Tag: Cultural Heritage

Museums as Participatory Institutions

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?

This year, Paige Brevick, a graduate student in Egyptology and the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program wrote a compelling response that incorporates some of the ongoing discussions of museologists today, specifically based on her experiences on the staff of the Museum of Biblical History in Collierville, Tennesse, U.S.  Here is her essay:

The stereotype of museums as hoarders of wealth, both economically and intellectually, is an outdated myth in desperate need of revision.  While museums may have historically catered to the elite or academic, they have undergone significant reform in recent years to increase the transparency of their collections and develop their resources.  Today, even the most research driven institutions must find innovative ways to entice the public and interact with them through increasingly creative means.[1]  This level of social engagement encourages a dialogue between the public and academic that is rarely seen in other settings.  It is in this way that the museum leaves behind the stereotype of “elitism,” rather, it strives towards the ideal of the “participatory,” where a community may take an active role in all aspects of museum administration.[2]  Tax dollars then do not only fund high-brow research or support unethical wealth transfer.  Instead, the Public’s tax dollars go to fund museums who are increasingly aware of the needs of their communities, and who cultivate environments for learning.

As curator at the Museum of Biblical History, a small museum with limited staff in Collierville, Tennessee, my duties are highly varied.  Not only do I conduct research and work in the gallery, but I am constantly seeking out new ways to engage the public with our exhibitions.  The Museum of Biblical History has served the community for over two decades and has had to adapt to the needs of the changing community over time.  At its onset, the museum hosted lectures on archaeology that were free to the public.  Attending a museum lecture like this would provide John and Josephine Q. Public the opportunity to briefly leave behind the troubles they face in a hopefully inspiring way.  Though not necessarily problem-solving in itself, attending free lectures is a way for the public to better understand what museums in their town have to offer.  Attendance at a lecture like this may be the first step to getting involved in action-oriented projects within the community, as museum programming brings people from different social groups  together.

In an effort to better serve the community of Collierville, the Museum of Biblical History now offers Bible Story Time programming to children once a week.  Local members of the community, including the mayor and firefighters, volunteer to read Bible stories to  children in the museum.  The museum provides two crafts per program, which student participants make in the museum and take home.  Museum staff and volunteers supervise the event, with the support of visiting parents.  This program is provided free of charge.  Though the Publics are going through difficult times with reduced public services, turning to the resources provided by their local museums may alleviate small concerns and provide a degree of routine to their schedule.  Many museums offer similar free programming at least once a month.

Though the Museum of Biblical History is small, it adjusts to meet the needs of the community.  This winter the museum stored its entire Near Eastern artifact collection away, in order to showcase a highly requested display of nativities from around the world.  Even the crèche collection itself is on loan from a community resident.  As an archaeologist, part of me was hesitant to make such a dramatic change in our gallery.  The public, however, had spoken so the show was underway.  I curated the nativity exhibition and watched on opening night as over a hundred people packed into the small museum, doting upon handmade nativities.  The show brought people together to discuss culture, tradition, heritage, art, and the history of Christmas as it is understood from international perspectives.  The Publics tax dollars support experiences like this one.  Their funding encourages not only an appreciation of art and history, but of empathy across cultures, even in the small town of Collierville.

Museums should strive to become beacons of knowledge, and act as windows into other worlds, whether those worlds are a glimpse into an ancient culture or an exhibit featuring local artists.  A museum is not only a safe-haven for research or objects of the past.  If  museums are to remain successful in an economically turbulent environment, they need to continue to focus on making the information they possess accessible to the communities they serve.  The Publics, then, are not transferring their money into a disconnected or wealthy museum entity.  Instead, their tax dollars go back into their own community, creating educated generations for years to come.

[1] AMA, Word of Mouth Marketing, pg. 38-40.

[2] Simon, Nina.  “Chapter 7: Collaborating with Visitors,” In The Participatory Museum.

Music, Heritage & Remembering

Los Shapis, in the beginning . . .

This post really only states the obvious . . . but tells some of my story.  Many songs or types of music evoke very strong memories of my personal history.

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind

conjures up 1966, my Freshman year at Purcell High School, Cincinnati, Ohio when my homeroom teacher, Marianist Brother Glassmeyer, mixed with the smell of the formaldehyde in that homeroom/Biology lab, proclaimed with great certainty that the line was code for smoking dope.

  • Or hearing Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1 puts me back in the underground tunnels of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota, a setting for a scene in the novella (some 90 odd double-spaced pages) I wrote in 1967, gave to another Marianist Brother (unnamed here, cause he still teaches there) for review, who then lost the manuscript.  I tried to reconstruct the story but could never get it down again.
  • Whenever I hear Dylan sing Blue Moon from his Self-Portrait album, I think of my father talking about the old am/fm/shortwave radio in our house and the smell of those tubes heating up when I turned it on.  He was selling the radio away to someone because he said we only listened to “once in a Blue Moon.”  But I had hooked up wires to the antenna and ran it through our kitchen window in hopes of picking up an exotic tongue from far away.

