Doing the Work: Rethinking ‘Engagement’, 6 July 2021

12 August 2021
Harold Offeh, Reading the Realness, 2017. Performed at Tintype Gallery with six students from Kingston University. Image courtesy: the artist and Tintype Gallery. Photo: Jo Addison
Harold Offeh, Reading the Realness, 2017. Performed at Tintype Gallery with six students from Kingston University. Image courtesy: the artist and Tintype Gallery. Photo: Jo Addison

Part of ‘Doing the Work’, an online CPD workshop series co-produced by the Contemporary Art Society and the Decolonising Arts Institute (University of the Arts London). Read more.

This workshop focuses on the practices and ethics of ‘engagement’ in art museums and galleries, and how anti-racist and decolonial approaches can be embedded in them. Questions for discussion included: How can an art museum’s public/audience/community ‘engagement’ practices be expanded to also account for its relationships with, for example, minoritised artists, external collaborators and its own staff? How can extractive or exploitative ‘engagement’ practices be reshaped and reconceived as equitable, co-productive and reciprocal? How can an ethics of care be embedded in ‘engagement’ practices? What does an anti-racist or decolonial approach to ‘engagement’ involve? How can approaches to ‘engagement’ expand beyond engagement with people, to engagement with issues, ethics and power relations?

Barby Asante (artist, curator, educator and occasional DJ) kick-started the discussions, followed by Amal Khalaf (artist, curator and Director of Programmes at Cubitt) and expertly moderated by Sandra Shakespeare (Black British Museum Project). Participants then broke out into small groups for focused conversation on the issues and challenges at hand, as well as strategies to test out back in the workplace.  Click here for participant biographies.

Video Timings:
03’03 – Introduction from Sandra Shakespeare
09’11 – Presentation by Barby Asante
21’43 – Presentation by Amal Khalaf
43’50 – Discussion

The workshop groups are not included in this recording to maintain the confidentiality of the discussions, however a written report from the day will be available shortly.


Further Reading:



Aisling Serrant reflects on her work as Engagement Manager at Museum of London Docklands in this podcast


Online Talks 

During November and December 2020, Colchester and Ipswich Museums hosted a series of live-streams on YouTube on the related themes of Decolonisation and Democratisation. In this video Manchester Art Gallery and the Science Museum discuss how they have worked with local communities to reimagine their galleries. D+D: Community Curated Permanent Displays



Janine Francois argues that cultural institutions, dedicated to the care and preservation of collections, do not extend that care to the BIPOC communities they claim to support (

Kate Fellows and Emily Nelson from Leeds Museums and Galleries reflect on what ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ might mean for museum learning

Community Action Researcher Juma Ondeng reflects on the Horniman Museum’s ‘Rethinking Relationships’ project


General resources

The Museum Association’s Manifesto for Museum Learning and Engagement

The Museums Association’s ‘Power to the People’ framework, which is designed to help museums understand and improve their participatory practice and community engagement


The non-profit organization ‘OF/BY/FOR ALL’ provides digital tools to help public institutions matter more to more people, and has shared these online resources:

think-piece by Chrissie Tiller that unearths and explores some of the complexities and challenges of sharing power, drawing on thinking from CPP directors, community managers and other team members, artists and project critical friends. Some of the big questions that underpin many collaborative practices are unpicked: power, reciprocity, cultural capital, participation, values, ethics, collaboration, and politics. Throughout are contextual reminders and cautionary notes to think about when aiming for truly participatory relationships in the arts. [this is a long read]


How can your museum work alongside children, young people and families to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement? This resource by Kids in Museums suggests some next steps for working with children, young people and families to address the need for change highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. It is not intended to be an exhaustive guide to decolonising your museum or becoming an anti-racist organisation but a helpful starting point for museums wanting to start to make this journey alongside their communities.


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