Tag: The Participatory Museum

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The stereotype of museums as hoarders of wealth, both economically and intellectually, is an outdated myth in desperate need of revision.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.

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

Co-Creation and Public Archaeology

AAP coverIn August of this year my colleague Elizabeth Bollwerk and I published a special thematic issue of the Society for American Archaeology’s  Advances in Archaeological Practice titled Co-Creation and Public Archaeology.  The practice of co-creation has proven a guiding force in my professional practice over the past few years.  I initially came across the concept in Nina Simon’s synthesis and elaboration of an ongoing discussion in the museum community over the past couple of decades.  Since that time I have developed my own understanding of the co-creative practice that prioritizes addressing the community’s expressed needs.  In 2012, along with Natalye Tate, Elizabeth and I co-edited a volume of Museums and Social Issues on the co-creative theme.  As someone who has worked as an archaeologist for the better part of my professional career, I am very pleased with the publication of this new peer-reviewed volume on the subject of co-creation by a leading organization of professional archaeologists in the United States.  I believe an application of the co-creative practice will be key to the future of the discipline.

Below is the abstract to the Introduction Elizabeth and I co-authored with a true leader in the field of public archaeology, Carol McDavid.

This paper serves a dual purpose. First it is an introduction that aims to frame a set of papers that describe and discuss the process of co-creation in a variety of archaeological projects. We discuss the challenge of community engagement in public archaeology and offer co-creative practice as a method for improving our relationships with descendant communities and the general public. We begin by providing a definition of public archaeology and a brief overview of its evolution over the last few decades. Second, we discuss co-creation’s origins and utilization in the museum and business sectors, where the process is applied to address challenges similar to those archaeologists face. We then demonstrate how co-creation fits into the public/applied archaeological framework. We argue that co-creation must be both co (that is, share power in some way) and creative (that is, not just do the same things better, but do something new). Within this framework, we discuss how co-creation aligns with and informs current trends in public archaeology practice drawing from the case studies included in this issue. We conclude that co-creation has an important place on the collaborative continuum and can help our discipline become more responsive to the needs of our many publics.

And here is the table of contents for the volume that includes studies from throughout the Americas.  I hope that you will find these articles helpful as you go about your professional practice.

  • Co-Creation as a Twenty-First Century Archaeology Museum Practice
    pp. 188-197.  Robert Connolly.
  • Survivance Stories, Co-Creation, and a Participatory Model at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center pp. 198-207.  Kimberly Kasper and Russell G. Handsman.
  • Making the Past Relevant Co-Creative Approaches to Heritage Preservation and Community Development at Hualcayán, Ancash, Peru pp. 208-222. Rebecca E. Bria and Elizabeth K. Cruzado Carranza.
  • Co-Creation’s Role in Digital Public Archaeology pp. 223-234.  Elizabeth Bollwerk.
  • Promoting a More Interactive Public Archaeology Archaeological Visualization and Reflexivity through Virtual Artifact Curation  pp. 235-248. Bernard K. Means.
  • Co-Creation of Knowledge by the Hopi Tribe and Archaeologists pp. 249-262.  T. J. Ferguson, Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, and Maren P. Hopkins.
  • Sleeping with the “Enemy” Metal Detecting Hobbyists and Archaeologists  pp. 263-274.  Matthew Reeves.
  • Cemeteries as Participatory Museums: The Cemetery Resource Protection Training Program across Florida pp. 275-290.  Sarah E. Miller.
  • Building Capacity for Co-Created Digital Moviemaking through Youth Programs pp. 291-300. Teresa S. Moyer.
  • Turning Privies into Class Projects pp. 301-312. Kimberley Popetz

Implementing Co-Creative Projects

In my last post I talked about projects co-created during the Fall Semester by students in my Museum Practices graduate seminar at the University of Memphis.  This week I report on implementing those project in Peru.

