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RMSC exhibit highlighting local ‘Changemakers’

Messenger Post Media
Monroe County Post

The Rochester Museum & Science Center’s new exhibition featuring over 200 Rochester and Haudenosaunee women is open. 

“The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World” is a community-curated exhibition that aims to inspire and empower the community to be change-makers by sharing stories of regional innovators just like them.

“The Changemakers” is open in the Riedman Gallery and adjacent spaces on the third floor of the Museum, 567 East Ave., through spring 2021. The exhibition stretches across 7,000 square feet and shares 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,” said Kathryn Murano Santos, senior director of collections and exhibitions. “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. 

“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 flight simulator made from a decommissioned Cessna plane, as well as elements like motion sensors to activate video and audio clips. RMSC created media-based interactives for visitors and will showcase authentic collection objects to help illustrate the stories of these women. 

“The lives of Haudenosaunee women are not often recognized in mainstream, non-Native forums,” said Michelle Schenandoah, founder and executive director of Rematriation Magazine, and featured “Changemaker.” “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. Being a ‘Changemaker’ means playing a role in returning to sacred ways of living even as colonial systems constantly try to erase us.” 

The institution worked with 11 local organizations and over 50 individuals from the community to help bring the exhibition to life. 

“RMSC has taken the opportunity to bring the people from the community and all backgrounds to put this exhibition together,” said Wanda Martinez-Johncox, a community curator and featured “Changemaker.” “It is a brilliant idea that has allowed the ‘Changemakers’ to not be forgotten and for us to know their stories. 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.”

RMSC received a grant from the Rochester Area Community Foundation to hire three diversity, equity and inclusion consultants. According to Murano Santos, these consultants “challenged [RMSC’s] 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,” DEI consultant Irma McClaurin said. “If they are to survive, they must shift the current paradigm of doing business such that diversity, equity and inclusion become core values and are reflected in staffing, as well as in leadership and board composition.”

Follow consultant Laticia McNaughton said, “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. DEI work aims to instead create space for engagement and recognition, and helps ensure diverse voices are heard and better represented.”

“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,” consultant Carolina Osorio said. “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.”

Visit rmsc.org/changemakers for information.

Stock photo.