Museums As Agents of Change
Program originally recorded on Wednesday, September 16, 2020.
The place of museums in society is rapidly evolving. As active participants in the important conversations of the present, today museums have a role to play in helping understand and interpret complex issues in our society.
In the words of Lonnie Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian, “Museums are not community centers, but they can be centers of their communities.” Among our most trusted sources of information, museums have a unique platform to share stories that have been marginalized, ask hard questions, and host the difficult conversations that can lead to real change.
The Capital Jewish Museum and the Jewish Museum of Maryland come together for a conversation about how our museum communities and the Jewish community can work together in the fight for racial equity within our country. We will explore the work that needs to be done, how museums are rethinking their role and actively approaching the task, and offer some practical steps that we can all take to move forward together.
About Our Speakers
Damika Baker-Wilson is the Director of Engagement and Strategic Initiatives at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. Prior to joining the staff of the Lewis Museum, Damika spent almost five years as the Director of Development for the Academy Art Museum where she managed an $8M capital campaign and the museum’s development office operations. Damika began her career in the cultural sector as the Visitor Services and Membership Coordinator for Adkins Arboretum, where she now serves on the Board of Trustees. With over a decade of experience in cultural institutions, Damika has experience in a variety of areas, including fundraising, program development and evaluation, marketing, visitor series, and outreach. In 2018, Damika was selected as one of 36 professionals from around the world to participate in the Getty Leadership Institute’s NextGen executive education program, a blended-learning experience for the museum field’s emerging top talent. The program is designed for professionals who are in the first 3-5 years of a new mid-level management position, and who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership potential. Damika holds an undergraduate degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Maryland-College Park and has completed graduate coursework in Nonprofit Management from the University of Maryland University College. She serves on the board of Adkins Arboretum and the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Yolanda Savage-Narva has twenty year’s experience working with public agencies and non-profit organizations to promote equitable access to public health, eldercare and pedestrian safety. She is a Centers for Disease Control (CDC)-trained public health specialist who has led community-based efforts in community health assessments for Indian Health Service, public education for the Alzheimer’s Association, pedestrian safety and advocacy for America Walks, and health equity for the National Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Yolanda currently holds the position of Executive Director with Operation Understanding DC, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting understanding, cooperation, and respect while fighting to eradicate racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination. She is also a member of the JewVNation cohort, a fellowship sponsored by the Union for Reform Judaism, a 2019 Schusterman Fellow, a vicechair of the Religious Action Center’s (RAC) Commission on Social Action, a co-chair of the Racial Justice equity committee for the RAC, a member of Temple Micah in Washington, D.C. and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; an international Black sorority dedicated to community service and education. Yolanda is a graduate of Tougaloo College (Sociology) and has a master’s degree in education from Jackson State University. In her spare time Yolanda loves being outdoors, reading, birdwatching, playing sports and traveling with her family.
Marsha Semmel is an independent consultant working with cultural and educational organizations on leadership development, strategic planning, and partnerships. Her book, Partnership Power: Essential Museum Strategies for Today’s Networked World, was published by the American Alliance of Museums and Rowman & Littlefield in 2019. Recent positions include Special Initiatives Advisor in the Office of the Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities; Senior Adviser to the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement; and Adjunct Faculty at the Bank Street College Graduate School of Education’s Leadership in Museum Education Program. Semmel was Senior Advisor, Noyce Leadership Institute, from 2013-2015. She was the Director for Strategic Partnerships, Deputy for Museum Services, and Acting Director at the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) from 2003-13. From 1984-1996, she served in the Division of Public Programs (Division Director, 1993-1996) at the National Endowment for the Humanities. She also served as President and CEO of Conner Prairie, a history museum near Indianapolis, and President and CEO of the Women of the West Museum in Denver. Recently concluding her stint as Chairman, Arlington Commission for the Arts, Ms. Semmel currently serves on the boards of the Council of American Jewish Museums, the Institute for Learning Innovation, and Planet Word, a new museum in DC devoted to language.
Eric S. Yellin is Associate Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Richmond and Senior Curatorial Consultant for the Capital Jewish Museum in Washington, DC. He is the author of Racism in the Nation’s Service: Government Workers and the Color Line in Woodrow Wilson’s America and the co-editor of the forthcoming We the People: Public Workers in Service of America. Yellin earned his BA from Columbia University and his PhD in American History from Princeton University. His public history writing has been featured in the Washington Post, USA Today, The Conversation, and elsewhere.
Moderator: Tracie Guy-Decker is the deputy director at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. She started at the museum in April 2015, the same time Baltimore got national attention because of Freddie Gray’s murder and the Uprising that followed. That timing resulted in Guy-Decker pushing herself and the JMM to learn, unlearn, and grow in antiracism and anti-oppression. In her five years at the Museum, she has overseen project and process management in every aspect of operations, from finance to exhibits, facilities to fundraising. Before joining JMM, Tracie spent fifteen years helping non-profits, colleges, and universities expand their impact and their visibility through well-crafted and strategic marketing and fundraising. She has a masters degree in religious studies from the Divinity School of the University of Chicago.