This past January, my colleague and a student in the graduate seminar, Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I traveled to the Hualcayán, Peru to deliver several of the products from the student projects.  Below is a report on some of the products discussed in last week’s post that we delivered during our January visit:

  • SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis and Strategic Plan for cultural heritage development in the Hualcayán community – We delivered thirty copies of the document written byElizabethCruzado Carranza andClaudiaTullos-Leonard to community leaders and other interested residents oftheHualcayán community.  The five goals in the strategic plan addressed the cultural heritage needs the community expressed over the past several years.  The plan lists objectives under eachgoalto be accomplished in the first year or by the fifth year of the proposed Strategic Plan timeframe, set to
    install2

    Timeline Banners installed in Museo de Hualcayán.

    begin on July 1, of 2015.  In delivering the documents, we suggested that the community discuss the content between now and the July 1 timeframe start date to refine and amend the Plan’s content.  In this way, the Strategic Plan’s co-creation extends beyond the content but to include the implementation – an important step for the community’s ultimate role in administering a sustainable cultural heritage program in Hualcayán.

  • Museum Timeline Banners – We mounted and installed the six banners requested by Hualcayán teachers that present a linked local, regional, and international timeline.  U of M students Christian Roesler and Mariah Selitsch researched, designed, and printed the banners.  The products are of a professional quality, address specific topics raised by the Hualcayán teachers – all for under $75.00 US, thanks to the Museum Practices students.
  • oralhisthual

    Delia, a Quechua woman interviewed by students for the oral history project.

     

    Oral History Project — A true highlight of Elizabeth and my visit was meeting with Hualcayán high school teacher Leodan Abanto Alejo Valerio whose class collected community oral histories over the Fall Semester of 2014 (Spring Semester in Peru).  I posted before about the genesis of this oral history project.  Leodan’s student interviews exceeded our expectations.  We were somewhat concerned if the notoriously shy Hualcayán students and area residents would be able and agreeable to having their stories recorded.  However, because of the co-creative nature of the project their hesitancy was for the most part avoided.  Some interviewees preferred only to have their voice recorded, but overall the students collected nearly twenty individual 10 to 20 minute histories from community elders.  Elizabeth will synthesize those histories into a book form that will report the founding and history of the village and discuss the natural and cultural resources of the Hualcayán community.  By July of 2015, we will print 200 copies of the history for distribution to community families and for use in the school.  By the end of 2015 we intend to produce a DVD of the recordings in Quechua and Spanish.  At the suggestion of one community resident, the DVD will also contain published articles, written reports on the archaeology of the area, along with a copy of the virtual exhibit in the Hualcayán Museum opened in August of 2014.  (If you would like to make a much-needed donation to this project, please visit the PIARA website.)

  • In January, Elizabeth and I also met with the Women of Hualcayán artisans who are creating woven, sewn, and embroidered crafts that are currently sold at two locations in the United States.  The project was launched in the summer of 2014.  Alicia Anderson, one of the Museum Practices students, thoroughly researched fair-trade and other similar small start-up projects to determine best practices toward a sustainable operation for the women artisans.  In January, we were able to discuss a range of options with the women on how they wished to move forward. The conversation assured that community expectations aligned with the actual possibilities for the project.

An important aspect of our trip to Hualcayán in January was for two archaeologists to make the trek to the rural community, located a 12-hour commute from Lima, for purposes other than those directly related to their archaeological research.  The sole purpose of our January visit was to respond to the community’s expressed needs.  We went to Hualcayán in response to John Cotton Dana’s (1917:38) prophetic co-creative call nearly one century ago to “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.”  I suggest the same call is applicable for outreach work in applied archaeology as well.

Museum Practices and Co-Creation

I just returned from a quick trip to Peru to update work on a couple of projects. While in transit, I completed a paper that summarizes the past 7 years or so of co-creative work at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. The paper is part of a volume that Beth Bollwerk and I are editing for the Advances in Archaeological Practice journal based on a session we organized for the Society of American Archaeology annual meeting this past Spring. All of the above help solidify in my mind some lessons on co-creation.

