The Challenge Of Interpreting Sacred Spaces

By Heather Diamond

At a recent symposium panel about interpreting contentious histories—a topic with which curators in Hawaii are quite familiar—I spoke about the early planning process for several new exhibits in Iolani Palace, and an overview of a 3-day retreat we held with five advisory scholars, a design team, and a consultant. I explained that I wanted our visitors to get beyond the emotions often provoked by our tumultuous story. Rather than having visitors leave the Palace overwhelmed and disturbed by the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, I wanted them to engage with the questions and issues surrounding Hawaii history, to want to know more. In the Q & A period following the panel, a native Hawaiian woman took issue with what I had said. She commented, “You said you don’t want people to leave the Palace disturbed, but we Hawaiians want them to feel disturbed. They should feel disturbed!” I explained that I hadn’t meant to minimize the colonial story or its importance for native Hawaiians, but that many visitors faced with a difficult story are inclined to shut down unless we can guide them past their initial emotional reactions. After the panel a former curator from the National Museum of the American Indian told me that they dealt with this challenge all the time. At both of our sites, we were faced with the same question. How can we tell stories of oppression and loss in inclusive ways? How can we respect the feelings of those whose history we narrate, as well as respond to the sensibilities of visitors we wish to attract, educate, and cultivate?


Iolani Palace, in downtown Honolulu, Hawaii, was built in 1882 by King Kalakaua and is the official home of the Hawaiian monarchs. For many local people and especially native Hawaiians, the Palace symbolizes the apex and demise of the Kingdom of Hawaii. As a site built and occupied by a great chief and King, it has mana, spiritual energy, and is considered by many people to be a sacred space and a living entity. It is periodically a site of protest as well as commemoration. As a result, its interpretation as a museum becomes a delicate matter. We presently tell a story that spans from 1882-1887 with some references to the five years that followed. The restored period rooms of the Palace are the backdrop for a celebratory narrative about King Kalakaua, his consort Queen Kapiolani, and his sister and heir, Queen Liluokalani. This narrative highlights the Kingdom of Hawaii’s international connections and visionary leadership, as well as the monarchs’ sophistication and accomplishments. Now, after over four decades of restoration and refurnishing, we are ready to broaden and deepen our interpretation to tell multiple and more nuanced stories in a broader historical context. Hand in hand with expanding our content is our desire to create a visitor-centered experience that moves beyond a didactic approach to interpretation.

During the 3-day retreat that launched our exhibit planning in 2013, the scholars determined that it was important that hidden stories be told from a Hawaiian-centric perspective and in the context of 19th Century Empire building in the Pacific. As they explored topics like cuisine, music, foreign relations, and protest, their central concern was how the exhibits would speak about and to native Hawaiians. They debated how to present the tensions of colonial encroachment and population loss while focusing on indigenous agency, innovation, cultural revival, and political resurgence. Especially problematic was how to cover post-monarchy history. Currently, the Palace is a site where the American flag is never flown, but it previously housed the Provisional, Territorial, WWII Military, and State of Hawaii governments. Omitting this succession of building uses erases local collective memory and runs the risk of shutting out potential stakeholders, yet inclusive interpretation must be sensitive to emotions surrounding monarchy history and cognizant of what it represents for the future of native Hawaiians.

To expand our view, our consultant reminded us that 85% of our visitors are from outside Hawaii. To be effective, Palace-related stories of chiefly accomplishment, national loss, and cultural revival must be made equally accessible to a wide range of visitors, many with no previous knowledge of Hawaii other than tourist industry packaging. As we move forward with our exhibit planning, our interpretive challenge is to build bridges between a history that is still emerging and what visitors know, to engage their curiosities, and to stir appreciation for an important piece of the human story. We don’t have to stop at what visitors are willing and able to hear if we can find ways to spur dialogue about thorny issues like colonialism and sovereignty. If we do that job well, they may join us as stakeholders, as well as in perceiving the Palace as sacred space.

Heather Diamond is the curator at Iolani Palace and teaches online courses in American Studies for the University of Hawaii. She has a PhD in American Studies and is the author of American Aloha: Cultural Tourism and the Negotiation of Tradition. (U Hawaii Press, 2008).

Connect the Dots: Your Museum’s Energy Use and Your Budget!

By Barbara Larson

EnergyStarWhen I first started working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program, I thought energy efficiency was all about major building retrofits and new facility designs. While such projects can take advantage of new technologies and may result in large energy savings, there are many simpler steps that result in energy savings that can be implemented at little or no cost.

Museums are constantly fighting the budget battle, often with many ideas and too little money with which to implement them. Did you know that a lot of energy is wasted in the average commercial building – typically about 30%? Paying attention and reducing this waste can result in savings on your museum’s utility bill as well as reduce greenhouse gases from the generation of the energy.

