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A Participatory Approach to Museum Advocacy

October 6, 2014

In my Museum Practices graduate seminar this semester, students were given the following assignment:

“Students in Museum Practices three years ago completed an Advocacy Inventory for twelve museums in the Memphis area. The Advocacy Inventory is found on pp. 16-23 of the article by Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied in Speak Up For Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy. For those twelve museums, Museum Practices students in last two years followed up to determine if and how each museum used the completed advocacy inventory or recommendations. Out of the twelve museums originally contacted, only two museums followed through in implementing the recommendations from the advocacy inventory. Last year, for her graduate project in the Masters of Liberal Studies program, Patricia Harris assessed this three-year program. (note: copy of Harris’ paper on file at the University of Memphis McWerter library.)   Respond to both the Silberglied article and Harris’ assessment of the three-year program with Memphis area museums.”

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the responses of all the student essays.  Amr Shahat’s was particularly insightful on the importance and relevance of advocacy for today’s museums.  Below is an abbreviated version of his essay.

amr2Advocacy for Museums

by Amr Shahat

Advocacy is generic term defined in Webster Dictionary as “The act or process of advocating or supporting a cause or proposal”. The term has been incorporated into the museum field and raises discussions among museum experts as how to become advocates in obtaining elected officials support to museums. The concern began in 2011 when museums among other institutions were announced to be less eligible for federal funding.  As a response, The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) began to support American museums through advocacy effort addressing elected officials, mainly state senators and congressmen to agree not to cut or limit federal funding for museums.

The AAM created guidelines for advocacy, Speak Up for Museums to assist museums establish advocacy practices. In this book, Silberglied discusses the value of developing advocacy inventory and establishing an advocacy effort within the museums, staff, and board members and suggests strategies to reach elected officials. The Silberglied model does not address the need of advocacy inventory beyond getting financial or legislative support.

The evaluation made by Patricia Harris, a graduate student at the University of Memphis, discussed the advocacy effort of local museums in the Memphis area and implies that the AAM advocacy inventory uses broad terms that might not be useful for all institutions.  Silberglied’s chapter “Additional Resources and Burning Questions” might overwhelm the reader with political terms, definitions and approaches to the elected officials.  The approach may not be useful as focusing on building relation with the community, explaining the museum mission to the community to obtain the community support for the mission— in so doing the community members will be the best advocates.

A main point from Silberglied is that the advocacy inventory is built by joint effort. The joint effort can be internally among museum staff, volunteers and board members, or externally between the museum and the community. However, there is no mention of the communities as a co-creative partner for the inventory.  Instead, communities are mentioned merely as a venue of testimony to get the advocacy inventory heard by elected officials. Community members’ effort is mentioned by Silberglied only in terms of being testimonials to support advocacy inventory and its credibility but not as direct advocates.

In the light of the current museum effort towards creating participatory museums that are co-created by museum staff and the community, why do we not call for a participatory advocacy that includes these communities? Harris has mentioned success of three small museums in the Memphis area in terms of advocacy effort. A main success for their advocacy is engagement with local communities. If a museum does not attain local visibility/impact, it will not be visible to elected officials who would not recognize the cultural and the economic importance of museum(s) to their communities.

Since community effort is of importance, how can a museum increase its visibility to the community? Both Silberglied and Harris suggest different programs and events that museums may implement to increase their participation in advocacy work. Silberglied in a week-by-week plan suggests 75 tips to be followed by a museum to create an advocacy inventory. In one of the tips, Silberglied advised museums to “become a community meeting place”. Although, the concept sounds plausible, the examples provided might not be the best. The community activities she suggested such as “blood drive, food drive etc.” only increase the visibility of the museum to the community in terms of museum locale. However, for an advocacy effort, museums need to create events that are mainly focused on increasing the visibility of the museum’s mission. A museum should be careful that attracting people to its place is different from attracting people to its mission. The support of the community to the museum does not necessarily involve physical visiting to the museum locale. Harris analysis implies that part of the successful advocacy effort of the three museums she discussed is using online visibility to the museum mission through Facebook, a museum webpage, and other social media.

