WMA2014: Call for Poster Session Proposals

posterThe Western Museums Association (WMA) 2014 Annual Meeting in Las Vegas will be here before you know it! The WMA is happy to announce the official Request for Proposals for the 2014 Poster Presentations Session. The goal of the poster session is to showcase how museums are changing perspectives and are moving to “Expect the Unexpected,” the theme of WMA 2014 Annual Meeting. This Poster Session is an opportunity to obtain new insights, share ideas and projects, and network with museum colleagues in an informal setting.

The deadline for Poster Session Proposals is Friday, May 30, 2014.

 

Purpose of the Poster Session

  1. To share with colleagues some of the most current work in our field, and engage in dialogue
  2. To encourage emerging museum and small museum professionals to share their work
  3. To showcase projects and research currently being undertaken in and for museums
  4. To encourage museum professionals to seek principles that can guide efforts to improve practice

 

Who Can Submit a Proposal

The WMA is dedicated to serving museums and museum professionals in the West by providing vision, enrichment, intellectual challenge, and a forum for communication and interaction. Submissions are invited from the following:

  1. Graduate students and faculty in museum studies, public history, and/or related fields in the WMA region (AK, AZ, CA, HI, ID, NV, OR, UT, WA, as well as Alberta, British Columbia, Mexico, and the Pacific Islands) who have done significant or promising work on museum-based projects or research
  2. Emerging museum professionals with less than 5 years of experience in the museum field
  3. Staff and consultants working in or with museums in Nevada, the state of the 2014 Annual Meeting

Click HERE to see the full Call for Proposals.

Presentation

Each presenter will prepare a poster, handouts and other materials as relevant, and conference attendees will be invited to walk from display to display, read the posters and other materials, and interact with the presenters. Poster sizes should be between 20”x25” to 30”x42” inches, and there will be easels to stand them on.

Presenters must be available to answer questions and talk about their projects/research on Tuesday, October 7, 2014; 9:45 am – 10:30 am. Presenters must be knowledgeable about the projects/research study. If accepted, presenters will be sent guidelines for content, format, and delivery of materials.

 

Submitting a Poster Presentation Proposal

To submit a proposal, Click HERE to download the Poster Session Proposal Form, and emailing your completed form to Lauren Valone with “Poster Session Proposal – (Your Last Name)” as the subject by Friday, May 30, 2014.

A Product of a Unique Collaboration: Portland Children’s Museum’s “Outdoor Adventure”

By Ruth Shelly

Opening April 22, 2014, Outdoor Adventure, the newest permanent exhibit at Portland Children’s Museum, has transformed more than 1.3 acres of previously inaccessible land into an intentional, education-based outdoor play space where every area is designed to support learning through play in nature.

Portland Children’s Museum is the only children’s museum in the nation that also integrates a tuition-based preschool and public K-5 charter school (Opal School) and research center (the Museum Center for Learning). The Museum, School, and Center inform each other in a dynamic dialog between informal, formal, and professional learning. The Opal School is inspired by the pre-primary schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and the corresponding method, and offers rich learning experiences and environments resulting from the practice of inquiry-based approaches through the arts and sciences. The Center studies how children learn in these environments, and helps to apply those approaches to exhibits and programs in the Museum. The result is an integrated, pedagogical approach based on playful inquiry, where adults and children learn together both in and out of school. Our best practices are shared with educators worldwide through publications, workshops, and symposiums.

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A rendering of “Outdoor Adventure”

The exhibit design of Outdoor Adventure is an exemplary product of this collaboration. Center teacher-researchers studied how students at the Opal School have used the nearby Hoyt Arboretum as an outdoor classroom, and applied that research to design the elements in the Museum’s Outdoor Adventure experience. The new exhibit will be an opportunity for the Museum to demonstrate even greater educational leadership. The Center will use Outdoor Adventure as a laboratory to gain insight into the interaction between children and nature, and to articulate how learning, a love for the environment, empathy, creativity, and expression can be fostered through natural environments.