My regular snippet quotes I use on co-creation include:

To give voice and be responsive to the needs and interests of local community members; to provide a place for community engagement and dialogue; and to help participants develop skills that will support their own individual and community goals. – Nina Simon 2010:187

Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough. What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations. Elizabeth Hirzy 2002

. . . the act of engagement with others who are trying to make decisions related to particular heritage resources. Erve Chambers 2004:194

Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs. John Cotton Dana, The New Museum

That was the perspective taken by the 15 students enrolled in my Museum Practices graduate seminar this past semester at the University of Memphis as  they worked on projects for the Museo de Hualcayán, Peru that opened just this past summer. The students based their projects on the Peruvian community’s expressed needs. Some of the products included:

  • Strat plan

    SWOT and Strategic Plan

    A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis and five-year Strategic Plan created by Claudia Tullos-Leonard and Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza. The plan responds directly to the community expressed need for cultural heritage, educational, and tourism opportunities in the rural Andean community. Claudia brought her considerable business expertise from the private sector and Elizabeth her five years of work in Hualcayán to create the plan.  The Peruvian community will take the next step to assess and refine the proposal.

  • A series of timeline banners for the newly opened Museum created by Christian Roesler and Mariah Selitsch. This past summer Hualcayán high school teacher Leodan Abanto Alejo Valerio expressed the need for a resource that linked local, regional, and international events from prehistory to the present day. Christian and Mariah used their graphic and archaeological abilities to produce a series of six banners.
  • In a meeting this past summer, Leodan also expressed the need to document the history of the Hualcayán village.  He noted that the government issued textbooks covered national and even regional Peruvian history but contained no information on the local community. (This situation is very similar to my experience in Southwest Memphis that prompted an oral history project in that neighborhood.) For Hualcayán, Lacy Pline and Merrileigh Rutherford created a proposal to install a complete oral history program and station to both record and view collected interviews – all at a cost of under $1500.00! They drew on their research interests coupled with internships at the National Civil Rights Museum where a similar program was conceived. I have posted before about the oral history program launched this past fall in Hualcayán.
  • huarasfinal-spanish

    One of six Timeline Banners

    The website and other social media outlets for Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológico Regional Ancash (PIARA) were completely revamped and upgraded to reflect current best practices by Remi Chan and Brooke Garcia. Although not an expressed community need, the upgrade does allow for a more effective communication of activities in Hualcayán and prepares for anticipated internet capabilities for village residents.

  • Other completed projects by the Museum Practices students included a marketing plan for the Women of Hualcayán craft artisans, a short video on the importance of archaeology preserving cultural heritage, a follow-up to the successful quipu project from this past summer, and several school lesson plans for use in the coming year.

My takeaway on why these projects have value are several:

  • The activities foster reciprocal relationships where the needs and interests of the community/students/archaeologists/museum professionals are equally supported and valued. Creating the noted products is not possible without the full participation of all partners. All partners expressed needs benefit equally.
  • As an applied anthropologist, I seek to address real world concerns beyond the walls of the academy and present that perspective to my students. In end of the semester evaluations, Museum Practices students consistently report that creating something that lives in the real world is a highlight of the class.
  • Coupled with the above, the created products follow best practices for the rural Peruvian context. The completeness and professionalism the students brought to their projects was no different from had they created products for a major metropolitan museum in the U.S.
  • Co-creation enhances the stakeholder role of all participants for a long-term commitment to the process.

Next week I will post on the January trip to deliver the products to the community in Peru.

 

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

As I noted in two recent blog posts, for the past few years, half of the final exam in my Museum Practices graduate seminar in the Museum Studies Program at the University of Memphis consists of responding to the following:

Put yourself in the position of John or Josephine Q. Public. In the current economic chaos, the bank is foreclosing on their home, they have lost their jobs, and the city just reduced their public services. In referring to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the House Budget Committee recently argued that “The activities and content funded by these agencies…are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.” Isn’t your research or the position you aspire to a museum professional just another example of this wealth transfer? What do John and Josephine Q. Public get for their tax dollars that fund your research/position?

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

Museums Giving Back to Communities

by

Lacy Pline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Co-creation & #MuseumsrespondtoFerguson

bl hist

Veterans of the U.S. military attending Black History Month event at the C.H. Nash Museum, 2012.

Spearheaded by Gretchen Jennings, a timely Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and Related Events has circulated on the internet over the past few weeks with follow-up Twitter discussions at #MuseumsrepondtoFerguson.  Much of the discussion on this subject addresses the disconnect between museums and the communities they are meant to serve.  (Note: I use “community” to include the spatial and other demographic dimensions of the term.)

