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Service in Cultural Heritage

June 22, 2017

Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza (center) with students from the Maria Parado de Bellido Nº 88104 school in Nivín, Peru.

This past Sunday, my colleague Gustavo Valencia Tello, invited me to a Father’s Day lunch at his home in Casma, Peru.  I am spending a couple of months in the area this summer as part of a co-creative project organized through Culture and Community in Casma (see this newsletter for more details).  During our lunch, Professor Valencia and I had a wide ranging discussion not just about this summer’s work but also our collaboration that began in July of 2015.  After finishing our meal Professor Valencia raised a question that got me to thinking.  He asked:

“You are from a major university in the United States.  In Casma we do not have a university and in Nivín we only have a very small school.  Why do you keep coming back to Nivín?

At first, I was not certain how to respond.  I thought about how the project is interesting.  I thought about how the project is the most “co-creative” in which I have ever been involved in addressing community needs in a collaborative manner.  But I realized those responses were really after the fact reasons.  After a few seconds of thought, I replied:

“Because you asked us to come.”

We then discussed how one year before our first visit, my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and Professor Valencia had communicated on Facebook where he had invited us to come to the small school museum.  (I posted here about that first visit.)  I recalled how when we first arrived in Nivín, after touring the museum, school grounds, and the surrounding archaeological sites, we asked Professor Valencia what we could do to help his project.  He responded with a shopping list of needs.  At the top of the list was museum management texts in Spanish.  (Here is a link to our Annual Report for 2016 that details our completed projects to date.)

We are currently working with the school and community of Nivín to develop a five-year strategic plan that will guide our co-creative work in the future.  Gustavo’s original invitation for Elizabeth and I to visit Nivín has led to very meaningful professional projects for all of us.

The “why did you come” question this past Sunday got me to thinking more.  I thought about my first trip to Peru in the summer of 2013.  That visit was also based on a request for me to come to help start a small museum and cultural heritage center in the village of Hualcayán to supplement archaeological research in that community.  I learned much over the four years I spent on projects in Hualcayán.

My visit to Debbie Buco’s classroom in 1997.

I then thought about other times when I had just shown up after being asked over the years.  I thought about my time as the Station Archaeologist at the Poverty Point World Heritage Site some 15 – 20 years ago.  I often received requests from schools and libraries in Louisiana and Mississippi to just come and visit.  One of the most rewarding requests was when I said yes to Debbie Buco, an elementary school teacher in Baton Rouge (described in this post).

Over the length of my career, without question, the most meaningful professional experiences have always come when I said “yes” to requests to be of service – often after a great deal of initial reluctance on my part.

I fear that we are in a time when such requests for service too often go unheeded.  I am surprised by the reluctance of emerging professionals to share their successful and not so successful experiences with others in form of blogs or public presentations when asked to do so.   I remember how odd it sounded to me during my first field school in 1986 to hear someone with their BA in Anthropology fresh in hand announce as they visited our excavations that he would never again do archaeology for free.  Years ago advisors cautioned me against engaging in service because publications and grants were the name of the game when seeking faculty tenure.  Just recently, the editor of a major peer review journal lamented to me that it was hard to get younger professionals to agree to do peer reviews of articles submitted for publication.

I appreciate too that one cannot, and should not say yes to every request that comes along.

I don’t intend this as a holier than thou piece.  In fact, saying “yes” to requests, whether peer review, sharing experiences, or in a variety of community service opportunities, is really quite self-serving from the “in giving, you receive” perspective.  The simple fact is that by saying “yes” to Professor Valencia a couple of years ago, my colleague Elizabeth and I each have at least another five-year project that will likely prove the most meaningful in both of our careers – Elizabeth as she works to complete her doctoral studies and for me as a post retirement project till I turn 70!  Without question, those aspects of my career that I consider the most significant and meaningful would not have occurred had I not said “yes” to being of service.

What does it mean for a museum director to have a vision?

June 19, 2017

A really inspiring post on that “vision” thing . . .

Museum Questions

This week’s guest post is by Tracy Truels, Director of Learning and Engagement at Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Tracy has also worked at museums in Houston and New York. In addition to her work in museums, Tracy is a writer of fiction and operas.

