‘Changemakers’ exhibit receives Engaged Anthropology Award

Stock photo.

The American Anthropological Association recently presented its Engaged Anthropology Award to anthropologist Irma McClaurin and the Rochester Museum & Science Center’s past featured exhibition, “The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World.”  

McClaurin served as a diversity, equity and inclusiveness consultant for the exhibition and was a key contributor. 

The award honors individual anthropologists or projects that demonstrated a commitment to social justice and community engagement by applying anthropology to effectively address a pressing issue facing people and the planet.  

Awardees exhibit outstanding best practices in advancing public service, outreach and community engagement in their work; engaged research and scholarship that is conducted for the benefit of and in partnership with a community; building institutional commitments to service-learning and social justice; or mutually beneficial community partnerships that address critical community needs in the pursuit of social justice and human rights. 

“Working with the Rochester Museum & Science Center on ‘The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World’ has been a once-in-a-lifetime consulting opportunity for me as an activist and engaged anthropologist,” McClaurin said. “It was a collaborative venture, and props to my Haudenosaunee and Latinx DEI colleagues with whom I developed a sense of community.  

“Throughout the project, we had to grapple with practices of exclusion that are common to museums and most American traditional institutions, but we worked through those. We had to deal with how to write about these diverse women of African American, Haudenosaunee, Latinx, Asian and European descent in ways that lifted them up and challenged conventional definitions of changemakers and advocates.  

“Along the way we struggled; navigated diversity, equity and inclusion growth pains; and ended up with a remarkable exhibition, as well as transformative professional relationships and changes in RMSC's institutional practices that I hope will serve as a reminder to RMSC that change is possible, and help them be a beacon of possibilities for other museums and nonprofits. I now use these lessons learned in my current consulting and coaching work to illustrate to other individuals, institutions and organizations that DEI growth and transformation are possible.  

“In effect, ‘The Changemakers’ project enabled all of us to become the change we wanted to see and preserve for Rochester communities and beyond, to learn from and grow.” 

Kathryn Murano Santos, director of collections and exhibits at RMSC, worked with McClaurin throughout the exhibition development process. 

“This Engaged Anthropology Award is well deserved,” she said. “Dr. Irma’s work — as well as the work of our other DEI consultants, community curators and partner organizations — was pivotal to the success of ‘The Changemakers.’ Using authentic community engagement and applied anthropology in the disruption of traditional exhibit norms, the exhibit has changed the local narrative around women’s achievements to recognize the critical ongoing impacts of diverse women and inspire and empower the next generation of ‘Changemakers.’”