Mammoth Diorama

The Facing Change Initiative at the Bell Museum

The Bell Museum takes part in the AAM's Facing Change Initiative

Published06/21/2021 , by Nehwoen Luogon-Bojkov

For years the Bell Museum has had the aspirational goal to be a museum for all people in the state, to be a welcoming and accessible place for all Minnesotans. Two years ago the museum was presented with the opportunity to dig deep into what that means and how to make it happen.

“We have to look like our state. Our state is changing, and we have to change too.” – Steve Sigmond, Advisory Board Vice-Chair, Founder & Chief Financial Officer, Carrot Health

The American Alliance of Museums Facing Change Initiative came out of a major grant funded by the Alice L. Walton foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon foundation. The three year initiative arose from a study completed in 2017 with the American Alliance Museum (AAM) and BoardSource. The study showed that CEOs and COBs often voiced that diversity, equity, and inclusion were valued, desired, and that they wanted their museums to serve diverse communities. Nonetheless, the study identified that almost all museum boards were not diverse—demonstrating a clear mismatch between what people had voiced as goals and the current reality. Because museum boards are typically building policy for museums, they often act as gatekeepers as to whether those goals will be reached. AAM started the initiative to help with the discordance between what museums desired and what was happening.

“…The Facing Change Initiative seemed to provide an excellent opportunity to help us accomplish one of our primary goals . . to create a more diverse board that embraced the cultural, gender, and racial diversity reflected in the Minnesota citizens we serve. It provided a structure for meeting the goal and provided technical assistance as well.”– Lee Pfannmuller, Advisory Board Chair, MN Department of Natural Resources, retired

In 2019, the Facing Change Initiative began at the Bell Museum when the AAM reached out about the opportunity. AAM selected five regions in the nation to take part in the pilot program of Facing Change and the Twin Cities was selected as one of the five. AAM invited their member organizations and other museums in the area that were not members to apply for the opportunity to take part in this pilot program. The Bell Museum received one of those invitations. After discussions with Denise Young, Executive Director at the Bell Museum, and the board members about how the Bell Museum is committed to diversity, and acknowledging that the Bell can do better, the opportunity seemed like a great fit and the Bell Museum sent in their application.

“It’s not just bringing in new voices, but making sure that they are heard and that they feel welcomed and stick with us for the long-haul.” – Peter Leppik, Advisory Board Vice-Chair, US Bank

The goal of the initiative is not only to bring on diverse board members but also to help understand what it means to create an inclusive environment for new members. This is where AAM Senior DEAI Fellow Levon Williams steps in. Williams has worked to understand the current culture of the Bell Museum board and where there are gaps and spaces that the advisory board can be more thoughtful, reflective, and create a space that overtime represents the community that the Bell Museum caters to more broadly.

“I think it is an initiative that speaks to the growth opportunity that we have at the Bell.” – Steve Sigmond, Advisory Board Vice-Chair, Founder & Chief Financial Officer, Carrot Health

The Bell Museum board has had some interesting and tough conversations surrounding diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. To begin the work, it was important to have everyone on the same page. The first year focused on developing a shared language, coming to an understanding about the goals for the board, what it will take to meet each goal, and what it means to be in relationship with the communities that the Bell Museum serves. The initial conversations with the group served to define diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion and find common understanding. Other conversations included the history of museums and what white dominant culture looks like in the past and today in relation to the history of museums. These conversations have helped the board reflect on their group to consider how these topics may appear from different perspectives, how they may appear when attracting new board members, and how to retain those new board members.

Now two years into the three year initiative, the Bell Museum is on track to meet its goals. The second year has given the board the opportunity to dig deeper into action planning, creating goals, and developing steps to achieve those goals. The final year of the initiative is about implementing the plan into practice. These plans are considered action-learning, which means putting the plans into place, assessing how it is working, and adjusting as improvements are needed.

“It is clear that this is going to be a strategic priority for the Bell and I wanted to be a part of that effort.” – Peter Leppik, Advisory Board Vice-Chair, US Bank

AAM has been a great partner to help bring to life the commitment made by the Bell when beginning this initiative. One of the goals for the board was to help foster more diversity at the Advisory Board level. Focused work by board members this past year has put it on track to add several new members that reflect the state’s diverse communities by the coming fall. The journey with the Facing Change Initiative has been eye-opening for the Bell Museum but it is only the beginning. This process of growth and change will continue and evolve past the third year. This opportunity has helped to give structure to an ingrained way of thinking and being that is more long-term for the entire organization.

“As they say about so many things, this is a marathon, not a race. In fact, it will never be over. What we are trying to do is hard work and involves changing our culture and how we think–it is a continuum that we must be entirely committed to, not once and done.” – Lee Pfannmuller, Advisory Board Chair, MN Department of Natural Resources, retired


Facing Change: Advancing Museum Board Diversity & Inclusion. An initiative of the American Alliance of Museums