Tag: The Participatory Museum

Co-Creation: The Messiness of Being Relevant

This past Saturday temperatures in Memphis were in the upper 90s to insure a pretty light turn out for our regular Volunteer Day activities at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa – especially since we advertised a focus for the month on outdoor landscaping and gardening.  In the end, we had a great day.

CarmelloRachel

Carmello Burks and Rachel Clark planting the Butterfly Garden.

First, Rachel Clark from my Applied Archaeology and Museums class this past semester had proposed that we install a butterfly garden in the area that in Chucalissa’s pre-NAGPRA days housed the display of human remains excavated from the site. Over the past few weeks Rachel and I discussed the sensitive logistics for the proposed installation.  The garden could not intrude below the ground surface in any way, given the very real possibility of remaining human burials in the vicinity.  We also discussed installing a panel on a nearby kiosk to explain why the human burials were no longer exhibited at Chucalissa.  A butterfly garden and informational display on the importance of NAGPRA and respecting the lives of those who built the 1000 year-old Native American earthwork complex seemed fitting and in line with the wishes of site development expressed by contemporary Native Americans of the Midsouth.

Second, on Saturday we also made arrangements for an Eagle Scout Project that will replace a dilapidated bridge along our nature trail.  Eagle Scout projects are always a negotiated process, matching our museums’ needs with the ability, interest, and motivation of the individual Scout in tandem with Eagle project criteria.  The bridge was in desperate need of replacement and the Scout chose the project from a half-dozen possibilities.

RG-and-Rev

Reverand George Royal and Mr. Robert Gurley working on the Urban Garden this past Saturday

Third, on Saturday members of the Westwood Neighborhood Association were out to tend the urban garden they planted for the third consecutive year.  The idea for the garden came from an offhand comment by a community member during a focus group on exhibit hall upgrades for our museum.  One community member, the recently deceased Mr. Ralph Thompson, noted that the prehistoric agriculture exhibit at Chucalissa reminded him of traditional foods grown in his youth.  He lamented the lack of a suitable public space for such a garden today.  We immediately noted that we had 40 acres of protected space to consider for an urban garden, and the project took off.  The garden is a source of pride for many community members.  The participants this past Saturday, Mr. Robert Gurley and Rev. George Royal told me about how good it is for the body and soul just to get out in the sun and do physical labor.  The urban garden produced a bountiful harvest in the past two years shared throughout the community.

Three sisters

Freedom Prep Students creating hills for the Three Sisters Garden on Earth Day in April.

Fourth, I was itching to spend the day out in the heat and humidity.  I am one of those folks where the temperature and humidity never get too high.  I spent the morning weeding in our Three Sisters garden, planted in individual hills typical of Native American cultures in the late prehistoric period.  The plan for the garden was originally designed by Carrie Havrilla as a Green Internship project at the University of Memphis.  This year we planted the garden as an April Earth Day activity with community members and families taking responsibility for individual hills.  Fifteen students from Freedom Prep Academy, a local charter school, also participated in sculpting the hills and planting the corn, beans, and squash.

family three sisters

A young sister preparing the Three Sisters Garden on Earth Day

On Saturday afternoon I looked out on the open space of the prehistoric earthwork complex and thought about the three new gardens and bridge replacement.  None of the projects were part of our strategic plan except that we seek to be an institution that is relevant to community needs and provides co-creative experiences.  In all four of the projects the “public” whether Boy Scouts, students of all ages, or community members are creating projects of their choosing in a space that is publicly owned and administered.  All of the projects fall well within the scope of our institutional mission and the expressed interests of our community stakeholders.  I reflected how this co-creation process is messy, nonlinear, but highly relevant to expressed community interests.  The process also flows directly from one of my favorite quotes in the New Museum by John Cotton Dana, written nearly 100 years ago: “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.”

 

 

Co-Creation, the Public, and the Archaeological Record

My colleague Elizabeth Bollwerk and I have organized a session of papers (Friday morning, April 25 at 8:00 AM) around the theme of Co-Creation, the Public, and the Archaeological Record  for the Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting this month in Austin Texas.  We previously organized a session on museums and co-creation at the Society for Applied Anthropology meetings a couple of years ago, published last year as a thematic volume Open(ing) Authority Through Community Engagement in the journal Museums and Social Issues.

The 2014 SAA meeting session brings together a set of papers by practitioners that take-up co-creation and open authority within the discipline of archaeology.  We are particularly pleased that Carol McDavid, a long-time leader in public archaeology and community engagement will serve as a discussant for the session.  The session abstracts are listed below.  If you are going to be in Austin, we hope to see you at our session!

crop hillisde

Open(ing) Archaeology: A Model for Digital Engagement – Elizabeth Bollwerk (Central Washington University, Museum of Culture and Environment) – This paper begins with a brief introduction of the Open Authority and Co-Creation models and explores their role in altering and revolutionizing archaeological practice.  The focus then shifts to a discussion of engagement methods that archaeologists are currently utilizing on the web, including blogging, crowdfunding, and social media and evaluates their success as co-creative projects.  These methods are compared with co-creative methods that are being utilized by other scientific disciplines, in particular, crowdsourcing.  This paper concludes by considering 1) the obstacles and challenges facing the implementation of archaeological co-creative projects that are web based and 2) best practices for digital co-creative engagement identified from successful projects.

The “Public” in Public Archaeology: Down from the Ivory Tower and into the Real Trenches – Michael B. Barber (Virginia Department of Historic Resources), Michael J. Madden (USDA-Forest Service), and Carole L. Nash (James Madison University) – Archaeology is not for the benefit of archaeologists.   Building on the foundation of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Virginia’s community of professional archaeologists has joined forces and developed the “Certification Program for Archaeological Technicians.”   The program trains avocational archaeologists in the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of the profession.  It is our contention here that co-creation should begin with the first phases of any archaeological endeavor and continue through interpretation and overall historic preservation.     

 Making the Past Relevant: Co-creative solutions to the challenges of heritage preservation in rural Peru – Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza (PIARA) and Rebecca E. Bria (Vanderbilt University and PIARA) – In the impoverished traditional Quechua communities of rural Ancash, Peru, the planning and implementing of archaeological heritage preservation and community museum projects faces a variety of obstacles that require creative solutions. At two nearby monumental archaeological sites with over 2000 years of prehistoric occupation, Hualcayán and Pariamarca, archaeologists work directly with the local community to demonstrate the relevance for the preservation of their cultural resources. Conflicting interests by adults who are pressured by local political parties, business interests, and a loss of connection to the ancient past has led the US and Peruvian collaborators of the Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológico Regional Ancash (PIARA) to engage local communities in developing a multi-faceted and co-creative approach to present and protect their cultural heritage.  The engagement includes 1) long-term, education-focused heritage preservation projects with local school children, 2) the design of local museums that also serve as community centers, and 3) plans for the creation of a community-run development project to generate communal funds through ecological and cultural tourism activities. The latter project will connect the two sites as archaeological parks, museums, and campgrounds or homestays as tourism destinations rather than a simple pass-through on a Cordillera trek.