And the list goes on and on and on . . . and the songs I add to my Spotify playlists with creative names like “Good One” or “New One” or “Thanksgiving” or “Sunday Morning” give me the grist to tell story after story of my history.

I fell in love with Huayno music a few years ago while working in the Highlands of Peru a couple of hours from Huaraz.  One compilation available on Spotify of Cholos Andinos contains the well-known song Adiós Pueblo de Ayacucho.  Although very upbeat, the song is one of lament, loss, and new beginnings.  From the opening notes, the song immediately transports me back to the July of 2015 when my colleague, Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I spent what I can best describe as a rather idyllic and carefree month of doing data analysis by day and hanging with friends and Godchildren in the evenings and on weekends in the 400 person village of Hualcayán some 10,000 feet above the Mississippi Delta where I now live.

Today Eli gave me a t-shirt of the band Los Shapis, one of Peru’s premier Chicha bands of the 1980s.  I originally came across them from a Spotify suggested link, and was hooked.  The El Aguajal video is vintage 1980s in dress and their “expressive” choreography.  Although I find the tunes very playful, they are filled with stories of loss and struggle of working class migrants to the outskirts of Lima in the 80s and the discrimination they endured.  Two of the founding members continue to tour today.  Over the years, Los Shapis members have starred in movies and at one point even a loosely biographical soap opera.  I had hoped to have a Los Shapis dance contest during our field season this past summer on the North Coast of Peru, but time got too short.  But when I hear the distinctive sound or images of Los Shapis I immediately escape to the congested streets of Lima in which I have roamed with such enjoyment over the past few years.

So, I am seeing a pattern and activity emerge here . . . create a couple hour list of favorite songs . . . play the tracks and do some stream of consciousness writing and watch the personal history emerge.  Sounds like a fun way to spend some afternoons in my newly retired existence!

Service in Cultural Heritage

Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza (center) with students from the Maria Parado de Bellido Nº 88104 school in Nivín, Peru.

This past Sunday, my colleague Gustavo Valencia Tello, invited me to a Father’s Day lunch at his home in Casma, Peru.  I am spending a couple of months in the area this summer as part of a co-creative project organized through Culture and Community in Casma (see this newsletter for more details).  During our lunch, Professor Valencia and I had a wide ranging discussion not just about this summer’s work but also our collaboration that began in July of 2015.  After finishing our meal Professor Valencia raised a question that got me to thinking.  He asked:

“You are from a major university in the United States.  In Casma we do not have a university and in Nivín we only have a very small school.  Why do you keep coming back to Nivín?

At first, I was not certain how to respond.  I thought about how the project is interesting.  I thought about how the project is the most “co-creative” in which I have ever been involved in addressing community needs in a collaborative manner.  But I realized those responses were really after the fact reasons.  After a few seconds of thought, I replied:

“Because you asked us to come.”

We then discussed how one year before our first visit, my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and Professor Valencia had communicated on Facebook where he had invited us to come to the small school museum.  (I posted here about that first visit.)  I recalled how when we first arrived in Nivín, after touring the museum, school grounds, and the surrounding archaeological sites, we asked Professor Valencia what we could do to help his project.  He responded with a shopping list of needs.  At the top of the list was museum management texts in Spanish.  (Here is a link to our Annual Report for 2016 that details our completed projects to date.)

We are currently working with the school and community of Nivín to develop a five-year strategic plan that will guide our co-creative work in the future.  Gustavo’s original invitation for Elizabeth and I to visit Nivín has led to very meaningful professional projects for all of us.

The “why did you come” question this past Sunday got me to thinking more.  I thought about my first trip to Peru in the summer of 2013.  That visit was also based on a request for me to come to help start a small museum and cultural heritage center in the village of Hualcayán to supplement archaeological research in that community.  I learned much over the four years I spent on projects in Hualcayán.

My visit to Debbie Buco’s classroom in 1997.

I then thought about other times when I had just shown up after being asked over the years.  I thought about my time as the Station Archaeologist at the Poverty Point World Heritage Site some 15 – 20 years ago.  I often received requests from schools and libraries in Louisiana and Mississippi to just come and visit.  One of the most rewarding requests was when I said yes to Debbie Buco, an elementary school teacher in Baton Rouge (described in this post).

Over the length of my career, without question, the most meaningful professional experiences have always come when I said “yes” to requests to be of service – often after a great deal of initial reluctance on my part.

