Tag: museums

The House of Dance and Feathers

A fitting post for today is Ronald Lewis’s museum The House of Dance and Feathers in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans.  The museum focuses on the cultural traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians and Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs of New Orleans.  Besides that yesterday was Mardi Gras, the House of Dance and Feathers is particularly relevant to this blog because the institution in many ways represents the ultimate in public outreach or the public face of the museum experience.  I lived in New Orleans for a few years a couple of decades ago and always thought that the Zulu Krewe represented the essence of the African-American Mardi Gras experience.  Currently, there is an excellent exhibit on the Zulu Krewe in the Cabildo at Jackson Square in New Orleans.

The House of Dance and Feathers documents something entirely different.  As taken from their website “Since 2006, the museum has become an important gathering place for scholars, activists, students, neighbors, and volunteers to talk about the history and culture of the Lower Nine, and to discuss the rebuilding of New Orleans.  The museum has also hosted numerous meetings, workshops, and gatherings for people who are working to make things happen in New Orleans.  Visitors to the House of Dance and Feathers experience the power of self-representation and the value of cultural exchange.  Mr. Lewis is currently working with Rachel Breunlin and the Neighborhood Story Project to produce a museum catalogue. In his museum tours and public talks, Mr. Lewis speaks eloquently about the social significance of place, family, and cultural traditions in community-building, and he has been an outspoken advocate for a resident-led rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward.”

I first heard of the Museum in a presentation given by Helen Regis at the Society for Applied Anthropology Meetings last year in Santa Fe.  Regis is one of the editors of the very engaging volume The House of Dance and Feathers: A Museum by Ronald W. Lewis. The book is a fantastic story and documentation of the multi-faceted potential of the museum experience.

What other community museums tell these untold stories?

Society for Georgia Archaeology, Public Outreach

A few weeks ago I posted about the Louisiana Division of Archaeology website and the wealth of online information they offer.  Louisiana is not unique in their breadth of offerings.  I find that in most states, their respective archaeological organizations provide an increasing amount of on-line information to the public.  Most state sites offer schedules of upcoming events, brochures and information about major sites and museums in the area, along with a listing of the programs and services available through the agency.  Also, these state archaeological agencies usually each contribute some unique online resource to the public.  In Louisiana, the unique offerings included their excellent mound trail driving brochure and teacher guides.

The Society for Georgia Archaeology website follows a similar trend.  In addition to including many of the offerings common to archaeological  agencies in other states, Georgia also provides several unique offerings.  One of the most unique is information about the their archaeobus that takes archaeology to the public throughout Georgia.  Rita Elliott, Curator of Exhibits and Archaeology at the Coastal Heritage Society in Georgia gave an excellent presentation on the archaeobus at the 2009 Southeastern Archaeological Conference in Mobile, Alabama.  The archaeobus is a transformed Bookmobile retired from a county regional library.  The archaeobus web link documents the transformation process, including the expense involved, and evaluates the initial phase of the project.

The SGA website also has detailed lesson plans for download and use in the classroom.  Topics include the Mississippian mound complex at Etowah and the Removal of Native Americans from Georgia to Oklahoma in the 1800s.  The SGA website also provides links to other institution’s lesson plans such as at Springfield, the Free African-American Community founded around the time of the Revolutionary War.

The SGA website also contains the 128 page Archaeology in the Classroom: For Teachers by Teachers available free for download.

My favorite unique contribution on the SGA website is the Weekly Ponder column.  Now in its second year, the column provides updates on archaeological site excavations, preservation issues, discusses the veracity of historic documents, and current trends in archaeology, to name but a few of the topics covered.

The SGA site has links to volunteer opportunities, guides for preserving historic cemeteries, book reviews, summaries of the prehistoric periods in Georgia, Science Fair information, links for kids, along with the typical information found on most state archaeology websites.

The Society for Georgia Archaeology website is well-maintained and regularly updated – I found no broken links or pages that were months out of date.  The SGA website is an excellent “one-stop-shopping” site for bringing archaeology to the public in Georgia.  The website would benefit from inclusion, or at least linking to, descendent voices, principally of the Native American communities.

Do you have a favorite website that brings archaeology and museums to the public?

So, is this social media stuff worth it?

So, I have posted on this blog for a little bit now.  My goal from the start was to provide a venue for folks to consider means for taking Museums and/or Archaeology to the public.  So from a modest start I am seeing a respectable number of hits for each post.  However, I also know that the number of hits and comments is really not the true measure of whether a blog is meeting its intended purpose.

I have written before that I religiously follow Nina Simon’s blog at Museum 2.0.  So if my loyalty is any indication, Nina’s experience at Museum 2.0 might prove useful.  I dropped her a note and she pointed me to a couple of posts.  The first post is from about a year ago on her own Museum 2.0 blog.  The thrust of the post Nina pointed me to is not unlike another Museum 2.0 post on overrating self-expression in museums.  Simply, in the same way that the majority of folks want to go into a museum to observe and not create, the same for blogs.  She notes seven comments left from over 10,000 unique user hits.  Quite a dismal rate, if comments is what you are after!

