Tag: PIARA

Applied Archaeology: A Christmas Party in Hualcayán

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A first ever Christmas gift for a Hualcayán child.

The post below is written by my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza the Co-Director along with Rebecca Bria of Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológico Regional Ancash (PIARA).  I have posted before about the fantastic community outreach and cultural heritage work of PIARA.  On December 6th of this year, PIARA sponsored a Christmas party for the 140 children of the Hualcayán community in the Andes mountains of Peru.  PIARA views theses events as an integral part of their applied archaeology program not just for the community but with the community.  In addition to archaeological research, in the coming year, PIARA will continue to focus on community wellness, cultural heritage and economic development, and projects such as medical care and electricity restoration in the Hualcayán community.  I will especially appreciate your considering making a financial contribution or other support for PIARA during this holiday season and beyond.

An Act of Love in Hualcayán

by Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza

There are many people who worry about giving the perfect gift to their relative.  But what happens for those people who do not have enough resources to buy the Christmas tree, festive dinner, or the gifts?  This is the situation in the community of Hualcayán in highland Ancash, Peru. There is no money to buy presents.  People there can only prepare a dinner and share it with their family members.

This year Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológico Regional Ancash (PIARA) had the idea to prepare a party for all the children in Hualcayán. First, we collected a list of names of all the children from the community.  The nurse of the community, Ofelia, and the principal of the school, Magali, helped me to collect the names for the list.  We were surprised because the list contained the names of more than 140 boys and girls who live in Hualcayán; in other words, almost half of the population living in the community are children!

We decided to prepare a Christmas party at the school in Hualcayán on December 6th, so the children could celebrate and have fun.  But the big surprise was seeing several parents from the community also sharing the hot chocolate and panettone, which warmed us on that cold day. Despite the cold, the excitement of the children knowing that they would receive a gift, made ​​the day feel warm as the sunshine broke through the clouds.

Parents from the community also supported this event and prepared two big pots of hot chocolate.  We also had sweet panettóne from Lima thanks to Meruquita´s Bakery. Children from Hualcayán do not usually drink milk every day.   Fortunately there was even enough hot chocolate to share with the parents who accompanied us on this very happy day.

After everyone had a full stomach, it was time for the children to show their artistic talent, as a form of thanks for the celebration.  Without exception all students participated in the artistic event, from the tiniest preschooler to the oldest secondary school student. The children prepared songs dances and traditional scenes with themes related to Christmas. The singing was particularly welcome as there is currently no music from radios because Hualcayán has been without electricity for the past several months.   All of the children sang loudly and were proud of their participation.

Then came the most awaited part, the distribution of gifts!  With the list of names of all children living in Hualcayán, we had organized all of the presents in the school library the day before.  We started with the little children, but all the boys and girls were so excited that even though it started to rain, they stayed in line to receive their gifts –  waiting for their doll, car, train, soccer ball or volley ball.

The faces of joy and surprise at the time of receiving the gifts was the best gift I could receive.  All of the children thanked us many times and even their fathers and mothers came from the farms or houses to show their appreciation.

To bring a little joy to these children during the holidays is difficult to put into words.  The satisfaction of sharing with the community is the best reward – an act of love – a different way to share with one person or many on this special date.

Although PIARA performs archaeological research in Hualcayán, the communication and closeness we have with people has enabled us to participate in various community activities, such as a simple holiday celebration.  With great joy PIARA is able to be a part of this community that received us a few years ago, and it allows us to work on their behalf.

Watch this brief video with highlights from the Christmas Party!

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In addition to the Christmas gifts shown here, PIARA purchased all of the books and materials in this newly remodeled school library.

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Children gather outside the school for the Christmas Celebration.

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Hot chocolate and panettone were enjoyed by all.

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The celebration also had lots of dancing, singing, and traditional storytelling.

Not Hating or Loving, but Empowering With Museums

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Parque Litico, Museo Arqueológico de Ancash, Huaraz, Peru

James Durston, the senior editor for travel at CNN recently wrote the op-ed Why I Hate Museums.  The piece generated a polarized reaction similar to Florida Governor Rick Scott’s 2011 trashing of Anthropology and Spike TV’s American Digger.  In a minority, are the reasoned responses that recognize Mr. Durston’s thoughts do not come out of thin air.  There is a basis for his concerns. When Durston’s fictive or real docents command “No photos” and “No food” I am reminded of my granddaughter’s loud admonishment by a guard at a Memphis art museum that a 10-year old cannot stand by herself in a gallery but must have an adult within a few feet – not for her protection but for the protection of the art.   As a blue-collar kid who first visited an art museum during my freshman year of high school, I tried to put myself in my granddaughter’s shoes on this formative lesson for her about how museums work.