The Center’s professional development workshops and publications are accessed by thousands of educators from around the world each year. In 2014, the Center’s annual Summer Symposium will focus on outdoor learning and will include a museum educators’ track for the first time. Outdoor Adventure will serve as a new context in which children’s outdoor play may be documented and studied, with dissemination of best practices to show how museums and educational institutions can use nature-play to advance healthy childhood development.

Outdoor play provides a myriad of other benefits like nurturing empathy for other living things, encouraging creative expression inspired by nature, and cultivating a sense of environmental stewardship. As a trusted community resource, the Museum will offer parents a sense of comfort in releasing their children to the outdoors, particularly because open site lines and an observation deck have been incorporated into Outdoor Adventure’s design. This sense of safety is particularly important as today’s generation of parents may not have played outside as children themselves. The exhibit will support both parents’ need for security and safety of their children, while also supporting the development of a relationship between children and nature.

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The Pavilion will be the place for outdoor birthday parties and family celebrations. Museum classes and camps can be held rain or shine.

Building on Outdoor Adventure’s collaboration between the Museum, School, and Center, we will embark on a new strategic plan in Spring 2014 to chart a course for facility and program improvements over the next decade. It is our hope that Outdoor Adventure will shine as an exemplary model of integrated pedagogy, sustainable design, focus on sense of place, and incorporation of local community talent that will provide a foundation for planning for years to come. For more information and images, please visit: http://www.portlandcm.org/mission/outdoor-adventure/

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Groundbreaking at “Outdoor Adventure”

We would like to extend an invitation to museum professionals to visit us on Opening Day on April 22, 2014, or thereafter! Please note, we maintain a policy of no admittance for adults without children, but enjoy giving museum colleagues a tour with advance notice. Contact Executive Director Ruth Shelly at rshelly@portlandcm.org to arrange a visit.

Ruth Shelly is the Executive Director of Portland Children’s Museum. A lifelong museum professional, she has worked as an exhibit director and administrator in museums across the country. Ruth was hired by Portland Children’s Museum in May 2013, and was specifically drawn to this organization for its potential to transform public education, based on the unique combination of the Museum, School, and research Center.

Objects, Meetings, and Picking Favorites: The Making of ‘Imagine That: Surprising Stories and Amazing Objects in the Burke Museum’

By Samantha Porter

Two weeks after I started in my current role at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, I joined the team that was tasked with developing one of the most ambitious exhibits the Museum has created, Imagine That: Surprising Stories and Amazing Objects in the Burke Museum. The mission of the exhibit is to give the visitor an insider’s view of what happens behind the scenes at the Burke, answer some of the common questions that people ask about museums, and reveal how collections show us new things about the world around us every day.

Attempting to explain what a museum does in less than 4,000 square feet and with a finite number of objects is challenging to say the least. I liken it to preparing for a six month long backpacking trip across the Himalayas. To make sure we were prepared in the best way possible, the exhibit development team needed to be diverse. On board were the interpretive director, two curators, a label writer, an audio visual specialist, an education specialist, the digital communications manager, both the registrar and assistant registrar, our exhibit designer, exhibit fabricator, and me, the Community Outreach Coordinator. We then created an exhibit brief that spelled out where we were headed, the institutional goals, guiding principles, and exhibit experience framework.

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Concept Diagram

We discussed the overall concept and determined the sections that we wanted to feature. Then we set out to discover objects and specimens in all fourteen research divisions that fit each section of the exhibit. I scheduled meetings with all of the curators, collections managers, and key members of the exhibit development team to find out from the experts what they wanted in the exhibit. (If I could marry Doodle.com, I would.) In each meeting the wealth of knowledge that each department holds about their collections was apparent. The 15-17 questions we asked in our initial interviews ranged from, “What is the oldest accession in your collection?” and, “Tell us about a newly described or studied object in your collection,” to “Tell us about something in your collection that you are especially attached to, fond of, or have some kind of relationship with that transcends intellectual interest.” The responses were exciting and varied—especially to the last one. Some people responded with a quizzical look and said the specimens in their collection were purely scientific, and some were almost flattered that they got to talk about the object that was most impactful to them and their reason for being at the Burke.