A key component for museums to engage with communities to address issues such as Ferguson, or any issue for that matter, is to be at least perceived as a stakeholder and social asset of the affected community.  If a museum is divorced from and does not reflect the community needs, there is no reason for that community to consider proclamations around Ferguson or racial justice as anything other than a jailhouse conversion.  I suggest that the community engagement process must be in place long before the events such as Ferguson occur.

John Cotton Dana’s 1917 statement is fitting: “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.”¹  In 2002, Ellen Herzy asked “How do we encourage museum professionals, trustees, and volunteers to engage with community in open and useful ways, as civic leaders but also as community members . . . Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough.  What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations.”² More recently, Nina Simon articulates that co-creative relationship in a call for museums “to give voice and be responsive to the needs and interests of local community members; to provide a place for community engagement and dialogue; and to help participants develop skills that will support their own individual and community goals.”³

My takeaway from the above include:

  • Co-creative processes are not museums functioning for the community but with the community.  The distinction necessitates having a recognized and committed stake in the community’s expressed needs.
  • The co-creative process must be part of the normative operation of the museum, not just in crisis situations.  This distinction necessitates a museum to have a long-term commitment and co-creative action plan.

The Incluseum challenges to think of  “What “right now” actions can museums do to show solidarity?”  At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in Memphis, Tennessee, we are emerging from a half-century of either ignoring or having a very limited engagement with the community surrounding our museum that is 95% African-American.  Based on my admittedly limited experience, I offer the following:

  • Hosting Black History month events provide an excellent opportunity for a museum to be of service to the African-American community.  In February of 2015, such events can provide a forum for a discussion of racial justice and other issues raised by Ferguson.  Over the past five years at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, we have moved from a co-creative Black History month event to one where our museum serves as a host per Nina Simon’s Participatory Museum model.
  • The C.H. Nash Museum sponsors and helps coordinate multiple community service learning projects that form a bridge between the community and museum. Our concept of community service learning aligns with Kronick et al where the museum “listens to the concerns of the group or person, lets the ‘other’ define the situation, and responds by trying to meet that need. In listening and learning, receiving and giving, the service-learning relationship is horizontal, lateral, parallel. It is not hierarchal”
  • Today is the day a museum can begin a long-term commitment to the process.  In so doing, museums will be better able to organically respond to current and future issues affecting the communities in which we serve.

A summary of our experience in community engagement at the C.H. Nash Museum is presented in this article.

¹ John Cotton Dana, The New Museum (Woodstock: Elm Tree Press, 1917), 38.

² Elizabeth Hirzy, Mastering Civic Engagement: A Report from the American Association of Museums.  In, AAM (Ed.), Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums (pp. 9-20).  Washington, DC: American Alliance of Museums.

³ Nina Simon, The Participatory Museum (Santa Cruz: Museum 2.0, 2010), 187.

4 R.F. Kronick, R.B. Cunningham, and M. Gourley, Experiencing Service Learning (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press) p. 23.

More on Funding Museums with the “Publics” Dollars

As I noted in my last post, for the past few years, half of the final exam in my Museum Practices graduate seminar in the Museum Studies Program at the University of Memphis consists of responding to the following:

Put yourself in the position of John or Josephine Q. Public. In the current economic chaos, the bank is foreclosing on their home, they have lost their jobs, and the city just reduced their public services. In referring to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the House Budget Committee recently argued that “The activities and content funded by these agencies…are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.” Isn’t your research or the position you aspire to a museum professional just another example of this wealth transfer? What do John and Josephine Q. Public get for their tax dollars that fund your research/position?

Brooke-Garcia-HeadshotAnother excellent essay was written by Brooke Garcia a graduate student in the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology at the University of Memphis.  Brooke is also enrolled in the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program and is a Graduate Assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. Drawing on her own experience at Chucalissa and the Third Place concept she provides an excellent response to the essay challenge.

What the Publics Get From Museums

by Brooke Garcia

I would venture to generalize that a good portion of people still view museums as the ivory tower[1], a repository of artifacts only accessible to the wealthy elite. However, more museums today recognize this stereotype and are taking steps to change this misguided, outdated perception. At least in theory, museums reflect the needs of their community, and as discussed previously, if they do not change to reflect these needs, museums will cease to exist. One of these needs is to be affordable in difficult economic times and provide more than just exhibits. Museums need to be an experience, and despite the hardships John and Josephine Q. Public have endured, they should still be able to participate in museums. It is their space, a third space, for the community to utilize, learn from, and enjoy.