I fear that we are in a time when such requests for service too often go unheeded.  I am surprised by the reluctance of emerging professionals to share their successful and not so successful experiences with others in form of blogs or public presentations when asked to do so.   I remember how odd it sounded to me during my first field school in 1986 to hear someone with their BA in Anthropology fresh in hand announce as they visited our excavations that he would never again do archaeology for free.  Years ago advisors cautioned me against engaging in service because publications and grants were the name of the game when seeking faculty tenure.  Just recently, the editor of a major peer review journal lamented to me that it was hard to get younger professionals to agree to do peer reviews of articles submitted for publication.

I appreciate too that one cannot, and should not say yes to every request that comes along.

I don’t intend this as a holier than thou piece.  In fact, saying “yes” to requests, whether peer review, sharing experiences, or in a variety of community service opportunities, is really quite self-serving from the “in giving, you receive” perspective.  The simple fact is that by saying “yes” to Professor Valencia a couple of years ago, my colleague Elizabeth and I each have at least another five-year project that will likely prove the most meaningful in both of our careers – Elizabeth as she works to complete her doctoral studies and for me as a post retirement project till I turn 70!  Without question, those aspects of my career that I consider the most significant and meaningful would not have occurred had I not said “yes” to being of service.

Final Thoughts on Museums & Relevance in 2017

ecFor 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?

This year, Emily Coate, a graduate student in Egyptology and the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program wrote a compelling response that incorporates some of the ongoing discussions of museologists today.  Here is her essay:

From the view of Ms. Public, I would need to see evidence that the museum serves a tangible function within the community in order to appease my frustration on this front. Is my local museum a place where my neighbors and I feel we are actively engaged? I hope that with this view in mind, I will be able to work towards fulfilling these goals in a museum setting. The importance of not taking a museum’s position for granted, just because it is something I enjoy, is not a lesson that will be forgotten. I would hope to show the Publics that the museum is a space where everyone’s history, art, science, etc is included. It is an inclusive space that strives to incorporate all members of society. The work done to bring in members of the community in a meaningful manner at Chucalissa is a prime example. Even with a small staff and a small budget, volunteers, students, and the community form an integral part of the running of the museum. Along the lines of Simon’s folksonomy, museums must ask for community input, and then follow-up with a visible materialization of the suggestions or utilization of the participatory action offered. This gives visitors a personal stake in the result, and thus, the museum. A model that continuously provides a better visitor experience through these feedback loops would certainly go a long way toward placing the museum in a better light in the public’s eye. The Critical Assessment Framework developed by Worts is a resource that museums should consult if they are finding difficulty “measuring the cultural needs, as well as the impacts of their programs, at individual, community, and institutional levels.”[1] Once these questions are at the forefront of a museum’s mind, then the execution of the planning of programs with expressed goals toward community involvement can take form. It will depend on the type and size of the museum to what extent and to what shape community engagement will take. So much the better if they are able to offer a multitude of volunteer opportunities which satisfies visitors wishing for a simply level of involvement all the way through fostering co-creative exhibits. The museum must ask their public, “what are the community’s needs, and in what way can we help you achieve their resolution?”

This idea of a wealth transfer from the poor to the wealthy, to an institution which holds no use of value to people of lower income or social status is exactly the type of rhetoric which museums must consciously work to overcome. What can each individual connected with the museum do to best alleviate these barriers? How can we advocate for the necessity of museums to the government as well as the public? What do the budget cuts take away that Mr. and Mrs. Public feel are more necessary than the museum?

One statistic that has stood out to me was that among those individuals who make museums an integral part of their lifestyle, “Nearly all have a distinct memory of a specific, seminal museum experience, usually between the ages of 5 and 9.”[2] This highlights the importance of effective educational programming aimed at children. As Beverly Sheppard suggests, museums should work with local schools, even if they are doing the lion’s share of the work, in order to create viable regular programming that connects the two.[3] The economic state that has thrown the Public family into distress has most likely affected their children’s education as well.  If after school activities have been reduced, perhaps the museum could look into starting a regular afternoon activity session for school-aged children. Action should be taken on the part of the museum to ensure that its full capabilities are able to be taken advantage of by the young members of the surrounding society. The Smithsonian Latino Center provides scholarships and internships for its widespread constituency. If funds are to be given museums, the public needs to see that they are redistributed by as many means possible.

I hope that the museum I represent can provide the level of local relevance of the Pearl Button Museum. A place that incites memory from residents and provides a useful physical space to support the community. No one should feel excluded from a museum, or feel that its holdings are so far from one’s own interests as to have little possible effect on their life. As Lord demonstrated with his interaction with prison inmates at the Vancouver Art Gallery, a present and meaningful relevance can be found for anyone, so long as it is sought. Museums must devote creative energy to finding these connections within their collections.

Museums will hopefully continue on the trajectory of becoming a recognized place for everyone’s benefit, regardless of economic wealth or social standing. I would hope through (continual) positive interactions, we could prove the worth of art, history, and science to everyone. This will be accomplished when everyone has had the opportunity to experience the full potential that each of these mediums has to enrich the quality of human existence and life. Rather than offering this up as a platitude,[4] I hope it can one day become a reality felt by all.