Durston’s op-ed also sparked some fantastic discussions.  Dana Allen-Griel’s Engaging Museum post is an excellent example.  In responding to Durston’s critique on uninteresting and uninformative labels, she concludes “For those who simply want to view and reflect, you’ve already got “Vase: Iran; circa 15th century.” For everyone else, let’s work TOGETHER to make museums a little more “wow.”

Another good reference point for discussing Mr. Durston’s op-ed is from John Cotton Dana’s nearly 100-year-old publication The New Museum.  Dana writes:

Museum purposes and methods change daily, as do all other community enterprises in these days.  Therefore, do not try to develop a museum after a plan. Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs. (p. 38)

Below, I discuss implementing Allen-Griel’s “wow” factor and Dana’s community needs that often are a simple and low or no cost addition that address Mr. Durston’s concerns.

I am curious what Mr. Durston might think of one of my favorite museums – The Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine, Iowa.  I first blogged about the Museum a couple of years ago and last year posted an interview with the Museum Director.  In Mr. Durston’s op-ed he asked “Where’s the relevance?”  The Pearl Button Museum is the very essence of relevance for Muscatine, Iowa.  If you want to understand Muscatine’s past, present, and future, you will not find a better place.  The Museum is a participatory institution, not because you can rack pearl buttons as was done 100 years ago or leave messages on the memory board.  The Museum is participatory because the entire community’s collective memory and experience compose the very fiber of the institution.

From Muscatine, you can drive about 100 miles up river to Dubuque, Iowa and visit the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.  Here I suspect Durston’s comment holds that “Kids do seem to have a good time when pushing buttons, pulling levers and magnetizing soap bubbles (right up until they stop having a great time and turn into wailing bundles of hair and tears only a little more bored than the parents).”  I have been to this Museum once and doubt I will return.  The new section is squeaky clean with an aquarium and educational water playland for children.  I watched kids totally transfixed by the four-foot-long albino catfish.  But what I remember most about the visit were the large and presumably expensive digital touch tables that were all out-of-order.  The old section of the museum was, well the old section with lots of unconnected stuff without a coherent story.  I don’t recollect any docents or guides – just lots of families seeming to have a good time.

The next time I am driving down the Great River Road, I will stop in Muscatine, but will probably by-pass the Dubuque Museum.  I suspect lots of other folks will do the reverse.  That does not make either museum good or bad – just different.  This difference means that not all museums are equal and by design they will attract different visitors.

I thought about this difference several years ago in another setting.  A graduate student in my Native People’s class was to create a banner exhibit on prehistoric plant use in our newly established hands-on archaeology lab at the C.H. Nash Museum.  The student proposal was a 2 x 6 ft banner exhibit that contained a few images, hundreds of words in an 18 pt. font, with the bottom six inches composed of bibliographic references in a 14 pt. font.  The archaeology lab is geared to a 6th grade level.  The proposed banner layout was not going to work.  However, the student compiled very useful information, some of which would interest to  perhaps 2% of our visitors.  This incident allowed us to begin thinking about our exhibits differently.  We considered how a single concept like prehistoric plant use might be presented in multiple formats to different interest levels throughout the museum.  We took the original concept and created a revised banner of about 100 words along with images and other interactive materials for the archaeology lab.  We created a separate banner in our main hall that contained an abbreviated version of the original without the bibliography.  We planned for the bibliographic references to be accessible through a QR code or web link.  Finally, we planned to include information from the original panel into audio tour stations along our nature trail that includes many of the plant species discussed in the exhibit.  The audio tour can be drilled down at each stop for more information.  Might Mr. Durston consider such an approach as accommodating those wanting only the most basic label  information and visitors seeking considerably more relevant detail?

A final example that addresses a concern expressed by Mr. Durston is from my recent visit to the Museo Arqueológico de Ancash in Huaraz, Peru.  The Museum’s outdoor Parque Litico contains a large collection of Recuay Monoliths from Chavin de Huantar.  I toured the Museum with Peruvian archaeologist and PIARA Co-Director Elizabeth Cruzado  Carranza.  We discussed the representations in the Recuay Monoliths, but noted the museum had little interpretive information or labels about the pieces.  Although the outdoor setting contained benches to relax and view the stone carvings, I, and I suspect Mr. Durston, would find the exhibit lacking in contextual information.  At the same time, Elizabeth and I acknowledged the aesthetics of keeping the garden uncluttered of signage.  During our visit, we quickly hit on several solutions ranging from a single page handout with basic information on each monolith, a small multi-page guide, QR code links to a web page, or a smart phone audio tour.  All of the solutions can be cost-effective products created by interns or students.