Visibility to the museum mission invites us to broaden our identification of the museum community. The museum community is not just its neighbors or those who can physically make a visit but those who believe in and support its mission. Silberglied’s explanations imply that nationality or citizenship does not hold you back from submitting your advocacy to elected officials. Some museums include volunteers and staff of different nationalities, such as the Metropolitan museum whose director of the Egyptian department is a British Egyptologist. One of the most successful advocacy inventories that got direct response from the Ministry of Antiquities in Egypt was advocating for the Egyptian museum was made by tourists who believed in the museum mission rather than the museum locale. So the real relationship between a museum and its community is to share the museum mission.

Chapter six of Silberglied’s book on “Expert Insider advice from elected and public officials” provides examples of official reactions to successful advocacy. One of the most effective pieces of advice was by the Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Aileen Adams. She draws museum attention to promoting joint advocacy. I suggest that the two or three small museum in Memphis which responded to advocacy inventory need to propagate this effort to other museums in Memphis and create joint advocacy cases. Joint cases will multiply the museums’ reasons to create an advocacy inventory. It will also be more effective if museums made joint participatory advocacy inventory involving their communities as mentioned above. The participatory advocacy will create strong multivocality that empowers the museum advocacy and draws the elected officials’ attention towards the museums in Tennessee.

Building relations with the community is a slow process but we should remember that legislation process to address elected official and get their feedback is a slow process as well. This slow legislative process might have been one of the main reasons that ten of the twelve museums in Tennessee contacted by Harris did not implement an advocacy inventory. Elected officials response sometimes is not direct and a museum cannot build up a plan on such vague responses to advocacy. This may be another reason that prevented ten museums from implementing an advocacy inventory. Therefore, I suggest creating a participatory advocacy inventory as a joint effort between the museum and the community. The participatory advocacy will create mulitivocality for the advocacy case presented and hence become more powerful and well heard. Overall, the community is the one who choose the elected officials which means their voice is the power that brought them to office and the power that will make the museum advocacy effort be heard.

Amr Shahat is a student in the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program and a PhD Egyptology student & teaching assistant in the History Department at the University of Memphis.  He can be reached at akshahat(at)

Accessible Programs in Archaeology and Museums

September 22, 2014

kstringer-coverThis past week I attended the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) annual meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I have come to expect the unexpected when I attend professional meetings.  Perhaps the greatest unexpected highlight of the AASLH conference was a session organized by my former student and now colleague, Katie Stringer titled “Welcoming All Visitors: Accessible Programs at History Museums and Sites.” Through her dissertation research, Katie has developed considerable expertise in this area.  She recently published Programming For People With Special Needs: A Guide For Museums and Historic Sites.  The volume focuses on seven key components needed to create effective museum experiences for individuals with special needs.  Based on her work in Tennessee, the book also draws on case studies as disparate as New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn’s Transit Museum.  The 110 page volume is a concise primer filled with go-to resources for any cultural heritage professional seeking a holistic introduction to the field of inclusivity.  Katie’s presentation in St. Paul focused on her research contained in her recent publication.

Two other papers in the session focused on specific needs that were very relevant to our programming needs at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  Mattie Ettenheim, Museum Access Program Manager for City Access New York addressed program creation for individuals with autism.  Besides providing a solid introduction to the general needs for creating effective experiences for children on the autism spectrum, Mattie provided excellent online resources to get more detailed information on the subject.  Particularly helpful are resources available through the Museum Access Consortium, including a series of podcasts (right hand side of link).  Mattie also noted that Kids Included Together is an excellent resource on creating programs for children with special needs.

Callie Hawkins, Associate Director for Programs at President Lincoln’s Cottage, Washington D.C.  shared her work on creating innovative programs for individuals with impaired hearing, including ASL-based podcast tours of the facility.  She noted that resources for funding requests for such programs were given a high priority through organizations such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

I found all the presentations particularly relevant to our situation at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  As a small museum, because of our low staff to visitor ratio, we are able to provide programming for children with special needs that larger museums simply are unprepared for.  For example, our Art For Voice camp last summer was particularly attractive for several children on the autism spectrum.  Our intent is to expand our special needs programming.  We are fortunate that two of our Graduate Assistant staff also have considerable experience in programming for children with special needs.

