Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Radical Transparency: History with Layers

Back in January, we mentioned that Chicago’s Field Museum had recently announced a major overhaul to their Native North American Hall. The exhibit largely dates back to the 1950s, and is sorely in need of cosmetic updates to their displays and better interpretive labels. However, the most serious issue with the current exhibit is its treatment of Native Americans as people from the past, instead of peoples with varied and traumatic pasts that still exist today, playing a key role in some of the most complicated issues facing the United States and the rest of North America now. The new exhibit is being undertaken with input from a variety of indigenous stakeholders and will . include contemporary depictions of Native Americans and rotating displays to continue telling better stories. The museum is also working to increase the number of indigenous people on their staff.

An example of the out of date displays in the Field Museum’s North American Hall, 2017. Photo by author.

I visited the Field Museum in 2017, shortly before they closed the hall for the renovations. The space was clearly in need of attention, featuring collections of objects with little or no context for who owned them, or how they were used. The Field has one of the most robust collections of Plains tribes in . the world, yet I found little indication of what separated Cheyenne from Araphaho or Cree from Sioux. However, I did see reason to have hope for the hall’s future, because I was there during “Drawing on Tradition: Kansa Artist Chris Pappan,” which ran from October 29, 2016 to January 21, 2019. This interim exhibit changed the way visitors thought about the original contents of the hall, while also dispelling the trope of the “vanishing Indian,” showing modern indigenous art that draws on historical native art practices.

The exhibit, a mixture of prints, drawings, and video/sound pieces, often laid the new pieces directly over the vitrines full of decontextualized native objects via transparent overlays. New interpretive labels were also used that referenced both the new pieces and old, bringing them together in a dialogue. The effect was that of literally rewriting history. It was exciting to feel the space come to life through the vivid artwork of Chris Pappan, and it inspired questions about what it means to have the history of people frozen in time, without room for input from the people depicted. It will be exciting to see how the Field tells these stories in a more permanent fashion when the new exhibit opens in 2021. I suspect we will see more of this concept of the “overlay” employed as a method that tells a more whole version of history without erasing previous mistakes.

This method is being employed now in another major natural history museum. The American Museum of Natural History in New York has recently unveiled an update to their infamous dioramas in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall. The diorama, built in the 1910s, supposedly depicts a meeting between Lenape tribespeople and Dutch settler colonists, including Governor Peter Stuyvesant, but it is riddled with inaccuracies and promoted racist and hegemonic visions of history. Encouraged to make changes by both internal and external forces, including Decolonize This Place, which has been protesting at the museum for several years. Rather than remove the dioramas and thus hide the museum’s complicity in promoting racist interpretations of American history, the museum has chosen to reinterpret the diorama with labels laid directly over the glass. The new panels correct wrong information, such as what the Lenape would have worn to such an important meeting, and posit important questions like, “Where are the Lenape today?” These corrections are important for teaching visitors who are not experts in the content that previous interpretations had an agenda and advanced stereotypes about indigenous people that have assisted in legitimizing state-sanctioned violence against them since the founding of the American colonies.

The use of transparencies and edits is a useful way to provide context and right interpretive wrongs without removing the wrongs. In preventing institutions from, essentially, deleting their tweets, we can both remember what was previously permitted as acceptable and hold institutions accountable while learning new material. These overlays are a powerful tool for both institutions and marginalized peoples and can be deployed in a number of contexts.

A Guide to Guidestar

With the advent of the internet age, we all have a LOT more tools in our hands to begin to learn about specific organizations – and particularly specific museums. Whether you’re doing some research into a museum you’d like to work for, trying to get a good picture for how a museum of a certain size operates, or considering donating to a museum, there are some great tools out there that are promoting transparency and openness for nonprofit organizations.

Today, we’re highlighting Guidestar.

Guidestar is essentially a database of all sorts of nonprofit information. Organizations can establish their profiles and post information – financial statements, programs and events, staff listings, and recent news items. There’s also a section in which the organization can advertise its current funding needs.

Guidestar’s mission is: “to revolutionize philanthropy by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving.”