The Duality of a 21st Century Tribal Museum: Archaeological Research and Museum Stakeholders at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center – Kimberly Kasper (Rhodes College) and Russ Handsman (Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center) – Since opening its doors in 1998, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center has identified as both a tribal center and a museum committed to challenging the public’s conventional understandings of Native history in New England. Within each stakeholder arena, archaeological research continues to provide a critical pathway for recovering and illuminating the historic experiences of reservation life. In this paper, two internal case studies are presented to illustrate the complexity that exists within the museum’s dual identity as it integrates new information  “with, for and by” the tribe and public. The first focuses on the materiality of late 18th-century Pequot house sites and a recently developed low-cost but high impact, I-Pad-based program for museum patrons. The second reflects on how archaeobotanical studies, from 17th and 18th century Mashantucket historic sites, are incorporated into an ongoing project to nurture and enrich the storytelling tradition in the tribal community. For each project, there are two different audiences, two different types of archaeological material studies, and two very different approaches for collaborative engagement – co-existing in a single institution. That duality may not be present in other tribal museums but it is both foundational and essential to MPMRC’s mission to (re)construct nuanced understandings of Native American histories.

Co-Creation of Knowledge about the Past by The Hopi Tribe – T. J. Ferguson (University of Arizona) and Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa (Hopi Tribe) – For two decades, the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office has worked with archaeologists to co-create knowledge about the past and the contemporary values associated with heritage sites. Much of this work has been accomplished in the framework of research mandated by the National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act. Here we describe the processes of this community-based participatory research, including research design, implementation of fieldwork, peer review of research findings, and reporting. The Hopi Tribe’s collaborative research with archaeologists provides intellectual benefits for the management of archaeological resources and the humanistic and scientific understanding of the past.

 Co-creation as an Essential Means Toward Open Authority in Archaeology – Robert Connolly (University of Memphis, C.H Nash Museum at Chucalissa) – Based in constructivist educational theory and using participatory museum and open authority models, this paper examines products co-created by visitors, volunteers, students, and museum staff at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  Two case studies are featured.  First, an exhibit on the African American Cultural Heritage of Southwest Memphis based on the excavated materials from a 1920s era farmstead that was co-created with University of Memphis and neighborhood high school students.  Second, using curated collections, a set of education products and museum exhibits co-created by avocational archaeologists, and museum studies graduate students.  Critical to the co-creative process is incorporating the authoritative voices and decisions of all participants.    This paper argues that co-created products are ultimately more robust and relevant to the public than projects that incorporate only the voice of the professional community.  As well, co-creative processes in archaeology serve as a vital link to educating the public on opportunities for engagement and the funding needs of cultural heritage institutions.  Co-creation forms an essential opportunity for sharing with the public the authority and responsibility for the curation of a community’s cultural heritage

Salvaging a Community: Archaeology, Demolition, and Resurrection at the Euclid Avenue Church of God, Cleveland, Ohio – Mallory R. Haas (Center for Community Studies) and Elizabeth A. Hoag (Cuyahoga Community College) – The unfortunate demolition of the ca. 1888 Euclid Avenue Church of God has created a unique opportunity for public archaeology. Both before and after the demolition, we began a new kind of community-based historic salvage and preservation project, to save public social memory and tangible artifacts from the church. In this paper, we describe how, working with various stake-holders involved with the structure including the congregation, municipal offices, and private institutions, we have utilized a more holistic perspective that seeks to accommodate everyone’s agendas. We are developing a co-creative approach to historical preservation while preserving social history and legacy of the structure.

Promoting a More Interactive Public Archaeology: Archaeological Visualization and Reflexivity through Virtual Artifact Curation – Bernard K. Means (Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University) – The Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University was established in August 2011 with funding from the Department of Defense’s Legacy Program. Since its establishment, the Virtual Curation Laboratory has created hundreds of 3D digital artifact models from a wide range of archaeological sites located in the eastern United States, as well as printed plastic replicas of many 3D digital models. Some have questioned whether our efforts and those of similar projects are curiosities or novelties with little to contribute meaningfully to scholarly research or public engagement. In this paper, I will argue that 3D digital models and printed replicas allow for new ways of visualizing the past, while preserving the actual artifacts themselves. These forms of archaeological visualization enable the broader public and not just a narrow band of researchers to dynamically and meaningfully interact with rare and fragile objects in ways that would otherwise not be possible, empowering their own contributions to interpreting and understanding the past.

Co-Creation and the Cemetery Resource Protection Training (CRPT) Program Across Florida – Sarah E. Miller (Florida Public Archaeology Network) – The Cemetery Resource Protection Training (CRPT) program offered by the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) began in 2011 as a reaction to the rapid deterioration of historic cemeteries in Florida.  During the first year the Northeast Regional Center of FPAN collaborated with community partners to conduct CRPT workshops in each of its seven counties.  CRPT has now expanded to over 20 cities across the state.  Workshop participants learn to view cemeteries as outdoor museums in their community through morning and afternoon sessions.  The morning session focuses on: cemeteries as archaeological sites, laws that protect cemeteries as well as the people who care for cemeteries, the importance of survey and recording, and examples of cemetery projects within the community.  The second session puts theory to practice with hands-on landscape assessment, headstone cleaning, and recording in a local cemetery.  This paper will assess CRPT as a c co-creative public archaeology program and discuss its relevance to the participating communities.

Building Capacity for Co-created Digital Moviemaking in Youth Programs – Teresa Moyer (National Park Service) – The Urban Archeology Corps is a National Park Service work program that invites youth to reflect on archeological stewardship through digital moviemaking. Youth from communities surrounding the Anacostia River watershed engage in interdisciplinary research with the end goal of individually crafting a short film about their experiences. Especial emphasis is placed on connecting the stories that go untold in the national parks with the youth and local people. This paper is a case study in building capacity in youth programs for co-created digital products that enable the National Park Service and the communities it serves to share in archeological stewardship.

