The Policy sets out principles that the institution – which hosts one of the UK’s most important Native American collections – will follow when Indigenous people visit the museum or request information about its collections.
Establishing clearly defined processes that the museum’s team and Indigenous communities alike can follow has been central to the work. Assurances are now in place that the institution will devote resources to ethical Indigenous engagement, guarantee visits are sensitively planned and ensure the policy applies across all collection areas and uses.
“The conceiving and application of a policy that seeks to place Indigenous-centred ethical relationships at the heart of curatorial practice puts the museum among a small handful of institutions in the UK that are seeking pro-actively to change the way both British public and Indigenous communities understand and interact with their collections,” says Professor David Stirrup, principal investigator for Beyond the Spectacle at the University of Kent.
Having spent a year working closely with researcher Jack Davy on the Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded project, Beyond the Spectacle, Hastings Museum & Art Gallery’s new Indigenous Engagement Policy could become a template for similar arts organisations to follow.
“It’s important for smaller museums not only to be part of conversations that are going on about decolonisation and representation but also to take action where they can,” asserts Damian Etherington, Hastings Museum & Art Gallery’s museum & cultural development manager.
“This policy is a first small step towards us doing that. Over the next few years we are committed to continuing to develop as an organisation to become a truly forward-thinking museum that is here for the communities we serve. This includes looking at ways of securing funding to continue working with Indigenous communities.”
The development of the policy and the research that underpins it will be published by Cambridge University Press, with Native Americans in UK Museums: Living Histories by Jack Davy set to be available in 2021.