To access the full capabilities of Guidestar, you’ll need to register. It’s easy and free, and they send a minimum of email. So, start here.

Once you’ve registered, you can navigate the site by searching for a specific organization, or try a more advanced search for organizations in a particular area or focus. Doing a general search on “museum” brings up some of the heavy hitters on the first page:

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum of Modern Art

American Museum of Natural History

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Field Museum of Natural History

Organizations are responsible for updating their own information, so what you see is what the museum gives you. The Met, for example, hasn’t put up their budget numbers, but they have linked to their 2007-2009 990 tax forms and their 2010 Annual Report. (Watch this space for a guide to interpreting museum annual reports, by the way.) They don’t have a lot under staff or programs, either.

The American Museum of Natural History offers some different information. It lists all its board members, and gives a programs overview that includes its budget: almost $149 million. The MFA Houston also has all its board members and programs information, though no budget.

After quite a bit of searching and clicking, the best museum profile I found belonged to our local USS Constitution Museum. They have background statements, staff information, financial information, programs information, and they’ve even put up some of their funding goals. Bravo to them. (You’ll notice that a Guidestar user has also given the museum an enthusiastic five star review!)

Most museums put a bare minimum of information in Guidestar, which is a shame – it’s a powerful tool that’s quick and simple to update. Administrative and financial transparency is a hot topic in the nonprofit world right now – check out the Christian Science Monitor’s Guide to Giving for recent articles about that very subject.

Think about it: if you’re trying to figure out where to donate your hard-earned money, do you give to the organization that’s tight-fisted and secretive about how it’s going to use that money, or do you want an organization who opens its books and says “here, here’s how your $20 made a substantive difference in the way we do our work”?

Guidestar also offers other tools for nonprofit professionals, including a series of webinars about development, community outreach, and other important topics.

Internship [Discovery Room]

*Discovery Room*

*Internship Program*

*Fall 2012*

This is a great opportunity for students not in fieldwork this year, and
for students who will be doing their museum internship in the spring.

American Museum of Natural History

The Discovery Room is an immersive, interactive exhibit that offers
families, and especially children ages 5-12, an interactive gateway to the
wonders of the Museum and a hands-on, behind-the scenes look at its
science. Every major field of Museum science and research, from
anthropology to zoology, is represented. Children, accompanied by adults,
explore an array of artifacts and specimens, puzzles, and scientific
challenges. Activities in the room encourage visitors of all ages to think
like a scientist and explore topics of their own interest, all while
exercising observation and process skills.

Discovery Room interns serve as facilitators, providing support and
guidance to visitors as they find their way through the room. Facilitation
requires the willingness to experiment with personal engagement styles and
the challenge of incorporating inquiry methods and object-based teaching
strategies into a fast paced, immersive environment. Interns are expected
to gain proficiency in a minimum of two science content areas such as
paleontology, anthropology, biodiversity, microscopy, invertebrate zoology,
seismology, astronomy or any other area represented in the room.

Interns work closely with Discovery Room staff to explore strategies for
interpreting these science concepts and develop new worksheets, exhibition
elements, or facilitator training materials to incorporate those strategies
across the program. Interns may also take on exhibit maintenance, label
design and preparation, collections housing, and live animal care tasks as
assigned.

Candidates must have experience working with young children in an informal
setting and be able to maintain a professional demeanor at all times while
serving diverse audiences. They must possess a strong curiosity for the
natural world and an enthusiasm for sharing that curiosity with visitors of
all ages. Research, writing, graphic design and layout skills are a plus.
Candidates must be willing to commit to a minimum of 100 hours during the
semester including some weekend days.

