Tag: volunteer

Service in Cultural Heritage

Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza (center) with students from the Maria Parado de Bellido Nº 88104 school in Nivín, Peru.

This past Sunday, my colleague Gustavo Valencia Tello, invited me to a Father’s Day lunch at his home in Casma, Peru.  I am spending a couple of months in the area this summer as part of a co-creative project organized through Culture and Community in Casma (see this newsletter for more details).  During our lunch, Professor Valencia and I had a wide ranging discussion not just about this summer’s work but also our collaboration that began in July of 2015.  After finishing our meal Professor Valencia raised a question that got me to thinking.  He asked:

“You are from a major university in the United States.  In Casma we do not have a university and in Nivín we only have a very small school.  Why do you keep coming back to Nivín?

At first, I was not certain how to respond.  I thought about how the project is interesting.  I thought about how the project is the most “co-creative” in which I have ever been involved in addressing community needs in a collaborative manner.  But I realized those responses were really after the fact reasons.  After a few seconds of thought, I replied:

“Because you asked us to come.”

We then discussed how one year before our first visit, my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and Professor Valencia had communicated on Facebook where he had invited us to come to the small school museum.  (I posted here about that first visit.)  I recalled how when we first arrived in Nivín, after touring the museum, school grounds, and the surrounding archaeological sites, we asked Professor Valencia what we could do to help his project.  He responded with a shopping list of needs.  At the top of the list was museum management texts in Spanish.  (Here is a link to our Annual Report for 2016 that details our completed projects to date.)

We are currently working with the school and community of Nivín to develop a five-year strategic plan that will guide our co-creative work in the future.  Gustavo’s original invitation for Elizabeth and I to visit Nivín has led to very meaningful professional projects for all of us.

The “why did you come” question this past Sunday got me to thinking more.  I thought about my first trip to Peru in the summer of 2013.  That visit was also based on a request for me to come to help start a small museum and cultural heritage center in the village of Hualcayán to supplement archaeological research in that community.  I learned much over the four years I spent on projects in Hualcayán.

My visit to Debbie Buco’s classroom in 1997.

I then thought about other times when I had just shown up after being asked over the years.  I thought about my time as the Station Archaeologist at the Poverty Point World Heritage Site some 15 – 20 years ago.  I often received requests from schools and libraries in Louisiana and Mississippi to just come and visit.  One of the most rewarding requests was when I said yes to Debbie Buco, an elementary school teacher in Baton Rouge (described in this post).

Over the length of my career, without question, the most meaningful professional experiences have always come when I said “yes” to requests to be of service – often after a great deal of initial reluctance on my part.

I fear that we are in a time when such requests for service too often go unheeded.  I am surprised by the reluctance of emerging professionals to share their successful and not so successful experiences with others in form of blogs or public presentations when asked to do so.   I remember how odd it sounded to me during my first field school in 1986 to hear someone with their BA in Anthropology fresh in hand announce as they visited our excavations that he would never again do archaeology for free.  Years ago advisors cautioned me against engaging in service because publications and grants were the name of the game when seeking faculty tenure.  Just recently, the editor of a major peer review journal lamented to me that it was hard to get younger professionals to agree to do peer reviews of articles submitted for publication.

I appreciate too that one cannot, and should not say yes to every request that comes along.

I don’t intend this as a holier than thou piece.  In fact, saying “yes” to requests, whether peer review, sharing experiences, or in a variety of community service opportunities, is really quite self-serving from the “in giving, you receive” perspective.  The simple fact is that by saying “yes” to Professor Valencia a couple of years ago, my colleague Elizabeth and I each have at least another five-year project that will likely prove the most meaningful in both of our careers – Elizabeth as she works to complete her doctoral studies and for me as a post retirement project till I turn 70!  Without question, those aspects of my career that I consider the most significant and meaningful would not have occurred had I not said “yes” to being of service.

A Truly Low-Tech and Innovative Archaeological Exhibit

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Excavation Trench representation in the Brister Archaeology Discovery Lab

On April 16, for our Spring Family Fun Day at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, we unveiled our new Brister Archaeology Discovery Laboratory (BADLab), an upgraded version of our 2008 innovation, the Hands-On Archaeology Lab.  The upgraded configuration honors the lifelong contribution of Ron Brister to the Chucalissa Archaeological site.  Ron was first employed in 1966 at Chucalissa by Charles Nash, for whom the current museum is named.  After a 37-year career as the Collections Manager at the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, in his retirement, Ron is once again back at Chucalissa lending his considerable expertise to a wide range of our museum practices.

