The Wellcome Collection staff who collaborated to write this statement are Black, brown and white people. When it comes to challenging the institutional racism enmeshed within the fabric of Wellcome Collection, and addressing the power and privilege this institution holds, we must act together. The fight against anti-Blackness and racism is ours too. We need to play an active role in helping to dismantle structural inequality across Wellcome Collection where there are very few people of colour in leadership positions.
Museums are built on a foundation of white supremacy and Wellcome Collection is no exception. This has meant that racist behaviours and attitudes have been replicated in museums for decades virtually unchallenged, while racial violence in society has been perpetuated over and over again – sometimes in scarily silent ways. The global Black Lives Matter movement and the disproportionate number of Black and brown people dying of Covid-19 have again highlighted how pervasive anti-Blackness and racism are in society. No statement could counter the trauma and horror of centuries of brutality and oppression. We have to be judged by our actions, not just our words.
In order to imagine a more equitable future, it is critical that we continually ask questions about power, representation and the civic role of public museums, galleries, libraries and archives in the 21st century. We aim to interrogate and unpick the racist and patriarchal narratives upon which Wellcome Collection is built – even on this website and elsewhere you will find statements which will seem at odds with our ambitions here. We need to embrace the discomfort of the legacy of our collection to help bring about real systemic change – not just in our lifetimes, but for the next generation and those that follow as well. We have been too slow to announce the work or the process by which we will do this.
Our collection provides us with a powerful means to centre the narratives and lived experiences of those who have been silenced, erased, and ignored. We will work with communities and organisations who have been doing this work for decades. We will continue to pay the people we work with fairly in this endeavour. We will do this with care, integrity and without the expectation that they alone will carry the enormous burden of getting the work done.
Up until this point, we had been quietly working towards embedding diversity and inclusion across all areas of our work. Making this work more visible, in hindsight, would have led to greater accountability and public scrutiny essential for enacting change. In 2018, we published our access, diversity and inclusion strategy and committed an initial £1m of funding over three years to kick-start change internally. We worked harder to engage and collaborate with racially minoritised and disabled artists, makers, practitioners and audiences and established an inclusion team to act as agents of change. We will make sure all who work here take responsibility for tackling racism, ableism and other forms of prejudice.
Combating racism and white privilege in the workplace is of paramount importance to all of us who work at Wellcome Trust, the global charitable foundation, of which Wellcome Collection is part. All colleagues will be fully supported throughout this work. For our Black colleagues and those of colour, the burden of enlightening other non-Black colleagues in talking about racist behaviours and challenging racism is exhausting and unsustainable.
In the coming weeks and months, we will be more proactive about sharing our progress. We are examining the legacy of Henry Wellcome’s collection and will announce our plans to develop a new collections gallery that privileges voices previously silenced. Across our artistic programme, which includes temporary exhibitions, live programmes, digital stories and publishing, we will continue to ensure that a multiplicity of viewpoints are presented to better represent the diversity of society, both nationally and internationally.
Our greatest ambition is for Wellcome Collection to be a place where all members of our communities can see themselves and their lives meaningfully reflected in the work that we present.