In the resonant words of my mother, “you have to be friendly to have friends.” More than thirty years after first hearing these words, I have never realized a truer sentiment or more valuable skill than playing well with others. It literally transcends all type sets and scenarios from the academic to the artistic to the entrepeneurial. In the age of cyber space and social networking, the landscape for playful and professional interaction has certainly changed, but the notion still seems to apply. It takes two (at least)… to make a thing go right. And so the premise, platform and fundamental need for partnering and collaboration emerges.
In recent years, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum has recognized the value of being a good neighbor and has worked hard to secure working partnerships and lasting relationships in surrounding communities and among industry fellows. In a strained economy, partnering and collaboration are highly coveted commodities. Wise are the entities working together to rise to the challenge of disappearing local, state and federal dollars. Granting agencies, foundations and the ever diminishing coprorate sponsors have all re-emphasized this single most influencing criteria: who or what, apart from your organization, will these funds benefit?
Joining forces sounds so militaristic and tactical, but this is essentially the order of the day. A meeting of the minds and budgets as it were. In 2006, after learning about a collaborative effort underway in the ever cutting-edge and culturally savvy Miami, our Museum membership coordinator set about organizing and uniting a similar band of cultural outlets within Broward and Boca Raton. The concept: reciprocal admission privileges for members during one entire month, in the hope of boosting appreciation, attendance and membership among all participating organizations. In its first year, Broward Attractions and Museums Month (BAMM) brought twenty one cultural organizations together. In monthly planning meetings, such resources as media contacts, graphic designers, printers and distributors were shared, and contributions in the form of in-kind services were saught and obtained. BAMM garnered the attention of such community powerhouses as public radio, local media, the CVB, humanities councils, tourism development councils and various city and county officials.
BAMM 2010 has concluded and remains of vital interest to those who work to make it happen annually. Hours devoted by staff dedicated to the concept and compelled to move forward at the desperate urging of history, art and culture centers countywide. While a local initiative, it should be a national one, gaining recognition with each successive and successful year. If more cultural institutions united to address the dilemma facing them, big and small, known and unknown, appreciation would give rise to visitation, donation and preservation. Who, having seen a tiny beaded moccasin so deftly and intricately crafted and dating back to the early 1800s, or having read an excerpt from a letter written in 1774 before this great nation’s independence, could not be moved to give the smallest farthing?? The battle cry is clear: we must unite to further the effect and affect of our unique cultural experiences on widespread audiences. We must broaden the baseline of services, extend our reach beyond the norm, we simply must think outside the box… a tried but true turn of phrase.
Collaboration has many forms. Object loans are in essence collaboration; shared membership societies, established cultural networks, email list serves, library access, research programs, literacy programs, educational programming, artist collectives and enhanced online media are all potential avenues for partnering and collaboration. In recent years, Federal grantors such as the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Scenic Byways Program have revamped competitive grant proposal eligibility to require some measure of partnering and collaboration at the onset. And rightfully so, for operating in silos minimizes impact and sets us apart. Distinguishing ourselves from each other is not the same as setting ourselves apart. We need the distinction, and we need each other.
Over the last four years, the Museum has been working closely with such robust and active organizations as the American Association of Museums (AAM); Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums (ATALM); Florida Association of Museums (FAM); American Association for State and Local History (AASLH); American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA) to name a few. Each dedicated to identifying, sharing and enhancing resources. Individuals across varied disciplines have been reaching out to one another to exchange ideas, share experiences, lend expertise, cross promote and jointly strategize ways to work together to reach more people, ignite more interest, and better utilize resources. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is pleased and proud to be among these vital ongoing efforts, garnering recognition, respect and support from esteemed colleagues, enthusiastic visitors and generous patrons nationwide.
Of course we have no greater partners, collaborators and benefactors at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum than the Seminole Tribe of Florida, its Council and its members. The Tribe and its constituents have placed historic and cultural preservation at the forefront of most of their individual or collective endeavors locally, nationally and globally. They have been good neighbors, trusting partners and generous donors. The Tribe itself has long been living true to the words and sentiments echoed herein, “you have to be friendly to have friends.”
Written by Dorian Lange. Dorian Lange is the Development Officer for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.