[1] Worts, D. “Measuring Museum Meaning: A Critical Assessment Framework.” Journal of Museum Education 31(1). 2006: 47.

[2] Merritt, Elizabeth. Museums and Society 2034: Trends and Potential Futures. American Association of Museums.  2008. http://www.aam-us.org/docs/center-for-the-future-ofmuseums/museumssociety2034.pdf.

[3] Sheppard, Beverly. “Insistent Questions in Our Learning Age.  Journal of Museum Education, (35): 3, 218.

[4] Connolly, Robert. “Labor Day and the Cultural Heritage Professional.”  Archaeology, Museums, and Outreach Blog. 2012. https://rcnnolly.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/labor-day-and-the-cultural-heritage-professional/.

 

Contact Emily at emcoate(at)memphis.edu

Nancy Hawkins: 35 Years of Service to Louisiana Archaeology

NHawkins

Nancy Hawkins receiving award for her work on the Poverty Point World Heritage Site.

After 35 years my friend and colleague, Nancy Hawkins is retiring at the end of this year from the Louisiana Division of Archaeology in Baton Rouge.  Her final job responsibilities included Outreach, the Regional & Station Archaeology, Archaeology Month, Teacher Assistance and more.  Nancy played a major role or was completely responsible for many of the highly successful projects carried out by the Division over the past three decades.  These projects include The Indian Mounds of Northeast Louisiana Trail Guide, many of educational programs and publications by the Division, and most recently the successful nomination of the Poverty Point site as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And there is a bunch more.

I first met Nancy in the winter of 1995 when I applied for the position of Station Archaeologist at the Poverty Point site.  I don’t remember much of the interview process.  I do remember riding with Nancy on the four-hour trip from Baton Rouge to Epps, Louisiana.  I do remember how exciting I was to be considered for this position.  I had visited Poverty Point four years before on a graduate student field trip, stood in the plaza and said “If I could get a job working here it would be like dying and going to heaven.”  I got the job in 1996.

From 1996 to 2003 I was the Station Archaeologist. Over that period, I learned much from Nancy that helped guide my career for the next twenty years.  Those lessons were not always easy, but critical for any success I was able to have.  Here is some of what I learned from Nancy:

  • Appreciate the big picture.  In Nancy’s capacity of coordinating the entire Station and Regional Archaeology Program along with countless other activities and events, she always was as mindful of the whole as the individual parts.  These lessons served me well in my later career when I juggled the interests of multiple individuals to build a central institutional mission.
  • When I worked as the Station Archaeologist at Poverty Point, I absolutely loathed the Annual Reports we wrote that Nancy reviewed.  I saw this task as the equivalent of writing a new PhD dissertation every year – and in many ways it was.  But I joked with Nancy several years later when I was hired into a position where the organization had been on the decline for a several years, that annual reports and annual actions plans were the absolute key to keeping us on track to resurrect that institution.  It was through Nancy’s thoroughness in reviewing and administering these reports that I learned to show an accountability in what we were charged to carry out as public stewards of cultural heritage.
  • I have came to appreciate a thoroughness in working with Nancy on multiple projects over the years.  I readily admit that when I began my tenure at Poverty Point, I was very much like a kid in the candy store with possibilities.  I could zip from one project to another, trying to juggle too many balls in the air.  I recollect well my irritation when I would send a new project I was particularly pleased with for Nancy’s review, and she might note that, yes it looked good, but the images could be more sharply focused, and the text could benefit from some reworking – and she was right. When I came to oversee the production of exhibits later as  museum director or in applied student projects, I employed the same thoroughness and attention to detail – many times I suspect equally irritating the others, but providing them the same opportunity to learn.
  • Nancy exhibited tremendous insights during her tenure the with the Division of Archaeology.  Her vision for the Mounds Commission, the Louisiana Mounds Trail, and Poverty Point as a World Historic Site were absolutely instrumental to their becoming a reality.  In that capacity Nancy demonstrated tremendous patience and commitment to seeing those projects through, despite the obstacles that regularly surfaced.  This lesson has been absolutely key to my practice.
  • Perhaps one of the greatest lessons I have learned from Nancy was watching her facilitate the many projects she successfully shepherded through during her tenure.  Nancy masterfully could take just a little, find other resources and individuals with a common interest, get them working together, to produce a final product for which her name often appeared only as a footnote, but could clearly could not have occurred without her facilitation.  Over the past 10 years, this lesson from Nancy proved a guiding focus of how I came to operate in a several capacities.

This list could go on.  I enjoyed that Nancy could always ask tough questions, and still does for which I have no good answer – but force me to think.  The one nagging question she repeated to me during a meeting just a couple of weeks ago –  How are we able to evaluate the value of the public archaeology programs we create?