To apply, send a resume and letter of interest to:

Sarah Moshenberg

Discovery Room Assistant Coordinator

smoshenberg@amnh.org

Public Programs Coordinator [American Museum of Natural History]

American Museum of Natural History
Job Title: Public Programs Coordinator (Education/Public Programs)

Responsibilities & Duties:
This position assists with all operations and programming to implement the
full calendar of public programs. This position is split equally between
general public programs and coordinating the Margaret Mead Film Festival.
This
position is the main coordinator for the Margaret Mead Film Festival.
Specific tasks include, but are not limited to:
€ Researching and requesting possible films for festival, and researching
potential program speakers and resources for exhibition-related programming

€ Overseeing and coordinating entire festival submission process
including: creating and disseminating guidelines and entry forms,
maintaining festival database, previewing and reviewing festival entries

€ Manage all aspects of Mead Traveling Festival

€ Training festival and public programs volunteers and interns. This
includes: database training, film trafficking, marketing and
promotions, etc.

€ Coordinating all guests speaker and filmmaker needs which often involves
continuous communication.

€ Gathering/compiling of assets for festival program and
other supplementary documents

€ Coordinate all technical aspects of the festival. Managing, processing,
and tracking Mead Festival
and Mead Traveling Festival budgets

€ Coordinating internal and external advance logistics for programs

€ Coordinating day-to-day relationship with A/V, Photo Studio,
and Institutional Advancement

€ Stage management and day-of support for programs

€ Researching potential funding opportunities and in-kind donations

This position sits within the Public Programs division of the Education
Department, and reports to the Senior Manager of Public Programs.

Qualifications:

This position requires someone with exceptional organizational skills
and the
ability to juggle many tasks. Candidates must excel in time management,
writing, and verbal communication.  Bachelor¹s Degree required.

€ Knowledge of international documentary film and film history

€ Interested in all aspects of public programming, from adult lectures
to family workshops to non-festival film screenings

€ Extensive knowledge of current audio visual technology and
exhibition standards

€ At least 2 years experience working with film festivals or
public programs and events

€ Excellent written and oral communication skills

€ Highly organized and detail oriented

€ Team player who can juggle multiple projects and work well under
tight deadlines

€ Ability to work some nights/weekends a must

€ Proficiency in using MS Excel and FileMaker Pro

Send resume and cover letter to programsintern@amnh.org

Public Programs Coordinator [American Museum of Natural History]

Public Programs Coordinator, American Museum of Natural History

American Museum of Natural History

Job Title: Public Programs Coordinator (Education/Public Programs)

Responsibilities & Duties:

This position assists with all operations and programming to implement the

full calendar of public programs. This position is split equally between
general

public programs and coordinating the Margaret Mead Film Festival. This

position is the main coordinator for the Margaret Mead Film Festival.
Specific

tasks include, but are not limited to:

€ Researching and requesting possible films for festival, and researching

potential program speakers and resources for exhibition-related

programming

€ Overseeing and coordinating entire festival submission process

including: creating and disseminating guidelines and entry forms,

maintaining festival database, previewing and reviewing festival entries

€ Manage all aspects of Mead Traveling Festival

€ Training festival and public programs volunteers and interns. This

includes: database training, film trafficking, marketing and promotions,

etc.

€ Coordinating all guests speaker and filmmaker needs which often

involves continuous communication.

€ Gathering/compiling of assets for festival program and other

supplementary documents

€ Coordinate all technical aspects of the festival.

Managing, processing, and tracking Mead Festival and Mead Traveling

Festival budgets

€ Coordinating internal and external advance logistics for programs

€ Coordinating day-to-day relationship with A/V, Photo Studio, and

Institutional Advancement

€ Stage management and day-of support for programs

€ Researching potential funding opportunities and in-kind donations

This position sits within the Public Programs division of the Education

Department, and reports to the Senior Manager of Public Programs.

Qualifications:

This position requires someone with exceptional organizational skills and
the

ability to juggle many tasks. Candidates must excel in time management,

writing, and verbal communication.  Bachelor¹s Degree required.

€ Knowledge of international documentary film and film history

€ Interested in all aspects of public programming, from adult lectures to

family workshops to non-festival film screenings

€ Extensive knowledge of current audio visual technology and exhibition

standards

€ At least 2 years experience working with film festivals or public

programs and events

€ Excellent written and oral communication skills

€ Highly organized and detail oriented

€ Team player who can juggle multiple projects and work well under tight

deadlines

€ Ability to work some nights/weekends a must
€ Proficiency in using MS Excel and FileMaker Pro

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