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A Co-created Museum/Archaeology Brochure

June 2, 2014

Image adapted from brochure created by Allison Hennie

I recently posted about several  of the exhibit projects completed by students in my Applied Archaeology and Museums class from this past semester.   As I noted, the projects are an excellent opportunity for students to apply their classroom experience in real-time settings that will live in area museums.

Graduate student Allison Hennie’s project was one I have wanted a student to take on for the past few years.  She created a brochure of prehistoric sites and museums along the Mississippi River between St. Louis, Missouri and Natchez, Mississippi here in the US (attached file is front and back, quarter-fold).  I understood the need for the brochure based on my experience at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa where I serve as Director.  We are located in Memphis Tennessee, US at the intersection of two major highways – the east-west I-40 and the north-south I-55.  This north-south route, and the nearby Great River Road, are particularly well-traveled by tourists making their way along the Mississippi River through the mid-South, crossing through several states.  Because the prehistoric earthwork complexes are located in different states that do not coordinate their marketing efforts, there is no single brochure or rack card that list these venues for visitors.  Allison’s brochure resolves that problem.

The brochure is truly a co-created product.    Allison contacted the various institutions with an idea, solicited their participation, asked them to submit text and images to represent their venue, and sent a draft of the completed brochure for their approval.  The brochure fills an existing need as expressed by several of the venues Allison contacted.

As Allison wrote in her process paper:

This wasn’t something I dreamed in my own head, visitors have requested this information, and the other museums see the worth in the project as well. I also didn’t decide how to describe the sites, or an image of how I thought the sites should be portrayed. And no one is obligated to distribute the brochure at their sites. Part of the process in creating the brochure also strengthened the fact that Chucalissa’s environment doesn’t only exist within the boundaries of the C.H. Nash Museum or the site.

What did I do? Part of the process involved contacting other sites, following up with sites that did not respond, organizing information that was provided to create a document that is (hopefully) visually appealing and makes sense to those who open it. These other museums can then choose to distribute or not. The design process also involved thinking of a preliminary framework to make the transition from printed media to digital media. A grant to help make this happen has already been identified.

I like that the process and product drew on a student’s existing strengths (design and marketing) placed in a new context – prehistoric museum venues and applied archaeology.  As Allison noted, the choice to print and use the brochure is up to the individual museum.  She will pursue grant funding to expand the scope of the map beyond the rather artificial end points initially determined by Chucalissa’s geographic mid-point in Memphis.  She will also adapt the brochure for an online presence.

An important point learned by both Allison and the rest of the class in the brochure creation process is the often fragmented and silo-like interest of cultural heritage venues.  State-owned institutions are often not permitted to promote venues outside of their states.  For example, if we employed such a policy at Chucalissa, we could not promote the Mississippian culture Parkin or Hampson Museums located within a one hour drive across the River in Arkansas but we could promote the Old Stone Fort site located 7 hours east in Manchester, Tennessee.  Students in the class were surprised by this reality expressed explicitly by some of the venues contacted and implicitly by those who did not respond to Allison’s multiple inquiries.

Allison’s brochure project also reflects the Wordle from the final day of class I discussed in an earlier post.  That is, applied archaeology is a community process that breaks down boundaries or silos between interest groups to recognize that each institution’s wants and needs are best served by a common whole.  Certainly, the breaking down of silos is one of the lessons that institutions of higher education are learning is key to their survival.  Allison’s brochure provides a glimpse into how this approach might work for cultural heritage venues.  I am pleased not just with the excellent brochure Allison produced but the process, discussion, and education that students and the participating cultural heritage professionals gained from this project.

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