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SunWatch Indian Village & Public Outreach

January 25, 2010

In today’s post we have a Q & A with Andy Sawyer, Site Manager of the SunWatch Indian Village and Archaeological Park, near Dayton, Ohio.  I have long been impressed that SunWatch runs an effective outreach program and now leads the way in the inclusion of descendent voices in the programming of the site.  I asked Andy to share a bit about himself and the SunWatch program.

Tell us a bit about your own background and your overall responsibilities at SunWatch.

I am an Anthropologist who specializes in Archaeology.  I have a BA in Anthropology from Miami University and an MA from the University of Denver. In my career as a student and practicing archaeologist I have had the opportunity to work in many parts of the US.  Prior to coming to SunWatch I worked for several years in Cultural Resource Management throughout the western US.  At SunWatch I am responsible for the day to day operation of a partially reconstructed 800 year old American Indian village and museum that covers the lives of the American Indians who occupied this region almost 300 years before Columbus reached the shores of the “New World.”

What do you consider your most successful recent effort to bring the surrounding community to SunWatch?

One of the things about a small museum such as ours is that we do not have the space or the funding to bring in many traveling exhibits.  Thanks to the support of local donors, however, since 2007 we have offered an annual presentation series that covers topics of local and national interest on archaeology and issues important to the American Indian community.  Our first series in 2007 averaged 42 people per presentation and in 2009 we averaged 92 people per presentation.  We just started our fourth presentation series a few weeks ago and the attendance was 94.  These series have given us a chance to offer something new to the visitors.

That’s a pretty impressive increase in attendance. How do you account for the success?

We have focused on unique topics and have been lucky to have supportive donors that have allowed us to keep new subject matter on the table.  We also have “word of mouth” promoting as we have numerous regulars to the series over the last few years that share with folks they know and bring new people out. Also, I really think targeting the groups that have an interest in specific presentations or topics is a good strategy.  And of course, offering these programs free of charge doesn’t hurt either.

What has been your experience in being inclusive of descendent voices at the SunWatch Village?

Our experience over the last several years has been incredibly positive.  As you are likely aware, archaeologists and American Indians have not always had a good relationship, in fact in some cases it has been just outright confrontational.  When I first suggested to our organization that I wanted to contact the most visible American Indian group in the Dayton area about collaborating on events they were a bit skeptical.  In the past this American Indian organization had been critical of activities at SunWatch on multiple occasions. Part of the issues, I think, in the past was a lack of communication.  I contacted them, invited them in for a talk, and we are going on our 4th year of hosting their Pow Wow and collaborating on other events including a clothing and school supplies drive for various reservations.  So from my perspective it has been an entirely positive experience.

How do you currently use Social Media at SunWatch Village?

About a year ago we started a Facebook page for SunWatch which was our first, and still only venture into using social media outlets.  So far it seems to be a good way to get information about SunWatch and our upcoming events out to our “Fans” who have signed up.  It also seems to be a good way for our “Fans” to spread the word.  Many of our fans share our updates with their Friends helping to spread the word even further.  Some of the organizations that help us organize events, such as the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans and the Miami Valley Flute Circle, both American Indian based groups, also have their own Facebook or MySpace pages. So when these groups post info about events on Facebook they are also helping expose more people to SunWatch.

What do you anticipate will be the future role of social media at SunWatch Village?

Since we are still relatively new to this, and social media is relatively new itself, we are not sure exactly what role this will play for us in the future.  For now though it seems to be a promising way for us to reach those who are already aware of us and perhaps many more that are not… yet.

Any wise words of wisdom on how you promote SunWatch Village that other museums or archaeologists might find helpful?

Identify your audience(s).  As a non-profit we have a limited budget especially when it comes to promotions.  Part of what we have tried to do is identify people who we already know will have an interest in our events and finding ways to let them know what is going on.  The groups that we have identified include local historical societies, archaeological interest groups, Native interest groups, and others.  These organizations typically have newsletters and/or e-mail lists through which they can let their membership know about upcoming events of interest so they can help us promote our events to their members.  Last year our presentation series was on Archaeoastronomy so we contacted local astronomy organizations to let them know about the presentations and we had a great response.  This year our first presentation was on shipwreck archaeology in the Great Lakes, so we contacted a local Scuba group, and we started off with a bang again.  While we still use more traditional advertising/marketing strategies, targeting our efforts in this way helps us make sure we get the word out to people who we know are interested.

You can email Andy or visit SunWatch village on-line at www.sunwatch.org or on Facebook.  Be certain to check out SunWatch Village when you are traveling through Southwest Ohio.  In fact, Southwest Ohio has a bounty of Native American cultural resources from the prehistoric era including the Fort Ancient site and Miami Fort – both open to the public.

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