A simple place to start is to look at what is turned on (PC’s, conference room lights, etc.). If it is on, does it really need to be? You can conduct a nighttime “audit” to see if there are areas being heated or lit after hours that do not need to be. Of course, certain types of exhibits and artifacts require specific conditions – but look around to find things like meeting or conference rooms, offices and office equipment, hallway or exhibit area lighting, etc. that might be “energy wasters.”

Educating museum staff is important since occupant behavior affects your facility’s energy use; this includes management, exhibit staff, volunteers, janitorial and facilities staff. Ensure that team members from every department are trained in the importance of energy management and basic energy-saving practices. Hold staff meetings on energy use, costs, objectives, and employee responsibilities. Involve them as part of the team to “treasure hunt” for ways to save energy. And it is important to get the support of executive staff and board members, too, so they are onboard with your energy saving goals.

Do all staff members know to turn off their PCs and other office equipment when they leave at the end of the day (or if they are going to be out of the office for an extended period of time)? Enabling the power management function on office computers automatically puts monitors to sleep when not in use. For information about this function, visit Turn off printers, copiers, and fax machines when they’re not in use.

Maintenance is important! Improve operations and maintenance practices by regularly checking and maintaining facility equipment to ensure it is functioning efficiently. If it’s not operating properly, it is likely costing you money. Even simple things make a difference: a dirty air filter makes it harder to push the air through, so it costs additional money and puts more wear and tear on the equipment. Set back the thermostat when the building isn’t occupied. Review system start-up and power-down times to see if they can be adjusted to more accurately match building operating hours.

Lighting for conservation and exhibits is a specialty in itself, but there may be areas in your museum where you can implement some of the lighting ideas presented here (e.g., hallways, lobbies). Adjust blinds to make the best use of natural daylight and take advantage of skylights or other natural daylight sources to reduce artificial lighting during daytime hours. Replace lamps or fixtures with newer LED or energy efficient fluorescent models to save energy and take advantage of utility rebates and incentives to help defray the cost. Timers and occupancy/daylight sensors are fairly inexpensive changes that can result in significant energy savings, especially in areas like meeting rooms or classrooms that are only used periodically. A variety of rebates and incentives are available – check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency at for a listing of federal, state, local and utility opportunities.

Check restrooms, kitchens and break rooms for toilet and faucet leaks – remember that hot water takes energy to heat. Sewer bills are often calculated on the amount of water coming into your building, so extra water used due to drips and leaks is going down the drain and so is your money!

But the ENERGY STAR product list includes much more than just light bulbs. It comprises office equipment, electronics, commercial food service equipment, water heaters, vending machines, heating/cooling and many more categories. By modifying your procurement language to require vendors to supply products that earn the ENERGY STAR and meet the ENERGY STAR specifications for energy efficiency, you will reap the energy savings benefits over the lifespan of the product. Also be sure that you procure efficient water fixtures. Wasting water consumes both energy and water and adds unnecessary costs to your operation. Ratings for many water fixtures are available from at the EPA WaterSense website.

For a more complete list of inexpensive and proven ways to stamp out energy waste see: Stamping Out Energy Waste

Managing your energy is like managing any budget – you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager is a free and interactive energy management tool that allows you to track energy and water consumption for your building (or portfolio of buildings) in a secure online environment. Portfolio Manager can show you where and when your use and costs occur. Get started with energy benchmarking at: ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. In addition, lots of online training resources are available and you can get started at ENERGY STAR Commercial Buildings Training.

If you want to take a more comprehensive approach to energy management – a good place to start is ENERGY STAR for Existing Buildings. There are many great resources here for improving the energy efficiency of your existing building, based on two decades of ENERGY STAR experience and analysis. Go to ENERGY STAR for Existing Buildings and get started!

Barbara Larson supports the ENERGY STAR program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 10, which covers Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. She is a registered Professional Engineer and likes using both sides of her brain – in her spare time she enjoys art, reading and dachshunds.

Contact her at:

From Rez Ball to the Olympics, to Major League and Little League: Inclusion in a Tribal Museum

By Cheryl Hinton

As we experience the great American traditions of Super Bowl and the World Series this season, we may not think immediately of American Indians. Yet, most sports fans know about ancient Indian sports, such as lacrosse, as well as about contemporary Native American sports heroes in baseball, track and football. This slice of American life runs deep in Native America. Sports are important on most Indian reservations in the comradery of tribal families matched with a love for competition and skill. Recently, the Barona Cultural Center & Museum opened the exhibition, Sports: The Competitive Spirit. Our exhibitions seek to enlighten our audiences about traditional Kumeyaay-Diegueño life, as well as contemporary life on the Barona Reservation. For our Tribal audience, we seek to bring depth to their experiences and to honor their history and traditions. The Barona Museum is a place where Tribal history is kept alive and meaningful, especially for the Tribe’s youth, and also for posterity, marking the Tribe’s place in the world.


