Reimagining community engagement in museums
The Field Museum — founded out of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago — is known for its robust collection of Native American, First Nations, and Inuit cultural material. Unfortunately, for much of its history, it also had a reputation for exploitative collecting practices, as well as excluding Indigenous people from the curation of its exhibitions and largely ignoring the voices of the people whose heritage was on display. That is starting to change.
As co-lead developer of the renovated Native American exhibit at the Field Museum, I helped to reimagine the Museum’s practices to better include the voices, ideas, and decisions of Indigenous people. The renovated exhibition, Native Truths: Our Voices, Our Stories opened to the public in May 2022 and was in the development for nearly five years. This work brought me into relationship with Indigenous communities and individuals across North America and lead to new and innovative ways to collaboratively develop exhibits about living cultures and communities. This groundbreaking exhibition features the first-person voices of more than 125 Native American artists, culture keepers, seed savers, activists, academics, and community members from more than 100 different Nations in the United States and Canada.
This important project came at a difficult time. The Covid-19 pandemic, which had a disproportionate impact on Native American communities, began during the third year of our work.
-Collaborating with two Native American advisory councils
-Developing exhibition framework and narratives, individually responsible for the development of 10 galleries/displays
-Identifying, contacting, and developing relationships with nearly 200 Native American collaborators
-Selecting items for display, facilitating new commissions, curatorial decision making
-Working to reconcile the experiential needs of non-Native museum visitors with the requirements of our Native American partners
-Public speaking and presentation to community members, community outreach locally and nationally
-Producing documents to communicate complex exhibition messages and content to other Museum departments and external stakeholders
-Gathering, processing, and incorporating abundant partner and community feedback
-Running regular team meetings for individual project components
-Creating new tools to foster intergenerational community input and decision making
-Responsible for writing/facilitating the creation of display text, media scripts, and other content
-Cultural competency and internally advocating for the needs and requests of Native American partners
-Art and content direction for the exhibition catalog