The Proposed Funding Cuts & the Impact on Small and Rural Museums

Mr. Trump’s draft budget blueprint eliminates many environmental, cultural, human services, and science based programs.  I will address two of the programs with which I have direct experience – the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In 2007 I was hired as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a small prehistoric venue in Southwest Memphis, Tennessee.  The Museum had fallen on “hard times” as it were.  In essence, my assigned task was to rejuvenate the place or the Museum would likely be shut down.  Over my nine-year tenure, we eliminated the Museum’s operating deficit and made up past deficits.  Also, the annual attendance doubled.  The C.H. Nash Museum began to play a critical role as a cultural heritage venue in Southwest Memphis, became an integral educational resource for the University of Memphis, and a national model for co-creating with a local community whose tax dollars supported the Museum.  Both the IMLS and CNCS were critical to that process.  Simply put, the successes of the Museum would not have occurred without the support of these two institutions.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services

The C.H. Nash Museum was able to take advantage of several services offered by the IMLS:

  • Connecting to Collections, of which IMLS is a founding partner, awarded the C.H. Nash Museum a set of books valued at over $1500.00 to help us become better informed on the best practices necessary for curating our 50 years worth of collections, many of which had not been properly cared for in decades.  The book award is no longer offered because now the IMLS provides that scope of resources online, a more cost-effective means for distributing the information.  Connecting to Collections also hosts regular webinars on a diverse range of issues.  All Connecting to Collections services are provided free to museums.  This service is absolutely critical to small museums throughout the U.S. that are operated by either volunteer or small staffs.  Specifically, small museums such as Chucalissa do not have access to funds to hire consultants with the expertise needed to conserve, preserve, and present the cultural heritage they curate.
  • The IMLS’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP) proved absolutely critical to our Museum’s turn around.  The C.H. Nash Museum was founded in 1956, but there was limited attention paid to its maintenance or upgrades over the years.  For example, in 2007, no museum exhibit was upgraded for nearly 30 years and many of the collections were not properly curated.  The MAP program consisted of a period of intensive self-study followed by a peer review from a nationally recognized museum professional matched specifically to our institutional needs.  The reviewer provided a series of recommendations grouped by duration (short-term, medium-term, and long-term) and cost (no expense, modest expense, or major expense).  Of importance to our governing authority, the peer reviewer’s recommendations came with the credibility of the nationally recognized leaders in the field – IMLS and the American Alliance of Museums.  The recommendations provided leverage for our Museum and were integral to our strategic plan developments.  Our Museum simply did not have the 15-20 thousand dollars necessary to hire a private consultant to perform these services.  Our total cost for the program was $400.00.

As the recently retired Director of a small museum along with my years of service on small museum boards and professional organizations, without question, the small institution, often in a  rural location will be most directly and negatively affected in eliminating the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Corporation for National and Community Service – AmeriCorps

To the extent IMLS allowed us to strategically reorient our Museum, AmeriCorps allowed us to carry out those changes.  NCCC AmeriCorps is the legacy of the 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps and is composed of youth between the ages of 18-25 who give one year of community service.  At the C.H. Nash Museum, we hosted six AmeriCorps teams over a four-year period.  These teams were integral to our ability to serve and engage with our neighboring community.  We devised a unique partnership where each 8-week AmeriCorps team spent 1/3 of their rotation working on each of three separate components: the C.H. Nash Museum, the surrounding community, and the T.O. Fuller State Park as follows:

  • Teams working in the surrounding community focused on minor to moderate repair and landscaping work on the homes of elderly veterans in the 95% African-American working class community that surrounds the C.H. Nash Museum.¹ In addition, team members served as mentors to neighborhood youth in this underserved community and leveraged corporate support for their projects. ²
  • Teams working at the C.H. Nash Museum developed skills and performed structural improvements to the site including creating gardens, lab exhibits, rain shelters, refurbished onsite housing and much more.
  • Teams working at the T.O. Fuller State Park completed maintenance projects such as refurbishment of picnic shelters and trail maintenance.  The T.O. Fuller State Park is particularly significant in Memphis history as the only such recreation facility available for the African-American community during the era of Jim Crow segregation.

Both IMLS and AmeriCorps teams led to building relationships and leveraging assets to bring additional resources into play that would not have been otherwise available.  For example:

  • The IMLS Connecting to Collections resources allowed Museum staff to generate the types of data based proposals to generate additional economic support from the governing authority.
  • Similarly, the IMLS MAP program help to demonstrate the fiduciary responsibility of the governing authority to the collections and infrastructure of the Museum, leading to additional economic support in the form of staff and material support.
  • The AmeriCorps Teams strengthened community connections that today allow the C.H. Nash Museum to host the community’s Annual Veterans Day event, the annual Black History Month Celebration, provide space and resources for a community garden, provide internships for local high school students, to name just a few.