“Sports: The Competitive Spirit” at the Barona Cultural Center & Museum in San Diego County

This new exhibition was motivated by the Tribal members after Museum staff asked them what contemporary activities were most important on the Reservation. Sports are the obvious answer. As museum staff, we were well aware of this because of the constant invasion of sports activities into Museum planning. We learned that no big gathering of the People is complete without a traditional game of skill, such as the ancient peon, or the invariable softball or horseshoe tournament. As we plan classes, exhibit openings, culture camp, and meetings, we weave them around the sports activities of the Barona people. So, why not celebrate it?

As we set out to document sports on the Reservation, we realized that every family among the more than 300 Barona Tribal members would contribute; in our estimate this was at least 500 Tribal and Community members. With that daunting number, we began to formally and informally interview the community members who were known to be great sports enthusiasts. Our Curatorial and Collections staff of five managed the call for photographs, names, memorabilia, trophies, and uniforms. Under the direction of Barona Tribal Councilwoman Bonnie LaChappa, Brian Van Wanseele, Tribal member, Recreation Department Assistant Director, and President of Inter Tribal Sports, joined as co-curator with Cheryl Hinton, along with Collections Manager John George, Director/Curator Laurie Egan-Hedley, Archivist Katy Duperry, Curatorial Assistant Jennifer Stone, IT Specialist Erin Payne, and Exhibition Designer Lauren Sopata, to create this ambitious exhibition for our small Tribal Museum. Histories were also collected from local organizations such Inter Tribal Sports, high schools, and historical societies in the area. Yearbooks from 1920s to the present day were scanned and digitally photographed from four major area high schools revealing hundreds of photographs of the Barona People involved in sports. Our result was a Barona Sports Roster of over 200 Tribal community members involved in one or multiple sports, including elders, adults, youth, and toddlers.

We began the time-intensive task of contacting Tribal members to obtain permission to use their photographs found in yearbooks and historical societies. We needed 200 signatures to secure permissions for over 400 photographs. This was not easy. Permission to use family photographs can be a sensitive issue, especially among Tribal members. Family members had to contact their relatives not responding to our phone calls. Staff attended a large meeting of the General membership with a table containing folders of the permissions and associated photographs that needed signatures. Perhaps the most successful method was using texting and social media, such as Facebook, to contact people. Messages would pop up on cell phones and people were most likely to respond immediately. Only a few declined permission, while most seemed delighted that we had discovered their accomplishments. Some of the Tribal members brought in large collections of family photos to give us digital copies. Numerous photographs were inputted and processed; photographs are still being added to the digital roster component. We also had over 39 loans that included institutions and personalities ranging from The Pro-Football Hall of Fame, to Lakeside Historical Society, to Pro Golfer Notah Begay’s private collection.

When you put a call out to the Tribal community for something as common and massive as high school sports, Little League, Pop Warner, cheer, Bobby Sox, and Rez Ball, you must be prepared to be inclusive to all of the families participating. That sensitivity is one that is common to small communities, and especially in the egalitarian tradition among American Indian people for group activities. Families on the Barona Reservation are descendants from groups who have lived together for thousands of years—favoritism impedes the peace. The Museum’s goal is to represent all of the families fairly, in the spirit of Tribal society. The solution was an exhibition that became more of a Tribal scrapbook, with over 125 mounted photographs with descriptive labels and 85 objects ranging from a Tribal member’s West Point competitive parachuting equipment to Pro Golfer Begay’s President’s cup and diamond ring. The solution to include all 200 individuals in some way in the exhibition was to create a kiosk with digital “sports cards” detailing accomplishments along with photographs of activities. Tribal members can look up a name or a sport and find the entries of themselves or their family members in the computer kiosk. Their sports card is then displayed on a large overhead monitor and becomes an exhibit element.

Another interesting aspect of the exhibition is that Tribal members’ accomplishments are placed side-by-side with notable Native American athletes such as Olympian Jim Thorpe, the Athlete of the 20th Century; Notah Begay, winner of the noted President’s Cup in Golf award; Olympian Billy Mills, holder of world records in track set in San Diego; and many others including baseball greats Bender, Meyers, and today’s Jacoby Ellsbury. Great stories emerged including one Tribal member who played center in high school basketball against the future NBA player, Bill Walton. Three Tribal members each had professional baseball tryouts with the San Francisco Giants, the Cincinnati Reds and the San Diego Padres. Straight out of high school, pitcher Matt LaChappa was a second round draft pick for the Padres major league team in the 1990s. Alongside these great accomplishments are the excellent athletes who are stars in their schools, local organizations, and Native American basketball and softball teams for Rez Ball. Rez Ball and Inter Tribal Sports have produced young men and women who have traveled across Native America competing with other Tribes in sports, including some at Barona who received Gold medals at the North American Indigenous Games. These contests produce great Tribal pride and honor, perhaps not unlike the original function of a game such as lacrosse, “the Little War,” where hundreds played on the field at one time, tribe against tribe.

