Tag: C.H. Nash Museum

Why You Need to Donate to Small Museums Now!

Two generations exploring the Muscatine city map at the Pearl Button Museum

Two generations exploring the Muscatine city map at the Pearl Button Museum, Muscatine, Iowa

Each year about this time I receive many solicitations in the mail for donations to area museums.  I should qualify that statement – from large area museums.  At best, smaller museums can afford to send email newsletters with fund appeals.  As the director of a small museum, I don’t make this statement as a complaint or grievance.  In fact, I am very pleased that I am not responsible for those mega-size electric bills and other expenses that larger institutions pay!

As might be gleaned from the last couple of posts on this blog, I am a strong advocate for cultural heritage institutions demonstrating their worth as community assets.  My experience has shown that when we do so, economic support follows.

I am also a small museum junkie.  Places like the Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine Iowa, The Santa Fe Trail Center in Larned, Kansas, and the Mennonite Heritage and Agricultural Museum in Goessel, Kansas are some of the larger of the small museums of which I have fond memories.  When traveling on backroads, my wife and I always stop at any and all county and smaller museums.  Unfortunately, these venues are often closed, have very restricted operating hours, or are open only by appointment.

As we near the end of the year and peak time of annual charitable contributions, I urge everyone to remember the small museums.  Mega-museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Pink Palace in Memphis, and the Exploratorium in San Francisco – yes, they all need charitable contributions and support too.

But here is an example of how your donation to a small museum will make a difference.  A bunch of years ago on a backroad trip to Colorado, I was driving through Baxter Springs Kansas on a rainy Sunday morning about 11:00 AM.  As I drove through the small town to see what there was to see, I came across the Baxter Springs Museum Heritage Center.  On the front door hung an open sign.  Surprised and assuming that perhaps the staff had left the sign up from the day before, I parked my car.  Sure enough, the museum was open and staffed by an elderly woman and a young teenager.  I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to that place – particularly their Civil War exhibit.   I suspect that the cost for keeping the museum open on Sundays for out-of-town visitors and residents alike is less than $5000.00 per year.  For a larger museum, like the Metropolitan Museum of Arts with a 2.5 billion dollar investment portfolio, that $5ooo.00 is a proverbial drop in the bucket.  For Baxter Springs, the $5000.00 is a bigger chunk of the small town’s discretionary funds.  (I notice on the Museum’s website they are now only open from 1 – 4 on Sundays.)

A few hundred or thousand dollars here and there will really make a difference in the visitor experience at small museums such as those reported in this post.  The same total contribution to larger museums if even noticed, will only have a negligible impact.

As we reach the end of this calendar year, consider making a donation to a small museum.  Here are some possibilities:

Regardless of where you choose to make a contribution, know that such public support for the small museum is essential for their very survival.

More on Funding Museums with the “Publics” Dollars

As I noted in my last post, for the past few years, half of the final exam in my Museum Practices graduate seminar in the Museum Studies Program at the University of Memphis consists of responding to the following:

Put yourself in the position of John or Josephine Q. Public. In the current economic chaos, the bank is foreclosing on their home, they have lost their jobs, and the city just reduced their public services. In referring to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the House Budget Committee recently argued that “The activities and content funded by these agencies…are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.” Isn’t your research or the position you aspire to a museum professional just another example of this wealth transfer? What do John and Josephine Q. Public get for their tax dollars that fund your research/position?

Brooke-Garcia-HeadshotAnother excellent essay was written by Brooke Garcia a graduate student in the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology at the University of Memphis.  Brooke is also enrolled in the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program and is a Graduate Assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. Drawing on her own experience at Chucalissa and the Third Place concept she provides an excellent response to the essay challenge.

What the Publics Get From Museums

by Brooke Garcia

I would venture to generalize that a good portion of people still view museums as the ivory tower[1], a repository of artifacts only accessible to the wealthy elite. However, more museums today recognize this stereotype and are taking steps to change this misguided, outdated perception. At least in theory, museums reflect the needs of their community, and as discussed previously, if they do not change to reflect these needs, museums will cease to exist. One of these needs is to be affordable in difficult economic times and provide more than just exhibits. Museums need to be an experience, and despite the hardships John and Josephine Q. Public have endured, they should still be able to participate in museums. It is their space, a third space, for the community to utilize, learn from, and enjoy.

For the sake of this paper, John and Josephine Q. Public live in Southwest Memphis, and their local museum is the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. As a graduate assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum and a student at the University of Memphis, their tax dollars help fund my position. But what do they receive in return? The C.H. Nash Museum strives to be transparent, and their educational and economic impact statements tell Mr. and Mrs. Public what their taxes pay for. Their taxes fund staff, who in turn help create new exhibits and education resources, such as the African-American Cultural Heritage in Southwest Memphis exhibit, Medicinal plant sanctuary, resertification of the arboretum, and the Hands-on archaeology lab.[2] Their children,   Joseph and Johna Public, visit the museum with their elementary school and benefit directly from the graduate assistant and staff-led tours, education programs, and crafts, which include Mystery Box, Native American Music, Pre-history to Trail of Tears, Talking Sticks, Simple Beading, and many more.[3] As a family and for regular admission price, the Publics can participate in Family Day programing on every Saturday plus some weekdays in the summer.

