Museum Begins StEPs Evaluation Program

Since this is my inaugural post on this blog, I feel like I should begin by introducing myself.  My name is Jessica Baber and I am the Exhibits Coordinator at the museum. I have a few different responsibilities, but the one I want to share with you today is my position as chair of a new committee.  A few months ago the director came to me and explained a new self-assessment program she would like the museum to complete called the Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (StEPs), a self-evaluation process designed by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH).                              

The program was created by AASLH for small to mid-sized history museums to help these institutions become aware of standards in the museum field and to give them a way of evaluating their own current practices against those standards. The program breaks a museum down into six divisions: Mission, Vision and Governance, Audience, Interpretation, Stewardship of Collections, Stewardship of Historic Structures and Landscapes, and Management.  In each of these sections, the relevant current standards have been laid out.  For each standard a series of performance indicator questions are posed.  As the museum staff answers these questions, it will become clear what needs to change within the museum to meet that standard. 

In order to complete this self-assessment, a group of museum employees have been assembled into a committee.  The group is made up of representatives from nearly all the divisions and departments within the museum including; collections, exhibits, education, security, retail, development, and outreach.  The goal for our group is to work through all five sections of the program (because our museum is not responsible for any historic structures, that section will not be completed) and make recommendations for projects that will ensure that the museum’s practices meet the highest standards in the museum field.

For those who regularly follow our blog, you probably already know that two years ago the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki became the first tribal museum to receive accreditation from the American Association of Museums.  The accreditation process was a long one, full of assessing strengths and improving weaknesses.  The Museum worked for years to accomplish this goal, and during that process gained a strong sense of self-awareness.  However, as time passes and the museum field develops, standards are constantly being reviewed and revised.  Therefore, it has become a priority of our museum to make sure that we are adhering to the latest acceptable practices. The StEPs program will enable us realize this goal by allowing us to identify weaknesses that exist and help us plan ways to solve problems.

Our committee has met a few times and we are making progress.  It is our hope that through this process we can make continue to move down the path of sustaining the highest standards possible.

 

 

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Archaeology Day

What skills does it take to work for the Tribal Historic Preservation Office? The Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) is a group of people (including archaeologists) that are passionate about the preservation of the Tribes rich cultural history.  Well, this we asked just that to 326 students, both Seminole and Non-Seminole. Students were asked to use skills from Science and Math to interpret Seminole culture and history.

Archaeology Day was the first of its kind program developed with activities by the professionals from THPO. Six stations with some additional substations broke down some of the major tasks THPO uses as a part of their everyday jobs. Some of the areas were:

  • Geographic Information Science (GIS) or Creating Maps
  • Architecture of Seminole Chickees
  • Compass and Orienteering
  • Surveying Site (the dig)
  • Analysis Artifacts
  • Artifact Reconstruction
  • Tribal Cultural Properties (protecting sites of cultural importance)

    Archaeology Day!

 

The last stop students were asked to reflect on what they learn. Students completed a workbook at each station and received a packet of supplies to do the activities. Students commented their new understanding of the science behind archaeology. We plan to do program again next year with some changes, based on the response from this year. Look for it in March 2012.

 

-Diana Stone

Out With the Old, In With the New: Interpreting Culture in the 21st Century Museum

“…non-Natives, including curators and other scholars, cannot themselves adequately represent the views of others and should no longer try. What they can do however is report on those views and provide better opportunities for people to represent themselves within the established museum context, through collaboration, joint curatorships, commissioned programs and exhibitions, and other forms of empowerment.” (1992, Ames) 

Hi all. Saul here, talking about interpretation. One of the main challenges for most museums is how to interpret culture. Too often the stories in museums were told by curators, collectors and “experts” not of the cultural groups being represented. The result is a skewed version of the cultural whole and is portrayed to the typical museum visitor in a static manner, a “snap shot in time.”  What is not taken into account is the deep cultural significance of objects on display and in some instances sensitive cultural objects have been proudly displayed much to the chagrin of the associated culture. This is institutional colonialism in its purest form. To compound the issue, few museums consulted with or showed contemporary issues of cultural groups that still exist. Instead, the focus centered on the cultural groups romanticized past which conveyed the same stereotypes they have worked so hard to refute. 

This is not an article bent on bashing so many museums that are guilty of this antiquated version of cultural representation. This is an attempt to shed light on a ground swelling movement within the interpretive community at large, and impacts culturally specific museums in particular. The movement is called “Community Co-curation” and it involves community members in every aspect of the exhibits development process from conceptualization to fabrication. As a result, the community is fully invested in the outcome of the project, which leads to more credible interpretation. It also results in community empowerment, giving a strong voice to cultural groups who were once marginalized by museum representation. Community Co-curation is not a new methodology but as the old guard of museum elites gives way to a younger generation of museum professionals, it is gaining significant traction.