In summary, elimination of the IMLS and the CNCS will also cut the potential for projects such as those noted above at the C.H. Nash Museum.  In 2012, the House of Representatives passed H.Con.Res.112 that called for eliminating the National Endowments for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts noting that “The activities and content funded by these agencies  . . . are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.”  My examples demonstrate such statements are erroneous.  In fact, as demonstrated in the case of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, the elimination of IMLS and CNCS will directly impact the small and particularly rural museums that serve as the cultural heritage hub for their communities and will not put “America first” an alleged goal of Mr. Trump’s budget.

An immediate and strong response must be sent to all legislators to counter proposals to eliminate these and similar programs that truly do put all of America first.


¹References for this work include the following: Making African American History Relevant through Co-Creation and Community Service Learning by Robert P. Connolly and Ana Rea; The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa: Community Engagement at an Archaeological Site by Robert P. Connolly, Samantha Gibbs, and Mallory Bader; AmeriCorps Delta 5 – Unparalleled Community Service by Robert P. Connolly; AmeriCorps, Archaeology and Service by Robert P. Connolly; AmeriCorps Archaeology and Museums by Robert P. Connolly.

² AmeriCorps NCCC: The Best of the Millennial Generation by Ana Rea.

AmeriCorps Delta 5 – Unparalleled Community Service

Delta 5 AmeriCorps NCCC Team at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa (R.Connolly on right)

Anyone who has follows this blog knows that as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, I am a big fan of AmeriCorps NCCC.  Over the past few years we hosted four eight-week teams.  AmeriCorps NCCC is integral to the C.H. Nash Museum’s outreach to the Southwest Memphis community.  Besides writing about the Teams on this blog, I recently published an article on the experience with Ana Rea, a former NCCC Team leader.

This past month the C.H. Nash Museum worked with the City of Memphis in hosting the Delta 5 AmeriCorps NCCC Team.  We are currently discussing with the city administrators future partnerships to sponsor AmeriCorps Teams.  I am excited that this new partnership will expand the Museum’s collaboration with the City of Memphis and result in increased service opportunities to the underserved in our neighborhood.

The Delta 5 Team was in Memphis just a short five weeks this past spring but accomplished a great deal.  In work coordinated through the City of Memphis, the Team:

  • built four community gardens in city “food deserts” and hosted engagement days at the locations
  • worked with members from the community at Ruth Tate senior center to build a garden
  • cleaned 13 public pools in preparation for summer
  • power washed 40 pavilions in public parks
  • refurbished a wrought iron fence around the Ed Rice community center pool.

Team member Falicia Forward noted that:

The community engagement aspects of the work we’ve done have been the most rewarding. In particular, it was very gratifying to work alongside the seniors at Ruth Tate Senior Center. They really took ownership of the garden, almost before it was even built. In other areas, we interacted with the community as individuals approached the team to inquire about our work. From day one, I felt very connected to the communities we were serving.

Team member Sarah Raposa throwing darts with an atlatl

In the short one week at the C.H. Nash Museum the Team:

  • prepared our Urban and Three Sisters Gardens for spring planting and performed maintenance tasks on the sweetgrass bed, herb garden and nature trail.
  • built several cabinets and tables for our upgraded hands-on archaeology lab
  • processed several thousand prehistoric artifacts curated from past excavations at the Chucalissa site
  • and of course, tried their hand at throwing darts with an atlatl.

AmeriCorps NCCC Teams are well-suited for  a diverse set of cultural heritage projects, particularly those that involve the local community.  For more information on the application process – whether to host a Team or joining if you are between 18 – 24 – contact AmeriCorps NCCC.

Co-creation & #MuseumsrespondtoFerguson

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Veterans of the U.S. military attending Black History Month event at the C.H. Nash Museum, 2012.

Spearheaded by Gretchen Jennings, a timely Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and Related Events has circulated on the internet over the past few weeks with follow-up Twitter discussions at #MuseumsrepondtoFerguson.  Much of the discussion on this subject addresses the disconnect between museums and the communities they are meant to serve.  (Note: I use “community” to include the spatial and other demographic dimensions of the term.)

A key component for museums to engage with communities to address issues such as Ferguson, or any issue for that matter, is to be at least perceived as a stakeholder and social asset of the affected community.  If a museum is divorced from and does not reflect the community needs, there is no reason for that community to consider proclamations around Ferguson or racial justice as anything other than a jailhouse conversion.  I suggest that the community engagement process must be in place long before the events such as Ferguson occur.

John Cotton Dana’s 1917 statement is fitting: “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.”¹  In 2002, Ellen Herzy asked “How do we encourage museum professionals, trustees, and volunteers to engage with community in open and useful ways, as civic leaders but also as community members . . . Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough.  What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations.”² More recently, Nina Simon articulates that co-creative relationship in a call for museums “to give voice and be responsive to the needs and interests of local community members; to provide a place for community engagement and dialogue; and to help participants develop skills that will support their own individual and community goals.”³

My takeaway from the above include:

  • Co-creative processes are not museums functioning for the community but with the community.  The distinction necessitates having a recognized and committed stake in the community’s expressed needs.
  • The co-creative process must be part of the normative operation of the museum, not just in crisis situations.  This distinction necessitates a museum to have a long-term commitment and co-creative action plan.

