ROCHESTER, NY, November 11, 2020 – The Rochester Museum & Science Center’s (RMSC) new exhibition featuring over 200 diverse Rochester and Haudenosaunee women is opening on Friday, November 20. The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World is a community-curated exhibition that aims to inspire and empower the community to be Changemakers by sharing stories of regional innovators just like them.
The Changemakers will be open to the public in the Riedman Gallery and adjacent spaces on the third floor of the Museum through Spring 2021. The exhibition stretches across 7,000 square feet and shares compelling, authentic, and lesser-known narratives of women from the Rochester region and sovereign Haudenosaunee Confederacy who left their mark on history and the world.
“This process has been a learning experience for all RMSC staff involved. Working with a diverse group of community members brought to light a multitude of perspectives that enriched the exhibit content and ensured that everyone in the community will be able to see themselves in the exhibit,” said Kathryn Murano Santos, Senior Director of Collections and Exhibitions. “I think the resulting exhibit will help shift the dominant cultural narrative – one that excludes and erases women’s accomplishments, and particularly women of color – by making it clear that women of all backgrounds have always made important contributions that impact every aspect of our lives.”
The new exhibition features a number of hands-on interactives, such as a flight simulator made from a decommissioned Cessna plane, and plenty of interactive hands-off exhibits which include elements like motion sensors to activate video and audio clips. The RMSC has also created several media-based interactives for visitors and, as always, will showcase authentic collection objects – many of them on loan from the featured Changemakers – to help illustrate the stories of these remarkable women.
“The lives of Haudenosaunee women are not often recognized in mainstream, non-Native forums. By featuring over 40 Haudenosaunee women in this exhibit, RMSC makes it clear to the public that not only are we still here, in the Rochester area, but that this is our homeland and we have always shaped its landscape,” said Michelle Schenandoah, Founder & Executive Director Rematriation Magazine and featured Changemaker. “Being a Changemaker means playing a role in returning to sacred ways of living even as colonial systems constantly try to erase us.”
In addition to collaborating with contemporary featured Changemakers, the institution worked with 11 local organizations and over 50 individuals from the community to help bring the exhibition to life. RMSC is one of few museums that has utilized a community curation model that includes shared authority for decision making.
“RMSC has taken the opportunity to bring the people from the community and all backgrounds to put this exhibition together. It is a brilliant idea that has allowed the Changemakers to not be forgotten and for us to know their stories,” said Wanda Martinez-Johncox, one of the Community Curators and featured Changemakers in the exhibit. “We’re bringing some of the forgotten women to life again for our kids, our future, to learn from and be inspired to make a change.”
Furthering their collaboration with the community, the RMSC was awarded a grant by the Rochester Area Community Foundation to hire three Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consultants. According to Murano Santos, these consultants “challenged our [the RMSC] assumptions around issues of identity, representation, and even historical accuracy to create a more equitable, comprehensive, and authentic presentation of women’s stories.”
“This is a new day. Museums have to change. If they are to survive, they must shift the current paradigm of doing business such that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) become core values and are reflected in staffing, as well as in leadership and board composition,” said Dr. Irma McClaurin, Activist, Anthropologist, Owner of Irma McClaurin Solutions, and DEI consultant.
“When diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are not utilized or recognized in the exhibit development process, it is all too easy to fall into approaches reflecting colonialism in museum institutions,” said Laticia McNaughton, DEI consultant. “DEI work aims to instead create space for engagement and recognition, and helps ensure diverse voices are heard and better represented,”
Carolina Osorio Gil, DEI consultant, added, “In having the opportunity to collaborate on this project with the other DEI consultants, the Community Curators, and RMSC staff, I see my contribution as being impactful in the area of storytelling. Every person is unique and different and categorizing us, though helpful in some ways, is also really impossible in the end. Thus, in unity with my fellow DEI consultants, I have encouraged an intersectional and pluralistic approach, opening up space for more women’s stories to be told.”
The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World will be open to the public on Friday, November 20. For more information about the exhibition, visit RMSC.org/changemakers.
This exhibition is supported by James Bruen & Jane Plitt, Harris Beach PLLC, Optic Sky Productions, WXXI, Morgan Stanley, Optimax Systems, and Rochester Clinical Research. This project was also funded in part by awards from Humanities New York, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities; National Endowment for the Arts; New York State Council on the Arts; New York State Women’s Suffrage Commission; and the Rochester Area Community Foundation. Fore more information, contact Katie Mackey, Corporate and Foundation Relations Manager at RMSC: email@example.com or 585.697.1973.