Engaging and Empowering Citizen Archaeologists through the Co-Creative Process: A Case Study Involving the Oklahoma Anthropological Society – Holly Andrew & Bonnie Pitblado (University of Oklahoma) – Like many avocational archaeological groups across the nation, the Oklahoma Anthropological Society (OAS) has struggled in recent years to meet the needs and interests of community members.  To address this challenge, in spring 2013, OAS leadership requested our help to revitalize the group’s membership and its recently shelved archaeological certification program.  To ensure a co-creative approach to the reshaping of OAS, our approach to providing assistance began with an ethnographic study of the OAS membership—using methods including participant observation, individual interviews, and survey administration—to establish member values and goals.  We then compiled these data and used them to develop concrete proposals for a revised OAS certification program and for reaching out to a broader cross-section of Oklahoma citizens than had traditionally been the case.  Finally, we offered the proposals back to OAS membership for comments and suggestions for improvement, and revised the ideas accordingly.  Our paper overviews the methods and results of this collaboration between professional and avocational archaeologists and reflects upon the success of our co-creative effort to improve public archaeology programs and educational opportunities in the state of Oklahoma.

Transforming Metal Detectorists into Citizen Scientists – Matthew Reeves (James Madison’s Montpelier) – In 2012, the Archaeology Department at James Madison’s Montpelier began an experimental program with Minelab Americas to encourage metal detectorists to become more involved in the scientific process of archaeological research. Specifically, the program was designed to be a week-long experience where archaeologists and metal detectorists would work together to identify and preserve archaeological sites at the 2700-acre Montpelier property.  In the process, the metal detector participants were taught the importance of site preservation through background lectures and detailed information on how the survey methods they employ during the week with their metal detectors ensure minimal disturbance of the site while identifying enough information regarding the site to ensure its preservation. Participants learned how gridded metal detector surveys were conducted and the importance of proper context and curation of recovered objects.  In turn, participants provided feedback on what would enhance the experience to inspire continuing learning and interaction with archaeology in the future. The success of this program led to a new public-set of programs that are held three times per year and are open to the public. Having previous participants recommend this program to their friends and community members has been integral to the success of the programs.

Approaching sustainable public archaeology on Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile): education, conservation, research, and tourism – Britton Shepardson (Terevaka.net Archaeological Outreach) and Beno Atán (Explora) – Rapa Nui, like many other locations rich with archaeological heritage, poses extreme risks and potential when attempting to combine cultural conservation with tourism.  After ten years of work on Easter Island, Terevaka.net Archaeological Outreach (TAO) has developed a program to provide tourists, hotels, archaeologists, and conservationists with a vested interested in the education of high school students local to the island.  Our 2013 project sheds light on both a recipe for success in sustainable archaeology on the island and our shortcomings in reaching the goals of all participating organizations.

Turning Privies into Class Projects – Kimberley Popetz (Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum) – What would happen if we gave a group of high school students the opportunity to act as archaeologists and curators with a real archaeological collection? Would they benefit from the experience? Would we? And what about the rest of the community? Could they derive some benefit from the project as well? We decided to find out. Students worked with a collection of artifacts that was excavated more than 30 years ago, turning it into an exhibit for the public. If you’re contemplating a similar project, join us to learn what worked and what to avoid.

The Road Goes Ever On and On: Public Archaeology at Teozacoalco – Kenneth Robinson and Stephen L. Whittington (Wake Forest University) – Co-creation in public archaeology can be challenging outside of the United States, particularly when a project provides the first opportunity people have to meet an archaeologist, or even to hear of archaeology. The staff of the Teozacoalco Archaeological Project has been working since 2002 with citizens and authorities of San Pedro Teozacoalco and other small communities to undertake the first archaeological research in a remote part of the Mixteca Alta in Oaxaca. The project is attempting to collect data and respond to the desires of rural communities while negotiating regulations and politics at local, national, and international levels.

Discussant – Carol McDavid (Community Archaeology Research Institute, Inc.
& Rice University)

AmeriCorps, Archaeology and Museums

This past Friday I participated in a session at the Annual Meeting of the Tennessee Association of Museums that considered the role of AmeriCorps NCCC Teams at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  Below is a portion of my presentation:

In the past year, we logged about 2500 community service learning hours at Chucalissa.  The hours are primarily attributable to AmeriCorps NCCC Teams.  We also worked with a host of other service learning groups including State AmeriCorps teams and alternative spring break students from throughout the Midsouth.  

Team pic

AmeriCorps Team and Homeowner

In addition to a considerable amount of collections work, over the past two years the NCCC teams completed a host of other projects at Chucalissa.  For example, they conducted a shovel test program in the “meadow” area of Chucalissa to determine if there were any intact archaeological deposits.  They expanded the community garden that had outgrown its original bed.  Over a one year period, three different AmeriCorps Teams worked on successive construction phases of our replica Mississippian house structure.  This past fall, a team built a 30 x 30 foot pergola so that we could have a covered shelter for outside activities.  They also built a rain structure along our nature trail.  AmeriCorps Teams are the best when it comes to clearing and refurbishing trails, and then have done a good bit of that at Chucalissa too.

All of these projects are certainly interesting and very worthwhile.  In fact, Wendy Spencer, the Corporation for National and Community Service CEO appointed by President Obama, stopped by Chucalissa when she was in town to check in on the work of the AmeriCorps Team.  This past year, Chucalissa was honored to receive the Sponsor of the Year Award for the Southern District of AmeriCorps NCCC.  But I suggest that the reason for the visit, the award, and the success of our AmeriCorps program extends beyond completing the tasks I noted above.  Instead, I believe that the AmeriCorps experience at Chucalissa brings together the very best of the community service aspect of AmeriCorps with the civic engagement that is very foundation of the modern museum in the United States.  I am fond of quoting John Cotton Dana’s 1917 statement from the New Museum where he challenged practitioners to “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.”

In 2007, the University of Memphis and by extension Chucalissa, had a less than stellar reputation in the Westwood community of Memphis, the location of our Museum.  Area residents were concerned about the stench from the sewage treatment plant, code violations, and crime rates.  The community perceived the University interests as research from which the University made money and faculty gained prestige but with little or no relevance to the community.  As one resident stated at a community meeting I attended in 2007 “Don’t tell me what the University of Memphis is going to do for my community.  The last time you were here doing your research for two years and all we got was a map on the wall.”  The man was right.

That brings us to another part of AmeriCorps work at the C.H. Nash Museum.  Since 2007, the C.H. Nash Museum staff began to reconsider our role as an educational resource of the University of Memphis.  Now, a central focus of the Museum since 2007 is to engage the surrounding community in all aspects of Chucalissa’s activities. The engagement flowed from the museum’s commitment to begin functioning as a social asset and stakeholder in the Southwest Memphis community.

Over the next four-year period we participated in many collaborative and co-creative projects with the surrounding community (detailed in this article).  In 2012, through a partnership with T.O. Fuller State Park and the Westwood Neighborhood Association, we proposed a 3-way partnership for an AmeriCorps NCCC Team.  Over an eight-week Round, we proposed that the Team would spend about one-third of their time working at T.O. Fuller State Park, one-third of the time working in the community, and one-third of their time working at Chucalissa.  The University of Memphis put a good bit of money and labor into rehabbing a residential facility at the Museum to house the AmeriCorps Team.  In the past two years, we have hosted four eight-week AmeriCorps Teams.