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Photograph of Excavation Trench profile by Katie Maish

One of the innovations in our upgraded BADLab is the representation of the Chucalissa House Mound Excavation Trench on one of the rooms walls.

In the late 1950s archaeologists excavated a trench through a prehistoric ridge or mound at the Chucalissa site. When built nearly 1,000 years ago, the long ridge or mound was a place where the Native Americans built a variety of structures, including houses. Beginning in 1962, the archaeological excavation through the house ridge served as an entrance into the Chucalissa mounds and plaza. However, the trench is now closed to the public because of erosion and safety concerns. The new BADLab wall exhibit provides a summary of what archaeologists discovered when excavating the trench in the 1950s.

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Sediment Peel (left) and Photograph (right) of the same postmold from the Excavation Trench.

Our recent NCCC AmeriCorps Team painted a representation of the trench stratigraphy on the BADLab wall (In addition, the NCCC Team painted the rest of the room and laid the tile floor.)  Former C.H. Nash Museum Administrative Associate and photographer extraordinaire Katie Maish photographed features from the actual excavation trench that were then printed, mounted on foam core, and installed in their approximate location on the wall painted by the NCCC.

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Sediment Peel and Photograph of a House Floor from the Excavation Trench.

The above tasks would have accomplished my initial plans for the exhibit.  However, Ron Brister suggested that we include “sediment peels” in the exhibit design.  When Ron first raised the idea, I was uncertain how the peels would work.  However, I have learned to stand back and let such initiatives unfold – and the result was outstanding.

A sediment peel is where you build a small frame, adhere it to an excavation profile, fill the frame with what I refer to as glop but Ron says is an expanding foam insulation.  You then let the insulation set and dry and then remove it from the excavation wall profile.  Adhering to the hardened insulation is a 2-3 mm “peel” of the profile “sediment” that can then be mounted and exhibited.  In this way, the excavation trench is literally brought into the exhibit, not as a replica, but as an actual archaeological feature.

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(L-R) Robert Connolly and Ron Brister

Total price tag for materials – under $500.00.  All labor donated or Student/Graduate Assistant supplied.

Check back next week for a post on the entire BADLab upgrade process.

 

 

Your Input Needed on Survey of Public Archaeology Resources

FTP-page

After several years of planning, The Society for American Archaeology‘s (SAA) Archaeology For The Public Webpage was officially launched in 2006. The intent of the page was to share resources, best practices, and general information about the discipline of archaeology with both the professional community and the interested public. Since its inception, the volume and scope of the pages grew dramatically.

Patrice L. Jeppson, Carol McDavid, and Mary L. Kwas of the SAA Public Education Web Pages Working Group received the 2007 Presidential Recognition Award for developing the initial idea of the webpages and shepherding the process through to the official launch in 2006. Hundreds of individuals have also contributed content to the webpages since 2006. Maureen Malloy, in her capacity as the SAA Manager of Education and Outreach, played an integral role with the Working Group in maintaining and expanding the webpages. Today, she is charged with the Herculean task of the For The Public Webpages oversight.

The site has now grown to a complex tangle of over 400 linked pages. Many of the pages need substantive revision in content, function, and aesthetic perspectives. Three years ago students in my Applied Archaeology and Museums class at the University of Memphis began a preliminary review of the pages to track down dead links, evaluate content, and propose upgrades. By the end of the semester, we clearly understood that a major revision was needed to make the pages an effective tool for the 21st Century.

As an organization that relies primarily on the volunteer expertise of its membership, an inward search of the SAA was begun to facilitate the upgrade. In my capacity as chair of the Public Education Committee, I asked my colleague Elizabeth Bollwerk if she was interested in heading up a task force to tackle the project. She agreed and assembled a team of Public Education Committee members—Eve Hargrave, Eli Konwest, and Rebecca Simon –to form a task force to coordinate the work.

Over the past year Beth and her team inventoried all the For The Public pages and generated a series of recommendations. A key recommendation is to survey the public to obtain their input on the next steps in the For the Public webpage upgrade, which the task force promptly created.

Now is your opportunity to take part in providing that necessary input. The survey will take 10 – 15 minutes to complete and will remain open until July 22, 2015.

Here is an important point – the webpages are titled For The Public, therefore public input is critical. We are not just looking for input of SAA members or professional archaeologists, but everyone who has an interest in archaeology and seeks resources on same – including teachers, makers, scout leaders and members, archaeological mystery fans, avocational archaeologists, public officials . . . you get the idea – the broad public who has an interest in the discipline.