The State of Louisiana and public archaeology in general are much better today for the 35 years of service by Nancy Hawkins.  I would be remiss if I did not note how she was always supported by and functioned as part of a team effort.  Although there were certainly other capable folks both before and after my tenure in Louisiana Archaeology, what I consider my own personal Glory Days benefited not just from Nancy’s work but also the vision of individuals such as Tom Eubanks, Duke Rivett, Rachel Watson and all of my colleagues in the Regional and Station Archaeology Program.

As I am now retired to New Orleans, and taking up the cause of Louisiana Archaeology again as I am able, I have commiserated with Nancy about the decimation of so much cultural heritage work that was built over the past decades.  I believe the decimation is largely the result of misplaced priorities and the short-sighted vision of many elected officials.  There is no reason to be optimistic about the immediate future for cultural heritage resources in Louisiana or anywhere in the U.S. for that matter.  We will need to take the best of old models and adapt them to a new set of realities.  Without question the work by Nancy Hawkins and her colleagues over the past 35 years laid a solid foundation on which that future can be built.

Public Accountability in Cultural Heritage Studies – Now More Than Ever.

MAGS artifact3Public or Applied Archaeology will play an increasingly important role in presenting and preserving cultural heritage of the United States in the coming period.  As readers of this blog are aware, I advocate for demonstrating the public relevance of archaeology and museums.  With a future certainty that discretionary spending will be increasingly cut, cultural heritage programs that best demonstrate their utility to the public, will stand the best chance of surviving.

Below are several links that show how this might work, first around the issue of metal detecting:

  • Maureen Malloy, Manager of Public Education at the Society for American Archaeology is the lead author on a paper that evaluates the SAA role in advising on the National Geographic Channels Diggers program.  The reality cable tv show featured avocational metal detectorists, often considered by professional archaeologists as a significant bane to their existence.  Maureen presented the paper, Diggers Evaluating Diggers: A Collaboration between SAA and the National Geographic Channel, at last year’s SAA Annual meeting in Orlando.  In the paper, Maureen and her co-authors trace the evolution of Diggers, demonstrating the positive impact that professional archaeologists were able to bring to the show’s content.  The paper effectively argues for an engaged presence as a means to increase attention and action on the archaeological concerns in such programming.
  • Matthew Reeves presented the SAA Webinar Working With Metal Detectorists: Citizen Science at Historic Montpelier and Engaging a New Constituency.  Matt discusses the training program for the Montpelier detectorists and their work at the Montpelier site.  The webinar is available for free to SAA members here.  If you are not an SAA member but would like access to the webinar, drop me a note to see about making arrangements.  Matt also recently published an article on the subject that provides considerable detail on the Montpelier project.
  • The SAA For the Public webpages has a resource link dedicated to metal detecting and includes articles such as Reality Television and Metal Detecting: Let’s Be Part of the Solution and Not Add to the Problem by Giovanna Peebles.  The page contains nearly two dozen other links on metal detecting, public engagement, and related legal issues.
  • I would be remiss if I did not note the BBC comedy The Detectorists that is available on Netflix.

A couple of other recent links relevant to public archaeology include:

  • Elizabeth Reetz, chair of the SAA’s Public Education Committee, recently posted a PowerPoint file Effectively Communicating Archaeology to the Public In Three Minutes or Less that contains information about advocacy work in archaeology.  Of particular value, Elizabeth’s presentation addresses a point raised in Maureen’s SAA paper – how archaeologists and the public often talk on two different levels with two different sets of vocabularies and expectations.  Elizabeth’s presentation is a great way to kick off a discussion on launching an advocacy campaign.  And speaking of advocacy, check the Resource Guide for the just published volume I edited with Beth Bollwerk, Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset.  The Guide contains over 30 Advocacy links to better guide public engagement in cultural heritage work.
  • Finally Doug’s Archaeology recently posted a set of videos of papers on Community Archaeology from a recent conference of The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, the leading professional body representing archaeologists working in the UK.  The papers address and evaluate a diversity of community-based cultural heritage projects.

What other resources will you use to demonstrate the relevance of your cultural heritage projects funded by the public we are meant to serve? 

 

 

 

 

Museums Working with Communities: The Book

positioning-museums-coverI am pleased to announce that my colleague Beth Bollwerk and I have a new book that will be available in the coming weeks –  Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset: A Practical Guide, published by Rowman and Littlefield Press.  You can pre-order a copy at a 30% discount by using the promotional code RLFANDF30.  The extensive Resource Guide of the book is available now online (and at no cost).

So why is this book different from other titles on how museums strive to be engaged with the communities they serve? Our new book is explicitly a “how to guide” for museums to integrate themselves into their communities.  Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset: A Practical Guide, is not meant to convince the reader of the need for that integration. We consider that need a settled matter.  We envision this book within the framework of museums co-creating with their communities. We do not envision this co-creation as museums simply being more attuned to community needs. Co-creation means making a commitment to working with a community to address those needs.