In the Westwood Community, modifying John Cotton Dana’s 100-year-old suggestion, we sought to “Learn what aid the community needs: and fit the Museum and AmeriCorps to those needs.”   Those needs focused on working with the elderly and veterans on fixed incomes to correct code violations or perform minor to moderate structural repairs on their homes.  For example, in the fall of 2013, the River 4 AmeriCorps Team performed an exterior makeover to the home of an 88-year-old WWII Veteran in the Walker Homes neighborhood, a community established for returning African-American veterans in the late 1940s.  Mr Ford Nelson, the Veteran homeowner, had lived in the house for 60 years.

AC Vet 13

AmeriCorps Team presenting Veteran’s Day Banner at the Westwood Community Center.

A highlight of each AmeriCorps Team is their participation with the community in a Day of Service, whether on 9/11, Martin Luther King Jr. day, or Youth Services Day.  This past November, the River 4 Team presented a banner they created honoring veterans at a Veterans Day event at the Westwood Community Center.  The presentation was a BIG deal.

Here is how this all comes together.  The AmeriCorps Teams provide the Westwood neighborhood with a community service that they desperately needed and wanted – correction of code violations and housing rehabs.  The AmeriCorps Teams also are instrumental in allowing the C.H. Nash Museum to engage with the community in cultural heritage projects.  This intersection is reflected by Mr. Ford Nelson, whose house the AmeriCorps Team worked on in November, attending and speaking at the Black History Month event hosted at Chucalissa in February.  This intersection also allows the President of the Neighborhood Association to be a strong advocate and participant in the planning for Hidden Histories cultural heritage program collaborations between the community and Museum for the summer of 2014.

2012 Veterans Honorsmall

Veteran’s Day Banner created by AmeriCorps Team

This intersection is the essence of Civic Engagement as envisioned over one decade ago in the American Alliance of Museums seminal publication Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums.  As Hirzy wrote in that volume

“when the museum and community intersect – in a subtle and overt way, over time, and as an accepted and natural way of doing business . . . Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough.  What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations.”

That sentiment is a critically important part of the AmeriCorps experience at Chucalissa.

In 1986, during my first archaeological field experience, the instructor, the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis told us on the first day “If you cannot explain to the visitor why their tax dollars should go to support these excavations or keep this site open, you might as well go home.”  I puzzled over this mandate for many years.  Today, I find the mandate comes down to being relevant.   The AmeriCorps experience is part of our Museum’s relevance to the communities that support us through their time, energy, and resources.

We find this process is not linear or without ambiguity.  But the community engagement does not detract in any way from the components of our mission related to the prehistory of the area.  In fact, we argue that through our multi-faceted work with AmeriCorps, we invite more stakeholders to the table for dialogue. We believe this incorporates the very essence of the International Council of Museums definition of a museum that notes they are “. . . institutions in the service of society and of its development.”

Museum Opportunities in Open Authority

Open Authority Spectrum

Open Authority Spectrum by Lori Byrd Phillips
(click image for digital resource file)

This week’s post is by my colleague Elizabeth Bollwerk.  In 2012, along with Natalye Tate, we edited a series of papers Open(ing) Authority Through Community Engagementpublished in the journal Museums and Social Issues.  Elizabeth and I are very excited to have organized a set of papers for the upcoming Society for American Archaeology meetings that further explores the Open Authority discussion in that discipline.  Below, Elizabeth considers her experiences in employing an Open Authority model at a small university-based museum. 

by Elizabeth Bollwerk

Two groups of 30 university students were scheduled to tour our museum, the Museum of Culture and Environment (MCE) at Central Washington University (CWU) in Ellensburg, WA.  A student tour is typical given that we are a university museum but this event was a bit different. The students visiting our gallery are part of the College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP. This special program offered at CWU provides financial and academic support services to freshman students from migrant and seasonal farm working backgrounds.  Prior to their visit to MCE only about six of the 60 CAMP students knew MCE existed and none had visited.  This is fairly typical for our small, university-based museum.  We have one 1400 sq. ft. gallery space that rotates exhibits about twice a year.  We do our best to advertise but with only one full-time and three part-time staff, we have many balls to juggle.  Nevertheless, one of our major goals this year is to raise our visibility on campus.  The CAMP students were visiting because a staff member had attended one of their monthly meetings, talked about the museum and encouraged the students to visit us as part of a class they were taking.  But it’s still your typical tour.  So — why blog about it?

Shared Authority, Open Authority, Letting Go of Authority – The idea is embodied in different phrases but all describe a similar process: shifting from the idea that subject experts and professionals are the sole voices of museum authority to having communities or individuals not on the museum staff or board share the decision making power.  It’s a scary prospect but one that museums have been slowly adopting for the last decade.

In this blog post I use the term Open Authority to describe this process. There are many forms of Open Authority.  As Lori Phillips recently noted in her explanation of this paradigm shift at the 2013 Museum Computer Network conference, Open Authority is a spectrum.  At one end are projects that provide contributory or participatory experiences.  Visitors to museums can engage with the material on exhibit by tagging, voting, identifying etc.  On the other end are co-creative initiatives, where community members are involved from the very beginning and hold equal authority with museum staff in decisions about exhibits and programming.  In the middle are collaborative initiatives that rely on community sourcing and dialogue, but not quite to the same degree as co-creative projects.  How Open Authority becomes embodied in an institution is different for every museum and every community.  At MCE, we are at the contributory end of the spectrum but are working towards co-creation.  As part of this process I have identified concepts that are taking shape as “best practices” based on the growing number of case studies and discussions taking place in the museum community.  Here is my preliminary list:

  1. Opening Authority includes inviting people to your museum but often means physically going outside of the museum to make meaningful connections.  In some cases, this means going to communities and talking with them before bringing them into the museum space.  This is especially true for communities that traditionally neither visit or find museums to be welcoming.   Museum staff members can go on the community’s turf before asking them to come to the museum.
  2. Open Authority also means paying careful attention to the language you use when connecting with communities.  As my colleague Porchia Moore has noted, museums need to work on the language of cultural competency to ensure that we are actually cultivating openness.
  3. During and after interactions with community members, museums must be open to suggestions and actually follow-up on them.  Outreach must be viewed as dialogue, not just conversation (see Sharon Wilken Conrad’s blog on the important difference between these two).
  4. Long-term goals are important.  Creating lasting, collaborative relationships takes time.  Additionally, some communities will not have the time, interest, or energy to engage with the museum in the ways you would like them to.  But initiating the conversation and demonstrating an interest in the community perspective as equal partners provides an opening for future collaboration.
  5. When community members choose to be involved in a museum, especially as equal partners, be prepared for some projects to take on a mind of their own.
  6. At the same time, remember that you can’t make everyone happy.  Communities are full of diverse individuals with different interests.  You have to determine whom you are trying to reach and keep that goal in mind.
  7. Remember that Open Authority doesn’t just apply to communities outside of the museum.  There are also ways to Open Authority within a Museum staff’s structure as well.  Regardless of what communities you are focusing on, be sure to keep communication open with your staff members so they are sharing their ideas and concerns as part of the process.
  8. Open Authority also includes volunteers who bring another perspective and set of experiences.  Don’t forget to ask them about ideas and suggestions for how to contact and work with groups.