Visitors at the exhibit

Visitors at the exhibit

Tribal museums are unique in that we have the opportunity to give an insider’s view of the Native American communities we represent. Some of our approaches may not be considered a best practice by other museums. In particular, being totally inclusive and thus taking the chance to have an out-of-control exhibition design with overwhelming information. One might say that the Museum staff answers to over 200 adult voting members of our community. Elected officials, the Tribal Council, as well as a Tribal Museum Committee oversees the wishes of the Tribal community. We are challenged to seek creative ways to include all who wish to be involved with our rather large Board of Directors, from the toddler who won the baby race at the last Field Day to the elder who is known for her 50 years of managing and playing softball. In the world of American democracy, this Native American tradition is about as democratic and inclusive as one can be. Total representation of the community is a best practice in a Tribal museum.

Cheryl Hinton is the Director Emeritus/ Curator of Collections for the Barona Cultural Center & Museum. As Founding Director in 1999, she helped open the facility for the Barona Band of Mission Indians. She received her MA in Anthropology from San Diego State University and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Cheryl has served as a Board member and former Vice President of the Western Museums Association since 2007. She serves as a panelist and peer reviewer for two Federal granting agencies. In 2007, Cheryl was named Woman of the Year in Art and Culture by the San Diego/East County Chamber’s Women in Leadership Program. Her former museum experiences include Museum Anthropologist and NAGPRA coordinator at the Palm Springs Desert Museum, First Curator, founding the programming, collections, and NAGPRA coordination for the Agua Caliente Tribal Museum in Palm Springs, and Southwest Curator at the San Diego Museum of Man, also serving as a NAGPRA coordinator. As adjunct faculty at University of San Diego and Grossmont College in Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Studies, Cheryl specializes in Southern California Indians, in archaeology, traditional to contemporary tribal culture; American Indian stereotypes; and repatriation (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act).

From Alaska to Utah: A Lifeline to the West

By Susannah Dowds

This post was written by a recipient of a Wanda Chin Scholarship to attended the 2013 Annual Meeting

Susannah during her 2013 internship at the Anasazi State Park Museum in Boulder, Utah

Susannah during her 2013 internship at the Anasazi State Park Museum in Boulder, Utah

Two days before the Western Museums Association (WMA) 2013 Annual Meeting, I was the only grad student in the Northern Studies offices at midnight. In my last minute packing I remembered that I forgot to print out some business cards, so I rushed to the office and waited for the taxi as the printer chugged out cards that repeated: “Susannah Dowds, University of Alaska Fairbanks.” Business cards are familiar symbols of “networking,” a buzzword and a priority among newcomers like me, but despite my stack of little white cards, I never thought that “networking” captured the interactions at museum conferences.

From my earliest memories “network” has been a term favored by technical support after ice storms knocked out the Internet connection. “Networking” also has a corporate connotation of shiny suits that stress “connections” rather than human conversation. As a result, I was pleased to see that my ideas of “networking” ran counter to the WMA pre-conference email stating: “Salt Lake City has a…rugged character, it is often considered as the crossroads of the West. Likewise, one of the elements in the WMA’s mission is fun. With the mountain climate and enjoyable spirit, casual wear is encouraged for the 2013 Annual Meeting.” An annual meeting that celebrated “rugged character,” “fun,” “mountain climate and enjoyable spirit” sounded much better than “professional development.” I knew that all over the western United States, museum enthusiasts were preparing business cards and presentations; I met a colleague from Hawaii who, like me, brought provisions for a night in the airport. Connections made during meetings and conversations offered through the WMA conference and the Wanda Chin Scholarship present a doorway to expertise, belonging, and inspiration. Face to face conversations and contact information is a lifeline. I know from working in a small, isolated community in Alaska, that meeting someone face to face first and then asking for help later is much easier than a cold approach on a listserv or an email out of the blue. Funding and the accepting community of WMA made it possible for a grad school student from Fairbanks, Alaska to benefit from a regional conference in Salt Lake, Utah.

Subsequently, I like to think of museum conferences as community gatherings, and business cards as colleagues. As much as I object to the connotations surrounding “networking,” it is the conversations that arise from sessions, coffee breaks and meals that prove to be the most inspiring parts of regional meetings. My stack of business cards remains in my desk; connecting me with contacts all over the West, ready to offer advice on subjects ranging from grant writing to smartphone platforms.

