By Katie Darragh, communication intern in the Office of University Relations at Marquette University
Since opening in 1984, the Haggerty Museum of Art has been a teaching museum, seeking to use its diverse collection to connect people — on campus, in the community and around the world — to art, ideas and one another. Through the interdisciplinary lens of art, the Haggerty cultivates knowledge, insight, understanding and belonging, all in service of Marquette University’s commitment to cura personalis — care for the whole person.
As part of its teaching mission, the Haggerty seeks to use art and inclusive programing to internalize the principles of diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion (DEAI).
Susan Longhenry, director and chief curator at the Haggerty, shares an analogy that characterizes the museum’s vision for DEAI and achieving true belonging.
“From the stakeholder’s perspective, diversity is equivalent to being invited to a party, inclusion is being asked to dance, accessibility means getting access to the dance floor, and belonging means dancing like no one is watching,” Longhenry says. “While they’re all important and necessary, belonging is the Haggerty’s ultimate goal.”
Here in a Q&A, Longhenry shares how the Haggerty’s exhibitions, partnerships and programming are making strides toward belonging.
How is the Haggerty implementing DEAI?
Being an art museum on the campus of a Catholic, Jesuit university positions the Haggerty Museum of Art to serve as an innovative nexus of interdisciplinary learning where creativity, intellect and social justice intersect.
Over the past seven years, two-thirds of the Haggerty’s exhibitions have either focused on or included women artists, Indigenous artists and artists representing people of the global majority. Our exhibitions have addressed and initiated important dialogue about topics including mass incarceration, the refugee crisis, race, gender, LGBTQ+ identity, environmental justice and social protests.
Many of these exhibitions have explored intersectional identity, such as the fall 2021 exhibition Maria Magdalena Campos Pons: Sea and Self. Campos-Pons’ Afro-Caribbean heritage and experience of living in diaspora profoundly influence her practice. Through deeply poetic and haunting imagery, the artist uses her personal narrative as the basis for visual storytelling that investigates topics relating to slavery, migration, religion and spirituality, global circuits of trade, gender, race, ethnicity and more.
A bilingual digital interpretive space exploring the Sea and Self exhibition was heavily used by both academic and non-academic audiences.
Additionally, because the Museum’s closest community partners are all Spanish-English bilingual, and given Marquette’s goal of becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution, the Haggerty evolved its website to one that is fully bilingual, offering all in-gallery interpretive materials in both Spanish and English, and prioritized hiring bilingual visitor experience staff members.
Collaboration with the mural: Our Roots Say That We’re Sisters
In September 2020, the Haggerty Museum of Art partnered with Marquette’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Marquette Forum to convene a Marquette University Mural Committee composed of students, faculty and staff. The committee invited seven local Black, Indigenous and people of color artists to submit proposals for a new mural to be installed on the north-facing facade of Marquette’s Varsity Theater/Holthusen Hall building.
This initiative was motivated by a proposal from Marquette University Student Government and by a recommendation made by Marquette’s Committee on Diversity and Inclusion following a cultural audit of campus spaces. After careful review, proposals by three artists were submitted for consideration to the Marquette community. All Marquette students, faculty and staff were invited to cast online votes for one of the three proposals.
Nearly 1,400 people voted, and artist Mauricio Ramirez’s proposal “Our Roots Say That We’re Sisters” received 63% of the votes. Subsequent listening sessions with the artist and Marquette community members refined the collective vision for this project.
In addition, the Haggerty’s commitment to structural equity, including that of the art museum profession, compels it to no longer offer unpaid internships. All student workers, including interns, are now paid.
What is the importance of DEAI efforts at art museums such as the Haggerty?
The art museum field has been in dialogue about the importance of diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion for decades. Over the past two and a half years, however, that dialogue has taken on much more urgency — and institutions are being held accountable. During that time cultural constructs have fallen, implicit biases have been revealed and responsive, empathetic art museums have been recalibrating their core.
In an introduction that I wrote for “Committed to Equity,” a forthcoming publication from the Association of Art Museum Directors, I cite the following statement from the Race Forward organization:
“… equity is a process, a practice, and an outcome. Interrupting organizational implicit bias requires targeted, specific, explicit, and repeated/habitual interventions that cause culture and policy shifts over time. Any decision that an institution makes is a choice point. It can be a point of harm where institutional racism is sustained, or a point of opportunity where an intervention will move individuals and institutions toward equity.”
This reflects the true nature of the work the Haggerty is striving for.
As the journalist Elisa Schoenberger observes, “It’s not just about inviting Indigenous and other marginalized people into the museum to help the institution improve its exhibitions; it’s an overhauling (of) the entire system.”
What has the public response been like toward the Haggerty’s DEAI efforts?
A member of Marquette’s University Leadership Council recently remarked that the “Our Roots Say That We’re Sisters” mural transformed the dialogue about DEAI on campus. In fact, the mural has been so fully embraced by the Marquette community that it inspired a podcast series shining a light on accomplished Black and Indigenous women and women of color in the Marquette community.
Shortly after that project, the Haggerty worked with members of the Black Student Council to support two student-created murals that were included in the new Black Student Union, and we are currently working with colleagues in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Facilities Planning and Management to commission an Indigenous artist to create a new work of public art for Marquette’s campus.
Beyond the mural, we see the transformative effect of this work on Marquette students every day. Our fall 2021 exhibition, Double Vision: Art from Jesuit University Collections, included reflections from a Saint Louis University faculty member about being a gay, Catholic man. After experiencing the exhibition with his class, a Marquette student shared with us that it was the first time he felt accepted by his faith. That’s powerful.
What does the Haggerty hope to do in the future to further promote DEAI?
Next spring, the Haggerty will present the exhibition Material Storytelling: Highlights from the Native American Collection. This exhibition — curated by Dr. Samantha Majhor, assistant professor of English at Marquette — features a selection of works by Indigenous makers.
It will utilize the Haggerty’s gallery space as an object laboratory for students from Majhor’s spring 2023 courses. Students will explore material culture and materialisms, the role of nonhuman objects as storytellers, Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, and the fraught history of applying museological standards to culturally specific objects.
This transparent exploration of — and candid dialogue about — how art museums collect and interpret objects is critically important to the Haggerty’s commitment to structural equity. I hope that it’s the first of numerous such exhibitions.
To read more about the Haggerty’s DEAI efforts, see its statement on diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion.