Tag: Chucalissa

The Proposed Funding Cuts & the Impact on Small and Rural Museums

Mr. Trump’s draft budget blueprint eliminates many environmental, cultural, human services, and science based programs.  I will address two of the programs with which I have direct experience – the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In 2007 I was hired as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a small prehistoric venue in Southwest Memphis, Tennessee.  The Museum had fallen on “hard times” as it were.  In essence, my assigned task was to rejuvenate the place or the Museum would likely be shut down.  Over my nine-year tenure, we eliminated the Museum’s operating deficit and made up past deficits.  Also, the annual attendance doubled.  The C.H. Nash Museum began to play a critical role as a cultural heritage venue in Southwest Memphis, became an integral educational resource for the University of Memphis, and a national model for co-creating with a local community whose tax dollars supported the Museum.  Both the IMLS and CNCS were critical to that process.  Simply put, the successes of the Museum would not have occurred without the support of these two institutions.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services

The C.H. Nash Museum was able to take advantage of several services offered by the IMLS:

  • Connecting to Collections, of which IMLS is a founding partner, awarded the C.H. Nash Museum a set of books valued at over $1500.00 to help us become better informed on the best practices necessary for curating our 50 years worth of collections, many of which had not been properly cared for in decades.  The book award is no longer offered because now the IMLS provides that scope of resources online, a more cost-effective means for distributing the information.  Connecting to Collections also hosts regular webinars on a diverse range of issues.  All Connecting to Collections services are provided free to museums.  This service is absolutely critical to small museums throughout the U.S. that are operated by either volunteer or small staffs.  Specifically, small museums such as Chucalissa do not have access to funds to hire consultants with the expertise needed to conserve, preserve, and present the cultural heritage they curate.
  • The IMLS’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP) proved absolutely critical to our Museum’s turn around.  The C.H. Nash Museum was founded in 1956, but there was limited attention paid to its maintenance or upgrades over the years.  For example, in 2007, no museum exhibit was upgraded for nearly 30 years and many of the collections were not properly curated.  The MAP program consisted of a period of intensive self-study followed by a peer review from a nationally recognized museum professional matched specifically to our institutional needs.  The reviewer provided a series of recommendations grouped by duration (short-term, medium-term, and long-term) and cost (no expense, modest expense, or major expense).  Of importance to our governing authority, the peer reviewer’s recommendations came with the credibility of the nationally recognized leaders in the field – IMLS and the American Alliance of Museums.  The recommendations provided leverage for our Museum and were integral to our strategic plan developments.  Our Museum simply did not have the 15-20 thousand dollars necessary to hire a private consultant to perform these services.  Our total cost for the program was $400.00.

As the recently retired Director of a small museum along with my years of service on small museum boards and professional organizations, without question, the small institution, often in a  rural location will be most directly and negatively affected in eliminating the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Corporation for National and Community Service – AmeriCorps

To the extent IMLS allowed us to strategically reorient our Museum, AmeriCorps allowed us to carry out those changes.  NCCC AmeriCorps is the legacy of the 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps and is composed of youth between the ages of 18-25 who give one year of community service.  At the C.H. Nash Museum, we hosted six AmeriCorps teams over a four-year period.  These teams were integral to our ability to serve and engage with our neighboring community.  We devised a unique partnership where each 8-week AmeriCorps team spent 1/3 of their rotation working on each of three separate components: the C.H. Nash Museum, the surrounding community, and the T.O. Fuller State Park as follows:

  • Teams working in the surrounding community focused on minor to moderate repair and landscaping work on the homes of elderly veterans in the 95% African-American working class community that surrounds the C.H. Nash Museum.¹ In addition, team members served as mentors to neighborhood youth in this underserved community and leveraged corporate support for their projects. ²
  • Teams working at the C.H. Nash Museum developed skills and performed structural improvements to the site including creating gardens, lab exhibits, rain shelters, refurbished onsite housing and much more.
  • Teams working at the T.O. Fuller State Park completed maintenance projects such as refurbishment of picnic shelters and trail maintenance.  The T.O. Fuller State Park is particularly significant in Memphis history as the only such recreation facility available for the African-American community during the era of Jim Crow segregation.

Both IMLS and AmeriCorps teams led to building relationships and leveraging assets to bring additional resources into play that would not have been otherwise available.  For example:

  • The IMLS Connecting to Collections resources allowed Museum staff to generate the types of data based proposals to generate additional economic support from the governing authority.
  • Similarly, the IMLS MAP program help to demonstrate the fiduciary responsibility of the governing authority to the collections and infrastructure of the Museum, leading to additional economic support in the form of staff and material support.
  • The AmeriCorps Teams strengthened community connections that today allow the C.H. Nash Museum to host the community’s Annual Veterans Day event, the annual Black History Month Celebration, provide space and resources for a community garden, provide internships for local high school students, to name just a few.

In summary, elimination of the IMLS and the CNCS will also cut the potential for projects such as those noted above at the C.H. Nash Museum.  In 2012, the House of Representatives passed H.Con.Res.112 that called for eliminating the National Endowments for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts noting 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.”  My examples demonstrate such statements are erroneous.  In fact, as demonstrated in the case of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, the elimination of IMLS and CNCS will directly impact the small and particularly rural museums that serve as the cultural heritage hub for their communities and will not put “America first” an alleged goal of Mr. Trump’s budget.

An immediate and strong response must be sent to all legislators to counter proposals to eliminate these and similar programs that truly do put all of America first.

 

¹References for this work include the following: Making African American History Relevant through Co-Creation and Community Service Learning by Robert P. Connolly and Ana Rea; The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa: Community Engagement at an Archaeological Site by Robert P. Connolly, Samantha Gibbs, and Mallory Bader; AmeriCorps Delta 5 – Unparalleled Community Service by Robert P. Connolly; AmeriCorps, Archaeology and Service by Robert P. Connolly; AmeriCorps Archaeology and Museums by Robert P. Connolly.

² AmeriCorps NCCC: The Best of the Millennial Generation by Ana Rea.

A Tribute to My GA Staff

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(l-r) Colleen McCartney, Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza, Nur Abdalla, and Brooke Garcia in the Fall of 2014

From 2007 – 2016, during my tenure as Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, I regularly chose four University of Memphis graduate students to serve up to two years each as Graduate Assistants at the Museum. They work 20 hours per week during the academic year in exchange for a tuition waiver and a monthly stipend. Although the economic incentive is important, what they receive in education and experience at the Museum far exceeds the monetary compensation. When I welcome visitors to the Museum, I always note that whatever exhibit or program they encounter during their visit that is ‘shiny and new’ chances are it was completed by one of our Graduate Assistants, Volunteers, or Interns.

Nur-missing

Same folks today, less Nur who is determining if she has the measles or not, with R. Connolly. The last official day at the Museum for the GA staff.

In the Spring Semester of 2014, all four of our GA staff graduated. That meant that in the Fall Semester of 2014, four new Graduate Assistants came on board at the same time. That had never happened in my previous 7 years at the Museum. Perhaps starting at the same time is why they bonded so well as a team. Regardless the 2014 – 2016 Graduate Assistants were truly exceptional in all ways. Over the past two years I often reflected that I could not have asked for a better GA staff on which to end my career at Chucalissa as I retire later this summer.

So, what follows is my story of the stories of Nur Abdalla, Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza, Brooke Garcia, and Colleen McCartney and their time as Graduate Assistants at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. And it is a true story, for the most part.

Ashes and INur Abdalla – I first met Nur in about 2012 when she was an undergraduate in the Anthropology Department. She registered for an Internship and completed a Directed Research Project at Chucalissa. For her Applied Archaeology and Museums class project, she created an exhibit that explored the interpretive significance of surface collections from artifacts curated at Chucalissa.

As a graduate student, her research focused on working with students and staff from the Freedom Prep Charter School to develop an institutional relationship with the C.H. Nash Museum. For her GA projects she organized special events at the museum and worked on several collections projects.

First and foremost Nur always has a smile and a pro-active solution driven approach to every situation. I was also amazed that our auto-generated Netflix recommendations were quite similar.

eliI first met Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza in July of 2013 at the bus station in Caraz, Peru. We had previously corresponded about the possibility of her coming to the US to study for her Masters Degree in Archaeology at the University of Memphis. Since that first meeting we have worked together on a series of projects in Peru and I look forward to continuing that collaboration. Eli will enter the PhD program at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in the fall of 2016 with full funding. This summer she will launch a community based research project on the Peruvian North Coast in the village of Nivín.

While at Chucalissa Eli translated a good bit of our exhibit and visitor materials into Spanish and played a major role in the upgrade of the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab. Prior to her first day at the Museum I was somewhat concerned about how well she would engage with our visitors in explaining an archaeological site of which she was not familiar in a language that was not her own. Eli excelled with both our Spanish-speaking and English-speaking visitors.   She was also quite adept at answering visitors questions, that yes, she was in fact a Native American, and then explain her Peruvian origins. Through Eli, I have come to have a second home in Peru and look forward to our continued collaboration.

brookeBrooke Garcia, an Egyptology student, began as a collections intern in the summer of 2014 and transitioned seamlessly into her GA role that fall. Under the able direction of Ron Brister, Brooke completed several of the collections projects that staff had worked on for several years at Chucalissa. These projects included the deaccessioning and transfer of collections that were not part of our museums research scope to other Midsouth institutions. Brooke also completed NAGPRA compliance on all University of Memphis collections excavated over the past 50 years. Brooke was very active in our volunteer program, training visitors to process artifacts on our Volunteer Saturdays, including many students from Freedom Prep Charter School.

Brooke excelled in her academic achievements while a GA. She was awarded a MUSE Fellowship in the summer of 2015 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2015 she also received a Fellowship to attend the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting.

Like the rest of our GA staff, Brooke shares an affinity to all that is Disney and in addition, ballroom dancing.

colleenColleen McCartney was the token Anglo GA for the past two years. From Canada via Texas, Colleen is a natural born leader and played that role very well in several projects while working at the Museum. In addition to completing the organization of our strategic plan, Colleen coordinated the upgrade of the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab. For her studies in the Anthropology Department and Museum Studies she crafted a curriculum to include a solid exposure to public and nonprofit administration. For her practicum in the Anthropology Department Colleen created programs and policies for the inclusion of special needs visitors at Chucalissa.

Colleen appears to have been the ringleader of the GA staff over the past two years, fomenting dissent as appropriate, but always assuring that the job was done. Her skills in this area were recognized by her peers when she received the first ever Emerging Museum Professional of the Year Award from the Tennessee Association of Museums. Quite an accomplishment for someone from Texas!

And in the end . . . the consistent pleasure that I had during my nine years at the University of Memphis and the C.H. Nash Museum was my work with students – particularly the Graduate Assistants. I always pushed the GA staff toward taking risks and believing that they could and should make applied contributions now and not wait until they graduate. Certainly, all of their resumes are greatly enhanced by their time working at the C.H. Nash Museum. I know that they will remain in contact with each other as they graduate and go their separate ways.

All of the GA staff have been very generous in their compliments toward me and my role as their Supervisor and Museum Director. My standard response to them has always been to remember that 10 or 20 years from now when they are in my position, mentoring a young 20 something who is trying to find their way in the world and trying to exude a sense of self-confidence while being insecure and nervous about screwing up and somehow getting it wrong – to remember what it felt like to be in their shoes and treat them kindness and support.

In many ways, I learned all that I needed from my first mentor the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis who in a 1986 field school said something like “If you cannot explain to the public why their tax dollars should go to support this field work and museum, you might as well go home.” I keep those words as guiding principles in what I strive to do professionally. I have enjoyed engaging with the public ever since. While working as the Poverty Point Station Archaeologist in Northeast Louisiana, I began to understand what Pat meant. At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, through both our visitors and our Graduate Assistants, I had the opportunity to continue that engagement. The last two years of my career with both our regular and GA staff have been a true delight. I would not change a thing.

A Truly Low-Tech and Innovative Archaeological Exhibit

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Excavation Trench representation in the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab

On April 16, for our Spring Family Fun Day at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, we unveiled our new Brister Archaeology Discovery Laboratory (BADLab), an upgraded version of our 2008 innovation, the Hands-On Archaeology Lab.  The upgraded configuration honors the lifelong contribution of Ron Brister to the Chucalissa Archaeological site.  Ron was first employed in 1966 at Chucalissa by Charles Nash, for whom the current museum is named.  After a 37-year career as the Collections Manager at the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, in his retirement, Ron is once again back at Chucalissa lending his considerable expertise to a wide range of our museum practices.

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Photograph of Excavation Trench profile by Katie Maish

One of the innovations in our upgraded BADLab is the representation of the Chucalissa House Mound Excavation Trench on one of the rooms walls.

In the late 1950s archaeologists excavated a trench through a prehistoric ridge or mound at the Chucalissa site. When built nearly 1,000 years ago, the long ridge or mound was a place where the Native Americans built a variety of structures, including houses. Beginning in 1962, the archaeological excavation through the house ridge served as an entrance into the Chucalissa mounds and plaza. However, the trench is now closed to the public because of erosion and safety concerns. The new BADLab wall exhibit provides a summary of what archaeologists discovered when excavating the trench in the 1950s.

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Sediment Peel (left) and Photograph (right) of the same postmold from the Excavation Trench.

Our recent NCCC AmeriCorps Team painted a representation of the trench stratigraphy on the BADLab wall (In addition, the NCCC Team painted the rest of the room and laid the tile floor.)  Former C.H. Nash Museum Administrative Associate and photographer extraordinaire Katie Maish photographed features from the actual excavation trench that were then printed, mounted on foam core, and installed in their approximate location on the wall painted by the NCCC.

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Sediment Peel and Photograph of a House Floor from the Excavation Trench.

The above tasks would have accomplished my initial plans for the exhibit.  However, Ron Brister suggested that we include “sediment peels” in the exhibit design.  When Ron first raised the idea, I was uncertain how the peels would work.  However, I have learned to stand back and let such initiatives unfold – and the result was outstanding.

A sediment peel is where you build a small frame, adhere it to an excavation profile, fill the frame with what I refer to as glop but Ron says is an expanding foam insulation.  You then let the insulation set and dry and then remove it from the excavation wall profile.  Adhering to the hardened insulation is a 2-3 mm “peel” of the profile “sediment” that can then be mounted and exhibited.  In this way, the excavation trench is literally brought into the exhibit, not as a replica, but as an actual archaeological feature.

R&R

(L-R) Robert Connolly and Ron Brister

Total price tag for materials – under $500.00.  All labor donated or Student/Graduate Assistant supplied.

Check back next week for a post on the entire BADLab upgrade process.

 

 

An Archaeological Surprise at Nivin, Peru

Nivin-sign(For a Spanish language version of this post, click here.)

 

This past week, my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I visited Nivín Arqueologia about 25 km from Casma, on the north central coast of Peru.  We were not really certain what to expect.  We had corresponded via the PIARA and Nivín Facebook pages with Gustavo Valencia Tello a professor in the Nivín k-12 school of 50 students.  We knew that Professor Valencia established a museum connected to the school.  We also knew that Nivín is located in an archaeologically rich part of Peru’s north coast.  We knew that over the past five years Professor Valencia had convinced many area residents to donate their “looted” collections to the school’s museum.  Finally, Professor Valencia had noted that there was little interest from the professional archaeological community in the sites at Nivín.  That is pretty much what we knew about Nivín when we arrived in Casma this past Sunday.

Nivin-Museum-entry

Nivín Archaeology: Searching for our identity

On Sunday evening Professor Valencia invited us to his home for dinner and conversation.  We agreed on a schedule of going to Nivín on Monday morning to tour the museum and school and returning on Tuesday to visit the nearby archaeological sites and meet with the other Nivín teachers.

On Monday morning we headed toward the outskirts of Casma and turned onto an unpaved road for the 25 km bouncing ride to Nivín.  I have to admit that I began to wonder what Eli and I had gotten ourselves into.  Except for the town of San Rafael about half-way in, the landscape was dotted with the occasional cane thatch house, agricultural fields, scattered grazing livestock and not much else.  I wondered what kind of museum could be at the end of this road?

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Exhibits in the Nivín Museum

After a one hour ride, we came to a sign that read “NIVIN” with nothing else in sight.  We then continued around the bend in the road and came upon what I can best describe as an oasis in a dusty desert.  The Nivín school is a manicured space that stands out from the landscape.  Here is what we saw:

  • the museum that Professor Valencia painstakingly put together over a five-year period.  The materials are donated by area residents who looted/collected the materials over the years, often from their own agricultural lands.  Professor Valencia uses these materials in his classes to explain everything from ceramic production techniques, cultural identity, osteology, culture change and more.  Eli and I had gone to Nivín to discuss how we might assist Professor Valencia in his project.   We quickly realized that we were the students that learned much from him during our brief visit.  The school in Nivín better incorporates archaeological methods into teaching natural and social sciences than any k-12 school I have experienced in the U.S.
  • Mango

    Young mango tree in the school garden.

    a suite of gardens maintained by the students, teachers, and the community members.  The gardens grow subsistence crops of mangoes, corn, passion fruit, chilies, alfalfa sprouts and more and are completely organic.  There are also smaller vegetable and medicinal plant gardens.  Besides providing food for the Nivín community, the gardens are meant as an instructional tool for the students, the next generation of agriculturalists in the area.  Other schools in the region are studying the Nivín model.

  • sparsely supplied but impeccably clean and well-maintained classrooms and a basketball court/soccer field.  We also saw large banners that reported the awards the school had received from the Ministry of Education.
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A small portion of the archaeological site at Nivín.

On Tuesday morning we were back in Nivín with Professor Valencia for our tour of the nearby archaeological site.  Over the next 3.5 hours we hiked, walked through agricultural fields, waded across a river (this gringo was not able to negotiate the single log bridge), and traversed a rocky landscape similar to what one might expect of a lunar surface.  Here is what we saw:

  • a multi-sector and massive archaeological site that spanned the Formative through the Late Intermediate periods.  The site is not registered as an official archaeological site.
  • The site is slowly being encroached on by agricultural expansion along with huaqueros or looters.  The cemetery areas of the site contain many looter pits with broken ceramic vessels and scattered human bone.
  •  The architectural forms include domestic rooms, cemeteries, 30 m high mounds, and my favorite a boulder some 3.5 m in diameter fashioned into a metate, with multiple grinding depressions and one mano laying nearby.  Christian, a Nivín high school student, whose house is on the archaeological site recalls as a youth that there were eight manos laying on/around the metate boulder.
Eli-examine-sherd

Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza examines broken ceramics and human bone from a looters pit.

After visiting the site we returned to the school and met with several of the teachers to discuss possible collaborations.  We gave the school a laptop computer (from Rhodes College in Memphis) and a flip camera (from the WriteMemphis literacy program) to help launch an oral history program in the village and school.  The program will complement other oral history projects we have worked on such as those carried out in both Hualcayán, Peru, and Memphis, Tennessee, US.

After discussing with the teachers possible collaborative/co-creative efforts and mutual needs, on Tuesday evening Eli and I met again with Professor Valencia and agreed to pursue the following projects over the next year:

  • Partnering the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in Memphis, TN and the Municipal Museum in Caraz, Peru, with the Nivín Museum around oral history projects.  The three institutions are at different stages in their oral history processes and can learn from each other.  We will seek additional funding to support this work.  (An Engaged Scholarship Research Grant from the University of Memphis funded a portion of our oral history work in Caraz and Hualcayán, Peru this summer.)
  • Gustavo

    Professor Gustavo Valencia Tello with some of his teaching materials.

    Elizabeth Cruzado and Gustavo Valencia will co-author a book chapter for a recently contracted volume on museum/community collaboration efforts to be published in the Summer of 2016 by Rowman and Littlefield Press.

  • We will discuss forming an expanded range for the type of collaborative projects now carried out by PIARA.  This will ideally allow for greater collaboration among Ancash cultural heritage projects and expand access to resources.
  • We will investigate returning to Nivín in July or August of 2016 to provide instruction to students in the best practice cataloguing and curation of the collections in the Nivín Museum. (Any museum studies students fluent in Spanish interested in an internship?)

Elizabeth and I have commented several times that we certainly covered a lot of ground and lined up several co-creative projects in just a couple of days!  We are excited both about learning from and working with Professor Valencia, his colleagues, students, and the Nivín community in this model program.

AmeriCorps Delta 5 – Unparalleled Community Service

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Delta 5 AmeriCorps NCCC Team at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa (R.Connolly on right)

Anyone who has follows this blog knows that as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, I am a big fan of AmeriCorps NCCC.  Over the past few years we hosted four eight-week teams.  AmeriCorps NCCC is integral to the C.H. Nash Museum’s outreach to the Southwest Memphis community.  Besides writing about the Teams on this blog, I recently published an article on the experience with Ana Rea, a former NCCC Team leader.

This past month the C.H. Nash Museum worked with the City of Memphis in hosting the Delta 5 AmeriCorps NCCC Team.  We are currently discussing with the city administrators future partnerships to sponsor AmeriCorps Teams.  I am excited that this new partnership will expand the Museum’s collaboration with the City of Memphis and result in increased service opportunities to the underserved in our neighborhood.

The Delta 5 Team was in Memphis just a short five weeks this past spring but accomplished a great deal.  In work coordinated through the City of Memphis, the Team:

  • built four community gardens in city “food deserts” and hosted engagement days at the locations
  • worked with members from the community at Ruth Tate senior center to build a garden
  • cleaned 13 public pools in preparation for summer
  • power washed 40 pavilions in public parks
  • refurbished a wrought iron fence around the Ed Rice community center pool.

Team member Falicia Forward noted that:

The community engagement aspects of the work we’ve done have been the most rewarding. In particular, it was very gratifying to work alongside the seniors at Ruth Tate Senior Center. They really took ownership of the garden, almost before it was even built. In other areas, we interacted with the community as individuals approached the team to inquire about our work. From day one, I felt very connected to the communities we were serving.

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Team member Sarah Raposa throwing darts with an atlatl

In the short one week at the C.H. Nash Museum the Team:

  • prepared our Urban and Three Sisters Gardens for spring planting and performed maintenance tasks on the sweetgrass bed, herb garden and nature trail.
  • built several cabinets and tables for our upgraded hands-on archaeology lab
  • processed several thousand prehistoric artifacts curated from past excavations at the Chucalissa site
  • and of course, tried their hand at throwing darts with an atlatl.

AmeriCorps NCCC Teams are well-suited for  a diverse set of cultural heritage projects, particularly those that involve the local community.  For more information on the application process – whether to host a Team or joining if you are between 18 – 24 – contact AmeriCorps NCCC.

And even more on public dollars and museum support . . .

As I noted in two recent blog posts, 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?

HD 08 lab2This week’s post is another excellent essay written by Lacy Pline a graduate student in Art History at the University of Memphis.  Lacy is also enrolled in the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program with a strong interest in public outreach and education in both art history and archaeology. 

Museums Giving Back to Communities

by

Lacy Pline

In her blog Museum 2.0, Nina Simon discusses the public argument about arts support, as seen through the lens of the Detroit Institute of Arts.[1] Simon opens the blog with a question: “How often do we get to see what people really think about the value of the arts?” In response, she offered screen-shots from people with varying ideas. Ken Dettloff’s comment particularly stood out to me when he argued: “Detroit needs [an] art museum while City residents do without streetlights, police, and fire protection? [It] doesn’t make sense!”

Much like the prompt for this class, Dettloff raises a very valid point. How can you even begin to justify artistic programming when there are people in the local community who are going without the most basic necessities? How could I, as a public servant, argue that my research or involvement within a museum is worth their money, when they lack fresh water, electricity, or even a place to live?

I thought for some time on this question, at first reading through the “Labor Day and the Cultural Heritage Professional” blog from Archaeology, Museums, and Outreach. I agree with the claims made that cultural heritage can be used as a source for empowering the people.[2] On a larger scale, this can be seen from the example we watched in class. After a sacred hut burned down, the company who documented the site in 3D was able to make this information available to the community, who otherwise might have lost everything. On a smaller scale, the African American cultural heritage exhibit at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa offers a similar community component, bringing people together through a common heritage. I also agree that museums and public servants must be proactive with the communities, helping to empower people through culture at all times (not just when it’s someone’s project). Along the same page, there should be no disconnect between the public and the professional.

As I continued to research this question however, I was a bit put-off by the response I seemed to most often receive. It was essentially that museums help to create vibrant, thriving communities. They connect community members to one another, they provide educational programming, and they offer events. While this is true, if I was Josephine Q. Public and had just lost as much as she had, I don’t know if hearing those reasons would feel enough for me. The hard truth is, it’s extremely difficult to justify the arts in the face of deprivation. The only answer I could come up with is that it is only justifiable when you make it directly benefit these same people. Benefits should reach beyond “providing culture” and other ethereal rewards, to actually making a difference in the lives of the community.

So how would a museum do this? My first instinct was to see what I could provide through my museum that addresses their current problems. While this is somewhat altruistic, it is also a simple business practice – if you make your museum an integral part of the community, a staple, people will want to fund the museum in order to keep the doors open. If community members are suffering from lack of food or clean water, a museum could create a community garden or well. If there are issues of security within the community, the museum could help organize Neighborhood Watch groups, or create a safe haven (a “Third Space”), open to all.

Beyond addressing the necessities, a museum should strive to give back to the people as much as possible. Children could be educated through special programming and summer camp options. The museum could organize a Senior Citizen Night, creating events just for the elderly. Art or photography classes could be taught in art museums on evenings for members of the community. The Cummer Museum in Jacksonville Florida has a night at the museum type of event, where each Tuesday for 3-4 hours, the museum is open to anyone for free. The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa offers Volunteer Days, where volunteers can come to the museum and help assist or organize artifacts.

Museums could also strive to educate the community on their own unique personal heritage, creating oral or local history exhibits, or co-creating temporary exhibits with visitors, which is described in The Participatory Museum.[3]

In conclusion, the only way to truly be able to justify spending public money is to spend as much as an institution possibly can on giving back to that same community.

[1]          Nina Simon, “The Public Argument About Arts Support as Seen through the Lens of the Detroit Institute of Arts,” Museum 2.0 (August 29, 2012), accessed: http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-public-argument-about-arts-support.html

[2]          Robert P. Connolly, “Labor Day and the Cultural Heritage Professional,” Archaeology, Museums, & Outreach (September 3, 2012), accessed: https://rcnnolly.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/labor-day-and-the-cultural-heritage-professional/

[3]          Nina Simon, “Co-Creating with Visitors,” in The Participatory Museum (2010), accessed: http://www.participatorymuseum.org/chapter8/

 

Lacy can be reached at lapline(a)memphis.edu

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.

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