Last week I reflected on applying Nina Simon’s “Me to We” concept to institutions. Certainly, national organizations such as the American Association of Museums, regional variants like the Southeast Museum Conference, and on a statewide basis the Tennessee Association of Museums allow institutions to consider themselves from a we perspective. However, I am thinking of something more organic to a museum’s very existence.
Here are some thoughts from my institution, the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. We are a small Native American focused museum located on the grounds of a Mississippian (AD 1000 – 1500) temple mound complex. We also interpret the historic African American cultural heritage of the site area. As a small 50-year old venue in an isolated part of Southwest Memphis, Tennessee, over the past several years, we have aggressively grappled with the issues of identity and mission. As an institution, in the past couple of years, we began to more intentionally move from me to we.
- We are one of fifteen or so prehistoric Native American venues located along the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri to Natchez, Mississippi. There is no consortium to coördinate, cross-promote, or inform on these related museums. Institutionally, through organizations such as the Tennessee Association of Museums there is more structure for Chucalissa to engage with other prehistoric venues six hours away in Manchester, Tennessee, than with the Parkin Archaeological Site a 45-minute drive west into Arkansas or the Wickliffe Mounds, a three-hour drive north near Paducah, Kentucky. (Of note, even the very successful driving tours of prehistoric sites, such as in Louisiana, are limited by geo-political boundaries.) Both Parkin and Wickliffe interpret prehistoric sites of the same time period as at Chucalissa. We now find that through our informal collaboration with both Parkin and Wickliffe, we can effectively cross-promote. Our intent this fall is to begin a regional presence of the prehistoric museum venues along the Mississippi River that transcends geo-political boundaries. Such an approach is a good marketing tool to reach the regional traveler and inform local communities of opportunities of related interest in the immediate area. However, I don’t think that marketing is the real goal . . .
- Parkin and Chucalissa have actively engaged each other for the past couple of years on a host of products. Parkin like Chucalissa interprets a substantial African American historic component at their predominately prehistoric Native American focused site. Each February they host a week of African American cultural heritage activities. My first thought was – that’s a great idea, we should do that too on our side of the Mississippi River at Chucalissa. Parkin also had a couple of engaging and creative school programs that we adapted for our site as well. Then we tried a different approach. Had we continued on the copying trajectory, in terms of programs, Parkin and Chucalissa could have essentially become clones of each other. Instead, and very intentionally, at Chucalissa we developed our strengths, but cross-promote those strengths with other institutions. In this way, we move from ” two me’s” to a true “me to we” setting.
How are you moving from me to we with relevant institutions?