The Incluseum challenges to think of  “What “right now” actions can museums do to show solidarity?”  At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa in Memphis, Tennessee, we are emerging from a half-century of either ignoring or having a very limited engagement with the community surrounding our museum that is 95% African-American.  Based on my admittedly limited experience, I offer the following:

  • Hosting Black History month events provide an excellent opportunity for a museum to be of service to the African-American community.  In February of 2015, such events can provide a forum for a discussion of racial justice and other issues raised by Ferguson.  Over the past five years at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, we have moved from a co-creative Black History month event to one where our museum serves as a host per Nina Simon’s Participatory Museum model.
  • The C.H. Nash Museum sponsors and helps coordinate multiple community service learning projects that form a bridge between the community and museum. Our concept of community service learning aligns with Kronick et al where the museum “listens to the concerns of the group or person, lets the ‘other’ define the situation, and responds by trying to meet that need. In listening and learning, receiving and giving, the service-learning relationship is horizontal, lateral, parallel. It is not hierarchal”
  • Today is the day a museum can begin a long-term commitment to the process.  In so doing, museums will be better able to organically respond to current and future issues affecting the communities in which we serve.

A summary of our experience in community engagement at the C.H. Nash Museum is presented in this article.

¹ John Cotton Dana, The New Museum (Woodstock: Elm Tree Press, 1917), 38.

² Elizabeth Hirzy, Mastering Civic Engagement: A Report from the American Association of Museums.  In, AAM (Ed.), Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums (pp. 9-20).  Washington, DC: American Alliance of Museums.

³ Nina Simon, The Participatory Museum (Santa Cruz: Museum 2.0, 2010), 187.

4 R.F. Kronick, R.B. Cunningham, and M. Gourley, Experiencing Service Learning (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press) p. 23.

AmeriCorps, Archaeology, and Service

River 2 Team (l-r) Chassie Nix, Cindy Robertson, Tatyana Samuel-Jefferson, Katelyn Tharp, Linda Nag, and Chelsea Crinson

The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa is hosting our 5th AmeriCorps Team through November 12, 2014. I have posted several times in the past about the role these exemplary youth play in cultural heritage and community engagement in Southwest Memphis.   The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) program is a ten month volunteer commitment for 18-24 year olds who assist in disaster relief and other areas of community service. The River 2 AmeriCorps NCCC Team we now host is an all women construction team based at the Southern Region campus in Vicksburg, MS.  The Team is made up of one team leader and five corps members.

Team Leader Chassie Nix is from Amory, Mississippi.  She has completed higher education coursework in political science with a desire to get into Mississippi politics in the future. She joined AmeriCorps to make a difference in the community and better understand the day-to-day life of people from diverse backgrounds.

Chelsea Crinson is from Sterling Heights, Michigan.  She joined Americorps after feeling the pull to do more after participating in a 2013 project that helped with ongoing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.  She joined Americorps to continue what she loves. Chelsea is a pastry school graduate, but plans to further her passion for helping people by working for a non-profit after her November AmeriCorps graduation.

Katelyn Tharp is from Knoxville,Tennessee.  She joined Americorps to gain new experiences, meet new people and see the south in a way she never had before. Katelyn is looking forward to starting at Aveda Institute Beauty School after the AmeriCorps program along with getting certified as a Zumba instructor.

Linda Nag is from Portland, Maine.  She joined Americorps to help people in low income communities and to build her resume. Linda became a Certified Nursing Assistant and Medical Assistant during her previous term in Job Corps.  After graduating from AmeriCorps Linda will continue her education by studying for a B.S. in Nursing.

Cindy Robertson is from Kings Mountain, North Carolina.  She came to AmeriCorps  to help in low income communities and be a role model for youth. Like Linda, Cindy is a Certified Nursing Assistant who plans to further her education by going to school for nursing after the AmeriCorps program.

Tatyana Samuel-Jefferson is from New York City, New York.  She joined Americorps to devote her time to volunteer work, make a difference in children’s lives, and to travel and experience people and places she had never seen. Tatyana has an Associates Degree in Education. After her term with Americorps she plans to further her studies in education to become a school teacher.

The River Two Team is currently performing a complete renovation of the C.H. Nash Museum Hands-On Lab

During their six-week round in Southwest Memphis, the Team will complete a diverse set of projects.  Already they have spent one-week refurbishing trails and buildings at the T.O. Fuller State Park.  In the Walker Homes neighborhood they painted and landscaped the home of a disabled Vietnam-era veteran.  At Chucalissa they completed work on a 30 square foot pergola and built a second rain shelter along our nature trail.  For the next two weeks the team will work on refurbishing our hands-on archaeology lab.

The AmeriCorps NCCC motto of “We get things done” is true in many capacities.  Chucalissa’s AmeriCorps Teams have proven a key component in our Museum’s ability to play a role in the Southwest Memphis community.  In addition to hosting the Teams who contribute their work skills in a variety of community construction and renovation projects,  the young men and women of AmeriCorps participate in volunteer, youth mentoring, and other service projects.  Work with veterans organizations is of particular importance to team members.  Not just in Memphis, but throughout the U.S., AmeriCorps NCCC Teams are increasingly taking part in cultural heritage projects.

