Part 3: Selecting and Proposing a Theme

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • identify an effective theme for your Heritages of Change exhibition.
  • communicate proposals through writing.

With an understanding of curatorial activism as the guiding principle for a Heritages of Change exhibition and of the audience for the exhibition, it is time to select a theme. We can think about this process as an ever-narrowing set of circles.

Colored diagram of four concentric circles, beginning with the outermost: Concept: Cultural Heritage; Exhibition: Heritage of Change; Theme: Focused Aspect of Category; Title
Illustration of the process of theme selection

We start with the largest circle, which is “Cultural Heritage.” This is the overarching concept. We narrow from there to the exhibition type: Heritages of Change. This focuses us from all of cultural heritage to a specific sub-section. From there, we can select a category of heritages of change. As a reminder, this is a list of category examples:

After selecting a category – for example, Gender/Women – we can work towards a theme, which is a focused aspect of the larger category. We could concentrate on contributions to women’s suffrage, the right to vote. Or on employment issues, such as the wage gap. Or on women’s mental health, maybe postpartum depression. From there, the final step is to decide on a title for your exhibition that clearly communicates what you want your audience to gain and serves to interest someone in exploring it.

To narrow down a theme, consider the following questions:

  • Are there intersections you can explore (i.e. Black women, LGBTQ+ people with disabilities, indigenous #MeToo)?
  • Can you focus on a specific location? Region (i.e. New England)? State (i.e. Massachusetts)? City (i.e. Fitchburg)?
  • Is there a subsection of your category (i.e. PTSD instead of all of mental health)?
  • What is your purpose? To uplift? To confront negative heritage? To advocate?

Activity 4.3

Inspiration for a Heritages of Change exhibition theme can be all around us. While a controversial practice, in the last few years, it has become common, in presentations, events, and institutional documents, to provide land acknowledgements. Land acknowledgements, as described by the National Museum of the American Indian, “are used by Native Peoples and non-Natives to recognize Indigenous Peoples who are the original stewards of the lands on which we now live.” These land acknowledgements contain references to marginalized groups of the local area.

The Fitchburg State University Community recognizes historical injustices. We acknowledge the legacy of the ancestral homelands and traditional territories of Indigenous Peoples from which they were dispossessed. We are cognizant that we cannot separate the history of our university or our community from the history of colonialism and slavery in the United States.

We recognize and honor the members of the Algonquian Peoples: Nipmuc, Pennacook, and Wabanaki Confederacy, whose ancestral land we now call the Fitchburg State University campus. We also acknowledge the removal of these peoples from this area and the systemic erasure of their complex and unique history.

We acknowledge the heritage of the African and Caribbean diaspora. We acknowledge the reality of slavery and forced labor that built this area.

The legacy of colonialism and slavery persists today as we continue to work towards racial justice, equity, inclusion, liberation, and community, and strive to dismantle the oppressive social systems interwoven into the fabric of our national and regional heritage.

  • Identify references that might be starting places for a Heritages of Change exhibition theme.

Write: Proposal

About This Type of Writing

Reread “About this type of writing” concerning  proposals in 3.8.

The audience for your writing consists of the people who will read it or who could read it. Are you writing for your instructor? For your classmates? For students or administrators on your campus or people in your community? Think about the action they can take to solve the problem. For example, if the problem you’re presenting is a lack of diverse food options on your campus, a proposal to other students would perhaps ask students to join you in calling for change in dining options, whereas a proposal to administrators would request specific changes.

Whoever your readers are, they expect you to do the following:

  • Address a specific, well-defined problem. As the writer, ensure that your readers know what the problem is and why it needs to be solved. Some problems are well-known, whereas others need to be explained.
  • Have an idea of what they already know. It is up to you as the writer to learn as much as possible about your audience. You need to know how receptive your audience may be to your suggestions and what they know about the problem you’re proposing to solve. Their knowledge—or lack thereof—will require you to adjust your writing as needed. If readers are new to the problem, they expect you to provide the necessary background information. If they are knowledgeable about the problem, they expect you to cover background information quickly.
  • Provide reliable information. in the form of specific facts, statistics, and examples. Whether you present your own research or information from sources, readers expect you to have done your homework and present trustworthy information about the problem and the solution.
  • Structure your proposal in a logical way. Open with an introduction that tells readers the subject of the proposal, and follow with a logical structure.
  • Adopt an objective stance. Writing objectively means adopting a position and tone that are neutral and free from bias, personal feelings, and emotional language. In doing so, you show respect for your readers’ knowledge and intelligence, and you build credibility and trust, or ethos, with your readers.
  • Tell them what you want them to do in response to your proposal. Do you want them to engage other members of the community? Build something? Contact their legislators? Although they may not do what you want, they are unlikely to act at all if you don’t tell them what you would like them to do.

​​Summary of Writing Task

Problem: Certain types of cultural heritage have been marginalized, erased, or forgotten.

Solution: You will propose a “Heritages of Change” Exhibition theme with Adult Learners in the Fitchburg Area as your audience. Your Exhibition theme should be able to fit under one of the general categories listed here or another that you can support as heritages of change:

Sections to include in Proposal:

  • Proposed title of exhibition
  • Explanation of theme: how is this theme related to heritages of change?
  • Example artifact: an example of a cultural heritage artifact that illustrates your theme
  • Personal interest: why have you chosen this exhibition theme?
  • Audience interest: why would ALFA members be interested in this exhibition theme?

Text Attributions

This section contains material taken from “Chapter 6: Proposal: Writing about Problems and Solutions” from Writing Guide with Handbook by Senior Contributing Authors Michelle Bachelor Robinson, Maria Jerskey, and Toby Fulwiler, with other contributing authors and is used under a CC BY 4.0 license.


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