There are institutions and individuals who have built models of successful Community Co-curation that we must take into account. The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian American Experience in Seattle has become a national model for their community-based exhibition processes. In 1995, the Museum received the Institute for Museum and Library Services National Award for Museum Service on the strength of its cutting edge work in fostering broad-based participation in the development of exhibitions and programs.

 With each exhibition, The Wing Luke brings many community members into the development process, and integrates oral histories and a range of multimedia techniques into its displays. Upon subsequent conversations, Cassie Chin, Deputy Executive Director of the Wing Luke Museum stresses three tenants all museums must abide by to create sustainable relationships through Community Co-curation.

Interpretive tour at the Wing Luke Museum (Tim Bies/Olson Kundig Architects)

Cassie states:

1.)    Emphasize long-term relationships. We’re not going away and will continue to work in this model, building relationships with the many communities over time. So even if right now we are working with one specific community, in the future there will be many other opportunities.

2.)    Look for ways to connect on multiple levels. While we may be just working with a handful of communities on exhibitions in a certain year, we also try to work with other communities on public programs and special projects to be able to continue that valuable relationship building.

3.)    Feature both thematic exhibitions and group specific exhibitions. At times we have exhibitions that hone in on one specific ethnic group. At other times we have thematic exhibitions that cross over many groups and provide opportunities for groups to come together, share and build exhibitions together. Thematic exhibitions allow us to build and maintain relationships with more groups that if we were just focusing on one group. Periodic group specific exhibitions however also allow us to go in deeper with a specific community.

Jeremy Spoon, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Portland State University has done community collaborative work on a global scale. His projects include working with native groups in Nepal, Kenya, Hawai’i and the Western United States.  His cutting edge work attempts to step beyond a static ethnographic description of cultural groups in relation to interpreting ancestral landscapes and focuses on indigenous ecological and cultural knowledge to support area management and interpretation. His approach includes context which incorporates ecology, politics and economics of a particular area at a

particular point in time. Spoon’s model is also flexible to the point of accounting for the inevitable process of adaptation and change natural to any people-land relationship.

Dancers from Hawai'i and the Bay Area in Keolalaulani Hālau offer a tribute to Pele in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. (Alohalani Alapai)

 

The case study most applicable for museum interpretation is the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) Cultural Representation at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. This project examined public responses to an interpretive exhibit developed in collaboration among a committee of Native Hawaiian elders, National Park staff, the Mountain Institute, the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, the Volcano Art Center, and the Ford Foundation. The exhibit included 67 paintings at three separate venues of the volcano goddess Pele selected by the committee of elders. Spoon’s research utilized a sample of 217 quantitative and qualitative surveys to gauge public response. Results showed that the public is overwhelmingly supportive of indigenous-themed and Community Co-curated interpretive exhibits and is interested in learning more. Most importantly,  Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) were also satisfied with the project and are interested in collaborating more with the Park’s interpretive program. Spoon’s findings were presented back to the Park and inform the development of future exhibits.

By examining the examples presented we must do our self reflexive duty and ask: Where does the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum fit within the spectrum of Community Co-curation? 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. I feel that we are meeting this priority to a certain extent. However, it is imperative that we do better! One positive step we are taking is instituting a museum wide Interpretive Plan. This plan will include internal tribal stakeholders who will act in a decision making capacity which will help us formulate our interpretive methodology. Another step we are taking is focused on Community Co-curation in the exhibits development process. In 2012 we will rededicate a temporary museum gallery space to Community Co-curated exhibits exclusively. These exhibits will include tribal members in all phases of the decision making process from conception to fabrication.

These ideas, amongst others, have incredible potential for building internal tribal partnerships and thus strengthening the Museum as a whole. The future looks bright if we accept the challenge of properly interpreting culture in the 21st century museum.

The case study most applicable for museum interpretation is the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) Cultural Representation at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. This project examined public responses to an interpretive exhibit developed in collaboration among a committee of Native Hawaiian elders, National Park staff, the Mountain Institute, the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, the Volcano Art Center, and the Ford Foundation. The exhibit included 67 paintings at three separate venues of the volcano goddess Pele selected by the committee of elders. Spoon’s research utilized a sample of 217 quantitative and qualitative surveys to gauge public response. Results showed that the public is overwhelmingly supportive of indigenous-themed and Community Co-curated interpretive exhibits and is interested in learning more. Most importantly,  Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) were also satisfied with the project and are interested in collaborating more with the Park’s interpretive program. Spoon’s findings were presented back to the Park and inform the development of future exhibits.

By examining the examples presented we must do our self reflexive duty and ask: Where does the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum fit within the spectrum of Community Co-curation? 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. I feel that we are meeting this priority to a certain extent. However, it is imperative that we do better! One positive step we are taking is instituting a museum wide Interpretive Plan. This plan will include internal tribal stakeholders who will act in a decision making capacity which will help us formulate our interpretive methodology. Another step we are taking is focused on Community Co-curation in the exhibits development process. In 2012 we will rededicate a temporary museum gallery space to Community Co-curated exhibits exclusively. These exhibits will include tribal members in all phases of the decision making process from conception to fabrication.

