation, the Museum is poised to approve and implement its equity charter, and plan. Read more from Museum Equity Team members and the Board Committee for Equity and Inclusion as they discuss equity work.

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