Fostering Critical Conversations with Our Communities

This fall (2021) Smithsonian Affiliations will introduce a new program in collaboration with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. This pilot initiative is designed to support select Affiliates in developing and implementing strategic community engagement initiatives that foster important, sometimes difficult or ignored, conversations in, with, and for their communities.

Affiliates will apply to participate and will be selected on a competitive basis. Each Affiliate will commit two staff members to the year-long pilot (November 2021-October 2022) and will come to the program with a challenge or project that centers on engaging a specific community in critical conversation. Projects might include developing new or updating existing exhibitions to more accurately reflect a community’s diversity, devising an educational program to explore difficult histories, creating resources with and in support of a community, beginning new collecting initiatives or other meaningful community engagement projects. Affiliates will each receive a stipend of $10,000 for their successful participation in the project.

Through this initiative, Affiliates will build capacity to engage their communities in essential conversations around challenging and critical issues of local and national significance. Over the course of the year, Affiliate participants will work on their challenge with guidance and support from Smithsonian and Coalition colleagues and the Affiliate cohort, and develop an implementation plan for engaging their community.

Participation Requirements:

Selected Affiliates will participate in six, two-hour training sessions over the course of the year-long pilot project and up to 6 hours of coaching with Coalition staff. Affiliations also will participate in at least 6 of 8 monthly one-hour cohort meetups. Over the course of the year, Affiliate participants will work on their implementation plans outside of cohort activities, which may include meetings with internal and external stakeholders, events or programs with community members, and other community stewardship activities. Participants also will be expected to complete “homework” before and after each cohort meeting, and participate in pre- and post-evaluation surveys, focus groups, and/or other assessment activities.

Application Process

A complete application package must include the below material. Please upload resumes, essay, video, and demographic information to Dropbox, or a similar file sharing site, so that we may download a complete package. All other information can be included in the application form. Applications are due on October 4, 2021.

  • Completed application form
  • Current CVs or résumés for two Affiliate staff members who will lead the Affiliate’s participation in the program (resumes should not exceed 3 pages each)
  • A single, collaborative essay, no longer than 3 pages, outlining the following:
    • A challenge related to community engagement around a critical question or topic the Affiliate wants to explore with their community; how did you identify this challenge?
    • A description of a specific community with whom the Affiliate wants to work (e.g. the Indigenous or LGBTQ+ community) and the Affiliate’s current relationship with that community; how did you identify this community?
    • An explanation of how this project aligns with the Affiliate’s strategic goals or priorities and how it will move the Affiliate forward
    • Any barriers to implementing a solution to the challenge
  • A 2-3-minute video from the Affiliate director or the applicants’ supervisor(s) demonstrating support for the application, sharing how the project supports the organization’s strategic goals or priorities, and why they’re excited about participating
  • A list of additional people who may be part of the implementation team. Please list names, titles, and expected roles in implementation.
  • A summary of demographic information for your Affiliate’s complete staff (e.g. number of full- and part-time employees, gender, age, and ethnicity of staff, etc.).
  • A description of your Affiliate’s community engagement activities in the past 2-5 years. Please explain in 500 words or fewer.

Selection Process

Smithsonian Affiliations, in collaboration with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, will review and evaluate all applications. Applications will be evaluated on:

  • Affiliate leadership’s support for the project
  • Vision and strategy for the proposed project
  • Creativity and innovation of the proposed project
  • Project’s connection to the Affiliate’s strategic plan
  • Project’s alignment with the missions of Smithsonian Affiliations and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience
  • Project’s potential for sustainability beyond the pilot

Smithsonian Affiliations will provide all Affiliate applicants with information regarding the status of applications and will notify the candidates of final selections. We will accept up to 10 Affiliates. Please note that not all candidates may be accepted.

A group of people stand around a table where an instructor points at a document.

Image: A group of museum professionals attend a workshop in Puerto Rico. Image courtesy Smithsonian Affiliations.

About the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience

The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience is the only global network dedicated to transforming places that preserve the past into spaces that promote civic action. With more than 300 museums, historic sites, memorials, and memory initiatives in 66 countries, the Coalition has collaborated with sites around the world on dialogue-based initiatives, exhibition design, community-based memorialization, and interpretive and strategic planning. They have trained over 15,000 museum and historic site professionals at their member sites and other public and private entities in dialogue, audience engagement, equity, and inclusion. They have equipped hundreds of organizations with the tools they need to remember and preserve a wide range of histories, as well as enable their visitors to make connections between the past and related contemporary human rights issues.

What We Mean By “Community”

We have intentionally developed this project as a community engagement initiative, rather than one centered on audience development. An audience is those we speak to. They visit our institutions and participate in our programs. Audiences are critical to the health of our organizations!

A community is those we talk with. Community members share a common sense of belonging or shared identity that our audiences may not. In a community, people are contributing, not just listening. We can think about community in different ways. For example:

  • Geography – those who live, work or play in a specific location
  • Identity – those who share a common gender, sexual orientation, racial or other identity
  • Affinity – those who share a common interest

As we have developed this project, we are thinking of ways we can work with Affiliates to deepen their relationships with a community, rather than grow their audiences (though certainly audiences may change and grow as a result of community work).

Who to contact for questions?

If you have questions about this opportunity, please contact:

Tricia Edwards, Deputy Director, Smithsonian Affiliations