We consider this volume as the instruction manual for our previously edited volumes that discussed the concept of co-creation for cultural heritage professionals and museums. In 2012 we published Open(ing) Authority Through Community Engagement, that provided a theoretical overview and ten case studies on co-creation with museums and their communities. In 2015, we published Co-creation in the Archaeological Record that brought the discussion squarely to fieldwork, curation, and interpretation in the discipline of archaeology along with another set of case studies.

In our application of co-creation we prioritize acting on the public’s expressed needs and interests.  To simplify that process we rely on Dana’s mandate in The New Museum written one century ago – “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs”   Our new volume fills the methodological and logistical gap in acting on Dana’s mandate. For example, our experience over the past several years demonstrates that for many museums, particularly smaller ones, the ability to carry out a community oral history project that can be curated online with universal access, or creating a new low-cost exhibit based on important community curated collections are often not considered possible because of finances, staffing, or other constraints. At the same time, over that same time period, we have encountered dozens of projects that overcame these obstacles and implemented such community-driven engagement work.

Drawing on that experience, this volume does not discuss the relevance or need for museums to engage with their communities. Instead, our contributors introduce specific themes of engagement, supported by applied case studies. The volume themes and case studies are particularly relevant to small and medium-sized cultural heritage venues with a limited or even no full-time staff. Our contributors to this book were also certain their “how to” projects could be completed for $1500.00 or less to assure that cost was not a prohibitive factor.

Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset: A Practical Guide is organized into six sections. Each section begins with a thematic discussion relevant to a museum’s engagement with the community they serve. Each thematic discussion is followed by four or five case study applications.   The Table of Contents listed below shows the diversity of case studies presented that range from rural Peru to the urban Upper Midwest of the United States.  The final section of the book links to an extensive online Resource Guide that will be regularly updated.  We were selective about the links included in the Resource Guide.  We chose not to include so many entries such that the reader could not tell the forest for the trees.  Instead we carefully selected those resources of particular relevance to small and medium-sized cultural heritage venues aligned with the focus of our volume’s contributors.

Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset: A Practical Guide is a book that demonstrates any museum, regardless of size, staffing, or financial resources, can engage with their communities in a vibrant and co-creative way. We truly believe that when museums and communities co-create together those cultural heritage venues will serve as valuable community partners that must be preserved and maintained.

Order your copy today at the 30% off with the discount code RLFANDF30.

 

 

Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset: A Practical Guide

Table of Contents

Introduction- Robert P. Connolly and Elizabeth A. Bollwerk

Part 1 – Communities Making Meaning in Museum Education – Jody Stokes Casey

Case Studies

  1. Developing High School Curriculum: The C.H. Nash Museum and Freedom Prep Charter School Project – Nur Abdalla and Lyndsey Pender
  2. Creating a Museum in a School: Cultural Heritage in Nivín, Perú– Gustavo Valencia Tello and Elizabeth Cruzado
  3. Meeting Teacher Needs: Digital Collections in the Classroom – Shana Crosson
  4. Using Postcard Collections as a Primary Resource in the Classroom – Brian Failing
  5. Words, Stone, Earth, and Paint: Using Creative Writing to Engage a Community with Its Museum – Mary Anna Evans

Part 2 – The Value of Open(ing) Authority and Participatory Frameworks for Museums – Elizabeth A. Bollwerk

Case Studies

  1. Oral History For, About, and By a Local Community: Co-Creation in the Peruvian Highlands – Elizabeth Cruzado and Leodan Alejo Valerio
  2. Working with a Private Collector to Strengthen Women’s History: Sewall-Belmont House & Museum – Rebecca Price.
  3. Reconnecting a University Museum Collection with Hopi Farmers through an Undergraduate Class– Lisa Young and Susan Sekaquaptewa
  4. Our Stories, Our Places: Centering the Community as Narrative Voice in the Reinterpretation of an African American Historic Site – Porchia Moore

Part 3 – Advocacy for Heritage Professionals During the Crisis and the Calm – Sarah E. Miller

Case Studies

  1. Making Advocacy Everyone’s Priority – Ember Farber
  2. Impact Statements – Demonstrating a Museum’s Public Value – Robert P. Connolly
  3. Small Fish, Big Pond: How to Effectively Advocate in Your Community – Melissa Prycer

Part 4 – Museums Engaging With People As A Community Resource – Robert P. Connolly

Case Studies

  1. Taking Steps to Make a Museum Special Needs Friendly – Colleen McCartney
  2. Incorporating Descendent Community Voices: The Whitney Plantation – Ashley Rogers
  3. How Community Input Can Shape a Mission: The Proposed Eggleston Museum – Allison Hennie
  4. Building a Community History at the University of the West Indies Museum – Suzanne Francis-Brown
  5. Telling Our Town’s History: The Muscatine History and Industry Center – Mary Wildermuth
  6. Working to Address Community Needs: The Missouri History Museum – Melanie Adams

