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Practicing Inclusion at the McLean County Museum of History

Museum Librarian Bill Kemp leads a group of students on a Social Justice tour.

The McLean County Museum of History welcomes and values all visitors. We are committed to representing the entire community by sharing your history, your story. In fact, it is part of our mission to “reflect the diversity of McLean County,” and we take that mission seriously. As an educational institution, the Museum’s job is to illuminate stories and foster opportunities for dialogue so people can learn from the experiences of one another—whether they lived 1,000 years ago or today. These stories must serve both as mirrors that reflect ourselves and as windows that allow us to view the wider world.

Significant change has happened at the Museum in a relatively short amount of time. The successful completion of the Extending Excellence capital campaign has bolstered educational programming, digital infrastructure, beautification of the square, and the total reimagining of our core exhibits. The campaign also showed us what internal changes were needed to maintain this forward momentum.

As a result, much change has occurred behind the scenes. Two years ago this November, a small group of staff members met to discuss how the Museum could become a more welcoming space for visitors. This group became the Inclusion Taskforce and now includes 11 staff members from seven departments.

If you have made a recent visit to the Museum or scrolled through our social media, you have noticed evidence of the efforts of this group and fellow Museum staff. In the past few months, we have added the following features: A social narrative on our website that allows all visitors, especially those on the autism spectrum, to preview their Museum experience using photos and text. This alleviates anxiety about visiting a new place and allows all members of the group to prepare for an enjoyable museum visit. Once here, sensory bags—provided by Autism McLean—allow guests to experience the Museum’s programs and environment in a way that is comfortable for them. These bags include noise-cancelling headphones, communication cards, fidget toys, and sunglasses, and are available for checkout in the Visitors Center. New restroom signage ensures that we offer a safe experience for guests of all gender identities. The revitalization of the Bloomington-Normal Black History Project, and our partnership with the Prairie Pride Coalition and recent programs on local LGBTQ+ experiences further demonstrate the Museum’s commitment to telling the full story of the people of McLean County.

From the recently-launched LGBTQ+ History Project to our collaboration with the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas to develop elements of the upcoming exhibit, Challenges, Choices, & Change: A Community in Conflict, Museum staff are taking intentional strides to diversify the stories we tell and to share authority with experts from outside the Museum walls. Changes like these are necessary to ensure that the McLean County Museum of History remains vibrant, relevant, and sustainable into the far future. We must continue to remove barriers to participation so that all voices have a place at the Museum.

We are proud of these accomplishments, but recognize that they are not enough. To fully support our mission, the McLean County Museum of History must become an even more visitor-centered organization. It is vital that we move forward with intentionality so that often marginalized voices are brought forward to amplify the lived experiences that have long been missing from our collections, exhibitions, and programs. We want this process to be transparent, instructional, and responsive to the needs of community members. So please get in touch.

Anthony Bowman

Anthony Bowman

Anthony is the Education Outreach Coordinator at the McLean County Museum of History