This trip to Utah in particular was special for me because I had the great pleasure of staying with the talented Megan Keller, curator at the Camp Floyd Stagecoach Inn State Park and Museum. We had met during the summer as I finished up an internship at Anasazi State Park—I was interning at the beginning of the summer, while Megan had been an intern 2 years before. During our first meeting I felt we were on the same wavelength when, on our second cup of coffee, we were discussing the appropriate notation for an enhanced map image that would appear in her exhibit.

This October as I pulled up to the Draper TRAX station I texted: “Hey I’m almost here” and then “I have an exhibit conundrum.” I don’t recall the exact reply from Megan, but I do remember lots of exclamation points. I also remember talking about my Plexiglas problem on the car ride home. Megan was also hosting Suzi Hough, the second summer intern at the Anasazi State Park Museum and we had a fabulous time comparing notes on Boulder Utah, the museum exhibits, and above all, visitor comments. All of us were grateful that Mike Nelson had brought us to Boulder for a summer.

Although I was a newcomer to the Western Museums Association Annual Meeting, I never felt uncomfortable approaching anyone. I think this openness is a credit to the organization; this gathering of highly intelligent professionals is also collaborative. On the first night of the conference I went to the Emerging Professionals meet-up and found myself seated across from Mark Ingalls, the Information Technology Manager technical at the Natural History Museum of Utah. Not being a technically inclined person I was fascinated to hear about the kiosks in Nature Unleashed, a traveling exhibit about natural disasters, I was even more excited to investigate the displays during the evening event at the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Collaboration and community were also apparent at museum sessions. During the Sunday morning session “What Identity-Based Cultural Institutions can Teach Us about the Coming ‘Minority-Majority’ America” museum professionals came together to discuss how identity relates to museums. The United States has long been recognized as a “melting pot,” and museums have responded with institutions centered on diverse identities, but as the American population moves toward having no majority group, institutions that focus on minority cultures must consider demographic changes in the visiting audience. Who are the visitors? How can a museum make exhibits relevant to audiences of diverse age groups and backgrounds? Would a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints member feel comfortable going to an LGBT museum and vice versa? Both the session and the conclusions from the discussion advocated creating a space where viewpoints were expressed and considered. Museums are not usually at the forefront of advocacy, but often serve as power forums of understanding. The discussion, driven by a group of dedicated and knowledgeable people, was an inspiring and democratic expression of tolerance.

Museums are community-centered organizations that strive to broaden the horizons of visitors. Whether located in rural Alaska or Utah’s capital city, each institution provides access to objects, ideas and heritage. Likewise, the people within these museums are a community, a human “network.” The Western Museums Association Annual Meeting and the Wanda Chin Scholarship allowed me the opportunity to bounce ideas, and absorb the creative energy of museums professionals across the West. Lucky for me, a boost of creativity is ready and waiting in a stack of business cards, inspiration is just an email away.

Susannah Dowds is a second year master’s student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, majoring in Northern Studies and Museum Studies. She has lived and worked in Alaska during the past four years. Currently she is writing a thesis exploring Alaska Sourdough that she hopes will become a museum exhibit after she graduates in the spring.

The Wanda Chin Professional Development Support Fund helps support travel and registration for Western Museums Association members and students. The Fund is underwritten by a Silent Auction in the Exhibit Hall of each Annual Meeting. Thank you to all donors and purchasers who have supported both the Fund and professional development it makes possible. For more information, please click here.

Flying Over to See

By Jennifer Miller

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a long hall, but not too long. Around you, you can hear the lapping of water against the shore, birds calling, an airplane flying over in the distance. The end of the hall is darkened save for a projection of a passing shoreline taking up the entire wall. You think you recognize it but you’re not sure. It draws you in with the slow, mesmerizing spanning over this shoreline, as you take a seat, either in a beanbag or leather couch, and relax for a moment.

Immersed within the flyover looking above San Francisco’s marina heading towards Fisherman’s Wharf. A couple sits nestled in their beanbags for the three-hour tour.

Immersed within the flyover looking above San Francisco’s marina heading towards Fisherman’s Wharf. A couple sits nestled in their beanbags for the three-hour tour.

The slow flyover passes over marshes, bridges, a fleet of empty World War II vessels, and even a very large hole in the ground right next to the water’s edge. This is the hybrid landscape that creates the shape of the San Francisco Bay. More often than not, the San Francisco Bay is a part of the horizon or a view outside our window as we drive by it or over it, secured within our closed vehicles.

Intrigue may pull you to wonder where you are around this expansive shoreline, but you won’t find any explanation except for title cards that appear throughout this three-hour tour. The lack of interpretation is very much intentional. Within the exhibition, Above and Below: Stories From Our Changing Bay at the Oakland Museum of California, you will come across this flyover shortly after visiting the “Below” section of the exhibition as a transitional space before entering the “Above” section. Each of these sections explores the interlocking stories humans have had and continue to have with the San Francisco Bay (Above and Below the waters). The intention of removing interpretation for the flyover was to force the viewer to look at the landscape and to introduce them to a surprisingly unfamiliar landscape despite our frequent viewings of it while driving, running, or cycling by it.


Within the Above section looking towards the story about the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. In the foreground is a large floor map of the entire Bay, which draws visitors to find familiar sites such as their house.

The film was commissioned from the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) whose mission is to raise awareness of how humans use the landscape. Appearing as a seamless flyover, CLUI filmed this from a helicopter at 500 feet with a steady speed of 70 miles per hour, negotiating permissions as they approached airways and occasionally landing to wipe the bugs from the lens.

However, the Bay is more than a view, its part of our “Bay Area,” identity, and is an equal character in a very complex story. The Bay is more unfamiliar than we might expect, so vast that you can’t see the entire expanse no matter where you stand. This flyover gives a new perspective to the seemingly familiar, tracing our history with this relatively young body of water.

For dwell-time, this is the most successful component of the exhibition. Visitors sit entranced by this calm exploration easily for 20 to 40 minutes; while writing this, a couple that had already been watching the film before I arrived, quietly talking between themselves, remained an hour later when I left. Time becomes meaningless as each person rediscovers what it means to live next to the largest estuary on the West Coast where 40% of California’s water drains.

At the opening of the exhibition, visitors were frustrated by not being able to track where they were around the Bay, but the team remained adamant that location wasn’t the point, it was to see the landscape. As the exhibition progressed over time, these comments subsided and now most of the discussions held between visitors are guessing…

Where they are, “I think that’s Tiburon;”

Pointing out experiences in locations, “That’s where I saw harbor porpoises;”

Waiting for key features to come up, “I want to see Candlestick [park];”

Or whispering general awe at the film, “This is so neat…wow.”

Large-scale photographs by Doug Adesko of people who work and live along the shoreline are hung nearby. The photographer, when taking each photograph, records the environmental sounds. This is then played over the installed photographs. It is the soundtrack of water lapping on the shore, shorebirds calling or an airplane flying over that, by coincidence, provides a beautiful companion to the film as if the sound was coming from the flyover itself.

Looking towards the Flyover with Doug Adesko’s photographs along the wall. Playing overhead are the soundtracks from each photograph taken which compliments the flyover.

Looking towards the Flyover with Doug Adesko’s photographs along the wall. Playing overhead are the soundtracks from each photograph taken which compliments the flyover.

The primary message of this exhibition is to reflect on the complex relationship humans have had with the Bay. At first glance, it would appear that this relationship is one-sided, how we impacted the Bay; however taking a closer look, the nature of this Bay has also determined what we build and where. An excellent strategic location for military endeavors, ship yards where built where water next to the shore was deeper than the average depth of twelve feet or less. It is also this shallowness that makes it so easy to fill, shrinking the overall footprint of the Bay.

But the Bay cannot always be tamed. Since its most recent inundation 10,000 years ago, flooding what was once a river valley, the Bay has never stopped rising averaging some 2 cm a year. With the inevitability of sea level rise, the Bay calls us to its attention. We are all connected to this liquid landscape.

Perhaps there is no better way of expressing this than by sitting back and slowly flying over it.

The closing date for Above and Below is February 23, 2014. Learn more here.

Jennifer Miller received her MA in Museum Studies in 2011 with an advocacy for a Community of Practice with the visitor by restructuring how our institutions are organized and function. Jennifer strives to develop compelling stories centering on visitor experience. In each of her projects, she looks at all resources (from design, visitor flow, content, and objects) holistically as an advocate for the visitor’s experience. For the exhibition Above and Below, Jennifer’s role was the acting Curatorial Assistant.

Images courtesy of the author.

Delighting Audiences in ‘American Originals: Norman Rockwell and Scouting’

By Angela Fisher

CHM1The Church History Museum had a tremendous opportunity this past year as we collaborated with the National Scouting Museum in Irving, Texas to bring 23 original Norman Rockwell paintings to Salt Lake City in the exhibit American Originals: Norman Rockwell and Scouting. Not only was this a tremendous opportunity in terms of bringing new visitors into the museum and building relations within the museum community, but it also gave us the opportunity to consider new ways to provide the best experience possible for our audiences as they visited this exceptional exhibit.

The exhibit, American Originals: Norman Rockwell and Scouting, would attract several distinct audiences to the museum, including Scouters and Norman Rockwell aficionados. We wanted to provide for the needs of those audiences in addition to inviting our current audiences to enjoy and learn from the exhibit.