I will appreciate your completing the survey and forwarding this blog post or just the survey link to your network or relevant individuals.

For comments or questions about the project, please contact Elizabeth Bollwerk, Project Coordinator of the For the Public Webpages task force at ebollwerk@gmail.com. And once again, you can take the survey at this link or by pasting the following address in your browser: https://memphis.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6VC9IWVkd1Q6tb7

 

AmeriCorps Delta 5 – Unparalleled Community Service

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Delta 5 AmeriCorps NCCC Team at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa (R.Connolly on right)

Anyone who has follows this blog knows that as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, I am a big fan of AmeriCorps NCCC.  Over the past few years we hosted four eight-week teams.  AmeriCorps NCCC is integral to the C.H. Nash Museum’s outreach to the Southwest Memphis community.  Besides writing about the Teams on this blog, I recently published an article on the experience with Ana Rea, a former NCCC Team leader.

This past month the C.H. Nash Museum worked with the City of Memphis in hosting the Delta 5 AmeriCorps NCCC Team.  We are currently discussing with the city administrators future partnerships to sponsor AmeriCorps Teams.  I am excited that this new partnership will expand the Museum’s collaboration with the City of Memphis and result in increased service opportunities to the underserved in our neighborhood.

The Delta 5 Team was in Memphis just a short five weeks this past spring but accomplished a great deal.  In work coordinated through the City of Memphis, the Team:

  • built four community gardens in city “food deserts” and hosted engagement days at the locations
  • worked with members from the community at Ruth Tate senior center to build a garden
  • cleaned 13 public pools in preparation for summer
  • power washed 40 pavilions in public parks
  • refurbished a wrought iron fence around the Ed Rice community center pool.

Team member Falicia Forward noted that:

The community engagement aspects of the work we’ve done have been the most rewarding. In particular, it was very gratifying to work alongside the seniors at Ruth Tate Senior Center. They really took ownership of the garden, almost before it was even built. In other areas, we interacted with the community as individuals approached the team to inquire about our work. From day one, I felt very connected to the communities we were serving.

delta5-atlatl

Team member Sarah Raposa throwing darts with an atlatl

In the short one week at the C.H. Nash Museum the Team:

  • prepared our Urban and Three Sisters Gardens for spring planting and performed maintenance tasks on the sweetgrass bed, herb garden and nature trail.
  • built several cabinets and tables for our upgraded hands-on archaeology lab
  • processed several thousand prehistoric artifacts curated from past excavations at the Chucalissa site
  • and of course, tried their hand at throwing darts with an atlatl.

AmeriCorps NCCC Teams are well-suited for  a diverse set of cultural heritage projects, particularly those that involve the local community.  For more information on the application process – whether to host a Team or joining if you are between 18 – 24 – contact AmeriCorps NCCC.

The Importance of Amateur Archaeologists

ClaiborneLast week I participated in a forum about professional archaeologists working with “amateur” or “avocational” archaeologists. The session, “Cons or Pros: Should Archaeologists Collaborate with Responsible Collectors?” was organized by Michael Shott and Bonnie Pitblado at the Society for American Archaeology meetings held in San Francisco. In their introductory comments at the session both organizers emphasized the need for a cordial and respectful discussion, perhaps anticipating a polarized response to the question. This concern reflects a comment made by a professor of mine in graduate school who stated “There is no such thing as an amateur archaeologist. Would you go to an amateur brain surgeon?” To which my immediate response at the time and today is something like – Give me a break!

The session organized by Michael and Bonnie went off without a hitch. Solid and important questions were raised such as the ethics of working with collectors who obtained their materials through legal but less than desirable circumstances and the problem of repositories bursting at the seams with cultural materials mitigating against taking on more artifacts, regardless of context (see excellent comments by Robert Janes on this issue). But all participants in the session noted the important role that “amateur” archaeologists played over the years and recognized the need to fully embrace and acknowledge that contribution today.

