The Community Foundation - Rochester Area The Community Foundation

$200,000 Grant Brings 'RACE' Exhibit to RMSC

A $200,000 Rochester Area Community Foundation grant to the Rochester Museum & Science Center has made it possible for the RACE: Are We So Different? exhibit to come to our community.

This traveling exhibition, which tells the stories of race from the biological, cultural, and historical points of view, is at RMSC through April 28, 2013.

This grant, the Community Foundation’s largest-ever discretionary grant in 18 years, is supporting more than just an exhibit.

RMSC, along with the Community Foundation, has been collaborating with the Rochester Initiative for Structural Equality (RISE) Coalition and several other community partners to create programs and events designed to promote awareness about racial issues and foster meaningful conversations about how we can substantially improve our understanding of each other. (For more, visit FaceRaceRoc.org). In addition, RMSC is providing curriculum support on the topic to area teachers and assistance to school groups for travel and admission.

“Using anthropology, biology and history, the RACE exhibit demonstrates that, under the skin, people are just people,” said Community Foundation President and CEO Jennifer Leonard at a press conference on March 7, 2012, to announce the exhibit. “But human notions about race have literally colored our laws and social structures, separated cultures and created legacies of disadvantage.”

Twelve years ago, Community Foundation research disclosed that interpersonal trust in our community suffered from deep disparities based on race and ethnicity. African American and Hispanic adults in our region were far less likely than whites to trust their neighbors, the police, the people where they worked and shopped, even fellow parishioners. In response, the Community Foundation has made grants that connect people across difference, based on the concept of “social capital” — that we need to know and understand each other in order to trust and lift each other up.

“Our hope is that RACE: Are We So Different? and the community conversation that it fosters will help us all gain insight — and from insight, inspiration — to change our community for the better,” Leonard said, citing data from ACTRochester.org that show the disparities  that exist in our region.

With RACE: Are We So Different? as the cornerstone, related programs and activities will be held before, during and after the exhibition run. These collaborative efforts will include talking circles, guest speakers, artistic events, professional development opportunities and facilitated age-appropriate classroom discussions. Some will take place at RMSC, and others will be held at partner locations and beyond.

There is a growing list of partners and, from the beginning, both Action for a Better Community and Rochester Institute of Technology played leadership roles. All organizations will plan to place an emphasis on programs and activities to provide a deep experience with the exhibition. Developing an environment for better discussion and communication within the community about race is essential.

"We know that conversations about race and racism are important steps in changing ideas we have when it comes to our differences,” said RMSC President Kate Bennett. “With this exhibit, a goal is to open our visitors’ minds to the science and their hearts to new ways of looking at, thinking about and acting on diversity. We are excited to be a part of this change, and to work with our community partners.” 

RMSC plans to provide materials for school curricula. The New York state curriculum mandates students to consider the issues of ethnicity and culture as part of the state’s learning standards across multiple grade levels. RMSC’s school scholarship fund will be used to provide reduced admission fees, as well as busing for schools that lack travel and field study funding — particularly urban and rural school districts. Funding will support more than 2,500 school students. Community partners will fundraise to help make it possible for additional students to experience the exhibition.

“This exhibit will provide the platform for a broad-based community educational experience regarding the myths and realities of race,” said James Norman, President and CEO of ABC and chair of the RISE Coalition, an organized group of community leaders that seeks to promote concepts of structural equality throughout the Greater Rochester community.

 “Over the next three decades, our region and the U.S. as a whole will transition to a majority minority demographic profile. If we are to transition successfully and strengthen our economic competitiveness, we need to increase our understanding of structural inequalities and our commitment to principles of equity,” Norman said.

The exhibit explores the everyday experience of race, the contemporary science that is challenging common ideas about race, and the history of this idea in the United States. While differences are socially and culturally real, contemporary scientific understanding of race and human variation is complex and may challenge how visitors think about it. In other words, we are not all that different. RACE: Are We So Different? helps visitors understand what race is — and what it is not.

Exhibition highlights include displays and activities for all ages. A dynamic 3-D animation takes visitors “inside” for a close-up look at their molecular selves. Participants also can scan their skin and see their photo appear alongside the scans of other visitors’ skin, creating a colorful mosaic of skin tones. Another interactive station invites visitors to match voices they hear with photos of people of different races to see if they can identify a person’s race by their speech.

Developed by the American Anthropological Association in collaboration with the Science Museum of Minnesota, RACE: Are We So Different? was a winner of the Excellence in Exhibition Competition at the 2008 meeting of the American Association of Museums.


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