But how can they benefit more? Given their economic hardships, even paying regular admission prices could be difficult for their entire family. Perhaps the C.H. Nash Museum needs to consider offering free days to locals or two-for-one ticket deals once a month. I also think providing free, open to the public, academic lectures about the prehistoric and historic Chucalissa site would benefit the museum greatly. These lectures could also be a platform to display artifacts usually not on view. The Publics could enjoy these lectures with their children without worrying about their hardships and learn even more about the site or other special topics than even a regular visitor would. This situation exemplifies what we as researchers and museum professionals can do for the public that shows museums are not a wealth transfer, they are a place to exchange information and a third space for the community.

As defined by the Center for the Future of Museums blog post “Experience Design & the Future of Third Place”, the third space includes spaces “not home, not work public-private gathering places” for the community.[4] The third space is “for people to have a shared experience, based on shared interests and aspirations [and] open to anyone regardless of social or economic characteristics such as race, gender, class, religion, or national origin.”[5] Furthermore, these spaces are “often an actual physical space, but can be a virtual space, easily accessible, and free or inexpensive.”[6] Examples of third spaces include: coffee shops like Starbucks, public parks, malls, chat rooms, fairs, and even museums. In exchange for their tax dollars, the Publics have access to government-funded third spaces like museums and parks. However, what separates museums from these other third spaces? Museums are a place for learning and entertainment. Instead of coming away with a new dress or a Frappuccino, museums visitors (hopefully) take away new information, or at the very least, a new experience. At the C.H. Nash Museum, the Publics can learn about the prehistoric Native American site, but also the past and contemporary history of their community. And they can also participate in community events, such as the local Black History Month celebration.[7] Even with hardships, they can take advantage of their museum as a third space.

Museums today are not a space just for the wealthy. More and more museums strive to provide a place for their community to gather and learn. No longer are museums just about artifacts, but now, in my opinion, their true mission should focus on education, in all forms for all ages. Education through exhibits, programs, activities, crafts, etc.; in other words, museums are a third space, focused on passing on new information to their visitors and providing for the needs of their community, whether that includes Richie Rich or John and Josephine Q. Public.

 

 

 

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Ivory Tower,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation Inc., last modified December 10, 2014, accessed December 10, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivory_tower

[2] C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, Educational Impact Statement, 1, accessed December 10, 2014. http://www.memphis.edu/chucalissa/pdfs/chuceduimpact.pdf

[3] Some of these mentioned in C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, Economic Impact Statement, 1, accessed December 10, 2014. http://www.memphis.edu/chucalissa/pdfs/chuceconimpact.pdf

[4] “Experience Design & the Future of Third Place,” Center for the Future of Museums Blog, April 3, 2012, accessed December 10, 2014. http://futureofmuseums.blogspot.com/2012/04/experience-design-future-of-third-place.html

[5] California Association of Museums, Foresight Research Report: Museums as Third Place, Report for Leaders of the Future: Museum Professionals Developing Strategic Foresight (2012), 5. http://art.ucsc.edu/sites/default/files/CAMLF_Third_Place_Baseline_Final.pdf

[6] Ibid.

[7] Chucalissa, Economic Impact Statement, 1.

Public Access to Artifacts: A Problem or Opportunity?

HD 08 lab2

Hands-On Lab in 2008

We are doing a major exhibit upgrade at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  Here is a story – in the Spring of 2008 we launched our “Hands-on Archaeology Lab” drawing on some of my experiences over the years in community outreach.  We used deaccessioned or never accessioned educational collections curated at the Chucalissa to provide visitors with a tactile/sensory experience with archaeological materials that are usually visible only behind glass.  Since 2008, we have made minor changes and additions to the lab.  The exhibit proved a big success based on teacher/visitor informal and formal evaluations.

In 2013 we conducted focus groups and surveyed visitors and staff on what worked and what didn’t work in the Lab to decide how to improve the experience.  Based on those responses we came up with a proposal to upgrade the Hands-on Archaeology Lab into the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab (BADLab).

In the fall of 2014, the River 2 AmeriCorps NCCC Team began the upgrade process.  The six-person all women team gutted the lab, moved the map cases to a new location, tore out the sinks and cabinets, and laid a new floor.  (River Two Team member Chelsea Crinson (who was voted NCCC Team member of the year for the Southern District Go Chelsea!) designed and supervised the painting of one wall to approximate the covered excavation trench at the Chucalissa site.  For safety reasons, we no longer permit public visitation of the trench that was originally excavated in the 1950s.  Our idea was to mount actual size digital images of portions of the trench (e.g., buried living floors, evidence of basket loading, postmolds,) at the appropriate locations on the wall Chelsea designed in the BADLab.

lab-wall-trench

Transition to BADLab with AmeriCorps painted wall trench.

Then we stepped back and looked at the incredible work the AmeriCorps Team had done and began rethinking the project.  Ron Brister, who first worked at Chucalissa in 1966, and for whom the renovated BADLab is named, made a suggestion – what if instead of mounting digital photographs to the BADLab trench painting, we mounted sediment peels from the actual excavation trench.  In this way, we could bring the actual excavation trench into the BADLab exhibit.

Ron’s suggestion got everyone thinking more.  We wanted to highlight the contribution our museum could make to cultural heritage in the Memphis area that complemented but was not redundant with offerings at other venues.  Bringing the excavation trench inside was one such contribution.  A second opportunity was expanding the use of the thousands of unaccessioned and unprovenienced prehistoric and historic cultural artifacts we curate in our education collection.

I wondered – could we use a curated educational collection in the BADLab to tell the complete story of an artifact from the field to the museum.  Such a hands-on exhibit would allow us to explain the importance of provenience, the time period and function of the occupation, and so forth – and we could use a 20 foot section of wall and counter space to tell the story.  I considered the Fred Jobe collection of artifacts from Lincoln County, Tennessee, that I have posted about before and how they might fill this role.  Since their accessioning in 1982, these 3000 artifacts had remained in our repository unused.  But since 2012, the collection has been the subject of 3 student projects, volunteer day activities and a temporary exhibit at the C.H. Nash Museum.  I was particularly intrigued because the Jobe farm artifacts are reportedly collected from part of a Revolutionary War land grant.  As a minor league baseball player turned farmer, the recently deceased landowner, Fred Jobe, was a human interest story to go along with the 3000 unprovenienced cultural materials he donated to Chucalissa in the 1980s.

circa 1960s Residential Ridge Excavation Exhibit at Chucalissa

circa 1960s Residential Ridge Excavation Exhibit at Chucalissa

My thinking correctly raised the eyebrows of several of the graduate students at the Museum:

  • Brooke Garcia, our Graduate Assistant who works with collections noted that the Fred Jobe collection was in fact accessioned and our Collections Management Policy did not allow for accessioned collections to be used for hands-on educational exhibits.  Nor did the Policy allow for the deaccessioning of materials for such purposes.
  • Our Graduate Assistant Nur Abdalla, who worked with the Jobe artifacts and created the temporary exhibit expressed concern about the security of the collection in the BADLab.  She also noted that we had offered to install the revised exhibit in the Lincoln County Museum in Fayetteville, Tennessee, near the Fred Jobe farm.
100_7937

The Hands-On Lab at the C.H. Nash Museum in 2008

Nur and Brooke raise important questions:

  • The accession vs. deaccession point is important.  We all agree that today, given the same information about the Fred Jobe collection we might only accept and inventory the artifacts for use in educational projects.  Today, we would not accession the collection.  (Without the detail, we assume that the collections are from the Fred Jobe Farm, but we do not have any direct paperwork that support that case.  The filed site forms do not list the cultural materials noted on the accession forms.)  We do have provisions in our Collections Management Policy to deaccession materials that do not fit our Collection Plan criteria.  The Fred Jobe collection falls into this category.  In fact, we have other collections that were accessioned in the 1970s and 80s with absolutely no provenience information.  We could deaccession these materials as well.  Related, Robert Janes considers this issue from a perspective of museums lack of sustainability in part through unlimited collections growth.  Should we deaccession all such materials, including the accessioned prehistoric vessels curated in our museum with provenience information listed only as FOP (found on premises)?
  • Since 2008, we are aware of perhaps 5 projectile points that have gone “missing” from the hands-on-lab exhibit.  I suspect at least an equal number of ceramic sherds have been pocketed or lost.  This low number is attributed to our official policy that the visitors to the hands on lab must be accompanied by a museum staff.  None of the missing artifacts were accessioned or have any provenience information.  We have hundreds, if not thousands, depending on artifact type, of unaccessioned/unprovenienced artifacts from our educational collections to replace the missing pieces.  Is this loss a reasonable exchange for the thousands of visitors who have had a real-time tactile experience with the prehistoric materials?
  • I am attracted to the idea of using this particular collection from the Fred Jobe farm in our upgraded BADLab because there is a compelling and relatable story to tell along with the artifacts.  Alternatively, we could use other unprovenienced/unaccessioned collections to tell other stories.  Should we even be using these types of collections in creating hands-on, or any other type of exhibits?