In summary, Mr. Durston’s op-ed piece should not be dismissed as the grumblings of a curmudgeon museum hater.  In my experience, I have voiced many of the same issues as expressed in Durston’s op-ed piece.  However, I find at least two differences in Mr. Durston and my approach.  First, I accept that I will not enjoy all museums.  There is not one correct way to exhibit works of art, historic documents, or other cultural materials.  I appreciate that there are stuffy traditional mausoleum-like institutions and then there is my favorite art museum, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.  I appreciate that someone else might write “there are all of these experimental art centers, and then there is my favorite art museum, the tried, true, and traditional Met.”  Second, as a museum director and professor in museum studies, I have the opportunity to explore and educate students who are the next generation of museum professionals on the “wow” advocated by Dana Allen-Griel and the community needs raised by John Cotton Dana.

For these reasons, I do not necessarily love museums, but I do see the potential of museums as essential educational and empowerment tools in the preservation and presentation of cultural heritage.

When Pop-Up Museums Are the Answer

There is nothing terribly new about Pop-Up Museums.  The concept originated in the 1990s.  In a Museum 2.0 post, Nina Simon describes Pop-Up Museums as “a short-term institution existing in a temporary space; a way to catalyze conversations among diverse people, mediated by their objects.”  As just two examples, Pop-Up Museums exhibit the results of high school student archaeological excavations and the history of Apple products.

I am not interested in a dogmatic purity in the terms application, such as the conversation around what can and cannot be called a Third Place (see recent article by my colleague Natalye Tate on same).  Instead, here I consider how the Pop-Up Museum is useful for community outreach and engagement, particularly in archaeological and historical contexts.

posted before about the Memphis Archaeological and Geological Society’s (MAGS) work with collections curated at the C.H. Nash Museum.   Since that blog post, the group chose to also create traveling archeological exhibits.  MAGS intends to create these mobile thematic exhibits in collaboration with students from the University of Memphis Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program.  MAGS will use the mobile exhibits at the dozens of public events they take part in each year.  The exhibits will differ from the typical “traveling trunks” that often amount to magician’s kit with a bit of everything.  Rather the exhibits will be thematic (stone tools, ceramics, Paleoindian) or spatial (specific site) with didactic panels and cultural materials.  Ideally, these Pop-Up Museums will continue to evolve and grow based on the specific needs and opportunities for public outreach by MAGS.  The intended purpose of the exhibits is to engage the public and educate and build awareness of the archaeological resources and prehistory of their region.

I experimented with another type of Pop-Up Museum during my tenure as the Station Archaeologist at the Poverty Point Earthworks in northeast Louisiana some 10 – 15 years ago.  The idea was to create small exhibits for Louisiana parish (county) libraries based on a specific Poverty Point site excavation, artifact type, or prehistoric activity.  The Pop-Up Museum would remain in place for a three-month period.  We envisioned that multiple and different Pop-Up Museums could rotate throughout the library system of northeast Louisiana.  Unfortunately, without the support of a MAGS-type avocational group or a university with a museum studies program, the plans were not implemented beyond a few libraries.  The purpose of the exhibits was to educate and raise awareness in the community surrounding the Poverty Point site about the massive earthwork complex.

The short video clip at the top of this page is from the Pop-Up Museum created in Hualcayán, Peru at the village’s first annual heritage festival held on August 3, 2013 that I posted about last week.  The Pop-Up Museum addressed immediate strategic vision of PIARA Directors Rebecca Bria and Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and the Hualcayán community.  As reported in last week’s blog post, a substantive part of PIARA’s work is outreach to the rural community situated around, and in some cases on top of, an archaeological record that spans 4000 years of human occupation.  As is often the case in such situations, the community’s primary relationship to the archaeological record until recently was based in an economic incentive from artifact sales to collectors.  Most often, even archaeologists relate to such communities primarily through an economic relationship by employing residents in field projects or providing funds for community development projects.  While PIARA also employs Hualcayán residents and provides material support to community projects, the Directors consider the education and empowerment of the local community as an essential part of their research design.

