This week I returned to Boston after two months in my native Australia. I was happy that the weather is still very pleasant and that my Halloween weekend involved apple picking rather than the wintery mix of last year. Fortunately, the weather is also still beautiful enough to spend the afternoon reading a good book on the lawns of the Boston Common or Harvard Yard.
Each time I pass through Harvard Yard, I ponder my life journey and Michelle Obama’s speech at the opening of the Whitney Museum earlier this year. In short, Obama discussed the need to make public places like museums and the White House welcoming to all, and quash thoughts that certain people don’t belong there. Whilst Harvard Yard is part of a private university, it is very much a public space; it receives 45,000 tourists each year on the official Harvard tour alone. As a non-Harvard student or employee, I feel welcome and comfortable in the space, which is now one of my favourite hangouts. What I ponder is how I came to be so contented in the Yard and how it can be used in my work as a museum educator.
I grew up in a regional Australian community where tertiary education was undervalued, city living was seen as crossing the floor, and engaging with an arts and culture was seen as pretentious. I have spent much time contemplating this divide and have concluded it is complex beyond the time it takes to have my morning coffee or an evening glass of wine. My family were low to middle income earners and, at times, growing up, finances were tough. We didn’t visit museums, go to the theatre or holiday often and I was known as the “reader” in my family.
Over the last fifteen years, I have moved to the city, acquired a tertiary education, travelled extensively and begun a career in Museum Education. I have not read as much as I would have liked. Last year, I moved to Boston. The first time I sat in Harvard Yard, enjoying my lunch, reading a book and curling my toes around the grass, I felt an immense sense of pride. I had built a fulfilling and stimulating life against the social discourse of my upbringing.
Obviously, in 2015, this is easier than it would have been one hundred years ago as a woman, or in the absence of adversity, discrimination and stereotyping based on my religion, sexual preference, ethnicity or disability, yet for me it was still a grand achievement.
Furthermore, my siblings would not feel comfortable in the Yard. They would be the people Michelle Obama referred to who would say “that’s not a place for me”. Whilst part of this is self-imposed, there must also be external factors that incite such beliefs. Whilst I don’t yet have the answer, I continue to reflect upon the last fifteen years to determine how I overcame such a mentality. Better still, in my work as a museum educator, how can my own experience help to break down barriers and improve engagement, interest and accessibility for regional and low socio economic communities.
In the meantime, I’m taking my book to Harvard Yard to enjoy the last of the sun and warm weather.