Program creation for individuals with special needs can be an ideal niche for the small museum or cultural heritage institution to explore.  Here are some thoughts:

  • For many types of special needs, the small museum is often more suitable than the larger institutions.  Persons with autism, reduced immune systems, special physical or cognitive needs are often better served in the less crowded and more tranquil small museum environment.
  • Funding for creating such programs may be prioritized through organizations such as IMLS or local support networks.
  • There are often formal and informal networks of parents, care-givers, and other service providers who can assist in the creation and implementation of special needs programs.

At Chucalissa, we find that our small setting that includes both indoor and outdoor exhibits, hands-on tactile opportunities, coupled with resources that we can draw from the University of Memphis, make us an excellent venue for persons with special needs.  This approach is not a matter of recreating or restructuring our mission to fit an economic market.  Rather, this approach allows us to consider our mission, our strengths and weaknesses, and  how we might best serve the public who fund the operation of our museum.  In this way, we more fully live into our mission mandate to provide the public with “exceptional educational, participatory and research opportunities”

How do you serve your special needs visitors?

30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology, Day 9

September 10, 2014


Here is a blog post I wrote for the Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology blog’s 30 Days of Tennessee Archaeology that reports on the C.H. Nash Museum’s commitment to public access to curated collections.

Originally posted on Tennessee Council for Professional Archaeology:

Big Ideas at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa

Dr. Robert Connolly
Director, C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in Memphis Tennessee, we are committed to opening the collections we curate to increased public accessibility. The Fred Jobe collection is a case in point. Here is how that story goes:

Chucalissa has a long-standing relationship with the Memphis Archaeological and Geological Society (MAGS). In fact, MAGS was founded in the early 1950s based on their interest in research at Chucalissa. The first published field report of Chucalissa was written by Kenneth Beaudoin in 1952 and details MAGS excavations at the site. Today, MAGS members continue to volunteer at Chucalissa on a host of projects.

Members of the Memphis Archaeological and Geological Society inventory artifacts at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.

Members of the Memphis Archaeological and Geological Society inventory artifacts at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.

During one of their volunteer sessions, MAGS members inventoried artifacts from the Fred…

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Work Relief Archaeology: Laboring for the Past

September 1, 2014


Great post by Bernard Means on the WPA role in archaeology. I am pleased to work today at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa with NCCC AmeriCorps Teams, the legacy today from those earlier projects!

Originally posted on New Deal Archaeology:

by Bernard K. Means

Winder excavation at Powell 1

Winder excavation at Powell 1

B8240_powell 1 excavation

Today is Labor Day in the United States and I wanted to briefly thank the men and women who worked so hard during the Great Depression to uncover our nation’s past.  So many of us rely on the records they generated and the artifacts that they recovered for our own research–in fact, I finished an article yesterday on two American Indian sites excavated by a Work Projects Administration (WPA) crew in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.  For the Powell 1 and 2 sites, I was able to perform sophisticated statistical analyses because of the care that the WPA field director, Edgar E. Augustine, took with the sites.  He did this under difficult circumstances–constantly shifting crews of varying experience, and brutally cold days as well.

A tip of my metaphorical had to the men and women of the WPA, as well as the CCC…

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Applied Archaeology in Peru

August 25, 2014

summer-imageI have posted several times about my field season in Peru this past summer.  Here is a slideshare summary of the work (complete with pictures of cute children.)  Although I often say that the community outreach in Hualcayán, Peru is comparable to the outreach of the C.H. Nash Museum here in Memphis, upon reflection today, I am even more impressed with the similarities:

  • Both projects involve outreach to underserved communities.  In Southwest Memphis, the largely blue-collar African-American community is located in an industrial and business zone where corporate interests consistently trump residential community development.  In Peru, rural communities such as Hualcayán are considerably underserved in basic social and infrastructure services when compared to nearby towns.
  • Both communities seek a recognition of both their heritage and place in the broader culture.  I have posted before about how this recognition is played out in Southwest Memphis around issues of military service, landmark preservation, and community history.  In Hualcayán this summer, the same sentiments were strongly expressed in both words and actions.  Last year I asked PIARA founder and co-director Rebecca Bria if the Hualcayán community was really interested in a museum, or more in the economic development that a museum could generate.  She immediately replied that five years ago, a museum to showcase Hualcayán’s cultural heritage was at the top of the agenda that community leaders requested of PIARA. This summer, we addressed that long-standing need in opening the first iteration of a museum.  Examples of the community sentiment around their cultural heritage was also expressed this summer in the stated need for a written document that records the community history, the interest in developing a craft workshop based on their cultural traditions, and the student’s creation of a modern quipu to record their individual stories and place in the community.  The very hand-written minutes and signing of ledger books by speakers and participants in community meetings speaks to the importance of recorded history in Hualcayàn.
  • the list goes on . . .

