CEO Summit

2021 CEO Summit

Ethical Dilemmas in a Time of Social Reckoning

June 9, 2021 1:30-3:45 pm CT

About the Program

The past twelve months have been like none other in which a global pandemic claimed millions of lives, widened economic divides, escalated hate-based violence, and triggered one of the worst economic recessions in US history. Museums incurred temporary and permanent closures, financial precarity, exhibition cancellations, and reductions in staff. While swift to respond tactically by implementing robust virtual programming and rigorous health and safety protocols, many museums continue to face ineluctable ethical dilemmas that threaten their viability.    

Arguably, the pandemic did not create these dilemmas. It revealed and compounded what was already there: a growing expectation that museums be accountable and transparent in their practices, priorities, decision-making, staffing structure, and funding. This played out across the country prior to and during the pandemic in the proliferation of protests and movements that demanded the decolonization, demise, or even death of museums. Museums are being called out for being classist, racist, hierarchical, and inequitable.

There is no doubt that museums’ values are being examined under a microscope and that new questions are being raised for museums and their publics on what and who gives museums their meaning and how this is embodied in ethical practices, behaviors, and organizational culture. Whose stories are being told and by whom? What objects should we be collecting or returning? What audiences are we welcoming and how? Which financial contributions should be accepted and which should not?

Rebuilding better museums will require creating stronger ethical and equitable foundations to combat the virulent strains of social inequity and structural injustice that not only plague our society but our cultural institutions. As we emerge from the pandemic, our resilience, renewal, and healing can bridge divides, redefine what matters most, and better align our ethics and values.

For museums, whose decisions embody shared humanity, the public trust, and care for our communities, this task may seem daunting. Yet in facing this challenge, museums have the opportunity to embrace both ethical boundaries and possibilities to create a more equitable and just world.

Through a moderated discussion with our featured presenter, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and facilitated breakout discussion, participants will explore the interplay between ethics and leadership as we strive to rebuild better, stronger, and more resilient museums.

  • What are new roles and responsibilities for museums in an era of moral disquietude?
  • What constitutes ethical professional conduct for museum leaders and their stakeholders?
  • What are some current ethical dilemmas in museums and how are they being addressed in museum practice? 
  • What collective actions can museums champion to shape a more ethical future?

Invitations are non-transferable and registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. Attendance is limited. Registration to the CEO Summit is $345 and includes full registration to the 2021 AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo (a $235 value). The CEO Summit will automatically be added to your Annual Meeting registration. Registration must be purchased no later than April 30, 2021. If you wish to attend the CEO Summit but have already registered for the Annual Meeting, contact Dean Phelus at

Featured Speaker

Headshot of Kwame Anthony Appiah in front of bookshelves

Kwame Anthony Appiah challenges us to look beyond the boundaries—real and imagined—that divide us, and to celebrate our common humanity. Named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 public intellectuals, one of the Carnegie Corporation’s “Great Immigrants,” and awarded a National Humanities Medal by The White House, Appiah currently teaches at NYU, though he’s previously taught at Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Duke, and the University of Ghana. He considers readers’ ethical quandaries in a weekly column “The Ethicist” for The New York Times Magazine. From 2009 to 2012 he served as President of the PEN American Center, the world’s oldest human rights organization. He is currently chair of The Man Booker Prize.  

Appiah’s books include: Cosmopolitanism, a manifesto for a world where identity has become a weapon and where difference has become a cause of pain and suffering; and The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, which lays out how honor propelled moral revolutions in the past—and could do so in the future. Among his most recent books are As If: Idealization and Ideals, Mistaken Identities, and the recently published The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity, an exploration of the nature and history of the identities that define us. 

Appiah was born in London to a Ghanaian father and a white mother. He was raised in Ghana, and educated in England at Cambridge University, where he received a Ph.D. in philosophy. As a scholar of African and African-American studies, he established himself as an intellectual with a broad reach. His book In My Father’s House and his collaborations with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—including The Dictionary of Global Culture and Africana—are major works of African struggles for self-determination.


Photograph of Sally Yerkovich in sunny, outdoor environment

Sally Yerkovich is Director of Educational Exchange and Special Projects at The American-Scandinavian Foundation and Adjunct Professor in the Master’s Degree program in Museum Anthropology at Columbia University. She serves as the Chair of the International Council of Museums Ethics Committee as well as the Professional Standards and Ethics Committee of the American Association of State and Local History. Author of A Practical Guide to Museum Ethics, her work, which draws upon more than thirty years of leadership experience, is increasingly engaged with how museums will face the ethical challenges of the future.

A cultural anthropologist with experience in museums and cultural institutions in New York and Washington, DC, she held leadership positions at the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, South Street Seaport Museum, and Museum of the City of New York. She was president and CEO of The New Jersey Historical Society, Executive Director at the Museum for African Art, and first president of the 9/11 Tribute NYC Museum.  She received her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and her A.B. from Connecticut College.

Preliminary Agenda (times are listed in Central Time)

Wednesday, June 9            
CEO Summit
1:30-1:40 pm: Welcome and Opening Remarks
1:40-2:25 pm: Featured Speaker: Kwame Anthony Appiah
2:25-2:35 pm: Question & Answer
2:35-2:45 pm: Break       
2:45-3:30 pm: Facilitated Conversation with Peers
3:30-3:45 pm: Reporting Out & Next Steps

Generously supported by

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