The Pop-Up Museum at the August 3rd Heritage Festival served multiple purposes.  First, as shown in the clip above, the excavated cultural materials were contextualized and interpreted in time and space and not as an economic incentive.  The Pop-Up Museum was also a first step toward creating a permanent museum based in the Hualcayán community.   A permanent museum is part of both the PIARA and the Hualcayán community’s vision of a multi-component strategy to develop the region’s cultural heritage, ecotourism, and museum related opportunities to directly benefit area residents.  The success of the Pop-Up Museum was demonstrated in part by the steady stream of residents visiting throughout the Heritage Festival, and into the next day as well.

The examples above show how Pop-Up Museums as temporary institutions can:

  • educate, inform, and engage communities to identify with their past through cultural heritage exhibits.
  • incorporate the input and talents of avocational and student support.
  • present cultural heritage resources in a diversity of locales beyond that of a typical museum.

How have you used Pop-Up Museums in your work? 

Co-Creation from Hualcayan to Memphis

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Community residents examine artifacts from this season’s excavations in the “pop-up” museum at the First Annual Cultural Festival of Hualcayán.

I have blogged before about the Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológico Regional Ancash (PIARA) community outreach program in Peru.  This week I have the opportunity to participate and experience the program firsthand.  As well, this week PIARA Directors Rebecca Bria and Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza, and I are discussing collaborative projects that can involve PIARA, the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, and the University of Memphis Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program.  We envision that these multiple agencies can participate in the co-creation of cultural heritage opportunities with the Hualcayán village and archaeological site.  We are discussing projects that can align with the missions of all agencies involved.

Hualcayán is located at 3150 masl in the Province of Huaylas, Department of Ancash, Peru flanked by the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra Mountain ranges in the Callejón de Huaylas valley.  The village is a rural agricultural community located in the midst of archaeological sites that span the last 4000 years of human history in the region.  Although there is a small museum in the nearby city of Caraz, the region’s cultural heritage is not promoted to its potential and archaeological sites are not protected.  In terms of tourism, Caraz and Hualcayán are viewed by most visitors as brief stopovers on their way to adventure tourism and trekking opportunities to lagoons and glacial peaks in the Parque Nacional Huascarán.

As discussed in the previous blog post, PIARA’s perspective on the cultural heritage development is in line with a co-creative participatory process with the community.  In fact, one of the reasons for the close fit for potential PIARA and C.H. Nash Museum collaborative efforts is the common perspective toward cultural heritage development of the two agencies.  Both institutions operate in communities that are generally considered underserved.  In the past few years, both organizations embarked on long-term programs of community engagement and empowerment through cultural heritage development.  As well, both organizations are situated in rich environs of cultural heritage resources.

Another important similarity is that both organizations have spent the past several years laying the groundwork for collaboration with their respective communities.  At the C.H. Nash Museum, that work is summarized in a recent article.  At PIARA that collaboration operates in a very similar manner.  For example, this past Saturday, August 3, PIARA was the initiator and co-sponsor along with the Universidad Nacional Ancash – Santiago Antúnez de Mayolo and the Provincial Municipality of Huaylas of the First Annual Cultural Festival of Hualcayán.  The Festival included visits to the ongoing archaeological excavations in Hualcayán, display of excavated cultural materials, the inauguration of the community library funded and built by PIARA, regional dances, local food, and much more.

As with the recent community outreach projects at the C.H. Nash Museum, the Festival of Hualcayán could not have happened without PIARA’s previous years of community engagement.  That is, without the consistent community outreach by PIARA and engagement over the past several years, there would not have been the collaborative basis on which to build and inspire the Cultural Festival.  PIARA views the Festival as a node on a continuum of community outreach and engagement.  As at the C.H. Nash Museum, the direction of that outreach and engagement for PIARA will continue to develop as a co-creative process with the Hualcayan community.  For example, as posted previously, this summer C.H. Nash Museum intern Lyndsey Pender created the Southwest Memphis Cultural Heritage website only after discussions and collaboration with community residents.  Although the broad parameters of website development were set, the precise future content will be based in community discussions and input.  The dialogue with PIARA and the Hualcayán community continues along on a similar plane.

Which brings me to one of my favorite preaching points – community relevance.  As small institutions, both the C.H. Nash Museum and PIARA are gaining traction, growing, and now receive exponentially greater community support than in the past.  The increased support results because they approach their work in cultural heritage resource management from a perspective that prioritizes not just the co-creative process, but also is based in an approach that is relevant to the community in which they serve.

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