The CAMP tour is part of our efforts to Open Authority at MCE.  We are now in the initial stages of working with CAMP.  Students visited the museum, we showed them around our current exhibit, and asked them what they would like to see future exhibits focus on.  They shared a number of ideas, including an exhibit on the history of migration and migrant families in our county, an exhibit on leaders of Latino communities, the impact of the internet on college students, and contemporary music.  Although we aren’t in the position to put these ideas into action immediately (our exhibit schedule runs a year in advance) the CAMP ideas are now on our radar for future plans.  In addition, we are hopeful that CAMP will participate in other MCE projects in development, including a mobile tour of the museum and campus.  We are at the starting point with this project but we hope it’s the beginning of a great relationship that one day will lead to co-creative projects between CAMP and MCE.  Follow us to stay informed on our process.
What Open Authority practices are you using at your institution?

Elizabeth is the Central Washington University Museum of Culture and Environment Grants and Publicity Specialist.  She can be contacted at ebollwerk(at)gmail.com

Resources for Open Authority (in chronological order)

Moore, Porchia

2014.  Shifting Paradigms: The Case for Co-Creation and New Discourses of Participation (blog). The Incluseum.  February 26 2014. 

Phillips, Lori Byrd

http://hstryqt.tumblr.com/OpenAuthority

2013. The Temple & the Bazaar: Wikipedia as a Platform for Open Authority in Museums. Curator: The Museum Journal. 56:2.

2013.  Defining Open Authority in the Museum. Panel.  Museum Computer Network 2013 (Montreal, Canada)

Duclos-Orsello, Elizabeth A.  2013.

Shared Authority: The Key to Museum Education as Social ChangeJournal of Museum Education 38:2.

Inscho, Jeffrey  2013.  Oh Snap!  Experimenting with Open Authority in the Gallery (blog)Museum 2.0.  March 13 2013.

Connolly, Robert  2013.

Co-Production and Co-Creation with Volunteers (blog)Archaeology, Museums, and Outreach.   February 18, 2013.

Bollwerk, Elizabeth, Natalye Tate, and Robert Connolly (eds)  2012.

Open(ing) Authority Through Community Engagement.   Museums and Social Issues. 7:2.

Adair, Bill, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski (ed).  2011.

Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World. Philadelphia: Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.

How Museums Are Like MOOCs, Part 1

stoneI am a strong advocate for user-generated content, such as Wikipedia, and open on-line content like MOOCS. I remain somewhat amused but mostly incredulous at the “sky is falling” folks who still bemoan this trend in knowledge sharing.

In my dealings within academia, over the past five years the discussion has gone from “online courses might work well, in x department, but not in our department, where face-to-face interaction is critical because . . . (fill in the blank) ” to the present day where most departments are at least experimenting with some form of  blended classes.  Now I particularly enjoy noting that students who I encouraged (or insisted/demanded) to enroll in remedial MOOC writing courses have dramatically improved writing skills.  Even my doubter colleagues realize that such improvements make their instructor jobs easier when reading through a stack of 10-page student papers.

I had a bit of an “aha” moment on all of this while listening to a To The Point podcast a few weeks ago.  The topic was Massive Open Online Courses, MOOC’s: The Future of Education?  The naysayers primary complaints expressed on the podcast rest with a lack of faculty control of MOOC content and whether MOOCs even work as an educational tool.  My suspicion is that those in the upper-echelons of MOOC and MOOC-like developments find these complaints rather amusing as the NeoLuddites of higher education make their last futile gasps to preserve the good old days.

But the source of my “aha” came from a different objection to MOOCs raised on the podcast.  The naysayers also point to the low completion rates of MOOCs.  Depending on how you cut it, as few as 5% of the tens of thousands of individuals who might enroll in a single course end up completing all the assignments.  In the past, my response to this objection was that even with a low rate of completion, if 1000 students finished the course, quantitatively, that is still a good number for a single professor’s course.  Further, if those 1000 paid say 25.00 per head for a high-end certificate of completion (known as the signature track in coursera-speak) seemingly that is an economic model that could ultimately sustain the venture long-term.

But then something happened to me and the “aha” struck.  I recently registered for the MOOC Content Strategy For Professionals: Engaging Audiences for Your Organization.  The course seemed ideal to explore a strategic orientation for engaging museum audiences.  At coursera.org, when registering for courses, one is asked to state if they intend to do all the readings, watch all the videos, and complete all the assignments.  As usual, I dutifully checked all the “yes” boxes.  The first set of lectures was fantastic.  I enjoyed them so much I ordered the textbook from Amazon.com immediately.  This MOOC presented the precise information I sought.  I reasoned the book would be a great supplement.  However, the assignment that constituted 70% of the MOOC course grade was about developing a content strategy model around a clothing campaign – not a project that resonated with me.  I decided I was not going to complete the assignment and therefore, not complete the requirements for the certificate.  In so doing, I was going to be part of the 95% statistic the naysayers suggest are MOOC failures.

A few days later I registered for the The History and Future of (mostly) Higher Education taught by Cathy Davidson that I reported on last week.  Upon registering, I checked the “no” boxes on my intent for completing the readings, videos, and assignments.  I actually wasn’t even certain if I wanted to watch anything of the MOOC beyond the lecture that piqued my interest – Teaching Like it’s 1992.  This registration marked a real shift in my thinking.  Previously, before registering for a MOOC I always read the syllabus and determined if I had enough time to complete the course requirements.  In this instance, I knew I wanted to listen to at least one lecture, but was not going to make a commitment to the entire seven week offering.  That decision was very liberating and instructive for me.  Again, from the linear perspective of registering for the course, completing all the tasks on the syllabus, taking the final test, and getting a final grade, the naysayers will argue this MOOC also did not work for me.

But I object.  Both MOOCs gave me exactly the information and training I sought.  So how can that be translated as the MOOCs not working?

Part of the answer to that question is found in Professor John Levine’s  Introductory Lecture for the Content Strategy MOOC where he notes:

Let me tell you a few important things about this MOOC, however. First since it is for professionals, there’ll be no grades and no tests.  It’s not a college course, it’s a program for you as a professional to master.  And then be able to use what you learn here and take it back to work.

