Meet 2021 American Express NGen Award Finalist – Andrew Plumley

Diversity and inclusion has always been front and center in Andrew Plumley’s work – first in his career in education, where he advised higher education institutions on diversity and inclusion strategy, and currently as Senior Director of Equity and Culture at the American Alliance of Museums.

He shares more about his work and the American Alliance of Museums’ focus on championing  museums and nurturing excellence in partnership with their members and allies.

You’ll get to meet & hear Andrew Plumley during his Upswell Summit Spotlight on Wednesday, October 20 at 12:30 – 12:45pm as part the Public Square networking session. Until then, you can learn a bit more about him below..

  • It’s been a particularly challenging couple of years, what has kept you grounded and whole in this time?
Andrew Plumley

The last couple years have been extremely difficult. What kept me grounded was making sure that I created intentional space to spend meaningful time with friends and family (virtually or in person when it was deemed safe). When things get difficult for me, I tend to withdraw and go inward. Because I know this about myself, I did all that I could to block off time to catch up and laugh with the people I care about deeply.

Another thing I did was start to take my physical health seriously. I started running and biking, and I also picked up boxing! After about a year, boxing is one of the things I enjoy most about my week. The sport of boxing is so mental and physical, it has challenged me in almost every way. I’ve loved the process of being completely awful at something, working diligently on it, and seeing progress. And nothing takes your mind away from all that is going on in the world like not trying to get punched! Ha!

  • Who or what has been the biggest inspiration to your growth as a leader?

There have really been two major inspirations to my growth as a leader so far in my career. The first is my friend, colleague Kerrien Suarez, who is Executive Director at Equity in the Center. I worked for her during my time at EiC and we learned so much together. Building an organization with someone that you care about, deeply admire, and want to support in every way possible was a special time in my life that I hope everyone gets the chance to experience at some point. Kerrien is one of the most brilliant leaders and minds I’ve ever known, and the commitment to her work around race equity shows up in her relationships every day. That to me is a sign of an amazing leader anyone would want to emulate.

The second major inspiration for my growth as a leader has been all of the people, and specifically the young organizers and activists who were on the ground during the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in all 50 states in this country. Their commitment to movement work and strength in the face of so much hate and pain is inspiring. I see my work within organizations and museums as directly connected to their work in many ways.

  • What attracted you to become involved in your organization’s mission?

The American Alliance of Museums’ mission is to champion museums and nurture excellence in partnership with our members and allies. What attracted me to become involved in this mission was the opportunity to work toward championing ALL museums, including Black- and Brown-led museums that have been doing amazing work for decades. Their work can and should be celebrated and emulated by many of the larger, more well-known museums, and being a part of that shift in a field as old as the museum field is something that I wanted to be a part of.

I also know that “excellence” is only relevant to the people that define it. AAM is the accrediting body for museums across the country. Being able to help define what excellence means to our field with DEAI and race equity at the center of that conversation was the single most powerful thing that attracted me to AAM’s mission. The sheer scale at which we have the opportunity to make significant structural change around becoming a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible field was an opportunity I couldn’t overlook.

  • Upswell, a meeting ground for Independent Sector’s changemaker community, is focused on creating a healthy and racially equitable nation. How does this vision tie into your organization’s work?

We often don’t think of museums in these terms, but museums are a $50 billion industry and employ almost 1 million jobs across the country. We are basically located in every community, every zip code, every corner of the country, and have tremendous influence on society. As the most trusted institutions in the country, we are the holders of our collective stories, histories, narratives, and overall culture.

From my perspective, there can be no vision of creating a healthy and racially equitable nation without museums, art, and cultural institutions supporting in the creation of that world. By supporting museums becoming more equitable and inclusive in our daily work at AAM, we in turn are supporting Independent Sector’s vision of creating that healthy and racially equitable nation.

  • What attributes and perspectives do today’s emerging leaders bring to accelerating the sector’s work to address our nation’s challenges?

Today’s emerging leaders are simply put, incredible. The perspectives they bring are unique because they are the bridgebuilders between two different American society’s – one pre-internet, and one that now uses technology and social media both in their personal and professional work. Movements are now built both online and in our nation’s streets.

Today’s emerging leaders, thanks to our ancestors that came before us, have also had freedoms that no other generations before us have had, at the scale at which we’ve had them. That means that for Black and Brown emerging leaders specifically, we haven’t had to sacrifice professional success and social impact in ways that previous generations might have had to do.

One can only imagine what types of perspectives and vision that sort of freedom to explore and dream has allowed us, but from the American Express NGen Leadership Award finalists and beyond, we are seeing just how amazing the next generation of leaders are, and just the tip of the iceberg as to what we can achieve together.

  • How would you challenge all of today’s changemakers to become more involved in building a healthier and more racially just nation where all can thrive?

To me, one thing we’ve learned from the last 18 months or so is that everyone has a part to play in creating a just world where everyone can feel seen, safe, and thrive. Whether it’s wearing masks, to getting vaccinated, to doing your individual part to learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement or how structural racism and other forms of oppression play a part in your life, we all have more we can do.

I see our collective work to make the world a healthier, more racially just place as an ecosystem of doers who all have specific roles, at specific times, that carry out those roles with intention. If all of us take the time to be intentional about what we can and should contribute, do that to the best of our ability, have grace when we fall short, and show up the next day to continue our work, we’d be in a much better place. Sometimes having that conversation that needs to be had with a family member, sending financial support, organizing, or just showing up every day with love and grace at the center of what we do is all that is required of us.

Want to learn about our other 2021 American Express NGen Award finalists?

Learn about Richard Reyes,  Alejandro Gibes de Gac, Nick Monzi, Meghan Shea, Kashif Shaikh, and Maria Yuan, the 2021 American Express Leadership Award recipient.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Arts, Culture, and Humanities, Civil Society, Community, Equity, Race, Equity, and Inclusion, Upswell
Focus Areas: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion