A Lesson Learned in Cultural Heritage Co-creation in Hualcayán, Peru
I am in Hualcayán, Peru through the first part of August as a part of the Proyecto de Investigación Arqueológico Regional Ancash (PIARA) Team that conducts archaeological research, cultural heritage, and economic development in this small 400-person village in the Andes highlands. I first became interested in PIARA several years ago when I posted an interview with the founder and current Co-Director of PIARA, Rebecca Bria. I now have the opportunity of joining with PIARA and leveraging resources, building relationships and providing educational opportunities in my capacity as Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and professor in the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis.
I consider the very essence of co-creation to be the process by which all parties approach an issue on equal footing to address a need. To that end, this summer PIARA is partnering with teachers in the Hualcayán school to create educational resources based on their specific requests of the community. The expressed needs center on health care, global warming, education, cultural heritage and economic development.
This past Monday evening members of the PIARA team met with six teachers from the Hualcayán school about our participation in classes over the next three weeks. The meeting was very productive in laying out a strategy for our work. At one point, the history teacher for the high school Maestro Leodain noted that he had textbooks on the history of Peru, but there was no resource on the history of the Hualcayán community itself. He identified such a resource as a true need for the community.
The discussion then turned to using the Flip video cameras donated to the Hualcayán school by WriteMemphis in Tennessee, U.S. as a tool for collecting oral histories about the community. All agreed that a 50-page or so small paperback book would be ideal to present the synthesis of the oral history interviews. Elizabeth Cruzado Carranza PIARA Co-Director noted that a book format would exclude many elderly in the community who did not read and only spoke Quechua. A video available on DVD and electronically could help disseminate the history beyond the printed page.
The consensus of the meeting was to move forward with the oral history project. The planned class presentations for the next three weeks to the high school students were modified to include training on the use of Flip cameras to record oral history projects. The students will be guided in creating a set of questions to ask their parents and elders about Hualcayán history. The students will also consider other materials where historic information on the community might be obtained. When Elizabeth and I return to Hualcayán this coming January for a brief visit, we can assemble the information obtained by the students in a book form for publication. The final draft will be sent to the teachers of the Hualcayán school for their final editing. We project publishing the book and DVD by the Third Annual Cultural Heritage Festival in August of 2015.
I often quote John Cotton Dana who wrote nearly 100 years ago in The New Museum, “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.” In the above example, the community needs a documentation of their history. PIARA is being fit to co-create that product.
The meeting was a learning experience for everyone. For the PIARA Team, we learned that our practice of listening and being responsive to the expressed community needs continues to be an effective tool to live into our mission. The teachers attending learned that the obstacles of creating a resource on the community history could be overcome. PIARA could not create a history of Hualcayán book without community input. Prior to the Monday meeting, the community had not identified a way to create such a product. Together, both parties will co-create the history. Stay tuned to see how this project develops.