I will appreciate your consideration, comments, and questions as we grapple with this issue in the coming months.  For the rest of this year, we will be working on the sediment peels!

AmeriCorps, Archaeology, and Service

River-2

River 2 Team (l-r) Chassie Nix, Cindy Robertson, Tatyana Samuel-Jefferson, Katelyn Tharp, Linda Nag, and Chelsea Crinson

The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa is hosting our 5th AmeriCorps Team through November 12, 2014. I have posted several times in the past about the role these exemplary youth play in cultural heritage and community engagement in Southwest Memphis.   The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) program is a ten month volunteer commitment for 18-24 year olds who assist in disaster relief and other areas of community service. The River 2 AmeriCorps NCCC Team we now host is an all women construction team based at the Southern Region campus in Vicksburg, MS.  The Team is made up of one team leader and five corps members.

Team Leader Chassie Nix is from Amory, Mississippi.  She has completed higher education coursework in political science with a desire to get into Mississippi politics in the future. She joined AmeriCorps to make a difference in the community and better understand the day-to-day life of people from diverse backgrounds.

Chelsea Crinson is from Sterling Heights, Michigan.  She joined Americorps after feeling the pull to do more after participating in a 2013 project that helped with ongoing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.  She joined Americorps to continue what she loves. Chelsea is a pastry school graduate, but plans to further her passion for helping people by working for a non-profit after her November AmeriCorps graduation.

Katelyn Tharp is from Knoxville,Tennessee.  She joined Americorps to gain new experiences, meet new people and see the south in a way she never had before. Katelyn is looking forward to starting at Aveda Institute Beauty School after the AmeriCorps program along with getting certified as a Zumba instructor.

Linda Nag is from Portland, Maine.  She joined Americorps to help people in low income communities and to build her resume. Linda became a Certified Nursing Assistant and Medical Assistant during her previous term in Job Corps.  After graduating from AmeriCorps Linda will continue her education by studying for a B.S. in Nursing.

Cindy Robertson is from Kings Mountain, North Carolina.  She came to AmeriCorps  to help in low income communities and be a role model for youth. Like Linda, Cindy is a Certified Nursing Assistant who plans to further her education by going to school for nursing after the AmeriCorps program.

Tatyana Samuel-Jefferson is from New York City, New York.  She joined Americorps to devote her time to volunteer work, make a difference in children’s lives, and to travel and experience people and places she had never seen. Tatyana has an Associates Degree in Education. After her term with Americorps she plans to further her studies in education to become a school teacher.

handsonlab

The River Two Team is currently performing a complete renovation of the C.H. Nash Museum Hands-On Lab

During their six-week round in Southwest Memphis, the Team will complete a diverse set of projects.  Already they have spent one-week refurbishing trails and buildings at the T.O. Fuller State Park.  In the Walker Homes neighborhood they painted and landscaped the home of a disabled Vietnam-era veteran.  At Chucalissa they completed work on a 30 square foot pergola and built a second rain shelter along our nature trail.  For the next two weeks the team will work on refurbishing our hands-on archaeology lab.

The AmeriCorps NCCC motto of “We get things done” is true in many capacities.  Chucalissa’s AmeriCorps Teams have proven a key component in our Museum’s ability to play a role in the Southwest Memphis community.  In addition to hosting the Teams who contribute their work skills in a variety of community construction and renovation projects,  the young men and women of AmeriCorps participate in volunteer, youth mentoring, and other service projects.  Work with veterans organizations is of particular importance to team members.  Not just in Memphis, but throughout the U.S., AmeriCorps NCCC Teams are increasingly taking part in cultural heritage projects.

For more information about AmeriCorps NCCC Teams visit their website.

Accessible Programs in Archaeology and Museums

kstringer-coverThis past week I attended the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) annual meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I have come to expect the unexpected when I attend professional meetings.  Perhaps the greatest unexpected highlight of the AASLH conference was a session organized by my former student and now colleague, Katie Stringer titled “Welcoming All Visitors: Accessible Programs at History Museums and Sites.” Through her dissertation research, Katie has developed considerable expertise in this area.  She recently published Programming For People With Special Needs: A Guide For Museums and Historic Sites.  The volume focuses on seven key components needed to create effective museum experiences for individuals with special needs.  Based on her work in Tennessee, the book also draws on case studies as disparate as New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn’s Transit Museum.  The 110 page volume is a concise primer filled with go-to resources for any cultural heritage professional seeking a holistic introduction to the field of inclusivity.  Katie’s presentation in St. Paul focused on her research contained in her recent publication.

Two other papers in the session focused on specific needs that were very relevant to our programming needs at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  Mattie Ettenheim, Museum Access Program Manager for City Access New York addressed program creation for individuals with autism.  Besides providing a solid introduction to the general needs for creating effective experiences for children on the autism spectrum, Mattie provided excellent online resources to get more detailed information on the subject.  Particularly helpful are resources available through the Museum Access Consortium, including a series of podcasts (right hand side of link).  Mattie also noted that Kids Included Together is an excellent resource on creating programs for children with special needs.

