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From Me to We – Part 2

August 8, 2011

Last week I reflected on applying Nina Simon’s “Me to We” concept to institutions.  Certainly, national organizations such as the American Association of Museums, regional variants like the Southeast Museum Conference, and on a statewide basis the Tennessee Association of Museums allow institutions to consider themselves from a we perspective.  However, I am thinking of something more organic to a museum’s very existence.

Here are some thoughts from my institution, the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  We are a small Native American focused museum located on the grounds of a Mississippian (AD 1000 – 1500) temple mound complex.  We also interpret the historic African American cultural heritage of the site area.  As a small 50-year old venue in an isolated part of Southwest Memphis, Tennessee, over the past several years, we have aggressively grappled with the issues of identity and mission.  As an institution, in the past couple of years, we began to more intentionally move from me to we.

  • We are one of  fifteen or so prehistoric Native American venues located along the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri to Natchez, Mississippi.  There is no consortium to coördinate, cross-promote, or inform on these related museums.  Institutionally, through organizations such as the Tennessee Association of Museums there is more structure for Chucalissa to engage with other prehistoric venues six hours away in Manchester, Tennessee, than with the Parkin Archaeological Site a 45-minute drive west into Arkansas or the Wickliffe Mounds, a three-hour drive north near Paducah, Kentucky.  (Of note, even the very successful driving tours of prehistoric sites, such as in Louisiana, are limited by geo-political boundaries.)   Both Parkin and Wickliffe interpret prehistoric sites of the same time period as at Chucalissa.   We now find that through our informal collaboration with both Parkin and Wickliffe, we can effectively cross-promote.  Our intent this fall is to begin a regional presence of the prehistoric museum venues along the Mississippi River that transcends geo-political boundaries.  Such an approach is a good marketing tool to reach the regional traveler and inform local communities of opportunities of related interest in the immediate area.  However, I don’t think that marketing is the real goal . . .
  • Parkin and Chucalissa have actively engaged each other for the past couple of years on a host of products.  Parkin like Chucalissa interprets a substantial African American historic component at their predominately prehistoric Native American focused site.  Each February they host a week of African American cultural heritage activities.  My first thought was – that’s a great idea, we should do that too on our side of the Mississippi River at Chucalissa.  Parkin also had a couple of engaging and creative school programs that we adapted for our site as well.  Then we tried a different approach.  Had we continued on the copying trajectory, in terms of programs, Parkin and Chucalissa could have essentially become clones of each other.  Instead, and very intentionally, at Chucalissa we developed our strengths, but cross-promote those strengths with other institutions.  In this way, we move from ” two me’s” to a true “me to we” setting.
The above process has two benefits.  First, for the individual or group visitor there is a reason to visit both Parkin and Chucalissa.  They will not get the same programming at both sites.  But more importantly, the process allows the two museums to focus on and share their separate missions and strengths as distinct institutions.  I am excited to begin work this fall on a regional presence that crosses into a half-dozen states along the Mississippi River.  Such approaches seem to defy conventional practice.  However organizations from the regional Great River Road to the local Chicago Cultural Alliance are grappling with this process.

How are you moving from me to we with relevant institutions?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2011 12:35 pm

    Your vision and action on bringing together museums that share an over-arcing interest is so enriching, for visitors and for the participants who can discover so much from sharing their overlapping perspectives and knowledge. Yes it would be admirable if your national association took a leadership role in enabling other museum “sectors” explore ways to collaborate, then to support all the “collaboratives” that might spring up to learn from each other. I recall when first speaking to the asn of museum stores that each genre could join forces to collectively reach out to relevant authors and other experts to “commission” books that could be created for the museums, perhaps even bypassing a traditional publisher, with PubMatch. Then the authors might go on a “road tour” of participating museums, collectively promoted by all museums. As well other experts might be commissioned to create interactive eBooks representing the collective and individual contents of the museums in a genre to reach and serve more people. For both of these collective efforts (and others) there are probably several corporations that would underwrite the costs for the association with the kind of audience they could reach. Collaborative partnerships can enrich all participants (accelerate learning and relationship-building while reducing costs) and enable them to accomplish something greater than they can on their own

  2. September 4, 2011 1:42 pm

    Your suggestion on the “road tour” pub is great. As a minimum, I expect that a basic unified web presence will demonstrate the utility of such an approach. The consortium of resources certainly makes sense today. The potential even within electronic venues today of rather basic consortium presence is quite rich to demonstrate immediate worth that can then be brokered into more elaborately projects that will require outside funding. Thanks your input.

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