Planning/Inspiration Wall

Planning/Inspiration Wall


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Hippopotamus foot from the mammal collection

The process of selecting the actual objects that fit these categories was sometimes easy and at other times incredibly complex. Selecting the largest, smallest, or oldest object in each collection was fairly simple. However, to pick a series of objects that demonstrates the similarities and differences across cultures proved to be more complicated (footwear and fishing equipment won out). A few weeks after the first interview with each department I experienced déjà vu and had to schedule another series of meetings with everyone. The team that met with curators and collections managers the second time brought the physical dimensions of each shelf and section of the actual exhibit space. These size parameters created a haiku-like space within which each department was able to express themselves. For example, the 3’x 3’ x 3’ “Ology Boxes” required smallish, visually impactful objects that will welcome the visitor and explain each research division of the museum. An exhibition always needs to balance what best fits the exhibit content, what is going to be most engaging to the visitor, as well as effectively explain the story we’re setting out to tell. It is an ever changing process to ensure the visitor’s needs are met as well as the accurate representation of the research divisions at the Burke.

The “Ology” Wall

The “Ology” Wall

After weeks of meetings, conversations, emails, phone calls, and impromptu visits, the lists of objects were compiled. With over 500 pieces from across the Museum, the logistics of gathering and installing each object was an intricate dance of timing, placing, and careful attention to detail. Each department pulled, documented, and staged each piece, after which an exhibit staffer and the registrar came around to pick up each collection and restage it in either the exhibit department or on location in Imagine That. Once each section was filled in the exhibit, it was adjusted by the exhibit designer for aesthetics, optimal visitor experience, and maximum visibility. Once each section was complete, it was properly lit and the labels were applied before it was finalized, sealed and secured.

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Object selection and installation.




The “pile” in the process of being filled with the objects for 'Imagine That'

The “pile” in the process of being filled with the objects for ‘Imagine That’

Two experimental sections that we’ve included in Imagine That are the community curated display and the interactive lab. University of Washington football athletes that are Pacific Islanders make up the first community group. This team of students selected a series of ethnology objects from the Pacific Islands. They shared the relevance of these pieces and why they represent to them the interconnected nature of where their families came from and still live today.

The interactive lab is also going to be awesome. Every day the exhibit is open, there will be staff or volunteers actively caring for collections, dry-sorting, potentially wet sorting, and possibly even doing specimen prep on site. Visitors are encouraged to engage with the person doing the prep work and ask them questions. It’s the perfect chance for the Museum to really participate with the visitor and invite them to learn more about what goes on at the Burke.

Now that we’re in the last few days before the exhibit opens, we’re finishing the install and finalizing the last remaining pieces in order for Imagine That to be engaging, relevant, dynamic and surprising. The exhibit opens on April 12, 2014 and is up through October 26, 2014. We hope to see you there!

 

When you visit Tweet at us and tag us on Instagram; if I’m around I’ll come up and show you my favorite pieces in the show!

Samantha Porter is the Community Outreach Coordinator for the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture. From pangolins and marbled murrelets to clovis points and trilobites, Sam is always amazed by the depth of collections that are held at the Museum. When she’s not out in the community telling people about the fascinating things at the Burke she can be found sneaking around the molecular lab in a lab coat pretending she’s a scientist.

All photo credits: Burke Museum

(Re)learning to Listen

By Jessica Horowitz

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

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Jessica Horowitz

Every year, the Western Museum Association (WMA) 2013 Annual Meeting provides valuable learning experiences through its sessions and events. For me, this conference provides the chance to step back and observe the overall field and gain a greater understanding of how the field is changing and evolving. In addition to gaining perspective on the field, WMA is also a great forum for networking. Despite meeting many colleagues virtually via email, it is always more rewarding to associate a live person with an email address.