Callie Hawkins, Associate Director for Programs at President Lincoln’s Cottage, Washington D.C.  shared her work on creating innovative programs for individuals with impaired hearing, including ASL-based podcast tours of the facility.  She noted that resources for funding requests for such programs were given a high priority through organizations such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

I found all the presentations particularly relevant to our situation at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  As a small museum, because of our low staff to visitor ratio, we are able to provide programming for children with special needs that larger museums simply are unprepared for.  For example, our Art For Voice camp last summer was particularly attractive for several children on the autism spectrum.  Our intent is to expand our special needs programming.  We are fortunate that two of our Graduate Assistant staff also have considerable experience in programming for children with special needs.

Program creation for individuals with special needs can be an ideal niche for the small museum or cultural heritage institution to explore.  Here are some thoughts:

  • For many types of special needs, the small museum is often more suitable than the larger institutions.  Persons with autism, reduced immune systems, special physical or cognitive needs are often better served in the less crowded and more tranquil small museum environment.
  • Funding for creating such programs may be prioritized through organizations such as IMLS or local support networks.
  • There are often formal and informal networks of parents, care-givers, and other service providers who can assist in the creation and implementation of special needs programs.

At Chucalissa, we find that our small setting that includes both indoor and outdoor exhibits, hands-on tactile opportunities, coupled with resources that we can draw from the University of Memphis, make us an excellent venue for persons with special needs.  This approach is not a matter of recreating or restructuring our mission to fit an economic market.  Rather, this approach allows us to consider our mission, our strengths and weaknesses, and  how we might best serve the public who fund the operation of our museum.  In this way, we more fully live into our mission mandate to provide the public with “exceptional educational, participatory and research opportunities”

How do you serve your special needs visitors?

Applied Archaeology in Peru

summer-imageI have posted several times about my field season in Peru this past summer.  Here is a slideshare summary of the work (complete with pictures of cute children.)  Although I often say that the community outreach in Hualcayán, Peru is comparable to the outreach of the C.H. Nash Museum here in Memphis, upon reflection today, I am even more impressed with the similarities:

  • Both projects involve outreach to underserved communities.  In Southwest Memphis, the largely blue-collar African-American community is located in an industrial and business zone where corporate interests consistently trump residential community development.  In Peru, rural communities such as Hualcayán are considerably underserved in basic social and infrastructure services when compared to nearby towns.
  • Both communities seek a recognition of both their heritage and place in the broader culture.  I have posted before about how this recognition is played out in Southwest Memphis around issues of military service, landmark preservation, and community history.  In Hualcayán this summer, the same sentiments were strongly expressed in both words and actions.  Last year I asked PIARA founder and co-director Rebecca Bria if the Hualcayán community was really interested in a museum, or more in the economic development that a museum could generate.  She immediately replied that five years ago, a museum to showcase Hualcayán’s cultural heritage was at the top of the agenda that community leaders requested of PIARA. This summer, we addressed that long-standing need in opening the first iteration of a museum.  Examples of the community sentiment around their cultural heritage was also expressed this summer in the stated need for a written document that records the community history, the interest in developing a craft workshop based on their cultural traditions, and the student’s creation of a modern quipu to record their individual stories and place in the community.  The very hand-written minutes and signing of ledger books by speakers and participants in community meetings speaks to the importance of recorded history in Hualcayàn.
  • the list goes on . . .

I enjoy today understanding how these experiences operationalize for me concepts like co-creation, the participatory museum, community asset, and stakeholder.  As well, I understand and am better able to explore and explain applied archaeology as a discipline with value for communities.

Perhaps greater than any other past work, my experiences in Southwest Memphis and Hualcayán, Perú allow me to answer challenges or questions posed during my early academic training some 30 years ago:

  • from Patricia Essenpreis – If you can’t explain why the public’s tax dollars should support your research, you might as well go home.
  • and from Barry Isaac – Why is your research more important than eating a plate of worms?

Cultural Heritage Co-Creation from the Bottom Up

quipu

Student adding her string to the class quipu as their History Professor Leodan Abanto Alejo Valerio looks on.

I just read a volume of papers on creativity in museums, visitor experiences, and so forth. Despite the plethora of measurement outcomes for visitors touching pieces, engaging with staff, talking among themselves, voting for their favorites, and so forth, I found no mention of a visitor being asked “what are your needs and wants from this institution.” That is, the papers reflected what professionals determined as an appropriate set of goals and then a set of measures of how well the visitor experience achieved those goals.