That very statement addresses a point raised in a Ted Talk by Peter Norvig, a pioneer in the MOOC field.  Norvig states that “everyone is both a learner and a teacher.”  This understanding fits well within the understanding of MOOCs as integral components of informal, lifelong and free-choice learning.  As Norvig further discusses, this understanding places MOOC’s beyond the limits of traditional academia.  Of note, the naysayers rarely, if ever, address this point that Norvig raises.  I suspect the lack of input is because the naysayers perceive education from the pre-1992 paradigm.

Museums function in the same way.  As a general statement, in a museum you can come enter at any point along the path.  You are not required to read every label.  You are not tested before you leave the building.  But, you can engage with what you want for as long as you want.

Next week I want to explore the implications of the Museum as MOOCs.

Do you draw similar parallels between MOOCs and cultural heritage venues?

(Note:  In a preemptive response: 1) I would gladly pay 10.00 for either of the MOOCs noted above. 2) I am well aware that there are MOOC disasters out there.  The venture is new.  coursera.org is two years old.  I am certain a time traveling fly on the wall would hear all the same objections to Gutenberg’s first printing press in the 1400s.

What if No One Comes to the Party?

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2013 Art for Voice creator Penny Dodds (left) with participants

This semester I am teaching one of my favorite classes of all time – Applied Archaeology and Museums.  The course is in part a glomming together of much of what I hold dear in cultural heritage studies.  Students come to appreciate that archaeology is more than just digging up stuff and that museums are more than places to look at things and be given definitive explanations – but not touch or otherwise engage.  The course description goes like this:

The course explores the intersection of Applied Archaeology and Museums through the representations of cultural heritage in a broad array of public venues.   Topics that comprise the exploration include repatriation, cultural patrimony, cultural resource management, civic engagement, rights and responsibilities of stakeholders, public involvement in museum representations, performance, education, culture and memory.  The course is applied in focus.  Students will be challenged to transform concepts contained in readings to real-time applications through class projects and written assignments.

Here is a copy of the syllabus if interested.

One of the class readings this past week was from the book Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, edited by Bill Adair and others (reviewed here).  The article “Whose Questions, Whose Conversations” by Kathleen McLean presents the case for greater visitor engagement in the museum exhibit/program creation process.  I cleverly, by my estimation, presented a Powerpoint slide with a quote from McLean’s article:

It’s not as radical as it might sound.  Increasingly, museums are employing visitor research and evaluation to better understand how their programs and exhibitions affect their end-users. (p.72)

McLean, K.  2011.  Whose Questions, Whose Conversations? In Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, edited by B. Adair, B. Filene and L. Koloski, pp. pp. 34-43. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek.

and a nearly 100 year-old quote from John Cotton Dana:

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)

Dana, John Cotton.  1917. The New Museum, Elm Tree Press.

My intent was to show that it is not “radical” at all to engage the community in such discussions, but the idea has been around for 100 years.

In their reading journals, two students raised interesting questions about McLean’s article:

Jordan Goss, an undergraduate with an interest in anthropology and geoarchaeology wrote:

Since I have not gotten the chance to physically carry out the concept of Applied Archaeology just yet, I’m not sure if this is an appropriate question or simply meaningless.  But what would happen if you wish to create ways for the public to participate in museum activities yet the public refuses?

Allison Hennie a PhD student with a background in architecture, anthropology and museum studies wrote:

As part of the Museum Studies Certificate Program, there seem to be never-ending supply of readings about how museums need to change. So, why haven’t things changed yet? Are museums forcing engagement or do all visitors really want to engage?

Both excellent observations.  The student responses bring to mind a couple of my own experiences at the C.H. Nash Museum.  Our “Hands-on Archaeology Lab” contains artifacts and exhibits to provide a highly tactile visitor experience.  As well, through regular programs, and on request we also offer visitors the opportunity to throw darts with an atlatl.  Most visitors are thrilled with these opportunities.  Others just want to pay their admission and be left alone to wonder the exhibit hall and the earthwork complex.  “No” they politely respond – they don’t want to go into our lab or throw darts.

But here too is a reality.  No one at our Museum ever asked any visitor if they wanted us to create a hands-on archaeology lab or develop an atlatl program.  Our staff created the activities on our own initiative and basically, we guessed right.  Both are very popular activities and provide an excellent opportunity to engage and educate around our mission.

We are now take a different approach before creating exhibits and programs.  We hold focus groups and conduct surveys with our existing and intended visitors to see what they want us to create.  I do not think this means becoming all things to all people.  In answering the above questions posed by Jordan and Allison, as public servants, we must be proactive in finding the appropriate level and type of visitor engagement that is consistent with our mission.  As Dana noted in 1917, that is often simply a matter of asking the community of their needs – not having cultural heritage staffs attempt to second guess those needs.

As a small Museum we have incredible opportunities to fill a variety of public need niches.  For example, in our Art for Voice program last summer, we had several families with autistic children who participated and wished for more offerings suitable for their special needs.  This morning I came across an Archaeologists for Autism Facebook group that aims to support greater inclusion of special needs children in cultural heritage programs.  This seems an excellent example of how our museum can engage with our public in a way envisioned by John Cotton Dana in 1917 and Kathleen McLean in the 21st Century.

How do you answer the questions posed by Jordan and Allison?

Applying Archaeology with the Public

excaThis semester I am teaching Applied Archaeology and Museums at the University of Memphis.  This course addresses my primary research interests – the preservation and presentation of cultural heritage and its use as an empowerment tool for the public.  Since I last taught the course two years ago, the resources for this empowerment tool multiplied exponentially.  A good bit of the growth comes from digital technology put in the service of human needs.  (Note this understanding of technology, well articulated by folks such as Clay Shirky, is at odds with the neo-Luddite perspective.  See here for my rant on all that.)

Access to the products of digital technology is not always simple or readily available.  Jason Baird Jackson posted an interesting piece on the high costs for accessing academic publications in a growing open access world.  The post includes a link to The Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine that allows an author to retain specific distribution rights for their published work.  Sherpa is a searchable database that lists distribution rights by journal that authors retain for open access distribution.  Here I am less interested in discussing specific open-access issues, and more some of the current venues and perspectives in which cultural heritage information is presented to the public.

On the digital end:

A common point for these new opportunities is that even in my low-tech and financially strapped museum existence, all are practical possibilities where the primary limitation is not technology but labor to produce the products – a situation that can circle back to volunteerism and community service learning.

A second common point is that products of these technologies are accessible to a public with a wi-fi connection and basic internet surfing skills.