The views expressed in this post are Tracy’s own, and do not represent the views of any particular museum.


When art museum directors are hired, the word “vision” shows up consistently in press releases announcing the news. Just in the last few years, examples abound. A search committee member from the Art Institute of Chicago described James Rondeau as the clear choice to fill the role of “an inspired leader whose vision and skill could match our bold aspirations.” Upon the hiring of Mathew Tietelbaum at MFA Boston, the chair of the board described the new director as having “a vision for how art can…

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Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize Presentation

June 8, 2017

Listening to Bob Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize for Literature Lecture was a magical experience for me.  He framed the lecture around three classic texts – Moby Dick, All’s Quiet on the Western Front, and the Odyssey.  The magic came from reading Dylan’s take on these same books I read when I was in high school and during my first college go-round as an English Lit major where I accumulated a whopping 0.7 GPA in my first two years.  Dylan’s nuanced understanding of the texts certainly dwarfed anything my adolescent brain was able to take away at the time.

But in the way that song lyrics I knew by heart at the age of 12 take on a whole knew meaning today in my 60s, I look forward to rereading some of these classics as well.

Toward the end of his Nobel presentation, in quoting lines from John Dunne’s Pilgrims Progress, Dylan speaks, “I don’t know what it means either, but it sounds good” which reminds me of why I enjoy Dylan so much too.  Whether the lines from Mr. Tambourine Man:

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory of fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

or from W.S. Merwin’s The Waves:

I inhabited the wake of a long wave

 

I don’t know what they mean either but they too, sound good and are good to think.

 

Thanks to Bob Dylan for giving us so much stuff that sounds good.

With God On Our Side

April 10, 2017

I just listened to Aaron Neville sing this Bob Dylan classic and was struck by the relevance to current events.

 

With God On Our Side

 

By Bob Dylan, Nobel Prize Winner

 

Oh my name it is nothin’
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I’s taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that the land that I live in
Has God on its side

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side

Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
l’s made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side

I’ve learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we’re forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side

Through many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side

So now as I’m leavin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop the next war

Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music

Emergency Flood Relief Needs in Peru

April 3, 2017

Over the past several weeks, Peru has been devastated with extreme flooding from rains that are ten times greater than normal and comparable to the catastrophic 1997/1998 El Nino.  At least 80 people have died in the floods, others are missing, and over 100,000 people have lost their homes. Mudslides and avalanches have caused roads and bridges to collapse.  Many residents of rural communities remain in desperate need of food supplies, clean drinking water, and medicine.  The Peruvian government is doing what they can to get supplies to those in need, yet many rural communities have received limited help from their municipalities.

Such is the situation in Nivín, the village featured prominently in this blog over the past year where I work with my colleague Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza.  Equally affected is the nearby community of Cosma, in the Caceres District of Nepeña, where my colleague Kimberly Munro works.  As in Nivín, the cultural heritage work of Kimberly’s in Cosma has a strong community outreach and co-creative component.

Because of our consistent emphasis on the development and empowerment of these local communities in Ancash, their leaders requested that we assist them with their recovery efforts from the devastating floods.  Of course, we agreed to help in any way that we can.

As a first step, we launched a fundraising campaign to buy materials specifically requested by residents of the Nivín and Cosma communities.  With our community partners in Peru, we have structured our fundraising campaign to complement but not duplicate other relief efforts.

I ask that you consider donating today to this critical human need. We will immediately transfer funds to our partners in Peru who will purchase and arrange the transport of materials to the villages of Nivín and Cosma.  The link to the gofundme site provides a detailed budget for the fundraising project.  Of importance, the budget contains no administrative expenses – the funds we raise go directly to the human needs of the Peruvian people.
Nivín and Cosma are two of the most affected communities in the Casma and Nepeña Valleys from the recent flooding.  For example in Nivín, at least one-third of the houses in the community are washed away.  Mudslides have buried other houses and agricultural fields.  The 25 km road from Casma to Nivín is in desperate need of repair.  Elderly and ill members of the community were airlifted to Casma by the Peruvian government.