She also pointed me to a post on Beth Kanter’s blog dealing with metrics and evaluations – How Nonprofit Organizations Can Use Social Media to Power Social Networks for Change.  The post is quite helpful with a ton of good stuff found within.

The punch line on all of this for me is that if we are going to spend the energy to move toward Social Media or even just Web 2.0 to reach out to the public in promoting Archaeology and Museums, then we should really have some way of measuring the worth – not just doing it because it seems cost-effective when postage stamps and printing continue to climb in price.

Read what Nina has to say about blog comments and what she sees that blogs are really able to do.  Beth provides a ton of resources for measuring the effectiveness of measures such as “audience growth” and “authority.”  At the C.H. Nash Museum I am quite pleased at the return on our input in social media as measured by site hits and the “word-of-mouth” authority type measures such as Google Alert and Technorati (both discussed in Beth’s post).

Is it time for you to assess your digital media efforts to date?  Take a look at posts from Nina and Beth for some ideas.

SunWatch Indian Village & Public Outreach

In today’s post we have a Q & A with Andy Sawyer, Site Manager of the SunWatch Indian Village and Archaeological Park, near Dayton, Ohio.  I have long been impressed that SunWatch runs an effective outreach program and now leads the way in the inclusion of descendent voices in the programming of the site.  I asked Andy to share a bit about himself and the SunWatch program.

Tell us a bit about your own background and your overall responsibilities at SunWatch.

I am an Anthropologist who specializes in Archaeology.  I have a BA in Anthropology from Miami University and an MA from the University of Denver. In my career as a student and practicing archaeologist I have had the opportunity to work in many parts of the US.  Prior to coming to SunWatch I worked for several years in Cultural Resource Management throughout the western US.  At SunWatch I am responsible for the day to day operation of a partially reconstructed 800 year old American Indian village and museum that covers the lives of the American Indians who occupied this region almost 300 years before Columbus reached the shores of the “New World.”

What do you consider your most successful recent effort to bring the surrounding community to SunWatch?

One of the things about a small museum such as ours is that we do not have the space or the funding to bring in many traveling exhibits.  Thanks to the support of local donors, however, since 2007 we have offered an annual presentation series that covers topics of local and national interest on archaeology and issues important to the American Indian community.  Our first series in 2007 averaged 42 people per presentation and in 2009 we averaged 92 people per presentation.  We just started our fourth presentation series a few weeks ago and the attendance was 94.  These series have given us a chance to offer something new to the visitors.

That’s a pretty impressive increase in attendance. How do you account for the success?

We have focused on unique topics and have been lucky to have supportive donors that have allowed us to keep new subject matter on the table.  We also have “word of mouth” promoting as we have numerous regulars to the series over the last few years that share with folks they know and bring new people out. Also, I really think targeting the groups that have an interest in specific presentations or topics is a good strategy.  And of course, offering these programs free of charge doesn’t hurt either.

What has been your experience in being inclusive of descendent voices at the SunWatch Village?

Our experience over the last several years has been incredibly positive.  As you are likely aware, archaeologists and American Indians have not always had a good relationship, in fact in some cases it has been just outright confrontational.  When I first suggested to our organization that I wanted to contact the most visible American Indian group in the Dayton area about collaborating on events they were a bit skeptical.  In the past this American Indian organization had been critical of activities at SunWatch on multiple occasions. Part of the issues, I think, in the past was a lack of communication.  I contacted them, invited them in for a talk, and we are going on our 4th year of hosting their Pow Wow and collaborating on other events including a clothing and school supplies drive for various reservations.  So from my perspective it has been an entirely positive experience.

How do you currently use Social Media at SunWatch Village?

About a year ago we started a Facebook page for SunWatch which was our first, and still only venture into using social media outlets.  So far it seems to be a good way to get information about SunWatch and our upcoming events out to our “Fans” who have signed up.  It also seems to be a good way for our “Fans” to spread the word.  Many of our fans share our updates with their Friends helping to spread the word even further.  Some of the organizations that help us organize events, such as the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans and the Miami Valley Flute Circle, both American Indian based groups, also have their own Facebook or MySpace pages. So when these groups post info about events on Facebook they are also helping expose more people to SunWatch.

What do you anticipate will be the future role of social media at SunWatch Village?

Since we are still relatively new to this, and social media is relatively new itself, we are not sure exactly what role this will play for us in the future.  For now though it seems to be a promising way for us to reach those who are already aware of us and perhaps many more that are not… yet.

Any wise words of wisdom on how you promote SunWatch Village that other museums or archaeologists might find helpful?

Identify your audience(s).  As a non-profit we have a limited budget especially when it comes to promotions.  Part of what we have tried to do is identify people who we already know will have an interest in our events and finding ways to let them know what is going on.  The groups that we have identified include local historical societies, archaeological interest groups, Native interest groups, and others.  These organizations typically have newsletters and/or e-mail lists through which they can let their membership know about upcoming events of interest so they can help us promote our events to their members.  Last year our presentation series was on Archaeoastronomy so we contacted local astronomy organizations to let them know about the presentations and we had a great response.  This year our first presentation was on shipwreck archaeology in the Great Lakes, so we contacted a local Scuba group, and we started off with a bang again.  While we still use more traditional advertising/marketing strategies, targeting our efforts in this way helps us make sure we get the word out to people who we know are interested.

