This past Thursday I finished cleaning out my office, had my official retirement party, turned in my keys to the Museum, left Memphis and arrived six hours later at our new home in New Orleans – after nine years as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and an Associate Professor in the Departments of Anthropology and Earth Sciences at the University of Memphis. I have blogged before about the new opportunities I have in my “retirement” years.
The retirement event this past Thursday was chaired by Mr. Robert Gurley, the former President of the Westwood Neighborhood Association. In his opening comments, Mr. Gurley reviewed the Museum’s relationship with the community over the past 9 years as we moved to become a true social asset. I have blogged about this issue a lot over the years. Reverend George Royal presented me with a plaque that recognized that relationship.
Ron Brister talked about Chucalissa’s direction over the past decade and was extremely gracious regarding my role in that process. I was surprised and very pleased that Ron presented me with a sediment peel of a postmold from Chucalissa’s excavation trench. The sediment peels exhibited in the new Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab (BAD Lab) were Ron’s idea and are a highlight for visitors since the renovated lab opened this past spring.
The staff of Chucalissa presented me with a set of excavation trench photos taken by Katie Maish. Full-sized version of those images are also on display in the BAD Lab. The total lab project was the result of the skills and commitments of individuals from several organizations.
I knew that my friend, colleague and former student, Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza could not attend the event because of her PhD program classes at LSU in Baton Rouge. But I was very surprised when the announced “special presentation” (takes a minute to load so be patient) was a video that highlights our collaborative work in Peru.
My colleague Andrew Mickelson spoke about our relationship with roots going back to archaeological careers in Ohio. Andrew noted the question I was asked by Dr. Barry Isaac at my M.A. Thesis defense a bunch of years ago, that I continue to ask students today – “Why is your research more important than eating a plate of worms?” In recognition, Andrew presented me with his drawing of a plate of worms.
Ruthbeth Finerman and representatives of the Friends of T.O. Fuller State Park also made presentations.
In my comments, I noted that the past nine years were the most meaningful and enjoyable of my entire career – without question. I owed that in large part to the support the Museum received and continues to receive from its governing authority, the University of Memphis. As well, our current staff, lead maintenance mechanic John Chando (2010 University of Memphis Employee of the Year); Emily Neal, Administrative Assistant; Melissa Buchner Administrative Associate; and Ron Brister, Collections Manager are each absolutely integral to any success achieved at the C.H. Nash Museum.
I then turned to the aspect of my employment that I found the most meaningful and fulfilling over the years. During my first archaeological field school in 1986, the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis told the assembled students something very close to “If you cannot explain to the taxpayer why they should support these excavations and this museum then you might as well go home.” That mandate remained firmly planted in my brain ever since. In the past decade at Chucalissa, I was able to act on that mandate – in two primary areas.
First, I had the opportunity to mentor students who came through our museum as both graduate assistants and interns. They are truly the backbone of our operation. As I often note to visitors “If you see anything here that is shiny and new, chances are a graduate assistant, intern, or volunteer created the product.” In fact, the vast majority of exhibit upgrades and new programs over the past decade were created by Chucalissa Graduate Assistants, Museum Studies students and interns, or our AmeriCorps NCCC Teams.
Second, in our community outreach work over the past nine years, we were best able to respond to Pat’s mandate. In my comments on Thursday, I offered my thanks to all attendees from the neighborhood who trusted in our Museum to truly co-create with the community in addressing their expressed needs, and not what we thought their needs should be. Co-creation and community relevance were the most consistent themes of this blog over the years. I cannot find adequate words to express my gratitude to the citizens and civic leaders of Southwest Memphis for providing these lessons to all who have been a part of this process. The best I can do is to carry what I have learned from this relationship into my future projects both in the U.S. and abroad.
Career success is often gauged by articles published, accolades obtained, professional positions held, and other forms of recognition. I have been blessed with all of those markers in abundance over the last nine years. Success is also gauged by considering if one leaves the place in a better condition than when they came. Here, I would like to reverse that equation. Although I believe that I have left the place in a better condition than when I came, I owe that better condition to the education and lessons I received from my students and the community that our museum serves. Simply, because of the lessons I learned from the Westwood community, students, and staff, I believe that I too am leaving in a better condition than when I arrived in 2007. The reciprocal nature of relationships at Chucalissa has been a very memorable part of my tenure. Thanks to all for providing and sharing this wonderful gift.