For more information about AmeriCorps NCCC Teams visit their website.

AmeriCorps, Archaeology and Museums

This past Friday I participated in a session at the Annual Meeting of the Tennessee Association of Museums that considered the role of AmeriCorps NCCC Teams at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  Below is a portion of my presentation:

In the past year, we logged about 2500 community service learning hours at Chucalissa.  The hours are primarily attributable to AmeriCorps NCCC Teams.  We also worked with a host of other service learning groups including State AmeriCorps teams and alternative spring break students from throughout the Midsouth.  

Team pic
AmeriCorps Team and Homeowner

In addition to a considerable amount of collections work, over the past two years the NCCC teams completed a host of other projects at Chucalissa.  For example, they conducted a shovel test program in the “meadow” area of Chucalissa to determine if there were any intact archaeological deposits.  They expanded the community garden that had outgrown its original bed.  Over a one year period, three different AmeriCorps Teams worked on successive construction phases of our replica Mississippian house structure.  This past fall, a team built a 30 x 30 foot pergola so that we could have a covered shelter for outside activities.  They also built a rain structure along our nature trail.  AmeriCorps Teams are the best when it comes to clearing and refurbishing trails, and then have done a good bit of that at Chucalissa too.

All of these projects are certainly interesting and very worthwhile.  In fact, Wendy Spencer, the Corporation for National and Community Service CEO appointed by President Obama, stopped by Chucalissa when she was in town to check in on the work of the AmeriCorps Team.  This past year, Chucalissa was honored to receive the Sponsor of the Year Award for the Southern District of AmeriCorps NCCC.  But I suggest that the reason for the visit, the award, and the success of our AmeriCorps program extends beyond completing the tasks I noted above.  Instead, I believe that the AmeriCorps experience at Chucalissa brings together the very best of the community service aspect of AmeriCorps with the civic engagement that is very foundation of the modern museum in the United States.  I am fond of quoting John Cotton Dana’s 1917 statement from the New Museum where he challenged practitioners to “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.”

In 2007, the University of Memphis and by extension Chucalissa, had a less than stellar reputation in the Westwood community of Memphis, the location of our Museum.  Area residents were concerned about the stench from the sewage treatment plant, code violations, and crime rates.  The community perceived the University interests as research from which the University made money and faculty gained prestige but with little or no relevance to the community.  As one resident stated at a community meeting I attended in 2007 “Don’t tell me what the University of Memphis is going to do for my community.  The last time you were here doing your research for two years and all we got was a map on the wall.”  The man was right.

That brings us to another part of AmeriCorps work at the C.H. Nash Museum.  Since 2007, the C.H. Nash Museum staff began to reconsider our role as an educational resource of the University of Memphis.  Now, a central focus of the Museum since 2007 is to engage the surrounding community in all aspects of Chucalissa’s activities. The engagement flowed from the museum’s commitment to begin functioning as a social asset and stakeholder in the Southwest Memphis community.

Over the next four-year period we participated in many collaborative and co-creative projects with the surrounding community (detailed in this article).  In 2012, through a partnership with T.O. Fuller State Park and the Westwood Neighborhood Association, we proposed a 3-way partnership for an AmeriCorps NCCC Team.  Over an eight-week Round, we proposed that the Team would spend about one-third of their time working at T.O. Fuller State Park, one-third of the time working in the community, and one-third of their time working at Chucalissa.  The University of Memphis put a good bit of money and labor into rehabbing a residential facility at the Museum to house the AmeriCorps Team.  In the past two years, we have hosted four eight-week AmeriCorps Teams.

In the Westwood Community, modifying John Cotton Dana’s 100-year-old suggestion, we sought to “Learn what aid the community needs: and fit the Museum and AmeriCorps to those needs.”   Those needs focused on working with the elderly and veterans on fixed incomes to correct code violations or perform minor to moderate structural repairs on their homes.  For example, in the fall of 2013, the River 4 AmeriCorps Team performed an exterior makeover to the home of an 88-year-old WWII Veteran in the Walker Homes neighborhood, a community established for returning African-American veterans in the late 1940s.  Mr Ford Nelson, the Veteran homeowner, had lived in the house for 60 years.

AC Vet 13
AmeriCorps Team presenting Veteran’s Day Banner at the Westwood Community Center.

A highlight of each AmeriCorps Team is their participation with the community in a Day of Service, whether on 9/11, Martin Luther King Jr. day, or Youth Services Day.  This past November, the River 4 Team presented a banner they created honoring veterans at a Veterans Day event at the Westwood Community Center.  The presentation was a BIG deal.

Here is how this all comes together.  The AmeriCorps Teams provide the Westwood neighborhood with a community service that they desperately needed and wanted – correction of code violations and housing rehabs.  The AmeriCorps Teams also are instrumental in allowing the C.H. Nash Museum to engage with the community in cultural heritage projects.  This intersection is reflected by Mr. Ford Nelson, whose house the AmeriCorps Team worked on in November, attending and speaking at the Black History Month event hosted at Chucalissa in February.  This intersection also allows the President of the Neighborhood Association to be a strong advocate and participant in the planning for Hidden Histories cultural heritage program collaborations between the community and Museum for the summer of 2014.