However, when considering the products that will live in real-time contexts created by students in my Applied Archaeology and Museums course this semester – after all, isn’t that what applied is all about? – I am concerned that the products be relevant to public interests and needs.  Consider:

  • I had a back-and-forth with a recent graduate of our applied anthropology program who lamented that she felt well-prepared to write lengthy academic reports but her employers really only wanted the punch line impact statements, something her academic training left her unprepared to produce.
  • I am working with a student who is developing an exhibit for a county museum based on a several thousand piece surface collection curated in our museum repository for the past 30 years.    The intern was excited by my preaching about the need for the exhibit to be relevant to the public, including avocational archaeologists who visit the museum.  To that end, we discussed how the exhibit could interpret prehistoric trade and exchange, site function, and time period of occupation – all based on typical artifacts collected from the land surface after spring plowing or a good rain.  However, as a well-trained anthropology undergraduate, the student was reasonably obsessed with making certain she typed her projectile points accurately.  Her training made it hard to accept that the primary public interest of similar shaped points, from the same time period, manufactured at the same location, likely used for the same function, was not the correct typological name ascribed by an archaeologist several thousand years after the tools production.  An exhibit that is not typology focused is not “dumbing down” to the public, but rather, functionally interpretive and different.  That is a lesson from our co-creation with avocational archaeologists.

Co-creation with the public is a critical part of making resources relevant – whether digital or real-time.  Co-creation has become a buzzword in museum contexts for the past number years, as popularized by Nina Simon in her Participatory Museum volume.   My colleague Elizabeth Bollwerk and I have organized a fifteen paper session Co-Creation, the Public and the Archaeological Record  for the Society for American Archaeology Annual Meetings this April in Austin, Texas.  The session abstract is:

Co-creation in public archaeology is a means to engage and empower citizens to become stakeholders of the archaeological record. In museum contexts Simon (2010:278) writes that the purpose of co-creative community projects is “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.” The papers in this session discuss a variety of recent archaeological projects that implement the co-creative model. The contributions demonstrate how co-creation moves beyond “hands-on” educational experiences or typical volunteer programs because participants are invited to play an active role in designing and constructing the final products to address their needs and interests. Co-creation aligns with current emphases on informal, life-long, and free-choice learning models that foster public engagement in the preservation of cultural heritage resources. The papers in this session also explore the benefits and challenges of using this method and provide examples of best practices for implementation. Finally, these papers speak to the impact of co-creation on the discipline and how the process increases the ability of archaeology to contribute to debates on contemporary issues.

We are pleased that Carol McDavid, a pioneer in this process, including her work at the Levi-Jordan Plantation (link to 1998 website) will serve as a discussant for the session.

How do you envision co-creation in archaeology?

A Lesson in Cultural Heritage Relevance on Veterans Day

2012 Veterans Honorsmall

2012 Veterans Banner Presented by the Delta 9 NCCC AmeriCorps Team

In my last post I talked about accountability in reporting cultural heritage studies to the public who often both fund and are the subject of the research.  As an example I used the public response and request for copies of a recent issue of the journal Museums and Social Issues that summarized the last five years of community outreach by the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.   My colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Bollwerk offered an interesting challenge to my blog post.  She noted that while certainly impressive that ten members of the community paid 19.00 for copies of the journal, she also questioned if publication in the journal really qualified as pubic accessibility?  She asked about the responsibility to truly disseminate the report as a readily accessible public resource and not one that required paying 19.00 for an issue of a professional journal. I noted that I offered to make pdf copies of the article available, but that the community members wanted the actual “book” and not a xerox.

With that exchange fresh in my mind, this past Friday I attended the annual Veterans luncheon sponsored by the Westwood Neighborhood Association (WNA) in Southwest Memphis.  Approximately 30 African-American U.S. Military Veterans attended this year’s event.  At last year’s gathering, members of the Delta 9 NCCC AmeriCorps Team who were working on home maintenance and rehab projects in the area presented the attendees with a banner that featured the names and photos of WNA veterans.  At this year’s event, members of the River 4 NCCC AmeriCorps Team presented the veterans with another banner to honor their service.  A focus of the River 4 Team’s current work in Memphis is repair and maintenance on the house of 88-year old WW II Veteran, Mr. Ford Nelson, who has lived in his home for 60 years.  The AmeriCorps Team presentations each year are incredibly meaningful to the Veterans present.

The President of the WNA, Mr. Robert Gurley, often comments to me that the community’s military service was never properly recognized in the past and the memory has begun to fade.  As an aid in reviving that memory, the role of African-Americans in the U.S. Military was the theme chosen by the community for the 2012 Black History Month celebration hosted at the C.H. Nash Museum.   When we first discussed the idea of putting together the banners as a physical reminder of veteran service, the WNA community went into high gear to find the photographs for the banners.  That process was not easy as for many the mementos of that period lost their relevance upon their return to the Jim Crow era South, the rising anti-Vietnam war movement, and the assassination of civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At this past Friday’s meeting, as the 30 veterans introduced themselves, Mr. Gurley pointed with pride to the photographs of those present that were represented on the banners created by the AmeriCorps Teams over the past two years.  Mr. Gurley made special notice that the group photo of veterans at the bottom of the this year’s banner was reproduced in the Museums and Social Issues journal that ten community members had purchased.

In reflecting on these events, Dr. Bollwerk’s challenge makes a good bit more sense to me.  The fact is, although an article published in a national peer-reviewed journal has meaning to the community, copies are not really all that accessible.  The AmeriCorps banners are very accessible and will be hung in the community hall.  Traditional academic values do not reward working to produce banners about military veterans.  Nor will the production of a website such as Southwestmemphis.com where such content can be curated “count” on traditional professional career paths.  Only the process of creating these products might be of interest from the professional perspective.

AC Vet 13

River 4 NCCC AmeriCorps Team presenting Veterans Banner on November 8, 2013

However, if a museum’s mission is to truly educate, present, and preserve cultural heritage to and for the public, the museum is obligated to present and report research  products in venues that are truly accessible.

How does your institution assure public accessibility to research project results?

Public Accountability in Cultural Heritage Studies

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U.S. Military Veteran participants in Black History Month Celebration at the C.H. Nash Museum – photo featured in Museums and Social Issues volume

For the past few years I delivered a presentation on professionalism to a proseminar of incoming Anthropology graduate students at the University of Memphis (UM).  In preparing for the first time I gave the presentation, I sent an email to 50 professionals in my address book including those who worked as faculty, corporate and nonprofit administrators, and clergy.  In the email I asked this question:

If you could tell graduate students about one professional standard that is routinely violated but is of critical importance as they embark on their careers – what is that standard?

I was pleasantly surprised to receive 34 responses from a representative sample of careers:  2 Clergy, 3 Government officials, 6 University Professors, 7 University Administrators, 7 Non-Profit Administrators, and 9 Private Industry Administrators.