The discussion caused me to reflect on several points:

  • A quote I have referenced several times over the years in this blog was from my first field school instructor, the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis who said something like “If you cannot explain to the public why they should be funding this site museum and excavations, then you might as well go home.” Pat’s comment flowed from her belief in the need for accountability in research on public lands and in recognition that almost all archaeology, whether through CRM, private foundation, or outright public financing, ultimately is funded through tax dollars paid, or not paid in the case of charitable contributions.
  • I published an article a couple of years ago on the surface collections from the Poverty Point site. The majority of the collection was made by Carl Alexander, an avocational/amateur archaeologist. Carl recorded the ridge and sector of the artifacts he collected over a 30-year period when the site remained in row crop, prior to purchase by the State of Louisiana in the early 1970s.  In 2014 Poverty Point was designated a World Heritage Site.  Today, Carl Alexander’s surface collections account for at least half of what we know about the material culture of the site. Interpretations based on his collections continue to be instrumental in guiding today’s professional research efforts.
  • During my tenure as the Station Archaeologist at the Poverty Point site I gave archaeology month presentations at the public library in Belzoni, Mississippi, just down the road from the Poverty Point culture Jaketown site. The first year I spoke in Belzoni I talked about the spatial distribution of artifact types noted by Carl Alexander at the Poverty Point site. I asked the farmers in attendance if they noted similar patterns where different types of artifacts were recovered at Jaketown. Heads nodded. The second year I spoke in Belzoni, the same farmers talked about the artifact distributions they noted over the previous year. Today, there is a small museum in Belzoni composed of collections donated by those farmers.
  • I first ran into Jerry Pankow sometime in the early 2000s. He had come to the Poverty Point site to discuss his “amateur” archaeology excavations at the Poverty Point culture Claiborne site in Hancock County Mississippi. Jerry and members of the Mississippi Archaeological Association diligently conducted excavations at this major Poverty Point culture site as bulldozers destroyed the site for a construction project. Jerry showed me his detailed field notes of 5 x 5 ft. units excavated through midden deposits at the site. He recorded cultural materials in arbitrary 5-inch levels, providing an excellent stratigraphic profile on stylistic and material culture change through time – a point of critical importance interpretively for the Poverty Point culture.  In fact, these temporal markers were first documented by another avocational archaeologist, Clarence Webb, a pediatrician from Shreveport, Louisiana. When I first met Jerry he wanted to publish his notes. Jerry was quite insistent on how the material should be published and could not come to an agreement with any of the regional journals. He self-published a brief 35 page xeroxed pamphlet. While preparing my comments for the 2015 SAA meeting session, I discovered that in 2014, Jerry had expanded the original publication to double the length, again self-published but now available through amazon.com. I got a copy and am impressed. I am hopeful of getting hold of Jerry to convince him to publish his tabular data.

My experiences with avocational/amateur archaeologists lead me to several conclusions:

  • First, the contributions of avocational/amateur archaeologists for understanding the Poverty Point culture of the Southeast is a critically important part of the total corpus of knowledge that exists about that prehistoric culture today.
  • Second, concerns over looting of archaeological resources, the commodification of this country’s cultural heritage, and a lack of public funding for archaeological research are all concerns expressed by the professional archaeological community. We are well-served to embrace the avocational community who have a proven track record and can develop the grass-roots support to address these issues.
  • Third, the premier professional archaeological organization in the U.S. is the SAA – the Society for American Archaeology, not the Society for Americana Archaeologists. In noting this distinction we are reminded that the interests of the discipline are appropriately placed before the self-interest of the practitioners.

Museums as Community Assets

Newton

Brandi Newton

So we have gotten to that time of the year where in my museum studies classes I always ask students to respond to the question below.  In this semester’s undergraduate Introduction to Museums course, Brandi Newton, an art history major provided a particularly insightful and compelling response.  The question:

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?

Museums: Important Community Assets

 by Brandi Newton

In recent years The House Budget Committee stated that museums are essentially nothing more than a wealth transfer from the poor to the rich. If this wealth transfer were to exist then any professional working in a museum would be a participant in maintaining this transfer. In this paper however, I will argue that this wealth transfer either does not exist or is so small that it should not be counted as a loss. I will do this by illuminating the percentage of tax dollars actually used by museums and highlighting the missions of a handful of museums based on educating the public while supporting these claims through examples of funded programs designed to give back, often at not cost, to the community.

Greater than 93 percent of annual not for profit museum budgets are covered by either revenue or private donations leaving less than seven percent to be covered by a combination of local, state, and federal taxes (National Endowment for the Arts 2012). Based on these numbers one could actually argue the opposite of what The House Budget Committee stated. Since private donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals compose 38.2 percent of annual museum budgets, the wealthy are in fact transferring their wealth to the greater community not the other way around. To put this further in perspective, data from 2013 showed that “the $146 million budget of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) represents just 0.012% (about one one-hundredth of one percent) of federal discretionary spending” (National Endowment for the Arts 2013:1). This amount of money is a drop in the bucket for federal spending, yet despite their lack of financial support from the government, museums still find ways to give back to their communities.