2012 Veterans Honorsmall
Veteran’s Day Banner created by AmeriCorps Team

This intersection is the essence of Civic Engagement as envisioned over one decade ago in the American Alliance of Museums seminal publication Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums.  As Hirzy wrote in that volume

“when the museum and community intersect – in a subtle and overt way, over time, and as an accepted and natural way of doing business . . . Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough.  What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations.”

That sentiment is a critically important part of the AmeriCorps experience at Chucalissa.

In 1986, during my first archaeological field experience, the instructor, the late Dr. Patricia Essenpreis told us on the first day “If you cannot explain to the visitor why their tax dollars should go to support these excavations or keep this site open, you might as well go home.”  I puzzled over this mandate for many years.  Today, I find the mandate comes down to being relevant.   The AmeriCorps experience is part of our Museum’s relevance to the communities that support us through their time, energy, and resources.

We find this process is not linear or without ambiguity.  But the community engagement does not detract in any way from the components of our mission related to the prehistory of the area.  In fact, we argue that through our multi-faceted work with AmeriCorps, we invite more stakeholders to the table for dialogue. We believe this incorporates the very essence of the International Council of Museums definition of a museum that notes they are “. . . institutions in the service of society and of its development.”

A Lesson in Cultural Heritage Relevance on Veterans Day

2012 Veterans Honorsmall
2012 Veterans Banner Presented by the Delta 9 NCCC AmeriCorps Team

In my last post I talked about accountability in reporting cultural heritage studies to the public who often both fund and are the subject of the research.  As an example I used the public response and request for copies of a recent issue of the journal Museums and Social Issues that summarized the last five years of community outreach by the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.   My colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Bollwerk offered an interesting challenge to my blog post.  She noted that while certainly impressive that ten members of the community paid 19.00 for copies of the journal, she also questioned if publication in the journal really qualified as pubic accessibility?  She asked about the responsibility to truly disseminate the report as a readily accessible public resource and not one that required paying 19.00 for an issue of a professional journal. I noted that I offered to make pdf copies of the article available, but that the community members wanted the actual “book” and not a xerox.

With that exchange fresh in my mind, this past Friday I attended the annual Veterans luncheon sponsored by the Westwood Neighborhood Association (WNA) in Southwest Memphis.  Approximately 30 African-American U.S. Military Veterans attended this year’s event.  At last year’s gathering, members of the Delta 9 NCCC AmeriCorps Team who were working on home maintenance and rehab projects in the area presented the attendees with a banner that featured the names and photos of WNA veterans.  At this year’s event, members of the River 4 NCCC AmeriCorps Team presented the veterans with another banner to honor their service.  A focus of the River 4 Team’s current work in Memphis is repair and maintenance on the house of 88-year old WW II Veteran, Mr. Ford Nelson, who has lived in his home for 60 years.  The AmeriCorps Team presentations each year are incredibly meaningful to the Veterans present.

The President of the WNA, Mr. Robert Gurley, often comments to me that the community’s military service was never properly recognized in the past and the memory has begun to fade.  As an aid in reviving that memory, the role of African-Americans in the U.S. Military was the theme chosen by the community for the 2012 Black History Month celebration hosted at the C.H. Nash Museum.   When we first discussed the idea of putting together the banners as a physical reminder of veteran service, the WNA community went into high gear to find the photographs for the banners.  That process was not easy as for many the mementos of that period lost their relevance upon their return to the Jim Crow era South, the rising anti-Vietnam war movement, and the assassination of civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

At this past Friday’s meeting, as the 30 veterans introduced themselves, Mr. Gurley pointed with pride to the photographs of those present that were represented on the banners created by the AmeriCorps Teams over the past two years.  Mr. Gurley made special notice that the group photo of veterans at the bottom of the this year’s banner was reproduced in the Museums and Social Issues journal that ten community members had purchased.

In reflecting on these events, Dr. Bollwerk’s challenge makes a good bit more sense to me.  The fact is, although an article published in a national peer-reviewed journal has meaning to the community, copies are not really all that accessible.  The AmeriCorps banners are very accessible and will be hung in the community hall.  Traditional academic values do not reward working to produce banners about military veterans.  Nor will the production of a website such as where such content can be curated “count” on traditional professional career paths.  Only the process of creating these products might be of interest from the professional perspective.

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River 4 NCCC AmeriCorps Team presenting Veterans Banner on November 8, 2013

However, if a museum’s mission is to truly educate, present, and preserve cultural heritage to and for the public, the museum is obligated to present and report research  products in venues that are truly accessible.

How does your institution assure public accessibility to research project results?

AmeriCorps Turns 20 & What That Means For Museums

amcorps anniversary

As anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows, I am a huge fan of AmeriCorps NCCC who just celebrated their 20th Anniversary.  Click on the above link to watch a video about the significance of that event.