Now I routinely open the proseminar session by asking the students to speculate on the most common response professionals give to my question.  Typically, students raise issues such as the need to show up on time, wear appropriate clothes, and so forth.  In three years, no student has identified the top standard listed by over 60% of the professionals – Publishing Research Results and Public Accountability.  The responses from the professionals included:

. . . Many ‘academics’ do not give enough consideration to their responsibility to inform the public about their work.   Lip service and a few talks or even fewer publications are given by some, but being esoteric and admired by your colleagues is considered to be so much more important . . .

Despite the mantra of “publish or perish,” . . . far too many professionals fail to finish projects . . .

I will admit to being quite surprised by the priority given in this response as well.  In fact, the 34 professionals responses ranked Being on Time/Prepared and Appearance/Demeanor as 4th and 5th behind Responsiveness/Accountability and Giving Thanks/Acknowledgements, the 2nd and 3rd in their rankings.  Though certainly not a scientific study, the results were quite revealing and aligned with the response from a focus group in which I recently participated.  The College of Arts of Sciences conducted the focus group consisting of area employers who hire UM graduates.  The gist of the focus group was to determine how the College can better prepare students for employment.  Of the ten people in the focus group, the unanimous top response was the need for improvement in oral and written communication skills.

What does all of this have to do with Archaeology, Museums and Outreach?  These results remind me of the need for cultural heritage professionals to remain relevant to the communities we serve.  At the same time we need to demonstrate and share that relevance.  A few weeks ago, I received a surprising comment on this point.  We recently published a paper The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa: Community Engagement at an Archaeological Site.  The paper summarizes and evaluates the last five years of the Museum’s engagement as a participatory institution with the underserved community surrounding the Museum.  The journal Museums and Social Issues published the paper in a thematic set of papers (Volume 7, Number 3, 2012 Opening(ing) Authority Through Community Engagement) based on a session I organized two years before at a professional conference.  As an editor of the volume I received an extra hard copy of the journal and gave it to Mr. Robert Gurley, the President of the Westwood Neighborhood Association, the collaborating partner featured in the paper.  Mr. Gurley read an earlier draft of the paper and was pleased to have the published hard copy.

Mr. Gurley approached me a few days later saying that he showed the volume to other community members and four individuals wanted to buy a copy.  I noted that copies were $25.00 each, but I would be happy to provide pdf copies of the manuscript at no cost.  Mr. Gurley replied that the community members were proud to be featured in the “book” and wanted to have an actual copy.  He also noted that he had read several of the articles in the volume and enjoyed knowing how our type of community/museum collaboration was carried out at other locations in the U.S.

Ultimately, I cut a deal with the press and got 10 copies for 19.00 each.  All ten copies were sold in the community within one week.  I must admit I was quite surprised that ten individuals in this working class community were interested in paying 19.00 for an 18-page article on a collaborative project in their neighborhood.

Flowing from this example, I will return to this theme next week to consider other opportunities to address the Public Accountability and Responsiveness standard considered top priorities by the professional community.

What opportunities do you take to share your research with the public?

New Opportunities with International Archaeology Day

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Hualcayán, Peru

This year, the Archaeological Institute of America’s National Archaeology Day has become International Archaeology.  The event will occur this coming Saturday, October 19th.  This year’s 200 collaborating organizations are hosting an impressive array of activities ranging from special exhibitions and presentations at the Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia to Family Day Activities at the Bosque Museum in Clifton Texas.  At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa we made an intentional decision this year to focus on what we do best for International Archaeology Day – our basic programming and activities.  If you are in the Memphis area, stop by on the 19th.

International Archaeology Day is also an opportunity to reflect on the state of the discipline in 2013.  Today, archaeologists often face an uphill battle to convince elected officials in the United States of the discipline’s worth.  Popular media such as Antiques RoadshowAmerican Digger, and American Pickers continue to focus on commodification of cultural heritage – how old is it? is it real? and how much is it worth?  In typical “What is Archaeology” classroom presentations, presenters often need to clarify that archaeologists do not dig up dinosaurs nor are the missions of Indiana Jones and Laura Croft typical job descriptions in our profession.  And, as I posted recently about the Louisiana Division of Archaeology, we see effective programs on the chopping block for public funding.

Are we winning or losing the battle for the presentation and preservation of cultural heritage?

Consider that two of the better known state archaeology programs that appear to be thriving, at least relatively speaking, are those of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey and the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN).  One of the things that these two organizations do exceptionally well is public outreach.  The Survey in conjunction with the Arkansas Archeological Society  holds an annual certification program for avocational archaeologists, where the public have the opportunity to be trained in a range of field and other research methods by the professional community.  Although I am confident that many professionals will scoff at or be outright offended at such practices, a review of the program points to the very real contribution the certification has made in Arkansas.  In Florida, FPAN also offers several programs for the public such as the Cemetery Resource Protection Training (CRPT) that actively engage communities in the process of preservation.

These programs go beyond passive lectures or hands on activities to fully engage the public in an active learning and participatory process.  This trend of an active or participatory engagement is particularly strong in the museum   The Paul Hamlyn Foundation in the United Kingdom has developed excellent models for direct engagement in museums and working with collections.  The Connecting to Collections Online Community here in the United States  archives several webinars that explore involving the public in preservation tasks through direct collections work, oral history interviews and other methods.

A distinct difference in the above programs and what I have considered community outreach for much of my career is the direct engagement of the public in the process.  That is, instead of a lecture, the above programs engage in a dialogue where the public become a true part of a participatory process.  The participation is not simply for the sake of a hands-on experience, but one where the public become stakeholders in the process of presenting and preserving their cultural heritage.  In this way, museum exhibits and other cultural heritage presentations move from being about the community to being of the community.

Consider how such an engagement might work based on a recent article about a five-year process at the C.H. Nash Museum:

Finally, we consider the relevance of our cultural institution to the community of prime importance. We believe that if in 2007 we had asked the residents of Southwest Memphis what the C.H. Nash Museum meant to them, in all likelihood, their response would have focused on how some of “our children visit for school field trips and Chucalissa is where the Indian Mounds are located.”  If we ask that question today, we hope the response will include “Chucalissa is the place where there is an exhibit on the cultural heritage of our community; where there is a resource center on our community history; the place where we hold our Black History Month celebrations; where our traditional foods garden was planted last year; where the AmeriCorps Teams that work in our community live; and also where the Indian Mounds are located.”

I will add that all of those products were co-created by the Westwood Community and the C.H. Nash Museum.  We hope to use International Archaeology Day on October 19 to explore more possibilities for being relevant and engaging with the public to whom our museum serves.

Two years I posted about the opportunity of using National Archaeology Day as a response to shows like American Digger.  This year’s International Archaeology Day is again an excellent opportunity to actively engage with the public who will ultimately decide the fate of the world’s cultural heritage presentation and preservation.

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