Three years ago at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa we began a co-created exhibit process on the African-American Cultural Heritage of the community surrounding the museum. A Strengthening Communities Initiative grant funded the initial phase of the work. I have posted before about the project. A recent article published in Museums and Social Issues summarizes that work and subsequent related projects. This summer we have taken another step in the co-creation of the exhibit initially created and installed by area high school students in the summer of 2010.
For the past year we discussed digitizing the 2010 exhibit. A goal was to create a website with the digitized content to use as a resource for presenting and collecting more information on the cultural heritage of the community. This past spring I was approached by a community resident, Lyndsey Pender, who is also an undergraduate in anthropology at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Lyndsey asked if there was a summer internship opportunity at the C.H. Nash Museum. We quickly settled on a project where she would digitize the exhibit and create the website. That story is told here.
We are fortunate that Lyndsey, as a community resident, is taking on the project. Yet the broader representation of the community in the process is critical. Thus far, Lyndsey and museum staff participated in three formal meetings with representatives and/or the general membership of the Westwood Neighborhood Association to discuss the next steps. Besides overall content, the meetings addressed issues such as maintenance of the website, the relationship of the website to the C.H. Nash Museum, and the curation of future content. As with the initial exhibit created in 2010, the Museum Staff is committed to providing the logistical support for sustaining the African-American Cultural Heritage in Southwest Memphis website, and will cross-link through the Museum’s website and other social media outlets. However, the scope of the content will rest on the decisions of the Southwest Memphis community.
At the Westwood Neighborhood Association meeting this past Saturday, community residents in attendance provided a host of suggestions and submissions for the website. Ms. Olar Hughes presented a 10-page document she and other residents created on the history of the Westwood Community. On September 11, 2012 the AmeriCorps NCCC Team working in Westwood presented banners celebrating the contributions of military veterans from the community. Since that presentation, community residents have submitted additional Veteran photos. On Saturday, we discussed creating a page on the website that would contain a slide show honoring all the veterans.
Participants in the Saturday meeting recognized the valuable role that the website could play in the community schools where information on neighborhood history is scant. We envision that high school and younger students will be able to use and add to the website over the course of their studies. Lyndsey will finish her work this summer by creating quizzes and a virtual scavenger hunt based on the website to be used in the schools.
The above processes directly address concerns often expressed around the lack of direct community engagement in museums. The appropriate mantra in recognizing the solution seems to be it’s a “process not event” in co-creating with museum partners. That is, today our museum staff and Westwood community residents see tremendous potential in the African-American Cultural Heritage in Southwest Memphis website. However, the discussion at this past Saturday’s community meeting could not have occurred, had we not gone through the past four years of co-creation.
How do you envision co-creation in your museum?