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  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

Belonging Is An Outcome

“Belonging” is that sense a person gets when they feel welcomed in a space. They are treated with respect. They can be themselves without feeling judged. They have access to the full range of experiences and opportunities. 


The whole world feels that way to some people, but not to others. 


Many of our cultural institutions and spaces were designed, consciously or not, to welcome those who belonged to one class, race, gender, age range, or other social category.


Now, fortunately, many of them seek to widen their access. They see that attracting a broad range of visitors, including young people, will help them stay relevant and survive into the future. 


Belonging is an outcome. It doesn't happen without intentional effort.

But you can’t just declare “We’re welcoming!” Belonging is an outcome. It doesn’t happen without intentional effort. 


This is why I appreciate “BPS Sundays,” the pilot program launched in February by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. Through the program, every Boston Public Schools student and up to three guests can attend six of the city’s major museums free of charge on the first two Sundays of every month until August.


The program feels like a win for the children, their families, and the cultural institutions: the Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Science, the Boston Children’s Museum, and the Franklin Park Zoo. 


We have worked with several of these organizations. We’ve also worked with Mount Auburn Cemetery, a gorgeous, sweeping public space that has had only one entrance in recent years. You could live next door and it would take you 20 minutes to get in. So they recently opened up five new entrances to show that all are welcome.


What better way to let the neighborhood in than to open more doors? 


Creating a sense of belonging requires more than opening the door, though. The institutions we’ve worked with have also invested in their people, training all employees on increasing their awareness of their own biases. They have provided front-line staff with skills for interacting with first-time visitors and those who don’t share the demographics of patrons from previous generations, so that they can respond to any issues that may arise, including microaggressions


But most of the people in a museum aren’t staff.


They are visitors. 


Visitors can make other visitors feel very unwelcome. Sometimes, without realizing it, we do things that signal to others—for example, young kids or teenagers who are dressed differently or more talkative—that they are out of place. 


Do we clutch our purses? Look down our nose? Complain about them making noise?


The museum can’t send us, the visitors, to a workshop on unconscious bias. That’s on each of us individually. 


So if you are comfortable in a space, remember the role you play in making others feel the same way. Give them a smile and some room to discover what you love about it. Maybe they’re visiting as part of the BPS Sundays pilot.


Let’s do our part to get them hooked on the cultural treasures of our city.

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