For the sake of this paper, John and Josephine Q. Public live in Southwest Memphis, and their local museum is the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. As a graduate assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum and a student at the University of Memphis, their tax dollars help fund my position. But what do they receive in return? The C.H. Nash Museum strives to be transparent, and their educational and economic impact statements tell Mr. and Mrs. Public what their taxes pay for. Their taxes fund staff, who in turn help create new exhibits and education resources, such as the African-American Cultural Heritage in Southwest Memphis exhibit, Medicinal plant sanctuary, resertification of the arboretum, and the Hands-on archaeology lab.[2] Their children,   Joseph and Johna Public, visit the museum with their elementary school and benefit directly from the graduate assistant and staff-led tours, education programs, and crafts, which include Mystery Box, Native American Music, Pre-history to Trail of Tears, Talking Sticks, Simple Beading, and many more.[3] As a family and for regular admission price, the Publics can participate in Family Day programing on every Saturday plus some weekdays in the summer.

But how can they benefit more? Given their economic hardships, even paying regular admission prices could be difficult for their entire family. Perhaps the C.H. Nash Museum needs to consider offering free days to locals or two-for-one ticket deals once a month. I also think providing free, open to the public, academic lectures about the prehistoric and historic Chucalissa site would benefit the museum greatly. These lectures could also be a platform to display artifacts usually not on view. The Publics could enjoy these lectures with their children without worrying about their hardships and learn even more about the site or other special topics than even a regular visitor would. This situation exemplifies what we as researchers and museum professionals can do for the public that shows museums are not a wealth transfer, they are a place to exchange information and a third space for the community.

As defined by the Center for the Future of Museums blog post “Experience Design & the Future of Third Place”, the third space includes spaces “not home, not work public-private gathering places” for the community.[4] The third space is “for people to have a shared experience, based on shared interests and aspirations [and] open to anyone regardless of social or economic characteristics such as race, gender, class, religion, or national origin.”[5] Furthermore, these spaces are “often an actual physical space, but can be a virtual space, easily accessible, and free or inexpensive.”[6] Examples of third spaces include: coffee shops like Starbucks, public parks, malls, chat rooms, fairs, and even museums. In exchange for their tax dollars, the Publics have access to government-funded third spaces like museums and parks. However, what separates museums from these other third spaces? Museums are a place for learning and entertainment. Instead of coming away with a new dress or a Frappuccino, museums visitors (hopefully) take away new information, or at the very least, a new experience. At the C.H. Nash Museum, the Publics can learn about the prehistoric Native American site, but also the past and contemporary history of their community. And they can also participate in community events, such as the local Black History Month celebration.[7] Even with hardships, they can take advantage of their museum as a third space.

Museums today are not a space just for the wealthy. More and more museums strive to provide a place for their community to gather and learn. No longer are museums just about artifacts, but now, in my opinion, their true mission should focus on education, in all forms for all ages. Education through exhibits, programs, activities, crafts, etc.; in other words, museums are a third space, focused on passing on new information to their visitors and providing for the needs of their community, whether that includes Richie Rich or John and Josephine Q. Public.

 

 

 

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Ivory Tower,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation Inc., last modified December 10, 2014, accessed December 10, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivory_tower

[2] C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, Educational Impact Statement, 1, accessed December 10, 2014. http://www.memphis.edu/chucalissa/pdfs/chuceduimpact.pdf

[3] Some of these mentioned in C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, Economic Impact Statement, 1, accessed December 10, 2014. http://www.memphis.edu/chucalissa/pdfs/chuceconimpact.pdf

[4] “Experience Design & the Future of Third Place,” Center for the Future of Museums Blog, April 3, 2012, accessed December 10, 2014. http://futureofmuseums.blogspot.com/2012/04/experience-design-future-of-third-place.html

[5] California Association of Museums, Foresight Research Report: Museums as Third Place, Report for Leaders of the Future: Museum Professionals Developing Strategic Foresight (2012), 5. http://art.ucsc.edu/sites/default/files/CAMLF_Third_Place_Baseline_Final.pdf

[6] Ibid.

