Museums. Technology. Social Justice.

Hello! I'm the Director of Engineering at a museum in Chicago, and you might also know me by the activism work I do in museum and tech communities.

I'm the Director of Engineering at a museum in Chicago as well as a facilitator, educator, and community builder. My experience planning and executing complex web projects has also brought me to work with institutions to create concrete plans around the healing and accountability from historic traumas like colonialism, slavery, genocide, and war. I'm a regular contributor at The Incluseum and is a project advisor for MASS Action. My writing has been featured in the Journal for Museum Education, Fwd: Museums, and Model View Culture.

Visitors of Color

In addition to the above video, you may know me by my work as co-creator of the Visitors of Color blog, where we document the experiences of people from marginalized communities who visit—and don't visit—museums.

Check it out on Tumblr
3/4 view of Gabriela smiling and wearing glasses while holding their dog. Text reads “I think I was around 9 or 10 years old when I started wondering how museum objects were obtained” Gabriela Zapata-Alma, Social Justice Worker, Harm Reductionist, Prison Abolitionist, Trauma Healer

Oppression: A Museum Primer

You might also know me by an article I wrote titled Oppression: a museum primer where I define and discuss how to recognize and dismantle oppression. Over the years, it has become a fundamental article in museum activist spaces.

Check it out on The Incluseum
Pencil and watercolor sketch in light green and blue of triangle shapes forming a circle

Recent Projects

Screenshot of the top of the blog post

Immigration, the Civil Rights Movement, and my existence

August 2020

For the Art Institute blog, I wrote an article linking immigration, the Civil Rights Movement, and art created at the time by Black artists through my parents’ immigration stories. It was a way to ground the Black uprisings this summer in a long history of organizing in response to racial violence, and it was also a sweet way for me to document my parents’ stories as their memories are getting fuzzy.

Check it out on artic.edu
Pencil and watercolor sketch in light green and blue of triangle shapes forming a circle

Uncovering white supremacy culture in museum work

March 2020

Along with a few museum friends Hannah Heller and Joanne Jones-Rizzi, I wrote an article describing the ways white supremacy culture operates in museums. Drawing from Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun’s work that names the cultural attributes of White supremacy in organizations, we took a few of the characteristics that resonated strongly in our work as educators and community builders and unpacked what they specifically look like in museums and what their impacts are.

Check it out on The Incluseum
Cover slide from slideshow presentation

Data Hub at the Art Institute of Chicago

November 2019

As part of the artic.edu website redesign, we created a central data repository for all of our public content that can feed the website, our mobile apps, in-gallery interactives, and an eventual public API. Our Data Hub collects all our public data in one place, serve it all up through a uniform API, and make the content collected from all our platforms searchable in a single place. Watch a talk I gave about the project at MCN 2019.

Check it out on YouTube
Cover slide from slideshow presentation

Intersecting Agile and the Antidotes to White Supremacy Culture

November 2019

I organized a conference panel discussion along with a few colleagues from the Minneapolis Institute of Art exploring how Scrum—an established framework for addressing complex adaptive problems across industries— could be applied to counteract white supremacy culture in our organizations. We had a really rich discussion and got a lot of great feedback. For confidentiality, we didn’t record the session, but you can check out some live tweets that were made during the session here.

Check it out
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Awards and Honors

A photo of me with the Executive Director of Rape Victim Advocates. I'm holding my Gender Equality Award and hand-carved wooden sculpture, and we're standing in front of a banner that reads

Gender Equality Award, United Nations Women

2016
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Some of the gifts I received as part of my award: a pin that says

Education & Training Volunteer of the Year, Rape Victim Advocates

2016
A photo of me playing sitar during The Masrayana

Jeff Citation Award, Original Incidental Music

2006

What people say about me

Customer Testimonails

Your passion and belief that our organization and larger society can be transformed for the better were abundantly clear. I'm super impressed by all your hard work. Proud to call you a colleague.

Brian Jucas Art Institute of Chicago
Customer Testimonails

I marvel at how you make deep listening a reality with whatever you do.