You can email Andy or visit SunWatch village on-line at www.sunwatch.org or on Facebook.  Be certain to check out SunWatch Village when you are traveling through Southwest Ohio.  In fact, Southwest Ohio has a bounty of Native American cultural resources from the prehistoric era including the Fort Ancient site and Miami Fort – both open to the public.

Museum 2.0 Blog

Without a doubt, the blog I look forward to reading most is Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0.   Much of the content does not seem relevant to an archaeological or history museum or for our medium-smallish size museum.  But a lot of what I get from Nina’s blog is like my coursework in linguistics as an undergraduate – it’s just good to think and often applicable in surprising ways.  I get that some of our reluctance to fully engage with the potential of Web 2.0 is lack of knowledge.  I recollect in 1995 only 2 of the 10 facutly members in the Anthropology Department where I was adjuncting had email.  One prof still insisted on typing his manuscripts on his IBM Selectric.  But when he found out that, via the internet, he could get daily newspapers from Mexico City, his research area, the typewriter went into storage.    So, if you are just sticking your toe in the water, let me give you a couple of examples from the Museum 2.0 blog that might get you to take the plunge:

Nina also writes a column for Museum, the magazine of the American Association of Museums and is currently completing a book on the participatory museum experience.

What are your experiences with Web 2.0 when it comes to Public Outreach?

The Louisiana Division of Archaeology

The Louisiana Division of Archaeology has long been a leader in Public Outreach and Education in Archaeology.  Their website hosts a tremendous list of resources.  For example, one of their recent publications Poverty Point Expeditions , is a classroom workbook and available online from the Division.  Written by educator Debbie Buco, the workbook uses archaeology based at the Poverty Point site for lesson plans in a wide range of subject areas including natural and social sciences and the humanities.  The lesson plans are complete with step-by-step instructions, worksheets, materials and time estimates needed for completing the projects.  Each lesson is tied to the Louisiana State Curriculum Standards.  Over the past several years, the Division also produced the books Classroom Archaeology (Middle School), Adventures in Classroom Archaeology (K-12), and a picture book for elementary school children Louisiana Indians from Long Ago.

The Louisiana Division of Archaeology is also a leader in creating virtual on-line versions of all their books and pamphlets.  Perhaps most exciting is the recently published Indians Mounds of Northeast Louisiana: A Driving Trail Guide.  The guide can be downloaded as a pdf file.  The culmination of an eight-year project, the guide contains 4 driving trails in the northeast quarter of the state that lead visitors to several dozen publicly visible prehistoric earthwork sites.  Each site is described through a topographic map, cultural affiliation, and other pertinent information.  The Guide provides the public with an understanding of the regional significance, accomplishment, and legacy of American Indians for the past 5000 years.  The conical and flat top mounds that dot the Louisiana landscape take on added meaning as a cultural resource truly worthy of preservation.

The Louisiana Division of Archaeology website also includes information on Archaeoloigy Month programs, traveling exhibits, the preservation of cultural resources, the Regional and Station Archaeology Programs, and links to numerous other sites of archaeological, Native American, and preservation interests.

The publications listed above may also be ordered directly through the Division by completing this form

Future of Museums

One of my favorite websites to find good things to think about is at the Center for the Future of Museums.  Of most utility is the email Dispatches from the Center for Museums you can subscribe to and receive weekly updates.  

So what have they got?  Each Dispatch contains links to a dozen or so different articles or websites that stimulate thinking out how we will carry our missions into the future.  Things I read in the recent Dispatch that were relevant or “good to think” for me around issues of Public Outreach and Education included:

  • America’s Information Consumption Soars – Article in the San Francisco Chronicle – I found this interesting in demonstrating that the actual amount of information we receive today is dramatically increased with digital technologies.  How do we mesh our public outreach with the way folks are receiving this information today?  This all reminds me of a free webinar I listened to earlier this year on the AAM website that dealt with Gaming and Museums.  The basic thesis was that if we could get youth (and others) to invest the amount of time currently spent in gaming for pleasure on gaming for social good, then the sky is the limit . . . 
  •  Ten Crucial Consumer Trends for 2010 – from the website trendwatching.com – A list and discussion of trends, about half of which I found good to think about, such as:  Business as Usual – How the end of the Recession will not bring about a return to the past; Real Time Reviews – How the good and bad of what we do in our presentaiton and events is judged by the visitor and immediately spread through digital media to the world; and how digital interactions can ultimately be turned into real time interactions – certainly a goal we wish to move toward in Public Outreach efforts
  • The Use of Handheld Guides in Museums – from Learning Times – I really enjoyed this piece.  The handheld/audio tour is an issue we continue to grapple with at the C.H. Nash Museum.  We take up at what point are we pushing more interacivity on our visitors than they want?  How do we balance different visitor learning styles?

All this and more comes once a week to your in box. 

What other tools do you use to find ideas that are “good to think” about for Public Outreach?

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