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Ravon Ruffin & Amanda Figueroa are consultants. Together, they’ve created the Brown Girls Museum Blog (or BGMB) which cultivates inclusionary practices for museums through social media, speaking engagements, collaborative partnerships, community advocacy, and content services. What started as a conversation, transformed into a platform that aims to solve the one of the most pressing challenges with the art world.
Hillary: Although you are both young, it seems as though it didn’t take long to transform a problem into an opportunity. Can you describe the development of BGMB and your current roles in its operations?
Ravon: The blog came about through individual interests, and then we discovered that we work well together. We both are determined and unrelenting in our desires for social equity in the humanities field, and bringing our individual skills together has been one of our biggest strengths. From the beginning, we’ve always had a clear vision of what we wanted the blog to look like, and we sort of fell into our roles from there. I’ve always been more of the content management and strategy type, whereas Amanda is apt in the technical and design aspect. Our academic endeavors are quite literally where we intersect.
Amanda: I think both of us have always been “problem solvers” — when we noticed what was going wrong with inclusion in museums, we immediately wanted to help fix it. At first, the best way to do that was just by speaking out, raising our voices and making ourselves be heard online, but as the blog continues, we’ve been given more and more opportunities to work on this issue in different ways. It has been exciting to be able to take our mission, and our work “offline” in live events like talks and workshops, but a digital presence will always be important to us. Right now, we tend to split our roles pretty evenly; Ravon handles a lot of our social media while I do a lot of the back-end design stuff, and we both collaborate on new projects as they come in.
Hillary: So, what I’m most struck by is how you’re tackling serious challenges in a pretty fun way, which I would assume comes from your playful personalities. Would you mind giving your spiel on approaching challenges with positivity and how that helped you guys become distinguishable early on?
Amanda: Personally I have always believed that if you don’t laugh, you cry. I would always rather make the joke than feel sad about things, and even though we are addressing problems that are totally appropriate to feel sad or angry about, I think our ability to stay upbeat and refuse to accept sadness or anger as our outlook has really helped us not just to write the blog but to stay invested in museum work in general. Being able to find the fun or sense of humor even in absurd, difficult situations has made us easy to relate to, I hope, since that’s genuinely our personalities and our way of approaching these things.
Ravon: Yes, I absolutely agree with everything Amanda said. I’d also add; our humor is reflective of our communities and the difficulties of being in many of the spaces we have occupied. When we started the blog, it was always more out of a passion for the field than it was a disregard. So often the humor that shines through is a way of coping or bringing light to the absurd. We couldn’t do this work without a sense of humor. Otherwise, our existence would constantly weigh on us. We are both pretty sarcastic; I think us allowing that humor to show through in such a serious field might have set a different tone.
Hillary: The blog portion of your site contains a lot of pieces not specifically aimed at diversity in the art world. How do pieces such as “Post Graduate Survival”, which gave advice for recent grads figuring out their lives, help further your mission?
Amanda: We have always been interested in helping out the “complete person” — not just raising awareness about issues that people of color face when trying to get into the museum world, but issues that we face in general. We see a lot of related issues happening for these communities in graduate school and other places where people of color are interacting with white institutions, so speaking up about our experience and offering whatever advice we can has felt like a natural part of the blog.
Ravon: I’m really glad you asked that question. As Amanda stated, our interest in the blog has always been about speaking to the lived experience. The fact is, that many of the barriers to the field that people of color face do not begin at the door of the institution, but have long been compounded in so many other spaces if we are to consider the historical, racial, and cultural factors. As a result, it is a challenge for us in the field to feel wholly and unapologetically ourselves. The piece you referenced, is about that challenge and giving acknowledgment at the various steps along the way if we are to do the work of actual inclusion.
Hillary: Are there any plans for BGMB you can share with us? What might we expect in the future?
Amanda: Lots more to come, I hope! We are both navigating new roles in the museum (or museum-adjacent) world, and that’s been really expanding our horizons both in terms of what the field looks like for emerging professionals as well as what kind of work still needs to be done around issues of inclusion and intersectionality. The blog is going to grow right along with us.
Ravon: I think it’s just about growth. We are constantly asking ourselves where else can this platform exist, who else could it serve? With that, we are excited for future speaking engagements and more collaborative projects.
Hillary: Any fun stories related to your experience as BGMB?
Amanda: I want to really cheese it up and say everything related to BGMB is a fun experience — but one of my favorite moments was our launch event about a year ago. Technically the blog had been up and running for about six months at that point, but this was our real coming out party, and it was great to see so many people show up to talk to us about our mission and about what we could all come together to do. It felt like a major success that we could plan and put together that whole thing — even though it had been a scramble up until the last few minutes before the party started. We were still blowing up balloons in the car during the drive to the venue!
Ravon: She really loves that story, I should add there was glitter in the balloons, so it was quite the situation. We recently facilitated a workshop in Charlottesville, VA and I discovered an aspect of our origin story that’s really funny to me. We actually weren’t friends when we started the blog. We were in the same grad program, so cordial, but up until that moment had not exchanged anything beyond academic jargon. So for awhile our blog meetings were so business-like, we might have even shaken hands to close out. It was fairly recent that we actually entered the friend-zone. Now we schedule a time to dish in our meeting agendas.
For more on how you can interact with BGMB, visit http://www.browngirlsmuseumblog.com