Mimosa Shah Skokie Public Library
Customer Testimonails

The way you think, the perspectives you bring, the humility you offer, your incredible way with words, and the authentic ways you welcome and accept others is unmatched. 💜

Kate Livingston Expose Your Museum
Customer Testimonails

Your optimism, dilligence and consistency in the face of… *gestures wildly* all of this is absolutely inspiring and one of the reasons I’m still in the sector. I’m humbled and grateful to know you even as little as I do.

Matt Popke Denver Art Museum

What Clients Say?

Customer Testimonails

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Steve Jobs Apple Inc.
Customer Testimonails

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Collis Ta'eed Envato Inc.
Customer Testimonails

Incidunt deleniti blanditiis quas aperiam recusandae consequatur ullam quibusdam cum libero illo rerum!

John Doe XYZ Inc.

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Recent Blog Articles

2017

MCN 2017 takeaways

MCN is one of two museum technology conferences that happen annually. While there are many talks and conversations diving deep into technical topics, the conference is most known for its threads on organizational culture and social transformation. Following are some of my major takeaways.

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Mini-speech at Facilitated Conversation About Inclusion and Equity in Conservation and Preservation

Following is a short talk that I gave at the Facilitated Conversation About Inclusion and Equity in Conservation and Preservation that took place before the American Institute for Conservation conference in May 2017. Afterwards are some details of the event.

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2016

Radical road trip songs

To the tune of “wheels on the bus:”

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2015

Text from my Ignite talk at MCN 2015

Last night I gave an Ignite talk at MCN 2015 in Minneapolis about museums and oppression. An Ignite talk is a 5-minute presentation with 20 slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds. I fit a lot in there, so I thought it might be useful for folks at the conference to refer back to what I said. Below is a video, my slides, and the text from my talk, entitled Towards an Anti-Oppression Museum Manifesto:

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Settlers of Catan replicates early U.S. treatment of indigenous and black people

Thoughts on how the board game Catan replicates early U.S. treatment of indigenous and black people for Indigenous People’s Day:

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An oppression primer for museums

Several months ago, I wrote an article for the Incluseum blog breaking down ideas of oppression for the museum community: Oppression: A Museum Primer. Here’s an excerpt:

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2014

Museums and #BlackLivesMatter

There’ve been discussions among museum professionals questioning if and how our institutions should participate in the movements that have arisen from Ferguson in some way. As I’m sure many people in the conversation have been, I’ve been extremely affected by the recent decisions to not indict law enforcement in the killings of unarmed black people, and these recent injustices have occupied my mind a great deal in recent weeks. I recognize that these decisions are part of a history of the state murdering black people with impunity that goes back hundreds of years. I also recognize that this history includes the murder of and sexual violence against women and trans folks as well, whose stories are often met with silence. With this weight, I share in the great mix of emotions many of us are experiencing. And if we do talk about responding in some way, I want it to be based on reason and compassion, with an understanding of our relationships with black people and our shared histories.

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Starting a Mens Feminist Reading Group

Over the past year, I’ve gotten together with a group of three of my friends who are men every two months or so to read writings by feminist authors. We’ve read fiction, non-fiction, and essays by feminist writers, mostly women of color. It’s been fun for me to connect with my friends in a new way, and for all of us to grow our thinking together and be critical of ways in which we participate in sexism, male domination and rape culture. Here’s essentially what I did to get it going:

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Towards an anti-oppression museum manifesto

During a panel about open authority at #MCN2014, I was struck by a question Porchia Moore asked: “why don’t visitors of color participate at the rates of other groups?” This is a question that I’ve pondered myself for some time, and I appreciated her creating space for discussion with other museum professionals.

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Diwali: joy, hope, and justice

For some years now, I’ve been wanting to rethink Diwali in a way that celebrates the holiday as an expression of my wishes and hopes for a new year. In a conversation about pujas and Hindu ritual this week, a friend said to me “personally, the best prayers are those that are from the heart.” Her words inspired me to let go of my longing for finding connection in rituals that I don’t understand to create an expression of ritual that is meaningful to me. I still appreciate that many Hindu rituals have been performed for a long time by people all over the world, there’s something powerful about sharing in a common consciousness through shared ritual. But this year, I thought I’d take some of the information and perspectives shared with me over the past several years to think about what a celebration of Diwali would be like that fully resonated with me.

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