Perhaps the most important thing we did was to identify our audiences’ goals in coming to the exhibit. As we worked to align our education materials and experiences with the goals of visitors, we reached our patrons in new and engaging ways. Recognizing the goals of our patrons had a huge impact on the experience they had within the museum.



Putting Scouts to Work

We knew that one of the goals of Boy Scouts is to earn Merit Badges. So what did we do with lots of Scouters that came to visit our museum? We put them to work earning these badges! We provided two booklets in which Boy Scouts could make significant progress toward earning their Art and Scouting Heritage Merit Badges. We did not forget the Cub Scouts, and worked with their organization to provide a special pamphlet that allowed them to earn a special patch as they visited the gallery. Thousands of Scouts came and participated in these activities.



Reaching out to Families

Many families visit the Church History Museum and we wanted them to be able to enjoy this exhibit as well. The dynamics of a multi-generational group can be difficult. How do you address all of their needs? One way that we did this was through Art Detective cards. Children worked with parents to find the answers to mystery questions printed on small cards. To help them find the answer, the card contained a detail within the painting. Finding the painting in the gallery would allow them to solve the mystery on the card. It was not uncommon to hear exclamations of delight as children and parents worked together to discover the art in the gallery.


Interactive art kiosks also allowed visitors to discover Norman Rockwell’s paintings as they “painted” with a digital paintbrush across images of selected paintings. Upon doing this, they could see the way Norman Rockwell used different colors in his process. Visitors looked at Norman Rockwell’s paintings in a new way, observing his process in a way they would not have before.



Working with Limited Gallery Space

We knew that the Norman Rockwell lovers would be less familiar with his Boy Scout paintings and would want to know more about how he became involved with the Boy Scouts. We also were aware that many patrons would want to know how to look at his art and gather new meaning from it. Having a show with Norman Rockwell paintings would attract a lot of visitors, making gallery tours difficult at best and impossible at worst. We worried about sound levels, space, and the ability of visitors to have a quality experience during a tour with a gallery filled with other visitors.

As a solution, instead of providing tours in the gallery, we created a brief docent-led presentation held in the museum theater. It included background on Norman Rockwell and his relationship with the Boy Scouts, as well as interactive discussions that delved into the artwork and prepared visitors to explore it for themselves once they entered the gallery. Visitors commented on how the presentation helped them understand the exhibit better and see Rockwell’s art with new eyes.




Through the six-month duration of the exhibit, we had over 150,000 patrons visit our museum, many commenting on the wonderful time they had as they viewed these American treasures. By thinking creatively to both engage our current audiences and delight our new audiences, we found great success. This was possible as we recognized the goals of our visitors and provided ways that these goals could be achieved as they visited the Church History Museum.

Angela Fisher currently works as an Education and Exhibits Intern at the Church History Museum. She received her B.A. from Brigham Young University in Humanities with an Emphasis in Art History and a minor in Business Management. Her interests within museum education include intergenerational learning, integration of multicultural arts, and interdisciplinary connections.

Second Chances in Salt Lake City

By Meris Mullaley

This post was written by a recipient of a Wanda Chin Scholarship to attended the 2013 Annual Meeting

How many times have you thought, “If only I knew then what I know now, I would have done [blank] differently.”

MerisMullaley_photoWhile perpetual second-guessing is not a productive way to live and work, my recent career change from field archaeologist to museum educator has given me the opportunity to critically evaluate and improve upon my past professional development tactics. Prior to the Western Museums Association (WMA) 2013 Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, I was in a place professionally similar to where I had been as an archaeology graduate student in 2006. I had a basic academic knowledge of industry practices, substantial volunteer and internship experiences, and my professional network was limited to the city where I worked.

I was eager to attend the WMA meeting this year because I remember the benefits that professional conferences had on my archaeology career. They provided opportunities to build stronger ties with other archaeologists, learn about best practices in the field, and gain more topical knowledge. However, with hindsight being a crystal clear 20/20, I realize now that I could have taken a stronger approach to my professional development, particularly in the areas of networking outside of my comfort zone and looking at my development in relation to my organization’s needs. In order to be successful in Salt Lake City, my conference strategies would need to be revised.

What follows are the lessons I have learned about successful professional development strategies, and have tested some of them at the WMA 2013 Annual Meeting:

Slow down: Focus on a few panel topics and stay to discuss those with other attendees in the room. As a graduate student, I mapped out my conference schedule down to 15-20 minute windows, the average length of a paper presentation. I would start the day in Session A, listen to a paper or two, then sneak out and dash across the convention hall to Session B. I might return to Session A or I’d move onto Sessions C & D, and continue this game of musical chairs for the remainder of the conference.