American Association of Museums accreditation award to Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in 2009

 

 

Bibliography

1992, Michael Ames. Cannibal Tours and Glass Boxes: The Anthropology of Museums. UBC Press, Vancouver B.C.

Cool websites

www.wingluke.org

http://jeremyspoon.com/

Food for Thought

The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon

http://www.participatorymuseum.org/

 

All in a Day’s Work: Behind the Scenes with a Tour Guide

Greetings from the front of the house here at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki! This is Emily Kubota, Lead Tour Guide.  As a new employee of the museum, I look forward to all the new opportunities and challenges that await the tour guides in 2011. Tour guides must know cultural and historical facts about the Seminoles, native plants, and perform a variety of tasks. We do our best to answer visitors’ questions during tours, whether they are about the reservation, the people, or simply directions to the nearest café. The tour guides also have responsibilities involving cleaning of the galleries, greeting visitors, and working closely with school groups that visit.

On a daily basis, we tour guides have the opportunity to interact with the public. We get to meet a variety of people from all walks of life, from international visitors to native Floridians who have never been here before and always wondered what the museum was like. Lately we have had lots of back-packers who stop by Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki and Billie Swamp on their way to places like Missouri and North Carolina. It is always interesting to hear their stories about what the hike from Key West was like and the different experiences they have had on their journeys.

Behind the scenes, the guides are involved in creating educational programming. Currently we are working on a tour cart which will be a portable teaching station to educate children on different aspects of Seminole culture. It can be moved to various locations and will feature crafts and hands-on activities. We are also developing more school programs that will be geared towards specific topics in order to give students the most information possible.

A Tour Guide educates a school group in our living village.

The educational staff is also in the planning stages for a new event in May called Seminole Archaeology Day. It will teach kids the different aspects of archaeology and introduce them to the tools and methods archaeologists use while in the field. The tour guides will be focusing on Traditional Cultural Properties, which are areas of land that have significant meaning both culturally and traditionally to tribal members. Our program will take place on the boardwalk on the way to the living village and will include hands on activities for kids and an up-close view of nature.

The tour guides are excited to continue creating new learning experiences for school groups and the public alike. We look forward to your visit and will always be on hand to answer any questions you may have. Hopefully you will all be able to stop by Big Cypress and visit during this New Year!

Greetings from Las Vegas!

Greg Palumbo and Diana Stone

Greetings from Las Vegas! Last week, Greg Palumbo, Exhibits Manager and I, Diana Stone, Education Coordinator went to Las Vegas Nevada, NV for the National Association for Interpretation’s National Conference. We met up with educators (interpreters) and exhibitors from across North America and the world. It was an interesting conference many people might realize that Vegas is more than lights and casinos, it is surrounded by national parks and historic sites. For an education junky like myself this conference is heaven from Geocaching historic sites around the city to interpreting Native American history through song. My goal is to bring new ideas and inspirations for developing new educational programs at the Museum.

Tuesday, I went a pre-workshop with Jack Gladstone, a poet, interpreter, and musician, which focused on 20th Century Native American history. He used music to teach us about events of the past one hundred years. I found that the message of using empathy and common human experiences to connect a diverse audience with another culture to be an essential component to any cultural program. It is important that visitors not just learn the facts about Seminole culture and history, that they also make an emotion connection with their experience.

One point of inspiration was a side trip I took to the MGM’s CSI: The Experience where you become a crime scene investigator. It takes you through the basic steps of solving a crime that is similar to the ways in which an archaeologist researches a cultural site. I hope to include those learning strategies into Seminole Archaeology Day this spring with the THPO (Tribal Historic Preservation Office). If your interested in learning more about this event we will have some more information posted on our website in a couple of months.

Friday, we took a fieldtrip to the Valley of Fire and Lost City Museum. Simply breathtaking, both figuratively and literally we were a few thousand feet above sea level. We hiked through mountains and cannons; walked right up to petroglyphs thousands of years old. The whole experience made me feel small. Exploring this vast desert landscape gave me a lot of respect for the people who lived there for thousands of years.

I long lasting memories I have of this trip will be the people met, my kindred spirits in interpretation, of whom I share many hours of shop talk. People who care deeply about the stories they tell. For every 15 minutes of a tour or program you experience hours of preparation and thought were put in to it. Conferences like the National Association for Interpretation have a direct impact on improving the visitor experience. So whether you come out to our Museum or one of the many hundreds of parks, zoos, historic sites, know that the people giving you a tour or program training and studying to give you a multisensory learning experience in the hopes that you will care about the people and places around you.