Prose from Poetry Magazine

Culture Lab Manifesto

By Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

We at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center believe the soul of a museum lies not in its brick-and-mortar walls but in what happens inside those walls — the experiential friction between guests and hosts, history and future. We believe that curation can be a form of community organizing; that art can be collaborative, participatory, and socially responsible; that those who have historically been pushed to the margins hold the stories that will center our future.

With these beliefs, we introduce the Culture Lab into the fold of museum practice. Culture Labs are fleeting, site-specific happenings that recognize art and culture as vehicles that can bring artists, scholars, curators, and the public together in creative and ambitious ways.

The images in this section are from the first two Culture Labs: CrossLines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality (May 2016, Washington, DC) and CTRL+ALT: A Culture Lab on Imagined Futures (November 2016, New York City). What you see are alternatives to traditional museum exhibitions — or perhaps their next evolution. What follows 
is a declaration of principles for you to consider as you envision the museum experiences of today and tomorrow.

We at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center believe that museums engaging communities should be built upon:

  • a culture of memory. Every place embodies genealogies we must honor. Amplifying hidden histories builds empathy. Intervening in public space enriches our collective memory.
  • a culture of representation. Prioritize local artists, participants, and organizers. Nothing about communities without those communities.
  • a culture of ambition & evolution. Scale up. Open yourself to growth through conversation. Push both your ideas and practices.
  • a culture of imagination. Place value on daydreaming. Not everything is a logistic. Find the amazing in the margins.
  • a culture of presence. Live-time interaction — nothing 
replaces human contact. Make all spaces maker spaces.
  • a culture of equity. Pay artists. Pay artists fairly. Dismantle hierarchies. Everyone shares in the work.
  • a culture of community. Create lasting collectives. Come to museums to be challenged, to change, to fall in love.
  • a culture of intersectionality. Step outside the silos that constrain our narratives. Allow yourself to think, feel, and remember in the same complex ways that we live.
  • a culture of relevance. Choose to engage in what matters right now.
  • a culture of belonging. Forge brave space. Extend welcome and safety to all peoples and communities. Make room for the marginalized, especially by questioning what marginalizes them.
  • a culture of beauty. Who gets to decide what counts as beautiful? Question aesthetic classifications and priorities.
  • a culture of inspiration. Open the process. Dream together. Make together.
  • a culture of fun. Play is innovation. Play is care. Play is life.
  • a culture of action. Stay woke. We have a social contract with one another to protect the vulnerable and ensure human rights for everyone.

—Adriel Luis, Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, Nafisa Isa, Kālewa Correa, Jeanny Kim, Hana Maruyama, Clara Kim, Nathan Kawanishi, Emmanuel Mones, Desun Oka, Carlo Tuason, Lisa Sasaki, Andrea Kim Neighbors, Deloris Perry, and Emily Alvey

Originally Published: July 5th, 2017
Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In