I enjoy today understanding how these experiences operationalize for me concepts like co-creation, the participatory museum, community asset, and stakeholder.  As well, I understand and am better able to explore and explain applied archaeology as a discipline with value for communities.

Perhaps greater than any other past work, my experiences in Southwest Memphis and Hualcayán, Perú allow me to answer challenges or questions posed during my early academic training some 30 years ago:

  • from Patricia Essenpreis – If you can’t explain why the public’s tax dollars should support your research, you might as well go home.
  • and from Barry Isaac – Why is your research more important than eating a plate of worms?

The Smallest Deer I Have Ever Seen

August 24, 2014

photo[1]Today it is 99 degrees in Memphis, TN, US.  When many folks head indoors during this weather, I find it to be the ideal time to go bike riding.  So my friend and I loaded up our mountain bikes today and headed out for a couple of hours of riding along the Wolfe River.  This got me to thinking of a story I had written a few years ago called the Smallest Deer I Have Ever Seen.  Here it is again:



The Smallest Deer I Have Ever Seen
I thoroughly enjoy mountain biking. In a memorable biking experience, I saw the smallest deer I have ever seen in my life – a fawn, couldn’t be but a couple of weeks or so old.  Here is how it happened . . .

I was riding my mountain bike out along the River trail about 4:00 PM, the hottest part of the day.  I have come to savor the heat that is the South.  A couple of days each week I start my work day very early so I can ride the during the heat of the afternoon, when I rarely cross other bikers and only the occasional runner on the trail.

The route I have worked out is a 12 mile loop through the woods.  There are a few steep ascents and descents up and down levees and lots of roots.  I am reading some about technique – the zen of becoming one with the bike and the trail.  Speed seems a big thing in the tech lit of mountain bikes.  On first half of my loop today I did well on the technical end.  My speed picked up – I think the fastest ever.  I got up all the inclines without a hitch, and made it through the sand traps – thanks in large part to recent rain.  The greatest improvement was in my looking ahead on the trail, and not just right past my front wheel – allowing me to feel the flow of the trail unlike ever before.  On my iPod, I listened to Bill Moyers interview the poet W.S. Merwin, reading from his recent volume for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, In the Shadow of Sirius.  All was quite well.

I got to the end of the first half at the trailhead.  The parking lot was empty, baked asphalt. I sucked some water and a Gu Gel and listened to Merwin read a poem about fathers and sons.

I started to head back.  The first leg of the return I know best.  After an initial descent, the trail is about one mile or so of reasonably flat to rolling twists and turns till coming up on the first levee.  I have always felt the most one with bike and trail on this stretch.  Today, I ripped along through the first open field into tree cover.  Barely 30 feet in front of me stood a full size deer – I don’t know a buck from doe to how many points or hands – it was just a big old deer.  I skidded to a complete stop.  I know that deer will run in a completely unpredictable manner – it’s best just to stop and let them go on their way, then proceed.  But this deer held its place in the middle of the trail.  I flipped up my sunglasses, and saw the smallest fawn ever between the legs of the big deer – could not have been more than 24 inches tall – think a miniature Bambi.  The fawn started to trot off and the big deer followed.  After several starts and stops, they soon were in the dense wood, and I could only make out their occasional move through the vegetation.

I stood astride my bike on the trail for a few minutes, put away W.S. Merwin and Bill Moyers, and listened to the heat, the insects, the birds.  I rode off slower and got up on the first levee and down the other side.  I decided to try a different oneness with the trail on the way back – a very slow, mindful, intentional amble, iPod stowed in my back pocket.  I knew not to be so naïve or grandiose to expect to see another deer, or something of a similar spectacle.  When I ascended to the second levee, I rode the spine to the river and sat for a while staring at and thinking of nothing.  I continued on deliberate, mindful, quiet and slow.  Toward the end of the loop, the trail runs along the narrow spine of a ridge full of roots, drops and turns.  Typically, this is the most difficult part of the ride for me.  I get flustered, hit roots wrong, feel awkward, and not one with the trail.  I usually rationalize it’s towards the end of a 12 mile loop and I am just a bit tired, but I know that is not really the case – something is missing.  Today I was more one with the crest and the roots than ever before, slowly looking and living into each root, dip, and turn.