As described in their mission statement, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee seeks to benefit its visitors and community by inspiring “participation in civil and human rights efforts globally, through [their] collections, exhibitions and educational programs” (Stokes-Casey 2014:2). This museum benefits its community by giving back in ways that lead to them exposing more people to what they have to offer; this also works to fulfill their mission statement. One way they accomplish this is by offering free admission days. This of course, allows access for those individuals who could otherwise not afford to attend the museums. Their website states that, “Tennessee residents with state-issued ID may visit the museum for free on Mondays from 3 p.m. until closing” (National Civil Rights Museum 2014).

Additionally, The National Civil Rights Museum’s Education Coordinator, Jody Stokes-Casey has been working with a local charter school to develop a program that teaches the values and history offered in the museum itself. This is a seven-week program that, except for one museum field trip, is actually brought to the school and presented to the students during their homeroom period. The stated goal of one of this program’s resources, which is titled Courage in the Civil Rights Movement is to “enrich their classrooms and to create a resource for teachers to facilitate discussion, encourage student dialogue, increase understanding, and promote courageous action” (Stokes-Casey 2014:4).

There are other ways museums can serve their communities; some do not even require attendance to the museum itself. For instance, The National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. says as a free service “We design and produce a wide variety of teacher professional development workshops and digital learning resources – from short YouTube videos to complex mobile app games, websites, webinars, and electronic field trips” (The National Museum of American History 2015). This type of programming meets one of the goals in their mission statement, which is to “explore the infinite richness and complexity of American history” accomplished through “dynamic public outreach” (The National Museum of American History 2015).

Seeing this museum with its multiple historical exhibits in person is also quite easily accomplished. Barring an individual’s personal transportation and time constraints, this museum in incredibly accessible to the public because, admission is always free. This in itself is quite an awesome service considering the fact that for the majority of museums 40.7 percent of their revenue comes from earned income (National Endowment for the Arts 2012).

Yet another example is the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington whose STEM “Out-of-School-Time…sends teams of high school interns and Science Center educators into underserved communities to inspire students to pursue STEM learning.” This outreach program alone has reached over 150,000 students. After participating in the math portion of this outreach program 70 percent of students saw an increase in their test scores. Their outreach doesn’t begin and end here, in all “The Center’s outreach initiatives serve more than 200,000 individuals spanning over 39 counties and four states, making it one of the top outreach organizations in the Pacific Northwest” (JPMorgan Chase & Co. 2015). It is important to point out that much of the funding for The Pacific Science Center’s STEM Out-of-School-Time program has been provided, not by tax dollars but by a private company. “JPMorgan Chase Foundation has contributed $750,000 [to The Pacific Science Center] over the past 5 years” (JPMorgan Chase & Co. 2015).

I would argue then that public funding be increased because of the measurable and notable benefit that museums are able to provide to their communities. Does a more educated society not benefit us all? In fact, Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice who in 2006 was appointed the Director for the Institute of Museum and Library Services said, “Public funding helps museums deliver quality services that strengthen communities, families, individuals and the nation” (Manjarrez, C., C. Rosenstein, C. Colgan, and E. Pastore 2008:2). This one simple sentence sums up so much of what is important about museums and why they are of such importance in our lives. They provide opportunities for families, friends and colleagues to learn together and create shared memories. However, this benefit can be achieved individually as well. Ultimately, they ensure that our cultural heritage is preserved for posterity so that we may learn from the past. They inspire us as we look toward the future.

 

References Cited

 

JPMorgan Chase & Co.

2015 Pacific Science Center: Inspiring a lifelong interest in science, math and technology. http://www.jpmorganchase.com/corporate/Corporate-Responsibility/seattle-pacific-science, accessed March 20, 2015.

 

Manjarrez, C., C. Rosenstein, C. Colgan, and E. Pastore

2008 Exhibiting Public Value: Museum Public Finance in the United States (IMLS-2008-RES-02). Institute of Museum and Library Services. Washington, DC.

