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Arts / Anti-racism movement encourages museum operator to reflect on diversity of collection

Shetland Museum and Archives remains the most popular visitor attraction in Shetland according to the latest survey. Photo Shetland Amenity TrustShetland Museum and Archives. Photo: Shetland Amenity Trust

THE BLACK Lives Matter movement has encouraged the operator of the Shetland Museum and Archives to consider more closely the diversity of its collections and ensure they are “genuinely representative of the breadth of Shetland’s history”.

Shetland Amenity Trust chief executive Mat Roberts said the campaign has asked the organisation “some challenging questions about how we represent a truly inclusive picture of Shetland’s history”.

The movement gained renewed focus at the start of the summer following the death of George Floyd while he was being restrained by police in the US.

It led to international anti-racism protests, including two peaceful events in Shetland which allowed islanders a chance to show solidarity for the cause.

The movement has encouraged many in society to take a look at their own behaviour, actions and views, with some Up Helly Aa festivals for instance saying they will no longer tolerate the use of blackface.

Roberts said many organisations in the arts and museum sector are now considering how representative their collections are.

Amenity trust chief executive Mat Roberts.Shetland Amenity Trust chief executive Mat Roberts.

“I think we’re in the same position as many museums are, where a very legitimate challenge as a result of the Black Lives Matter campaign reveals unconscious bias in a lot of museum collections and also how the diverse nature of every community is represented,” he said.

“Shetland has a very diverse history. As a seafaring nation it is no surprise that Shetland life has been taken around the world and has brought people and things back from around the world.

“I’m not sure we could in all honesty say that we have a perfectly representative collection of the community’s very diverse history, so we are looking at both what’s in the collection, our collection’s policy, what we collect in the future, but also on the bits of the collection that we consciously choose to display, to ensure that they are representative of the true diversity of Shetland’s heritage.”

Roberts said the curators at the museum are reviewing the collections and displays, but “it is not something that will happen overnight”.

“We have hundreds of thousands of objects in the collection, but we do need to review the basis upon which we collect objects, and the basis upon which we exhibit objects, and the stories that we choose to tell,” he said.

“I think we need to represent the true diversity of Shetland’s heritage, and we may already do that? We may not. What we need to do is check that we are genuinely representative of the breadth of Shetland’s history. We recognise the fact that we are not excluded from this at all.”

In June the trust said that “many charities, if they interrogate themselves, will find they have sometimes failed in the past to promote diversity and inclusivity in all its aspects. This includes Shetland Amenity Trust.”

It said that it already had in place an equality, inclusion and diversity policy and an access policy and action plan which it is “proactively monitoring, reviewing and delivering”.