Exhibits, Collaboration, and the Museum as the Third Space

Greetings, name is Saul and my title within the museum is Curator of Exhibits. But for anybody who has experience within the museum world knows that titles can be somewhat misleading. It might be more appropriate to list my title as Collaborator of Exhibits!

Greetings, name is Saul and my title within the museum is Curator of Exhibits. But for anybody who has experience within the museum world knows that titles can be somewhat misleading. It might be more appropriate to list my title as Collaborator of Exhibits! Throughout my professional career I have always tried to strive for collaboration. This approach incorporates the best of what museum professionals and partners have to offer.

 Collaboration is especially important when building exhibits. While, we have our own internal exhibits team, I consider all departments within the museum as contributors to the team. This concept is important for two reasons. First, it is essential to have most, if not all departments represented within a museum exhibit. Obviously collections and education elements are key, but aspects such as oral history, research coordination, marketing, development, traditional arts, and community outreach are also essential. Second, the more people involved in the development and ultimately the final product of an exhibit the better. When individuals feel that they have an important stake in the process the outcome will be that much stronger.

 Tribal museums are unique in the sense that most often they are located within and are an integral part of the tribal community. It is our job as employees of the Seminole Tribe of Florida to tap into and tailor our activities at the Museum to reflect and/or incorporate many tribal partners internally (Seminole Tribe) and externally (Native America). I feel that we meet this priority in numerous aspects of our museum projects. However, it is imperative that we do better! One Museum wide plan that we are working on is the Interpretive Plan, which I think has incredible potential for building internal tribal partners. Through this plan we are creating ideas to build an even stronger base of Tribal support and involvement when developing exhibits and programs. Another collaborative program that I am excited about is STEP (Seminole Travelling Exhibits Program). One of our goals is to share STEP with other tribal museums in a reciprocal or low cost manner. This is extremely important for building external collaborative relationships with other tribal museums across the country.

 I would also like to take a moment to comment on the changing face of museums, especially tribal museums in the 21st century. I first heard of the theoretical idea of museums and libraries as being a “Third Place” during a keynote address by the great museum thinker Elaine Heumann Gurian during a recent Florida Association of Museums conference. Elaine described this concept as neither work nor home, the Third Place is a neutral community space, where people come together voluntarily and informally in ways that level social inequities and promote community engagement and social connection. She cited Ray Oldenburg’s 1989 book The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community as the inspiration behind Third Place, and can be directly related to the idea of museums as civic space in her book Civilizing the Museum: The Collected Writings of Elaine Heumann Gurian. Both writings seek to explain the critical importance of these Third Spaces within a community and how socially engaged places strive to positively improve social relationships. I feel that the museum industry should trend towards the Third Place concept in the future, especially since all communities are becoming more fractionalized due to technological advancements. It will be important for museums to become increasingly active in the social engagement arena and to become the best alternative in the tech vs. human interaction divide. I believe emerging and established tribal museums are in a unique position to become Third Places. I also believe that entrenched and quite possibly dated notions of what museums are can be transformed to meet new and challenging concepts such as Third Place. However, as I stated before, it is imperative that we as museum professionals and institutional leaders have the wherewithal to incorporate new ideas and think outside the box!

Thanks for letting me bend your ear!

Food for thought:

“What would happen if we almost for the sake of argument said it is neither a library nor a museum, but it is a third place. Not just a third place, but a third force if you will. I think our institutions inevitably are going to be forces as well as places.”
Harold Skramstad, President Emeritus
(Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village)
(from Pastore 2009)

“Many subtle, interrelated, and essentially unexamined ingredients allow museums to play an enhanced role in the building of community and our collective civic life.” (Elaine Heumann Gurian 2001)

Join Us:

The Randle/ Sheffield Collection: Life Along the Tamiami Trail in the 1940’s and 1950‘s, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Big Cypress, July 17th 2009-January 18th 2010

Postcards and Perceptions: Culture as Tourism, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Big Cypress February 12th 2010-November 28th 2010


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