The papers reflect the trend that to prioritize the visitor experience is often simply making a decision to value the visitor on an equal or greater level than the object.  The museum staff then generate a set of proposals on how this engagement might occur. This approach seems the antithesis of John Cotton Dana’s 1917 mandate in The New Museum to “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.” Explicit in this mandate is engaging directly with the community to determine those needs.

I had a couple of interesting lessons recently on Dana’s point. I previously posted how an article published on the engagement between the Southwest Memphis community and the C.H. Nash Museum along with printed banners honoring military veterans were highly valued by the community members. In conjunction with faculty from the University of Memphis, this summer our Museum conducted another round of oral history interviews that will be archived at southwestmemphis.com.  The important point about these projects is that they resulted from the expressed needs of community members.

I emphasize here that I do not mean to take a holier-than-thou position on our community outreach.  I am consistently surprised at which projects resonate with the community.  But through experience, I am coming more and more to act on the direct community input at the very start of project development.  We then filter the community input through the mandates of our museum mission statement.

This process holds true in my recent collaborations in Hualcayán, Peru. On the PIARA Team, my primary responsibility this summer is beginning the process for the development of a cultural center or museum for the small village of 400, a 2-hour drive on an unpaved road from the next larger community. To that end, I have scoured the literature on small indigenous museums and cultural centers for models and have found very few. One of the better resources is Sustainable Cultural Tourism: Small Scale Solutions by Susan M. Guyette, a rather encyclopedic approach to the concept.

Last year I asked Rebecca Bria, the founder and co-director of PIARA, if the Hualcayán community really wanted a museum or were they really more interested in economic, educational, and health care development. She emphatically responded that through her five-year engagement with the community, they expressed that a museum, a physical structure to showcase their heritage was a primary need. Rebecca’s assessment came through quite clear in the discussion with the Hualcayán teachers I posted about last week. The teachers want a written record of Hualcayán generated.

Another example of meeting a community expressed need came last week in a classroom project with Hualcayán high school students carried out by Karissa Deiter and Hannah McAllister. They adapted the quipu exercise from Archaeologyland for this project. After introducing the importance of artifacts in telling the stories of the past, Karissa and Hannah used quipus as an example of how past societies recorded information. Each student then created their own quipu string that recorded their age, numbers of siblings, and so forth.  The project was originally designed so that each student would create their own quipu, yet the teacher and students decided that the individual strings would be tied to a unified class quipu. Minimally, the quipu will live on at the school and ideally will become in “artifact” in the community’s museum set to open on August 2nd. After the quipu demonstration, the history teacher decided that the next project was to develop a timeline of the entire Hualcayán community. To that end Karissa and other members of the PIARA team will lead the high school students on a tour of the archaeological site, the research lab, and more.

As I noted in last week’s post, from the very inception, the in-class presentations developed for this summer in Hualcayán were based on the previously expressed needs of the teachers and community.  The PIARA team put together projects that were then modified and further developed on the spot by the community members.  Ultimately, the product is tailored to the needs of the visitor/student/community member and not the museum.  This approach strikes me as a method that emphasizes a bottom-up method for co-creation.

What are your experiences with this type of co-creation process?

A Lesson Learned in Cultural Heritage Co-creation in Hualcayán, Peru

teacherblog

Meeting with Hualcayán teachers

I am in Hualcayán, Peru through the first part of August as a part of the Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológico Regional Ancash (PIARA) Team that conducts archaeological research, cultural heritage, and economic development in this small 400-person village in the Andes highlands. I first became interested in PIARA several years ago when I posted an interview with the founder and current Co-Director of PIARA, Rebecca Bria. I now have the opportunity of joining with PIARA and leveraging resources, building relationships and providing educational opportunities in my capacity as Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and professor in the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis.

I consider the very essence of co-creation to be the process by which all parties approach an issue on equal footing to address a need. To that end, this summer PIARA is partnering with teachers in the Hualcayán school to create educational resources based on their specific requests of the community. The expressed needs center on health care, global warming, education, cultural heritage and economic development.

This past Monday evening members of the PIARA team met with six teachers from the Hualcayán school about our participation in classes over the next three weeks.   The meeting was very productive in laying out a strategy for our work. At one point, the history teacher for the high school Maestro Leodain noted that he had textbooks on the history of Peru, but there was no resource on the history of the Hualcayán community itself. He identified such a resource as a true need for the community.

The discussion then turned to using the Flip video cameras donated to the Hualcayán school by WriteMemphis in Tennessee, U.S. as a tool for collecting oral histories about the community. All agreed that a 50-page or so small paperback book would be ideal to present the synthesis of the oral history interviews. Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza PIARA Co-Director noted that a book format would exclude many elderly in the community who did not read and only spoke Quechua. A video available on DVD and electronically could help disseminate the history beyond the printed page.