In the past two years, AmeriCorps NCCC Teams have come to play an essential role at the C.H. Nash Museum in helping to carry out our mission.  This October 23rd we will welcome our fourth eight-week AmeriCorps NCCC Team.  The Teams live in the Museum’s repurposed residential complex we have named the Community Service Learning Dormitory.

Over the two-year period,  we have evolved an effective three-prong approach to service in Southwest Memphis with AmeriCorps NCCC Teams.

Service in the Southwest Memphis Community

The teams work with the Westwood Neighborhood Association who identify elderly and U.S. military veterans on fixed incomes in need of residential clean-ups to prevent their property from being in violation of city codes.  The teams also perform minor to moderate repair work on roofs and other exterior structural repairs on houses for the elderly and veterans.  For example, this fall’s team will spend about 10 days working on the house of an 88 year-old WWII military veteran who has lived in his home since 1953 in the Walker Homes neighborhood of Memphis.  Walker Homes was launched in the late 1940s as a neighborhood for returning African-American WW II Veterans.

In the past two years we have focused on expanding the role of other community residents in working with the AmeriCorps Team.  For example, this past spring the River 7 Team met regularly with Boys and Girls Clubs in the area.  The Team’s work was also supported both financially and through employee volunteering from the new Electrolux facility located near the Museum.

Service in the T.O. Fuller State Park

Each AmeriCorps NCCC Team also completes infrastructure improvements at the T.O. Fuller State Park located next to the Museum.  The tasks include trail maintenance, painting, and other special projects.  For example, the River 7 Team planted over 800 trees in a new ecological habitat being created at the Park.  The Teams also help in Park community events such as the Annual Easter Egg Hunt and Halloween activities.

The AmeriCorps service at T.O. Fuller has added significance for two reasons.  First, the Park was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Today, AmeriCorps is a legacy of that organization.  Second, T.O. Fuller State Park plays an important role in the cultural heritage of the Southwest Memphis community as one of only two facilities in the United States built in the 1930s as a State Park for African-Americans in the Jim Crow-era segregated South.

Service in the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa

The AmeriCorps Teams at Chucalissa have carried out innumerable tasks including rehabbing the community service learning dorm, building benches and picnic tables, building a replica prehistoric house, trail maintenance, reconfiguring the repository space, artifact processing and much more.  This fall the team will build a pergola-type outdoor activity space, rain shelters along our trail system, and several components of our new Landscape Literacy project.

Community Service and Relevance

The AmeriCorps Team members exemplify some of the very best commitment to service of the millennial generation.  We are particularly pleased with the increased community engagement in the AmeriCorps NCCC projects.  I enjoy that the Teams bring a willingness for flexibility and expanding the box of normal thinking.  These qualities have been critical as the Community, the Park, and the Museum work together on collaborative projects that align with their individual missions.  For example, this fall the AmeriCorps Team will take part in the community reclamation of an abandoned cemetery that draws on the archaeological and cultural heritage preservation expertise of the Museum.  The AmeriCorps Team was also the link that allowed the Museum and Community to collaborate in creating a banner exhibit on U.S. Military Veterans unveiled at the September 11 Day of Service in 2012.  The AmeriCorps NCCC Team highlights the relevance and partnership that comes to the fore in community service learning projects.

So . . . A hearty congratulations to AmeriCorps NCCC on their 20th Anniversary!  Check out their website to see how your organization can partner with this fantastic organization.

AmeriCorps NCCC: The Best of the Millennial Generation

In the last post I highlighted the team members of the River 7 AmeriCorps NCCC Team, hosted by the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa for eight weeks this spring.  I have posted before on the role of AmeriCorps NCCC Teams as a means for community outreach in museum contexts.

For this week’s post I highlight Ana Rea, the Team Leader for River 7.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with Ana during the Team’s round here in Memphis.  She exemplifies the best of the millennial generation’s commitment to service and living into the solutions.  Ana will be leading the River 7 NCCC Team next in Gainesville Florida and then in West Virginia at the Boy Scout Jamboree.  If you are in those areas, track down Ana and her team members to see an excellent example of community service in action.


by Ana Rea

My name is Ana Rea and I was raised and had lived in Greenville, TX since the age of 9 and had never left my small town until I joined AmeriCorps NCCC. After attending Texas A&M-Commerce for one year I decided to take a break and really discover what it was that I wanted to do with my future. I began working at a local dance studio where I became heavily involved in community engagement and community service. Part of my duty as the office administrator was to find opportunities for our dance competition group to be involved with serving others. Annually, Academy of Dance, Music, and Theatre, the studio I worked for, hosted a benefit dance gala that donated all proceeds to the local non-profit organization C.A.S.A. (Court Appointed Special Advocates). C.A.S.A. is an organization that provides advocates for abused and neglected children so that they may thrive in a safe and loving home. I found myself looking forward to this event every year as I was in charge of planning and supervising every aspect of the event. Knowing that I was putting together an event that would help children live in a safe environment was my inspiration to making the event a success every year. That’s when I began to discover what my passion was; helping those less fortunate and community service. After a few years of working at the studio and having some experience in planning benefit events, my family and I decided to create our own fundraiser. We involved the community in celebrating International Day of Peace with various activities like a “Soccer for Peace” tournament, fun activities for the kids, music, food, and a raffle with donated items from local businesses and the renowned Major League Soccer team FC Dallas. The event was a success and we were able to raise a monetary donation for C.A.S.A. to promote peace in children’s homes. Again, an event like the one my family and I put together really solidified what I was meant to do. I began the search for volunteer programs that could give me a better understanding of what I aspire to in a career. That’s when I found AmeriCorps NCCC. This program was very appealing not only in the sense of being able to serve others but in the fact that it is a domestic program that helps communities all over the United States. I was born and raised in Mexico City until the age of 9 when my family decided to move to the U.S. I wanted to begin my journey of “paying it forward” in the country that I now call home, the country that has given me so many opportunities for success and the country that has made me the person who I am today.