Part 5 – Engaging User Audiences in the Digital Landscape – Brigitte Billeaudeaux and Jennifer Schnabel

Case Studies

  1. Creating a Digital Library for Community Access: A. Schwab on Beale Street – Brigitte Billeaudeaux
  2. Separating the Glitz from the Practical in Social Media at the National Underground Railroad Museum – Jamie Glavic and Assia Johnson
  3. How a Simple, Inexpensive Podcast Engaged an Entire Community: Chick History, Inc – Rebecca Price
  4. Recording the Neglected Sports Stories From the Backside – Holly Solis
  5. Small Museum Website Creation with a Limited Staff and Budget: The Arden Craft Shop Museum – Kelsey Ransick

Part 6 – Resource Guide

The Space of Memory, Tolerance, and Social Inclusion – Lima, Peru

LUMFor this post, I start by noting that I am not Peruvian and I have no desire to mess in that sovereign nation’s affairs.  I write from the perspective of a cultural heritage professional. This is my review of El Lugar de la Memoria, la Tolerancia y la Inclusión Social (The Space of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion), located in Lima, Peru.

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The role of jailed former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori plays prominently in The Space interpretation of events.

The Space serves as a museum, cultural center, place of reconciliation and reflection on the Shining Path’s reign of terror in Peru from the 1980s through 2000.  Here are some of my takeaways:

  • The presentation is impressive throughout the three floors of The Space.  The story is told principally through panel text and image displays along with a substantive but not overwhelming distribution of video stations.  My three-hour visit allowed a sufficient amount of time to view and absorb most of the exhibits.  My Spanish is good enough to understand all that I was reading.  I assumed, as always, that a museum has its own point of view that excludes other perspectives.  However, when I asked my Peruvian hosts about the potential bias, they believed the presentation was representative of multiple perspectives.  In fact, the very creation of the museum was eclipsed by several years of controversy to maximize inclusion.
  • The Space contains many of the hallmarks of other “museum of conscious” type of venues such as the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.  For example, visitors pick up small booklets that contain information about the lives of those assassinated or disappeared over the twenty-year period.  A memory board allows visitors to comment directly about specific individuals or the relatives of the disappeared.  Large flat screen displays feature the oral histories of individuals impacted by the Shining Path activities.  The second floor leads to a spacious reflection area.  The third floor includes a gallery of contemporary artwork on the period along with walls of mementos brought by families of the disappeared.
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    Mementos from the Disappeared.

    A departure from similar museums I have visited is a free admission to The Space, making the venue accessible to anyone who is able to get to Lima.  I was struck as well that although the museum very effectively tells the story of Shining Path, contextualized within the poverty and oppression of rural Peru, quite clearly, the focus of the venue is as a place of reflection and reconciliation for Peruvians.

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Memory Board

I found the experience of visiting the museum quite humbling.  I learned another part of the story of the rural Quechua village where I spend a portion of my summers of late.  I had always known that the community was founded in part based on attempts to escape the Shining Path war, but The Space helped me to better understand and appreciate the lives of my Peruvian friends in both the Andes and Lima.

If in Lima, The Space of Memory, Tolerance, and Social Inclusion is definitely worth the visit for both the story and method of the telling.

 

Cultural Heritage and the R Word

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

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

In the face of funding cutbacks, a cultural heritage institution buzzword of late is being “relevant” to the public.  Nina Simon has a new book out on this very topic. Quite often we view relevance from the perspective of getting folks in the door or demonstrating to public officials or other funders why an economic institution should maintain their cut of the economic pie. The short-term flurry of activity after the Florida Governor’s attacks on anthropology or reaction to the various “Digger” shows that have now been cancelled are problematic. Bluntly, our field seems stymied by a focus on self-interest – we tend not to get excited until our own little corner of the universe is attacked, despite our mission to act as public stewards, educators, and servants. I recollect the Art History graduate student in my Museum Practices seminar several years ago who calmly and confidently stated “Art Historians are not interested in what the public thinks.”

I have a dream, nowhere near as lofty as that of MLK Jr., but, my dream is that when cultural heritage funding or other resources are on the chopping block, it is not the professionals who immediately respond in protest, but rather the response comes from the public whose cultural heritage resources are being threatened. I dream that the citizenry would respond to such cuts with “We demand that you provide the professionals who work in our publicly funded institutions that preserve our cultural heritage adequate resources to do the job that our tax dollars are intended for them to do.”

To bring about this dream necessitates not a magical conjuring up of public forces to do the bidding for the professionals. Rather, I believe this dream can be fulfilled as a logical consequence of cultural heritage institutions engaging and sustaining long-term relationships with the public we serve. Or as John Cotton Dana noted 99 years ago “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs” (The New Museum, 1917:38).