 

National Civil Rights Museum

2014 Visit. http://civilrightsmuseum.org/visit/, accessed March 17, 2015.

 

National Endowment for the Arts

2012 How the United States Funds the Arts. Washington, DC.

(http://arts.gov/sites/default/files/how-the-us-funds-the-arts.pdf)

 

National Endowment for the Arts

2013 Fact Sheet. http://www.nasaa-arts.org/Research/Grant-Making/NEAFactSheetSpring2013.pdf, accessed March 17, 2015.

 

The National Museum of American History

2015 American History. http://americanhistory.si.edu, accessed March 17, 2015.

 

Stokes-Casey, Jody

2014 Courage in the Civil Rights Movement. NCRM.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

 

 

AmeriCorps Turns 20 & What That Means For Museums

amcorps anniversary

As anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows, I am a huge fan of AmeriCorps NCCC who just celebrated their 20th Anniversary.  Click on the above link to watch a video about the significance of that event.

In the past two years, AmeriCorps NCCC Teams have come to play an essential role at the C.H. Nash Museum in helping to carry out our mission.  This October 23rd we will welcome our fourth eight-week AmeriCorps NCCC Team.  The Teams live in the Museum’s repurposed residential complex we have named the Community Service Learning Dormitory.

Over the two-year period,  we have evolved an effective three-prong approach to service in Southwest Memphis with AmeriCorps NCCC Teams.

Service in the Southwest Memphis Community

The teams work with the Westwood Neighborhood Association who identify elderly and U.S. military veterans on fixed incomes in need of residential clean-ups to prevent their property from being in violation of city codes.  The teams also perform minor to moderate repair work on roofs and other exterior structural repairs on houses for the elderly and veterans.  For example, this fall’s team will spend about 10 days working on the house of an 88 year-old WWII military veteran who has lived in his home since 1953 in the Walker Homes neighborhood of Memphis.  Walker Homes was launched in the late 1940s as a neighborhood for returning African-American WW II Veterans.

In the past two years we have focused on expanding the role of other community residents in working with the AmeriCorps Team.  For example, this past spring the River 7 Team met regularly with Boys and Girls Clubs in the area.  The Team’s work was also supported both financially and through employee volunteering from the new Electrolux facility located near the Museum.

Service in the T.O. Fuller State Park

Each AmeriCorps NCCC Team also completes infrastructure improvements at the T.O. Fuller State Park located next to the Museum.  The tasks include trail maintenance, painting, and other special projects.  For example, the River 7 Team planted over 800 trees in a new ecological habitat being created at the Park.  The Teams also help in Park community events such as the Annual Easter Egg Hunt and Halloween activities.

The AmeriCorps service at T.O. Fuller has added significance for two reasons.  First, the Park was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Today, AmeriCorps is a legacy of that organization.  Second, T.O. Fuller State Park plays an important role in the cultural heritage of the Southwest Memphis community as one of only two facilities in the United States built in the 1930s as a State Park for African-Americans in the Jim Crow-era segregated South.

Service in the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa

The AmeriCorps Teams at Chucalissa have carried out innumerable tasks including rehabbing the community service learning dorm, building benches and picnic tables, building a replica prehistoric house, trail maintenance, reconfiguring the repository space, artifact processing and much more.  This fall the team will build a pergola-type outdoor activity space, rain shelters along our trail system, and several components of our new Landscape Literacy project.

Community Service and Relevance

The AmeriCorps Team members exemplify some of the very best commitment to service of the millennial generation.  We are particularly pleased with the increased community engagement in the AmeriCorps NCCC projects.  I enjoy that the Teams bring a willingness for flexibility and expanding the box of normal thinking.  These qualities have been critical as the Community, the Park, and the Museum work together on collaborative projects that align with their individual missions.  For example, this fall the AmeriCorps Team will take part in the community reclamation of an abandoned cemetery that draws on the archaeological and cultural heritage preservation expertise of the Museum.  The AmeriCorps Team was also the link that allowed the Museum and Community to collaborate in creating a banner exhibit on U.S. Military Veterans unveiled at the September 11 Day of Service in 2012.  The AmeriCorps NCCC Team highlights the relevance and partnership that comes to the fore in community service learning projects.

So . . . A hearty congratulations to AmeriCorps NCCC on their 20th Anniversary!  Check out their website to see how your organization can partner with this fantastic organization.

Interview: How To Get a Museum Job

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As a follow-up to last week’s post on getting a museum job, below is a real-time example of how the process can work.  Dr. Katie Stringer is the recently hired Executive Director of the Blount Mansion in Knoxville, TN.  She graduated in May 2013 with a PhD in Public History (with a concentration in museum Management) from Middle Tennessee State University.  In addition to a PhD and MA with concentrations in museum studies, Katie has 7 years of on-the-job training from working in museums throughout Tennessee.  What makes Katie’s story particularly important is that her recent hire at Blount Mansion results in large part from her activities beyond the classroom during her years as a student.

