Shifting the Paradigm


This is not the usual Blast from the past or Museum Monday Adventure. This Museum Monday features Ms.Traka Lopez. I sat down with Traka to chat about the current museum culture and how she navigates it as an Afro-Latino Woman.


Tell me a little bit of background information about you. 

Well, My name is Traka Lopez -White, I’m an re-emerging museum professional. A military child from both parents, I traveled and moved around a lot, but I was finally rooted in Charlotte, NC. My mom is an artist; growing up, my mom would make my clothes from my design; this gave me the understanding that I can be anything from a teenage ninja turtle to Scary Spice.  She was also a painter and a poet. I still remember going to my mom's art receptions and trying to sell her art. Because of her, I got into the arts and museums. After high school, I left and rooted my path in San Francisco, CA. I attended art school, seeking to become an artist. However, I ended up with a bachelor's in Art Education from the Academy of Art University. My first museum job was an internship at SFMOMA, I quit after two weeks, I also volunteered at the Children Creativity Museums in SF. However, my first internship was at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD). It was unpaid, but I learned a lot. I would remain at MoAD for 5 years, and there I would work in many departments, including education, exhibitions, visitors services, membership, and development. However, there was a glass ceiling there, and I needed to grow. Not knowing how to advocate for professional development, I interned at many institutions, including SF arts commission, and a creative/cultural grassroots incubator space called Intersection For The Art. I then landed a full-time job at a black tech/art community incubator space called OAKSTOP, in Oakland, CA. There I gained much insight into the tech world and the importance of being aware that not all things you are looking for exist; you would have to be the one to create it.    


 What are some challenges you've faced being in this field?

Looking back at my early experience in the museum field, I felt that there were many odds against me.  This being race, gender, and agism, because of this at times, I was the only person of color, or I wasn't taking seriously because I was the youngest person in the room or didn't have a voice.  However, instead of giving up, I reset, regroup, and replaced myself. I knew that I couldn’t change a person's perception of me, but I can change me for me. In short, I decided to do a self SWOT(strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis and a vision board in my small apartment in SF. This created my "nudge" to leave SF and go back to the east coast. I knew that I would continue to be a black woman in the racist and patriarchal museums field. Still, I knew that the next time I would be back in a museum as a professional, I will stand confident in my blackness and womanhood by being strategic and advocating in a meaningful and impactful way.     

Do you feel as though more responsibility is placed on your shoulders by being a black woman doing Museum work? 

Of course, but I have seen the weight on my mentors' shoulders as black women in the cultural or museum spaces. And they still uplift me, and with the weight on my shoulders in that space, it is my job to uplift other black women. I guess it feels less daunting when I see that you are not the only one.    

How do you navigate or deal with the challenges you face as a person of color navigating this line of work?

First, understand that the barriers that you go through in the museum spaces are not because of you and your shortcomings, and that museums are a perpetuating space the hold and protect white fragility and colonizing ideologies. The next step is knowing that you being there is impactful. The next step is to figure out what your "impact" looks like and how much you are willing to give. 

In regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion, how do museums practice what they preach? i.e., How can museums work towards being more inclusive with action? 

This is a HUGE question. Unfortunately, I haven't seen success in this. I think for this to be successful; the institution will need to break down itself and restart. Having a grasp in IDEA(s) (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility), I know that there are many ways the museums are trying, either by looking for black interns, adding IDEA activities to the mission/vision statement, and/or hiring a diversity- inclusion representative. I have seen it all, and also asked questions about furthering the impact of IDEA(s). However, I question the reasoning of why would an institution like a museum wants to relinquish the power that they profit from.  Maybe, I am tarnished in the perception that IDEA(s) can work in clueless cultural museums. However, I hold donors and corporate accountability; I think they should allocate their support of BIPOC museums that have always been doing meaningful, diverse, and inclusive work. I guess dumping money in museums with IDEA initiatives created the "band-aids" for more significant problems, exploiting black people, and the re-creation blackface museums.  

Why do you think some museums are still hesitant or resistant to conversations about museum diversity? And how do we force them think differently?..should we force them? 

 I don't think we should force them. I believe that museums are for everybody and every perspective. Therefore if that museum wants to keep their colonizing ideology in their institution, they and people that share that mentality will support them. I don't think it's our responsibility to break down and reshape ignorant cultural institutions, especially with our own. I advocate the mentality of "buying black," black support museums, black museum professionals, black artists, black art critics, black galleries, etc.  I think "our" spaces are often ignored. For example, 10% of HBCU graduates are working in museum spaces. But then those same museums are getting IDEA initiative funding support. While some museums associations and organization would list or develop assessments of museums programs and would overlooked all HBCU's with museum programs or museums related fields programs.

In short, the real change lies in the diversification of leadership, such as the directors, the board, and trustees. It is also valuing the voice and opinions of the BIPOC communities. However, why emphasize the reconstruction of these institutions, rather than supporting and championing African American museums and HBCU museum-related programs doing the work. At the same time, it is continuing to create safe spaces for BIPOC communities.    

 - Traka Lopez-White 

Traka is a graduate student at Morgan State University and a re-emerging museum professionals finding her way back into museums. She currently interns at the Association of African American Museums (AAAM). Along with serving on the Leadership Committee for AAAMEMP she is an advisory board member for MSGSA (Morgan State Graduate Student Association). Lopez also serves as a Board Member at DCEMP (D.C. Emerging Museum Professionals). You can find her on LinkedIn and Instagram



  This Museum & Brunch Chat was one for the books. I hope to feature and highlight more emerging museum professionals once a month. 


Find your tribe and rise!


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