The community is committed to rebuilding as can be seen in the recent Facebook posts here and here  by our colleague in Nivín, Professor Valencia.  We asked Professor Valencia if we should cancel our plans for archaeological research this summer and focus solely on flood relief.  He suggested that we continue with both sets of tasks.  Elizabeth and Robert will lead a small team of Peruvian archaeologists and U.S. interns who will assist with both the flood rebuilding efforts and co-creative cultural heritage projects.

For more information about the Nivín village and their current needs, click here and for the village of Cosma click here.

How You Can Support the Recovery Effort

In addition to making a direct financial contribution to Nivín/Cosma fundraising campaign, there are several additional steps that you can take to help in the project.

  • First and foremost, share this post via email, Twitter, Facebook, other social media outlets, or as a printed hard copy. Share with your networks of families, friends and colleagues. Although the need is great, small communities like Nivín and Cosma are often at the end of the recovery chain. Your sharing will help to meet the community needs.
  • Another great way to spread the word, is through slideshare presentations we have prepared for both Cosma and Nivín. You can download and share these presentations in your civic, school, or other group meetings.
  • We have prepared two flyers promoting our fundraising campaign that you can print and post at your place of work, school, coffee shop, or other venue. The flyers are available as pdf and jpg files in both English and Spanish. Jpg files can readily be posted to social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Here are the links English: pdf & jpeg. Spanish: pdf & jpeg.
  • You can also share our gofundme fundraising link (GoFundMe.com/p/mq6f) throughout your social media networks.
  • Also, if you live in Peru and are able to make a material donation or help with the transport of materials to Nivín or Cosma, contact us at solidarityancash@gmail.com

Elizabeth, Kimberly, and I, along with the people of Nivín and Cosma thank you for your consideration.

 

The Proposed Funding Cuts & the Impact on Small and Rural Museums

March 17, 2017

Mr. Trump’s draft budget blueprint eliminates many environmental, cultural, human services, and science based programs.  I will address two of the programs with which I have direct experience – the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In 2007 I was hired as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a small prehistoric venue in Southwest Memphis, Tennessee.  The Museum had fallen on “hard times” as it were.  In essence, my assigned task was to rejuvenate the place or the Museum would likely be shut down.  Over my nine-year tenure, we eliminated the Museum’s operating deficit and made up past deficits.  Also, the annual attendance doubled.  The C.H. Nash Museum began to play a critical role as a cultural heritage venue in Southwest Memphis, became an integral educational resource for the University of Memphis, and a national model for co-creating with a local community whose tax dollars supported the Museum.  Both the IMLS and CNCS were critical to that process.  Simply put, the successes of the Museum would not have occurred without the support of these two institutions.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services

The C.H. Nash Museum was able to take advantage of several services offered by the IMLS:

  • Connecting to Collections, of which IMLS is a founding partner, awarded the C.H. Nash Museum a set of books valued at over $1500.00 to help us become better informed on the best practices necessary for curating our 50 years worth of collections, many of which had not been properly cared for in decades.  The book award is no longer offered because now the IMLS provides that scope of resources online, a more cost-effective means for distributing the information.  Connecting to Collections also hosts regular webinars on a diverse range of issues.  All Connecting to Collections services are provided free to museums.  This service is absolutely critical to small museums throughout the U.S. that are operated by either volunteer or small staffs.  Specifically, small museums such as Chucalissa do not have access to funds to hire consultants with the expertise needed to conserve, preserve, and present the cultural heritage they curate.
  • The IMLS’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP) proved absolutely critical to our Museum’s turn around.  The C.H. Nash Museum was founded in 1956, but there was limited attention paid to its maintenance or upgrades over the years.  For example, in 2007, no museum exhibit was upgraded for nearly 30 years and many of the collections were not properly curated.  The MAP program consisted of a period of intensive self-study followed by a peer review from a nationally recognized museum professional matched specifically to our institutional needs.  The reviewer provided a series of recommendations grouped by duration (short-term, medium-term, and long-term) and cost (no expense, modest expense, or major expense).  Of importance to our governing authority, the peer reviewer’s recommendations came with the credibility of the nationally recognized leaders in the field – IMLS and the American Alliance of Museums.  The recommendations provided leverage for our Museum and were integral to our strategic plan developments.  Our Museum simply did not have the 15-20 thousand dollars necessary to hire a private consultant to perform these services.  Our total cost for the program was $400.00.

