Creating Social Capital

Does Your Institution Have an Advocacy Policy?

I came across this article over the weekend. Nina Simon articulates some growing concerns for museums as advocates for the communities they serve. The article focuses on a scenario in which the Santa Cruz Museum was asked to sign a petition drafted by community members in order to prevent the relocation of a community garden. The Beach Flats Community Garden had been a focal point for a low income Latino community for over 20 years. I an all their gentrified wisdom, the property owner had decided not to renew the property lease. The City stepped in, proposing to relocate the garden to a new plot of land. The community was now faced with losing the sense of place associated with the garden. Several thoughts came to mind as I read the article. Clearly, members in the community identified the museum as being influential in preserving the garden as a historical community space, a result of preexisting social capital? It is also crucial to note the possible dangers the museum could face in advocating on behalf of the community. I am thinking along the lines of donor interests. If the museum was to take a stand against moving the garden, thereby acting against the interests of a possibly affluent property owner, what does that say to any donors who might be affiliated with other like minded business ventures? Here I identified a monetary conflict of interest that is intrinsically tied to the moral conflict of interest. If museums are to further develop social capital and become indispensable to the communities they serve, there must be an institutional policy in place to address advocacy issues that may arise, but where to draw the line? With further integration into communal life, how can museums be objective enough to satisfy private donor interests that may come into conflict with communal interests? I am not saying the two will always be at odds, but as with the Beach Flats Community Garden, conflicts can arise.

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