AC Electro
Ana with three River 7 Team Members (white shirts), Southwest Memphis community residents, and Electrolux officials who provided financial and volunteer support to the River 7 projects.

It would only be fair that I served my home first. I am currently serving in my second year of AmeriCorps NCCC Southern Region as a  team leader for River 7 and so far, I have been privileged enough to serve in the states of Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Some of the projects that I have been part of include disaster response for Hurricane Isaac,  the Hattiesburg tornado, energy conservation work with Greenlight New Orleans, environmental stewardship projects in mountain top removal sites in the Appalachian mountains, rebuilding homes after Hurricane Katrina and currently working with the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, the Westwood Neighborhood Association and T.O. Fuller State Park in Memphis, Tennessee. I plan on continuing the path of service to others with an open mind and learning something new every day.

Ana can be contacted at

The AmeriCorps NCCC River 7 Team & Community Outreach

Team pic
AmeriCorps NCCC River 7 Team with Southwest Memphis homeowner.

Today starts our final week of eight with the AmeriCorps NCCC River 7 Team at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  River 7 is the third AmeriCorps NCCC Team our Museum has hosted since 2012.  The three teams have operated in a unique partnership with the C.H. Nash Museum, the Westwood Neighborhood Association, and the T.O. Fuller State Park.  The Team worked in the Westwood neighborhood with elderly homeowners to help with landscaping and structural repairs.  At T.O. Fuller State Park the Team planted over 1000 trees and installed signage along the six miles of trail.  At the C.H. Nash Museum, the Team helped reconfigure the museum’s library and repository and completed the refurbishment of a residential facility that will house future community service teams.  The AmeriCorps NCCC River 7 Team also worked with employees from the newly constructed Electrolux plant who volunteered and provided economic support for the home repair projects in Westwood.  Click here for additional information about the River 7 Team.

The AmeriCorps NCCC exemplifies the very positive role that millennials play in our country today.  AmeriCorps partnerships with museums allow cultural institutions to live into one of their defining principles set forth by the International Council of Museums as “. . . institutions in the service of society and of its development.”

As the AmeriCorps NCCC River 7 Team gets ready to leave Memphis and head for their next eight-week round in West Virginia, I asked the nine Team Members and their Team Leader to explain why they joined AmeriCorps NCCC.  Here are their responses.

William Custus (left) and Corbin Beastrom (right)

My name is William Custus. I am 22 yrs old. I’m originally from Baltimore Maryland but I now live in Washington DC. I joined AmeriCorps NCCC on February 11th 2013. The reason I joined AmeriCorps is because I believe in making a difference in people’s lives, and shaping communities to become safer, smarter, and healthier.

Corbin Beastrom is a former college student from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After three years in academia, he dropped out of a world defined by in-class essays, titular student government, and DC internships to embark on what he refers to as, “his first sabbatical.” Following graduation from AmeriCorps NCCC Corbin plans to lead a nomadic lifestyle comprised of graduate school, organic farming, and coffee.

Kaneesha and KT
Kaneesha Frazier (left) and KT Ainsworth (right) get their first taste of crawfish at St. John’s Episcopal church in Memphis.

My name is KT Ainsworth and I am 18 years old and from Bend, Oregon. During my junior year of high school, my dad received a heart and kidney transplant. The community took time out of their busy lives to help my family and make sure my siblings and I were cared for. Seeing just how much a community of people were able to positively affect a family’s life made me want to carry the kindness forward. That is why I joined AmeriCorps NCCC. Seeing the difference my team makes every single day is what pushes me to keep going. I love what I do and who I do it for.

My name is Kaneesha Frazier and I am from Columbus, Ohio.  I joined AmeriCorps NCCC to help strengthen communities. I heard about AmeriCorps NCCC from my school Youth Build in Columbus and I plan to continue my college education in criminal justice upon completion of the NCCC program.

Bobbie Jean Keller (left) and Raymond Smith (right)

My name is Bobbie Keller, I am 19 years old and before AmeriCorps NCCC I lived in Long Beach, Mississippi. I was affected by hurricane Katrina in 2005 and ever since then I have had a desire to pay it forward. AmeriCorps NCCC is the perfect program for me, I get to travel and volunteer.