Many themes were addressed throughout the conference sessions this year. However, for me, one of the strongest recurring themes was remembering the importance and value of listening. While at first this seems like such a simple task, being aware and open to listening can actually be a challenge. To take full advantage of this practice one needs to be intentional rather than passive. Being reminded of the role of listening in our daily lives stuck with me more than I expected. The role of listening permeates every facet of our organizations. Furthermore, as a field, listening to community stakeholders is vital in order to keep evolving.

It is not an exaggeration to say that in every session I attended, the value of listening was addressed. Moreover, this theme was also stressed in the keynote address and many of the evening events. One example, in the session titled, “Reflections and Projections: Perspectives on the Museum Profession,” Steven Olsen, Arthur H. Wolf, and Gail Anderson expressed how the field has changed over the past few decades. However, in order to keep evolving, museum staff members need to listen to their community stakeholders. The presenters also explained how they valued learning from listening to stakeholders they might not have thought they could learn from. Surprising to them, some of their greatest mentors were those they least expected.

Every department can be improved through listening to your community. Again, while it seems simple, the process of actively listening can be easy to overlook. Other sessions stressed the importance of listening to donors, board members, volunteers, staff members, grantor organizations and foundations.

Additionally, the evaluation process relies explicitly on listening. Listening to your audience and making adjustments based on their feedback will create a stronger experience for both sides. Evaluation provides many valuable forms of feedback. While listening generally implies hearing, with evaluation, museums also have to listen to their audiences by reading and analyzing survey tools.

Similarly, technology’s success in a museum setting also relies on actively listening. When implementing new forms of technology, it is vital to listen to visitor feedback. In the session titled, “Do More Spending Less: Low Cost Technology and Engagement Strategies” it was stressed that some audiences might not be responsive to technology. Specifically, in one case, the audience simply preferred the analog version for providing feedback rather than the higher tech version. In order to better understand your audience’s comfort level with technology, you have to actively listen to their feedback. Then, based on that feedback, make adjustments accordingly.

Listening forces us to focus on the improvement process. Being aware of the process is how you observe change. Rather than focusing on the end product (which can be easy to do), listening forces us to slow down and think about the overall visitor experience.

Finally, listening to your audience about your organization’s potential absence is another valuable way to gain feedback. For example, an interesting approach presented at the conference was to address what your community would be like without your organization. What would the community be lacking in your absence? If your organization disappeared, what would change? Similarly, if you were to look many years into the future, what would you want a newspaper headline to say about your organization’s legacy?

Before the WMA 2013 Annual Meeting, I would have said that I understood the importance of listening. However, it wasn’t until it was stressed at every level throughout the conference that it really hit home. Understanding the significance of listening helped me better understand its overall value.

You never know whom you might learn something from. Every situation can be a learning experience—if you take the time to listen.

Jessica Horowitz works at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology in Berkeley, California as the Development and Interpretation Coordinator. Simultaneously, she is in her third year of the MA/MBA program at John F. Kennedy University. She received a BA from Skidmore College. She was a recipient of the Wanda Chin scholarship at the WMA 2013 Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City.

 

The Wanda Chin Professional Development Support Fund helps support travel and registration for Western Museums Association members and students. The Fund is underwritten bya 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.

Cultivating Conversations and Community: The 2014 CAM Conference

By Sue Lafferty

I made some incredible connections! I reconnected with old friends and felt great to be able to mentor the newcomers during the conference.”

I came away with a renewed enthusiasm for a career in museums and ideas to enhance the mission of my institution.”

I am always so impressed by the spirit of community and reflective practice you and your team are able to cultivate at these conferences, and I cannot wait until next year in San Diego.”

I feel invigorated and inspired again!”

These are just some of the comments made by museum colleagues, following their attending the 2014 California Association of Museums’ Annual Conference March 5 – 7, 2013 in Napa, California. The conference title and theme, Cultivating Conversations and Community inspired a lively and wide-ranging selection of pre-conference workshops, sessions, special events and round-table discussions. And the setting, deep in the heart of the California wine country, couldn’t have been more beautiful.