[7] Chucalissa, Economic Impact Statement, 1.

A Participatory Approach to Museum Advocacy

In my Museum Practices graduate seminar this semester, students were given the following assignment:

“Students in Museum Practices three years ago completed an Advocacy Inventory for twelve museums in the Memphis area. The Advocacy Inventory is found on pp. 16-23 of the article by Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied in Speak Up For Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy. For those twelve museums, Museum Practices students in last two years followed up to determine if and how each museum used the completed advocacy inventory or recommendations. Out of the twelve museums originally contacted, only two museums followed through in implementing the recommendations from the advocacy inventory. Last year, for her graduate project in the Masters of Liberal Studies program, Patricia Harris assessed this three-year program. (note: copy of Harris’ paper on file at the University of Memphis McWerter library.)   Respond to both the Silberglied article and Harris’ assessment of the three-year program with Memphis area museums.”

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the responses of all the student essays.  Amr Shahat’s was particularly insightful on the importance and relevance of advocacy for today’s museums.  Below is an abbreviated version of his essay.

amr2Advocacy for Museums

by Amr Shahat

Advocacy is generic term defined in Webster Dictionary as “The act or process of advocating or supporting a cause or proposal”. The term has been incorporated into the museum field and raises discussions among museum experts as how to become advocates in obtaining elected officials support to museums. The concern began in 2011 when museums among other institutions were announced to be less eligible for federal funding.  As a response, The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) began to support American museums through advocacy effort addressing elected officials, mainly state senators and congressmen to agree not to cut or limit federal funding for museums.

The AAM created guidelines for advocacy, Speak Up for Museums to assist museums establish advocacy practices. In this book, Silberglied discusses the value of developing advocacy inventory and establishing an advocacy effort within the museums, staff, and board members and suggests strategies to reach elected officials. The Silberglied model does not address the need of advocacy inventory beyond getting financial or legislative support.

The evaluation made by Patricia Harris, a graduate student at the University of Memphis, discussed the advocacy effort of local museums in the Memphis area and implies that the AAM advocacy inventory uses broad terms that might not be useful for all institutions.  Silberglied’s chapter “Additional Resources and Burning Questions” might overwhelm the reader with political terms, definitions and approaches to the elected officials.  The approach may not be useful as focusing on building relation with the community, explaining the museum mission to the community to obtain the community support for the mission— in so doing the community members will be the best advocates.

A main point from Silberglied is that the advocacy inventory is built by joint effort. The joint effort can be internally among museum staff, volunteers and board members, or externally between the museum and the community. However, there is no mention of the communities as a co-creative partner for the inventory.  Instead, communities are mentioned merely as a venue of testimony to get the advocacy inventory heard by elected officials. Community members’ effort is mentioned by Silberglied only in terms of being testimonials to support advocacy inventory and its credibility but not as direct advocates.

In the light of the current museum effort towards creating participatory museums that are co-created by museum staff and the community, why do we not call for a participatory advocacy that includes these communities? Harris has mentioned success of three small museums in the Memphis area in terms of advocacy effort. A main success for their advocacy is engagement with local communities. If a museum does not attain local visibility/impact, it will not be visible to elected officials who would not recognize the cultural and the economic importance of museum(s) to their communities.

Since community effort is of importance, how can a museum increase its visibility to the community? Both Silberglied and Harris suggest different programs and events that museums may implement to increase their participation in advocacy work. Silberglied in a week-by-week plan suggests 75 tips to be followed by a museum to create an advocacy inventory. In one of the tips, Silberglied advised museums to “become a community meeting place”. Although, the concept sounds plausible, the examples provided might not be the best. The community activities she suggested such as “blood drive, food drive etc.” only increase the visibility of the museum to the community in terms of museum locale. However, for an advocacy effort, museums need to create events that are mainly focused on increasing the visibility of the museum’s mission. A museum should be careful that attracting people to its place is different from attracting people to its mission. The support of the community to the museum does not necessarily involve physical visiting to the museum locale. Harris analysis implies that part of the successful advocacy effort of the three museums she discussed is using online visibility to the museum mission through Facebook, a museum webpage, and other social media.