What I think that all comes down to is demonstrating relevance to the communities that we serve.  Several years ago I posed the following question to my Museum Practices Graduate Seminar as a final exam question:

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 as 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?

I have posted some of the responses on this blog.  I like this question so much that I now use it as one of the final exam questions for all course I teach and as a question on all graduate comprehensive exam committees on which I serve.

This is a question is relevant because it directly leads to addressing Dana’s mandate of a century ago.  Over the years, I have grilled students to go beyond vague sentiments of cultural preservation, we don’t know anything about this cultural period occupation in this particular region, to further scientific knowledge, and all the plethora of similar answers when responding to this exam question.  Direct responses that directly engage public requests are what I find so relevant as in the Florida Public Archaeology Networks cemetery reclamation program or my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza’s work in Nivín, Peru that is a poster child for co-creation based on the specific community expressed needs to which she is directly responding.

Hmm . . . this post seems like a rehash of many similar entries I have written over the years on the R word, here, here, here, here, etc.  But once again, this issue raises it’s head.

How is your institution/project relevant to expressed needs of the community that you serve?

 

The Florida Public Archaeology Network: A Decade of Success in Community Engagement

fpanThe past several years have witnessed broad cuts in cultural heritage programming in the United States, particularly on the local and state levels. At the same time, several cultural heritage programs are, if not thriving, at least sustaining their presence and activities. A program that has sustained and even expanded its presence over the past decade is the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN).  I have long been a fan of FPAN and the many resources they provide for all forms of community outreach.

In a recent article “Lessons Learned Along the Way: The Florida Public Archaeology Network after Ten Years” (Public Archaeology, 14:2, 92-114), William B. Lees, Della A. Scott-Ireton & Sarah E. Miller present a summary on what has worked and what has not worked for the organization over the past decade.

The article begins in noting that:

The Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) is a new direction for public archaeology programmes, dedicated to the express purpose of preserving the state s heritage through public education and engagement. It differs from other programmes, past and present, because it is focused solely on archaeological preservation through public engagement and because it is not housed within a larger programme with other research or heritage management responsibilities.

Here are some bullets that highlight my takeaways from the summary article:

  • FPAN was initially envisioned to expand on Dr. Judith Bense’s community archaeology in downtown Pensacola, taking the program state-wide.
  • After state legislation established the program, the University of West Florida provided funds to launch a steering committee and put meat on the bones of the legislation.
  • The legislation gave the steering committee a good bit of latitude in developing a program that was not a part of an existing organization. The steering committee was careful not to create a program that duplicated the efforts of existing organizations in the state. Ultimately they proposed a model where local universities or organizations would host or sponsor an FPAN regional center.
  • FPAN intentionally excluded “traditional archaeological research” as a major goal of regional centers. I find this exclusion particularly compelling as a means to focus public archaeology on a community’s needs and not on a regional directors interest, or even archaeologically driven “traditional research” questions.
  • Like most community based cultural heritage organizations, budgetary constraints over the past few years required restructuring at FPAN. But for “the public there is little change as we (FPAN) retain the same geographical regions and maintain offices and staff in each.”
  • FPAN also prides itself in becoming more proactive to meet Florida’s varied educational needs.   Of importance FPAN centers revise and repackage individual tools they create for other programs or regions of the state – and from firsthand experience I can attest FPAN’s products serve as models outside of Florida, across the Southeast, and beyond.
  • FPAN also delivers workshops and programs that address expressed community needs for a true co-creative experience. Sarah Miller’s article “Cemeteries as Participatory Museums: The Cemetery Resource Protection Training Program across Florida” published in Advances in Archaeological Practice is an excellent example of this process.
  • FPAN also plays a strong advocacy role for archaeology on a regional and statewide basis and serves as a national role model for our discipline. (See Sarah Miller’s SAA webinar on advocacy, archived for SAA members).
  • To be accountable to the taxpayers who pay for the programs, FPAN also sees “. . . outcome assessment . . . as the next essential step needed to ensure and evaluate FPAN s contribution to archaeological preservation in Florida.”

As noted, a unique role FPAN plays is that their sole responsibility is public outreach and education in archaeology. They are not subject to soft money generation through CRM projects or driven by quantification of “traditional archaeological research.” In this way public archaeology is not a department within FPAN, public archaeology is FPAN, making quite clear the function of the organization. For FPAN, public outreach is not something that gets snuck in on the side, or if a staff member is particularly interested in community engagement.  Public outreach is the reason for FPAN’s existence.

In this way, the organization does not keep two sets of books so to speak – one which it produces for the professional community and one for the lay audience. Both books are the same. This approach seems the strongest way to demonstrate relevancy and build community support for the cultural heritage disciplines.

Your thoughts on the FPAN approach?

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