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Before National Archaeology Day & the Day After

September 17, 2012

National Archaeology Day (NAD), October 20, 2012, is one month away.  Initiated by the Archaeological Institute of America, there are over 100 Collaborating Organizations for the 2012 events including the Society for American Archaeology, the 400 units of the National Park Service, many state agencies such as the Louisiana Division of Archaeology, along with a host of museums, universities and local archaeological societies.   Events are scheduled across North America with a few also planned in Europe and Australia.

I have posted before on the potential of National Archaeology Day as a tool for our discipline to educate and serve the public whose cultural heritage we present and preserve.  Advocacy and media specialists all will point to the importance of not just the event held on October 20th, but what we do before and after that day.  These experts will argue we must weave public outreach into the very fabric of the daily life of all cultural heritage professionals, not just something to be done at annual events.  Here are some ideas for public outreach based on projects we carried out at the C.H. Nash Museum:

  • Add your public officials and news media to your e-mail/newsletter list.  At Chucalissa, with every e-newsletter we send out, we receive requests from different news media for more information on an item they wish to promote.  Also, last week we received a voice mail from a state office holder to tell us he was retiring from office at the end of the year.  He wanted to give us his private email address to be certain he remained on our email list.  He noted he could still advocate for us through his contacts.  Interestingly, we added the official from a list we found on a web site the year before.  He had never contacted us before leaving the voice mail.  By being proactive, we developed an advocate we did not even know existed!
  • Prepare economic and educational impact statements for your cultural institution.  Here a is template for an educational impact statement and samples of economic impact statements available through the American Alliance of Museums that can be adapted for use by cultural heritage institutions.  These statements are invaluable not just for elected officials and funders but to let the general public know of the important role of an institution in the community.
  • Consider at least one public volunteer or participatory event per month.  I am always impressed by the programming at the Sunwatch Indian Village & Archaeological Park in Dayton Ohio.  Even with a small staff, they have made a long-term commitment to public events such as a monthly speaker series and Native American flute circles along with a vigorous volunteer program.  Here is an interview with Museum Director Andy Sawyer from a couple of years ago.  The lesson from Sunwatch and elsewhere is that successful and sustainable public programming must be grown over an extended period.
  • With National Archaeology Day coming up, commit to writing an op-ed piece for the local daily or weekly newspaper. NAD is an excellent opportunity to present to the public the important role of archaeology in the surrounding community.  As I discussed in a Labor Day blog post, having to explain the significance of that role allows us to better justify the public resources necessary to protect and present the cultural heritage of our communities.
  • Consider your public profile.  What do the public get if they Google the name of your museum or organization?  Is the information up-to-date?  Does the information tell the story and reflect the opportunities you want the public to know?  In the summer of 2009 at Chucalissa, we Googled our name and contacted the web sites of the first 40 hits to be certain all the information was correct.  We created a small press kit to send to them.  We were pleased that at the end of the summer, the top 20 search hits on our name contained complete up-to-date information about our Museum.  Now, in 2012, we find that we must redo the process.  Because internet contact is the first impression most of the public have with our institutions, accurate information is essential.
  • Finally, I am certain that many individuals who work at small institutions with a limited staff, or perhaps they are the only staff person, feel the simply do not have the time to take on any of the above tasks.  Last year our small staff of 4 logged around 8000 work hours at Chucalissa.  Another 8000 work hours came from students, volunteers, and community service learning projects.  An integral part of our museum are internships and applied class work from students at the University of Memphis.  Our Museum Studies graduate students complete two 150-hour internships at area museums where a mutually beneficial relationship takes place.   Consider contacting your local university to arrange internships or applied student projects for everything from website development, museum staffing, social media work, language translation of guides for non-English speakers, exhibit design and more.  Student support is an excellent mutually beneficial opportunity for all cultural heritage institutions to more effectively live into their educational mission and receive needed expertise.

How will you celebrate National Archaeology Day both before and after October 20th?

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