The consensus of the meeting was to move forward with the oral history project. The planned class presentations for the next three weeks to the high school students were modified to include training on the use of Flip cameras to record oral history projects. The students will be guided in creating a set of questions to ask their parents and elders about Hualcayán history. The students will also consider other materials where historic information on the community might be obtained. When Elizabeth and I return to Hualcayán this coming January for a brief visit, we can assemble the information obtained by the students in a book form for publication. The final draft will be sent to the teachers of the Hualcayán school for their final editing. We project publishing the book and DVD by the Third Annual Cultural Heritage Festival in August of 2015.

I often quote John Cotton Dana who wrote nearly 100 years ago in The New Museum, “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.” In the above example, the community needs a documentation of their history. PIARA is being fit to co-create that product.

The meeting was a learning experience for everyone. For the PIARA Team, we learned that our practice of listening and being responsive to the expressed community needs continues to be an effective tool to live into our mission. The teachers attending learned that the obstacles of creating a resource on the community history could be overcome. PIARA could not create a history of Hualcayán book without community input. Prior to the Monday meeting, the community had not identified a way to create such a product. Together, both parties will co-create the history. Stay tuned to see how this project develops.

 

For more information visit the PIARA website, subscribe to PIARA’s blog the Ancash Advocate, sign up to receive the PIARA newsletter, or friend PIARA on Facebook.

Co-Creation: The Messiness of Being Relevant

This past Saturday temperatures in Memphis were in the upper 90s to insure a pretty light turn out for our regular Volunteer Day activities at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa – especially since we advertised a focus for the month on outdoor landscaping and gardening.  In the end, we had a great day.

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Carmello Burks and Rachel Clark planting the Butterfly Garden.

First, Rachel Clark from my Applied Archaeology and Museums class this past semester had proposed that we install a butterfly garden in the area that in Chucalissa’s pre-NAGPRA days housed the display of human remains excavated from the site. Over the past few weeks Rachel and I discussed the sensitive logistics for the proposed installation.  The garden could not intrude below the ground surface in any way, given the very real possibility of remaining human burials in the vicinity.  We also discussed installing a panel on a nearby kiosk to explain why the human burials were no longer exhibited at Chucalissa.  A butterfly garden and informational display on the importance of NAGPRA and respecting the lives of those who built the 1000 year-old Native American earthwork complex seemed fitting and in line with the wishes of site development expressed by contemporary Native Americans of the Midsouth.

Second, on Saturday we also made arrangements for an Eagle Scout Project that will replace a dilapidated bridge along our nature trail.  Eagle Scout projects are always a negotiated process, matching our museums’ needs with the ability, interest, and motivation of the individual Scout in tandem with Eagle project criteria.  The bridge was in desperate need of replacement and the Scout chose the project from a half-dozen possibilities.

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Reverand George Royal and Mr. Robert Gurley working on the Urban Garden this past Saturday

Third, on Saturday members of the Westwood Neighborhood Association were out to tend the urban garden they planted for the third consecutive year.  The idea for the garden came from an offhand comment by a community member during a focus group on exhibit hall upgrades for our museum.  One community member, the recently deceased Mr. Ralph Thompson, noted that the prehistoric agriculture exhibit at Chucalissa reminded him of traditional foods grown in his youth.  He lamented the lack of a suitable public space for such a garden today.  We immediately noted that we had 40 acres of protected space to consider for an urban garden, and the project took off.  The garden is a source of pride for many community members.  The participants this past Saturday, Mr. Robert Gurley and Rev. George Royal told me about how good it is for the body and soul just to get out in the sun and do physical labor.  The urban garden produced a bountiful harvest in the past two years shared throughout the community.

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Freedom Prep Students creating hills for the Three Sisters Garden on Earth Day in April.

Fourth, I was itching to spend the day out in the heat and humidity.  I am one of those folks where the temperature and humidity never get too high.  I spent the morning weeding in our Three Sisters garden, planted in individual hills typical of Native American cultures in the late prehistoric period.  The plan for the garden was originally designed by Carrie Havrilla as a Green Internship project at the University of Memphis.  This year we planted the garden as an April Earth Day activity with community members and families taking responsibility for individual hills.  Fifteen students from Freedom Prep Academy, a local charter school, also participated in sculpting the hills and planting the corn, beans, and squash.

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A young sister preparing the Three Sisters Garden on Earth Day

On Saturday afternoon I looked out on the open space of the prehistoric earthwork complex and thought about the three new gardens and bridge replacement.  None of the projects were part of our strategic plan except that we seek to be an institution that is relevant to community needs and provides co-creative experiences.  In all four of the projects the “public” whether Boy Scouts, students of all ages, or community members are creating projects of their choosing in a space that is publicly owned and administered.  All of the projects fall well within the scope of our institutional mission and the expressed interests of our community stakeholders.  I reflected how this co-creation process is messy, nonlinear, but highly relevant to expressed community interests.  The process also flows directly from one of my favorite quotes in the New Museum by John Cotton Dana, written nearly 100 years ago: “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.”