Visibility to the museum mission invites us to broaden our identification of the museum community. The museum community is not just its neighbors or those who can physically make a visit but those who believe in and support its mission. Silberglied’s explanations imply that nationality or citizenship does not hold you back from submitting your advocacy to elected officials. Some museums include volunteers and staff of different nationalities, such as the Metropolitan museum whose director of the Egyptian department is a British Egyptologist. One of the most successful advocacy inventories that got direct response from the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt was advocating for the Egyptian museum was made by tourists who believed in the museum mission rather than the museum locale. So the real relationship between a museum and its community is to share the museum mission.

Chapter six of Silberglied’s book on “Expert Insider advice from elected and public officials” provides examples of official reactions to successful advocacy. One of the most effective pieces of advice was by the Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Aileen Adams. She draws museum attention to promoting joint advocacy. I suggest that the two or three small museum in Memphis which responded to advocacy inventory need to propagate this effort to other museums in Memphis and create joint advocacy cases. Joint cases will multiply the museums’ reasons to create an advocacy inventory. It will also be more effective if museums made joint participatory advocacy inventory involving their communities as mentioned above. The participatory advocacy will create strong multivocality that empowers the museum advocacy and draws the elected officials’ attention towards the museums in Tennessee.

Building relations with the community is a slow process but we should remember that legislation process to address elected official and get their feedback is a slow process as well. This slow legislative process might have been one of the main reasons that ten of the twelve museums in Tennessee contacted by Harris did not implement an advocacy inventory. Elected officials response sometimes is not direct and a museum cannot build up a plan on such vague responses to advocacy. This may be another reason that prevented ten museums from implementing an advocacy inventory. Therefore, I suggest creating a participatory advocacy inventory as a joint effort between the museum and the community. The participatory advocacy will create mulitivocality for the advocacy case presented and hence become more powerful and well heard. Overall, the community is the one who choose the elected officials which means their voice is the power that brought them to office and the power that will make the museum advocacy effort be heard.

Amr Shahat is a student in the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program and a PhD Egyptology student & teaching assistant in the History Department at the University of Memphis.  He can be reached at akshahat(at)gmail.com

Applied Archaeology in Peru

summer-imageI have posted several times about my field season in Peru this past summer.  Here is a slideshare summary of the work (complete with pictures of cute children.)  Although I often say that the community outreach in Hualcayán, Peru is comparable to the outreach of the C.H. Nash Museum here in Memphis, upon reflection today, I am even more impressed with the similarities:

  • Both projects involve outreach to underserved communities.  In Southwest Memphis, the largely blue-collar African-American community is located in an industrial and business zone where corporate interests consistently trump residential community development.  In Peru, rural communities such as Hualcayán are considerably underserved in basic social and infrastructure services when compared to nearby towns.
  • Both communities seek a recognition of both their heritage and place in the broader culture.  I have posted before about how this recognition is played out in Southwest Memphis around issues of military service, landmark preservation, and community history.  In Hualcayán this summer, the same sentiments were strongly expressed in both words and actions.  Last year I asked PIARA founder and co-director Rebecca Bria if the Hualcayán community was really interested in a museum, or more in the economic development that a museum could generate.  She immediately replied that five years ago, a museum to showcase Hualcayán’s cultural heritage was at the top of the agenda that community leaders requested of PIARA. This summer, we addressed that long-standing need in opening the first iteration of a museum.  Examples of the community sentiment around their cultural heritage was also expressed this summer in the stated need for a written document that records the community history, the interest in developing a craft workshop based on their cultural traditions, and the student’s creation of a modern quipu to record their individual stories and place in the community.  The very hand-written minutes and signing of ledger books by speakers and participants in community meetings speaks to the importance of recorded history in Hualcayàn.
  • the list goes on . . .

I enjoy today understanding how these experiences operationalize for me concepts like co-creation, the participatory museum, community asset, and stakeholder.  As well, I understand and am better able to explore and explain applied archaeology as a discipline with value for communities.

Perhaps greater than any other past work, my experiences in Southwest Memphis and Hualcayán, Perú allow me to answer challenges or questions posed during my early academic training some 30 years ago:

  • from Patricia Essenpreis – If you can’t explain why the public’s tax dollars should support your research, you might as well go home.
  • and from Barry Isaac – Why is your research more important than eating a plate of worms?
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