After taking the gravel road back to the main park area, I always end the ride with a quick lap around the one mile asphalt track filled with joggers, walkers, and little kids on bikes.  When I pass the little kids with training wheels, or recently without, I always say “Hey, I like your bike!” and that always gets a smile of pride from the little ones.  And today, even though hot, a child on her hot pink Barbie bike was there with her folks walking along and she grinned wide at the compliment.

Creative Commons and Cultural Heritage

August 19, 2014

Java PrintingI am very pleased to present a post and resource links on Creative Commons by my colleague Jason Baird Jackson.  More and more cultural heritage professionals and students are faced with questions about how to best present original documents for public access and the proper citation and use of internet files.  Jason provides a solid introduction and valuable links to Creative Commons licenses that are relevant today and will be increasingly important in the immediate future.

Creative Commons and Cultural Heritage

by Jason Baird Jackson

Do public archaeologists, heritage professionals, museum practitioners, and graduate students need to know about the Creative Commons? I think so. Robert Connolly does so as well, which is why he thought to ask me to contribute a short note to his blog. After you have learned a bit about it, I hope that you too will see the relevance of the tools provided by the Creative Commons to the work that you do. If you are already using Creative Commons licenses for your work in one of these fields, please consider leaving a note in the comments section telling us how and why.

The Creative Commons (CC) is a public interest organization that provides easy-to-use licensing tools that can help anyone who creates or communicates to specify more clearly the terms under which they wish for their work (writing, photography, almost anything we create) to circulate. When someone speaks of the Creative Commons, what is usually meant are Creative Commons licenses that the organization freely provides. There is more to the organization than its licenses, but the licenses are the focus in this short post. In a nutshell, CC licenses allow you to reserve some rights in your work rather than the full set of rights spelled out under national copyright regimes. As a maker of creative works, the licenses give you more flexibility in how you want to share the things you have made.

The best way to learn about CC licenses is to visit the organization’s website and to watch a few of the explanatory videos that the organization has created.

I am not an expert on the Creative Commons in general and I am not affiliated with the organization (except as an occasional donor), but I have tried to speak helpfully of the Creative Commons in the context of work by public folklorists and of the kinds of local communities with whom they often work. “Why the Creative Commons with Folklorist Jason Baird Jackson” was episode 22 of the Artisan Ancestors podcast hosted by my Indiana University colleague Jon Kay.

Jon is the Director of Traditional Arts Indiana (TAI) and TAI has organized a series of informative webinars, one of which I did on “Using the Creative Commons.”

One place where I use CC licenses to advance museum anthropology is in Museum Anthropology Review, the journal that I edit. For most of its history, MAR content was published under the Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license (by-nc-sa 3.0). Reflecting an upgrading of the license set, we now use a 4.0 license. Reflecting growing consensus among open access journal publishers, we now default to the more liberal attribution-only (by) license. Authors can request a different license, but this is now the journal’s default.

Compare these two licenses here:

In closing I want to point to a few more related tools that might prove useful to readers of this blog.

If a work is in the public domain, it is possible to signal this with resources comparable to the CC licenses. It is also possible for a creator of a new work to unambiguously dedicate her or his work to the public domain, thereby asserting no author’s rights in it. These two sets of tools are described here.

Those working in, or in partnership with, local or indigenous communities with special cultural property concerns, should be aware of the Traditional Knowledge licenses and labels being developed by the organization Local Contexts. This is a great effort designed to address important and related, but different needs from those addressed by the Creative Commons. The Local Contexts website and associated videos and documentation do a great job of introducing these tools and the contexts that motivate them. I expect that museums and other organizations stewarding cultural heritage materials will be using these TK licenses and labels more and more in the years ahead.

Thanks to Robert for this chance to share a bit of information about licensing and labels for heritage folks.

Jason Baird Jackson is Director of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and an Associate Professor of Folklore at Indiana University and can be reached at jbj(a) and visit his blog Shreds and Patches


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