Thankfully, Salt Lake City would not allow me to repeat this strategy. After the sprawling four-block walk from my hotel to the conference, I arrived (embarrassingly) out of breath and occasionally a little lightheaded. The high altitude slowed me down physically, and pushed me to be much more deliberate and thoughtful about my panel choices because I planned to stay put for the full session.

Choose your focus, but widen your perspective: My professional development does not occur in a vacuum. The knowledge I gain and the connections I make also benefit my museum. Early in my career as an archaeologist, I chose panels topics that simply interested me, regardless of whether the topic could inform a project my company was actively working on. It would have been more beneficial to me and my employer if I had sought out panel sessions and networking contacts that helped me develop into a specific role at my job.

The WMA 2013 Annual Meeting was the first time I attended a conference as the only representative of my organization. I was acutely aware that I was there for the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) as much as I was there for myself. My adult public programs role puts me on the front line of visitor engagement, either on the phone or in person through tours, lectures, and workshops. Therefore, my professional goal for the next few years is to become a stronger presenter and educator by learning storytelling skills and being aware of the approaches other museums are using to engage different types of museum visitors through public programs. I selected panels that would help me reach this goal, but I remained aware of other topics that came up in during networking meet-ups that would contribute to MOHAI’s development as well.

I am attracted to adult education and public interpretation because I liked to share history with people. After an inspiring Keynote Session and multiple sessions on storytelling strategies and visitor engagement, I have acquired a different perspective on the work I do at MOHAI. Session panelists reminded me that it is the responsibility of museum educators to turn the mundane into the extraordinary, to help visitors fall in love with a subject to the point that they are motivated to learn more independent of us, and to build personal connections between the content and the public. I had not thought of my job in those exact phrases before, and I am not likely to forget them.

Go to one panel that you know nothing about: This suggestion comes from my manager and it is brilliant. If it weren’t for Lisa Eriksen’s intriguing presentation during the WMA Business Breakfast, I would not have attended Saturday’s panel session on Strategic Foresight. I had never heard of strategic foresight and initially dismissed this panel as something better suited for a member of a museum’s executive staff. But something about this type of futures outlook appealed to my organizational and planning nature. I love data and speculating about the future of society and technology. This session ended up giving me great insight into the museum profession. I gained a stronger understanding for issues museums throughout the Western region will be facing in the near future, and how I can contribute as a new member in the field.

Don’t be shy: Early in my professional career I avoided the Expo Hall because it was full of people. This would not work if I wanted to build professional and personal networks throughout the region for future consultation and collaborations. Something I learned from giving tours at MOHAI is that no one knows I am shy unless I act that way. I recommend walking up to people and just talking to them about anything. What is true for visitor engagement is also true for networking: build personal relationships. If you find commonalities with someone, you are more likely to stay in touch. (I write this knowing that I owe emails to three of my new colleagues.)

Speak up: I resolved to ask one question or contribute at least one comment to the discussions. My younger self used to just silently absorb information from panels and seminars. I did not feel empowered or knowledgeable enough to share my thoughts or perspectives. It was time for that to change.

I appreciated that every WMA2013 session had an implicit expectation that discussion would happen, and I wanted to take advantage of that. As it turns out, the panel discussions in which I participated the most (Strategic Foresight and Partnering with Community Colleges) are the ones that resulted in the most networking connections after the panel adjourned, and they are the subjects that have affected me the most.

Bring business cards EVERYWHERE: You never know when you are going to make a professional connection, and I have found that it is easier to ask someone for a card if you offer one up first. Then once you have someone’s card, write on it. Write what you talked about so that when you review your stack of cards in a month you will remember why you wanted that person’s information. Was it a job prospect, a new friend with a common interest in Doctor Who, or someone you wanted to collaborate with on a program?  

I am so grateful for the Wanda Chin Scholarship, without which I would not have been able to afford to attend the WMA 2013 Annual Meeting. This small regional meeting was a fantastic way to delve deeper into my new museum career. I returned from Salt Lake City with some knowledge about storytelling and accessible programming strategies that I can immediately put into action for our 2014 programs. I also picked up perspectives on diversity, controversial exhibit content, and strategic planning that will be useful during future staff meetings at MOHAI. It was wonderful to meet so many of you. I hope I will bump into some of you again at the AAM meeting in Seattle next May!

Meris Mullaley works at Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) on the Adult Public Programs team. Beyond the realms of history and museums, Meris spends a great deal of her time absorbing an assortment of science fiction and fantasy media, sewing costumes, knitting gifts, and learning to identify the many bird species of the Pacific Northwest.

The Wanda Chin Professional Development Support Fund helps support travel and registration for Western Museums Association members and students. The Fund is underwritten by a Silent Auction in the Exhibit Hall of each Annual Meeting. Thank you to all donors and purchasers who have supported both the Fund and professional development it makes possible. For more information, please click here.