Where do you get your information about job openings?

One of my favorite spots to check for museum jobs is the University of Leicester Museum Jobs Desk website.  You can search by location, job title, or part-time/full-time/internship/volunteer.  Many jobs are in the UK, but there are generally several posts from the United States as well.  The Museum-L list-serv often has job postings.  Before I was gainfully employed, my contacts and professors emailed me postings that were relevant to my studies.

You have published a blog (Something Old, Something New) for quite a while.  How has this process helped to develop your career?

Blogging has helped keep me up-to-date with current events in the museum world and forced me to continue writing (even through those dark days of my dissertation work when the blog was lagging).  I like to think that when potential employers or colleagues Google me they will find my blog which houses my thoughts on current museum events, my curriculum vitae, and my professional products and portfolio.

Besides coursework, how did you prepare to go on the job market while still in school?

Many people think that during coursework it is impossible to get “real world” museum training – this is absolutely not true!  I was very fortunate that my professors were open to practical and useful projects throughout my coursework, residency, and even during my dissertation hours. My very first job at a historic site/museum was during my senior year as a history major at MTSU.  I called around and emailed every historic site I could find in the area, and one actually contacted me and took a chance on a no-experienced college senior!  I was able to create 2 senior projects (3 credits each) from my work there and add to my résumé. During my time in the MA program at the University of Memphis, I worked at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa as a Graduate Student Assistant, took advantage of required course-work internships that offered experience rather than coffee-fetching, and pursued both a part-time job as an educator at a large regional museum and a contract job creating education programs for a small museum.   As I began the PhD program at MTSU I was approached to serve as the Interim Education Coordinator for the first historic site I worked at, and during my time working there I was able to create 2 “special projects” courses towards my degree that were both practical and counted towards school and my job hours! As long as you are creative and willing to work hard, it is possible.

What was the most important thing that helped you land that first job?

Networking, networking, networking.  I like to think that my CV, degrees, and experience are impressive, but without the connections I made by attending conferences, online interactions, and just generally sporting an outgoing attitude, I may not have made the cut.  Because of networking, I knew people (who were respected by the hiring committee) that I could ask to write outstanding recommendations of my work.

What is one thing you wish you had taken advantage of while in school to better prepare you for the job market?

I tried to take advantage of as many things as possible.  Many schools have a career center that offers CV/Resume workshops or editing services, mock interviews, and more.  I wish I had taken advantage of the opportunity to interview with someone before making my way into the field, but luckily my interview for the current job was very laid back, and more of a conversation than a hard-nosed interview.

Many job ads require 2-3 years of experience as a base qualification.  How does someone with no experience acquire the minimum level to even apply for a job?

As I said above, if you are in school, take advantage of projects that are real-world based in your coursework that serve a dual purpose.  Internships are also a great way to gain experience – I know there is a lot of kerfuffle about paid versus non-paid internships, but I believe that as long as you are gaining meaningful experience and not being used, an internship is one of the best ways to learn.  Volunteering is also a great (though sometimes disheartening) way to learn about the field while helping out a museum.  Even if you don’t spend those 2-3 years at one place, the time can build up.  Internships and volunteering also open the doors to get diverse training in many fields, rather than just one such as education, development, or administration.

Any other advice to those who are looking for that first job in the cultural heritage sector?

I can’t emphasize networking enough.  Go to conferences.  Present your thoughts and work at conferences.  Don’t just go sit in on sessions – go to the night-time events (which are SO MUCH fun), the hospitality suite, and the dinner meet-ups.  Go to workshops and training opportunities that local museums and regional organizations put together – these offer great experience and more chances to meet other professionals.  Write a blog, interact on list-servs and message boards, just get your name out there and find a niche that you can latch on to and make your own.  I met some of my very best friends in the museum world through conferences, list-servs, and workshops, and I wouldn’t be able to make it through the daily life and strife of running a historic site without them.

Community Engagement and Open Authority

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For the past month the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa held Art for Voice camps.  The one-week sessions were age-graded and free of charge.  Each group contained a good mix of students representative of the different neighborhoods, racial and economic backgrounds of Memphis.  A concern in the original stage of the Camp planning was to stay within the Museum’s Mission Statement.  We did not want the Camp simply to be an activity to increase visitation. Instead, the Camp activities drew on the collections curated at the Museum as educational and creative resources. The Camp directly aligned with our mission as a participatory experience for area residents.