Hello my name is Raymond Smith. I am 19 years old and from Chicago Illinois. I joined AmeriCorps NCCC in February 2013. I joined because I heard that there was a program that helps communities in need and respond to disasters. I have a passion for helping others and to see that it makes me happy. I also joined to help change and decrease the crime rate by getting out into the communities setting an example for others so our world could become a better place.

John Cipollo (left) and James Burks (right)

My name is John Cipollo. I am 23 years old and I am from Bristol, Connecticut. I joined AmeriCorps NCCC because I wanted to give back to the community.

I am James Burks.  Well my reason for attending AmeriCorps NCCC was to help others and at the same time better myself. I also was interested in the traveling to see and visit different places. I was born in Chicago, Illinois but moved to Park Forest, Illinois. I have other sisters and a brother, but I am the youngest of them all. I wanted to venture off and see what I can do with my life. I like all kinds of sports.  I am 20 years old and I like to chill and have fun. I want to make a difference in our community and I plan to try my best to do that.

John Hamburger (left) and Robert Gurley, President of the Westwood Neighborhood Association with Ana Rea, Team Leader for River 7 (right)

My full name is John Dale Hamburger III, and I am originally from Grand Island, Nebraska but for the past two years I have lived in Chadron, Nebraska going to Pine Ridge Job Corps. The reason I have come to AmeriCorps NCCC is due to the opportunity I have been presented to help others like when I was in Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Grand Island Senior High school. I feel great helping others and when something like AmeriCorps NCCC presented itself to me, I just couldn’t give it up so easily. Also cause I have always wanted to travel to other places and get to know others. Plus I can’t lie – I also did it for the College opportunity and I wanted to make a difference in my family by being the first person out of both sides of my family to finish a four-year college.

My name is Ana Rea and I was raised and had lived in Greenville, TX since the age of 9 and had never left my small town until I joined AmeriCorps NCCC. After attending Texas A&M-Commerce for a year I decided to take a break and really discover what it was that I wanted to do with my future.  I am currently serving in my second year of AmeriCorps NCCC Southern Region as a  Team Leader for River 7 and so far, I have been privileged enough to serve in the states of Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. I plan on continuing the path of service to others with an open mind and learning something new every day.

You can contact the AmeriCorps NCCC River 7 Team at –

In Praise of Low-Tech Approaches to Visitor Engagement

Ghost House frame constructed by AmeriCorps River 4 Team at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa

In just a 30-day period this spring I will attend three museum or archaeology conferences – the Tennessee Association of Museums, the Society for American Archaeology, and the American Association of Museums.  An aspect of these annual events I enjoy are the expo and poster sessions.  They offer an opportunity to engage with a range of ideas and to interact one-on-one with folks.  These experiences go beyond listening to papers, that while often are very interesting, tend to be more monologues where one could just as easily read the book.  Expo events provide the opportunity to see the latest gadgets and digital wizardry in the field.  I am curious about how I will react to these displays this year – particularly since over this past year, when I have focused on the idea of building engaged and sustainable programs.

At the recent Tennessee Association of Museums meeting, I organized a session The Participatory Museum: More Than Just a Hands-on Gig.  In my introductory paper for the session, the prime example of a sustainable and engaging museum I presented was one I have blogged before about –  The Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine, Iowa.  I used this museum as an example in part because the institution is ridiculously low-tech – there is not a touch table, video monitor, audio tour, and as of when I gave the paper, no mobile app for the museum.  The Pearl Button Museum demonstrates that building sustainable and engaging institutions does not require increased funding for the latest in digital technology.  My earlier post explores what makes this place so engaging and participatory.

The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York strikes me as another prime low-tech high impact cultural venue.

African American students who created an exhibit on their neighborhood for the C.H. Nash Museum in 2010 made a similar observation.  During the five weeks of the project they visited several area Memphis Museums including the Pink Palace, the Brooks Museum, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and Davies Manor Plantation.  I was surprised that for many of the students their favorite museum visit was Davies Manor.  At Davies the sole “digital” exhibit is an eight minute intro video shown on a small television monitor in a cramped reception room.  One of the students, Jasmine Morrison, explained that what was so powerful for her during the visit was standing in the big house on the plantation where her enslaved ancestors would not have been permitted to enter.

This past week the AmeriCorps Team now stationed at the C.H. Nash Museum erected a ghost house out of bamboo on top of one of the prehistoric mounds.  We decided to erect the house as a no impact, easily built structure, that used materials already on site, as a representation of a house that would have stood atop the prehistoric mound in prehistory.  This past Saturday I was pleased that this rather simple structure proved to fulfill that purpose for our visitors.

What these low-tech solutions teach me is that we do not need to fall into a trap of thinking that we need high-tech digital solutions to carry out our mission or attract visitors.  We must first allow the visitor to be filled with the sense of time, place, and meaning of their surroundings.  With such engaging programs in place, we then can move to consider how digital technology might enhance the presentation.  Pragmatically, as low-tech solutions are often the most readily employed by cultural institutions already on a shoe-string budget, for that reason, they also remain an excellent starting point.

How do you use low-tech solutions to tell your story?