As the recently retired Director of a small museum along with my years of service on small museum boards and professional organizations, without question, the small institution, often in a  rural location will be most directly and negatively affected in eliminating the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Corporation for National and Community Service – AmeriCorps

To the extent IMLS allowed us to strategically reorient our Museum, AmeriCorps allowed us to carry out those changes.  NCCC AmeriCorps is the legacy of the 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps and is composed of youth between the ages of 18-25 who give one year of community service.  At the C.H. Nash Museum, we hosted six AmeriCorps teams over a four-year period.  These teams were integral to our ability to serve and engage with our neighboring community.  We devised a unique partnership where each 8-week AmeriCorps team spent 1/3 of their rotation working on each of three separate components: the C.H. Nash Museum, the surrounding community, and the T.O. Fuller State Park as follows:

  • Teams working in the surrounding community focused on minor to moderate repair and landscaping work on the homes of elderly veterans in the 95% African-American working class community that surrounds the C.H. Nash Museum.¹ In addition, team members served as mentors to neighborhood youth in this underserved community and leveraged corporate support for their projects. ²
  • Teams working at the C.H. Nash Museum developed skills and performed structural improvements to the site including creating gardens, lab exhibits, rain shelters, refurbished onsite housing and much more.
  • Teams working at the T.O. Fuller State Park completed maintenance projects such as refurbishment of picnic shelters and trail maintenance.  The T.O. Fuller State Park is particularly significant in Memphis history as the only such recreation facility available for the African-American community during the era of Jim Crow segregation.

Both IMLS and AmeriCorps teams led to building relationships and leveraging assets to bring additional resources into play that would not have been otherwise available.  For example:

  • The IMLS Connecting to Collections resources allowed Museum staff to generate the types of data based proposals to generate additional economic support from the governing authority.
  • Similarly, the IMLS MAP program help to demonstrate the fiduciary responsibility of the governing authority to the collections and infrastructure of the Museum, leading to additional economic support in the form of staff and material support.
  • The AmeriCorps Teams strengthened community connections that today allow the C.H. Nash Museum to host the community’s Annual Veterans Day event, the annual Black History Month Celebration, provide space and resources for a community garden, provide internships for local high school students, to name just a few.

In summary, elimination of the IMLS and the CNCS will also cut the potential for projects such as those noted above at the C.H. Nash Museum.  In 2012, the House of Representatives passed H.Con.Res.112 that called for eliminating the National Endowments for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts noting that “The activities and content funded by these agencies  . . . are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.”  My examples demonstrate such statements are erroneous.  In fact, as demonstrated in the case of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, the elimination of IMLS and CNCS will directly impact the small and particularly rural museums that serve as the cultural heritage hub for their communities and will not put “America first” an alleged goal of Mr. Trump’s budget.

An immediate and strong response must be sent to all legislators to counter proposals to eliminate these and similar programs that truly do put all of America first.

 

¹References for this work include the following: Making African American History Relevant through Co-Creation and Community Service Learning by Robert P. Connolly and Ana Rea; The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa: Community Engagement at an Archaeological Site by Robert P. Connolly, Samantha Gibbs, and Mallory Bader; AmeriCorps Delta 5 – Unparalleled Community Service by Robert P. Connolly; AmeriCorps, Archaeology and Service by Robert P. Connolly; AmeriCorps Archaeology and Museums by Robert P. Connolly.

² AmeriCorps NCCC: The Best of the Millennial Generation by Ana Rea.

2017 Field Opportunity, North Coast of Peru

January 23, 2017

structuresI have posted before about the research project Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza and I have launched near the village of Casma, Peru.  We are pleased to announce that a 2017 field school opportunity from late May through July.  The project involves archaeological field excavations and survey, mapping, artifact analysis, museum practices and engagement with the local community.  The project sites are located around the small town of Nivín and date from 500 BC – AD 1400. 

There will be two sessions for the 2017 Season:

Session 1 – May 26 – June 24

Session 2 – June 26 – July 24

For more information, see:

We anticipate offering only four student slots for each of the two sessions.  The small size of the field crew will assure plenty of individual instruction and experience, but also that the spots will fill quickly!

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