 

 

The Experience of Museum Advocacy

PatriciaHarrisPatricia Harris is a recent graduate of the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis (UM).  She also served for two years as a Graduate Assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  For her Graduate Thesis Project at the UM she assessed a three-year museum advocacy project in greater Memphis, Tennessee, US.  At the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Meetings this past month in Seattle, Patricia was featured in the session Effective Advocacy in Your Community: Learn How! where she spoke about her advocacy project.  Below is a summary of her presentation.

Measuring Advocacy Effectiveness in Memphis Museums

by Patricia Harris

My thesis project at the University of Memphis explored advocacy practices in Memphis area museums, as well as the broader concept of museum advocacy.  My personal advocacy experience began in 2012 in the Museum Practices seminar, one of the core courses in the University’s Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program. From 2011-2013, students in the Museums Practices seminar initiated the creation of Advocacy Inventories with eleven Memphis and mid-south museums. These inventories are taken from Speak Up For Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy. Based on the initial inventories, the Museum Practices students made advocacy recommendations for the institutions, conducted follow-up surveys on advocacy practices, and created educational/economic impact statements for each museum.

The advocacy projects carried out by the students with the museums are important for two reasons.  First, the process introduced the students as emerging museum professionals to advocacy. If the museum field desires to continue and sustain advocacy as a practice, new generations of museum professionals must be active participants in advocacy work from the beginning. Second, the projects also introduced museums to advocacy work. Many museums, especially smaller institutions, are unaware of how to do advocacy, and in some cases, unaware of the concept.

Of the eleven museums that completed initial advocacy reports with students from the class, only three institutions participated for all three of the years. So, while it is important to understand the advocacy done by these three institutions, perhaps more significant is why the other eight museums did not, or could not, take part in advocacy work.

The Museum Practices students were providing a variety of resources, and were quite literally willing to do free advocacy work for the institution. Why did some museums not take part? Did they feel advocacy wasn’t important? Did they simply not have the time? Or did they not have the interest? Were the resources being provided not relevant for the size and/or type of the institution?

When speaking about advocacy we are quick to share what went right.  Stories of success are extremely important, but perhaps acknowledging and understanding why things went wrong or why things never even got off the ground is vital to truly institutionalizing advocacy in the museum field.  In so doing, we learn and we can better fine-tune our advocacy resources to encompass more institutions.

The take-away from this project is that we still need to advocate for advocacy. Presumably, you’re all here because you believe in advocacy and what it can do for your institution and your community. In just one metropolis like Memphis, eight out of eleven museums aren’t there yet. Why aren’t they being reached?

It is up to the other three museums out of that eleven to show the hows and whys of advocacy. During graduate school I was a graduate assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. We fall into the small museum category with only three full-time museum staff and four part-time graduate assistants – which I know is still much more than many places have. Just in the past three years Chucalissa has sent a graduate student to Museum Advocacy Day each year, participated in “Invite your Legislator to Your Museum Day,” hosted four NCCC AmeriCorps teams (we received Sponsor of the Year award in 2013), and completed economic/educational impact statements now featured on the American Alliance of Museum’s website.  The results of these activities also helped leverage funding from the University of Memphis to support our Museum. I say all of this not to brag, even though I am proud of our work, but to emphasize the importance of grassroots advocacy. The AAM points out that advocacy is not just about making “asks” for money and resources from the federal government, but instead is more about building relationships. Though we often think of this “relationship” as the bond between a museum and it’s elected officials, perhaps museum advocacy needs to start with relationships between museums.

For example, as we’ve seen a small institution with limited staff and resources may not feel that advocacy is the right endeavor for them. Though, if a fellow small museum in their community or the next town over is successfully making strides for advocacy and touting its value, the museum may feel more comfortable and supported in beginning their own advocacy efforts. For smaller museums, it is hard to make that trip to Washington DC for Museum Advocacy Day, or to attend a national conference like this, or even feel that such a large organization’s resources like the AAM are right for them. Thus, sharing advocacy resources and knowledge with other museums in your community may be key to getting those other eight interested and participating. A great example of this is of course museum studies classes at the local university.

State or regional conferences are a great place to share these resources and build relationships. The information in advocacy sessions at state or regional conferences is locally sourced, and comes from museums or colleagues you probably already know.

Advocacy can be intimidating and will take effort by you and your staff to implement at your institution. But the reward is great. You’re not only advocating for your museum, but you are advocating for your community, your city, your field, and yourself. If you don’t think you’re important enough to advocate for, why would anyone else? Building advocacy locally and at the ground level through partnerships and relationships with other museums can be the key to your success.  Remember our voice is strongest together.

 

Contact Patricia at pcharris@memphis.edu

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