This past Saturday, Art for Voice Camp creator Penny Dodds and I had a conversation evaluating this “pilot” program and to consider the next steps.  Several important themes emerged in our conversation.

Opening Authority –  A critical part of the Camp activities involved our curated collections and existing programs.  Besides a drum circle and throwing darts with atlatls, campers viewed Museum exhibits from the Native American and African American traditional cultures of the area.  Based on these experiences, the campers decided the types of objects they wished to use as models to create their artworks.  The campers selected suitable objects from our Hands-on Archaeology lab and materials drawn by our Collections Manager from the Museum’s curated educational collections.

Although not web-based, these processes are in line with Lori Philips initial discussions of open authority in museums and her more recent article published in Curator.  The campers worked with cultural materials of their choosing.  With guidance from both a collections manager and artist, the campers ultimately made their own interpretive and creative decisions.  As I watched the Camp compilation video where the young artists explained the process, I was reminded of the “aha” moment I had some 20 years ago when validating a 5th grade girl’s interpretation of Poverty Point headless figurines.  That is, yes there is a difference between the no touching and static early 1960s introduction to museums of my youth and our 2013 campers throwing darts with atlatls and handling artifacts.  But more importantly, the 2013 campers were not just expected to come up with the correct answer or perform the correct action to be rewarded.  Rather, they engaged in a process where multiple truths and possibilities are considered, along the lines of Parker Palmer’s Interactive Model of the Great Thing.

Leadership Development in Museums – None of the principal players in the Art for Voice Camp were regular staff members of the C.H. Nash Museum.  Penny, the Camp’s initial creator, led the experience.  But by the last week of the Camp, the leadership expanded.  Two of the high school students who participated in either the first or second week of the Camp, participated in weeks three, four, and five by assisting with the younger aged sessions.  In fact, their transition from campers to leaders was critical to accommodate overflow campers originally placed on a waiting list.  As well, two parents of the campers provided their expertise to the sessions by leading drumming circles, sharing their knowledge of traditional medicinal plants growing along the nature trail that campers explored, and general mentoring.  The Museum’s summer intern, Lindsey Pender lent her video editing ability and photographic skills to the project.  When Penny and I discussed the next steps yesterday afternoon, we recognized that we started with one camp “leader” but ended the session with five identified “leaders” who are anxious to expand on the pilot program.

Of importance as well, the youth campers were given authority during the Camp to lead on decisions about free-time learning activities.  For example, during one week of the Camp, the participants composed a musical composition that they performed for their parents at the end of the day using the Museum’s plethora of percussion instruments.

Empowerment –  The Art for Voice camp brought a very public opportunity for empowerment to the fore at our Museum.  As an institution of the University of Memphis, we are quite mindful and intentional to empower our interns and graduate assistants.  In the past several years, we aggressively moved to empower volunteers incorporating an explicitly participatory museum model into our mission.  The Art for Voice Camp, by its very nature, required the proactive empowerment of the participants.  Given the parameters of the Camp, participants were required to process, think through, and create from within.

Third Place – All of the above feeds into the Third Place concept on which I posted before.   Unfortunately, much of the Third Place discussion in museums gets stalled in a rather dogmatic application of Oldenburg’s original concept.  As Natalye Tate concludes in a recent synthesis “. . . the Third Place as Oldenburg envisioned is not necessarily an appropriate programming tool for museums, does not contend that it should be ignored.  Understanding the elemental nature of the Third Place offers museum practitioners a toolkit to pull from and adapt to their various sets of resources, needs and environments.”

In our conversation on Saturday, Penny noted that she had been mindful throughout the process to solicit input from the Camp participants and their parents for ideas on using the Museum in the future as a space for more projects based in curated collections, exhibits, and the 40-acre natural environment.

If one moves beyond an obsession ala the Seinfeld episode The Pitch that a Third Place has to be about nothing, but that it can be about multiple somethings, at Chucalissa we find that many of the attributes that might be ascribed to a Third Place are now in place.  In addition to the general conviviality of our picnic grounds and hiking trails, our ability to creatively incorporate volunteers, art camps, host community meetings, Black History month events, training sessions for Literacy Midsouth, and a community garden – all contain elements of the Third Place and remains within the limits of our mission statement.  At the same time while expanding the opportunities for our more traditional interpretive functions, we bring more of our community voices to the same table in dialog.  This process is in direct alignment with the International Council of Museum’s definition of museum as:

a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.

How do you envision museum’s opening authority and co-creative processes?

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