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Chatting outside the 2014 CAM Conference

Pre-conference activities were a great way to get a head start on all the doings. Conferees explored downtown Yountville, the heart of the Napa Valley, to sample the area’s wines (of course) and explore its art galleries and museums, or spent the morning at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art to learn about the successes and challenges in mounting a major, site-specific exhibit. Others attended intensive workshops on topics like strategic foresight, grant writing, and evaluation. In anticipation of all the networking opportunities over the next few days, Getty Scholarship recipients, CAM Fellows, and members of the Bay Area EMPs and EMP Los Angeles gathered to learn the ins and outs of networking from the pros.

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Attendee name badges at the 2014 CAM Conference

The conference officially began Wednesday evening with a welcome reception at the hotel, followed by the Director’s Dinner at the Napa Valley Museum. There, Jean Schulz, President of the Charles Schulz Museum, was given the 2014 CAMMY Award for her extraordinary and ongoing support of museums. It was she who enthusiastically made it possible for CAM to use Snoopy as the mascot for a new Snoopy California license plate that will honor and benefit museums. (Do you have yours yet??) During dessert, a panel discussion ensued about a recent and unfortunate situation, in which a museum was forced to close its doors just seven years after it opened. The panelists and the audience considered what can be learned from the mistakes that were made, and how to avoid suffering the same fate at their own institutions.

Elsewhere, concurrent dialogue dinners provided informal roundtable discussions on everything from a consideration of museum studies programs to using YouTube to heighten awareness of your museum.

Anticipation filled the room at the Opening Town Hall on Thursday. A museum rock star panel that included moderator Randy Roberts, Assistant Director, Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis; Kathy McLean, Principal, Independent Exhibitions; Lori Starr, Executive Director, Contemporary Jewish Museum; and Richard West, President and CEO of the Autry National Center of the American West were there to tackle the question of the “so what?” of museums, considering questions such as, “what is their core purpose?” and, “how exactly do museums contribute to individuals and society?” What an informative and provocative conversation it was, complemented by a video featuring interviews with James Durston, CNN correspondent and author of the controversial “Why I Hate Museums” piece that ran a few months ago, and got us all talking. Other perspectives on the essence of museums were shared in the video by Chris Norris, President of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections and Senior Collections Manager for Vertebrate Paleontology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History and Claudine K. Brown, the Assistant Secretary for Education and Access for the Smithsonian Institution.

Museum Royale, a clever game devised by the ever-creative Nina Simon and her team at the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz challenged participants to spend the next few days contemplating the basic essence of museums and to join the kingdom of the essence of their choice (see ribbons above). This conference-long quest would crown a new monarch of essence, be it collections, wonder, collaboration, or any other purpose or function of museums, at what would be a very lively, and noisy Closing Session. The triumphant essence? It was a tie between ideas and humanity!

Two full days of engaging and relevant sessions, plus lunchtime learning opportunities and evening events resulted in a conference that had something for everyone. Session topics ranged from “Making the Big Ask” in fundraising, to measuring the success of traveling exhibits. The winners of the Superintendent’s Award (see picture below) were honored at the annual CAM luncheon. Maker stations got attendees busy putting their creativity and problem-solving to work through super fun mini-projects to take home and replicate at their own institutions. A lovely evening at di Rosa featuring great wine, delicious food, art and performance concluded our first day. Wine, art, and good conversation with friends and colleagues – it doesn’t get any better than that.

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The winners of the Superintendent’s Award at the 2014 CAM Conference




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Having fun at 2014 CAM conference maker stations

Attendees included excited young museum professionals attending their first conference, to veteran museum folk, all eager to make new friends, gather up new ideas, and learn everything we can to help make our museums better. The mood was friendly and fun throughout – laughter and conversation pervaded every moment both inside and outside the sessions and events. All in all, this could very well be considered CAM’s most successful conference. Certainly it was the most attended, with over 520 participants!

You too can be a part of the fun and excitement. Plan to attend the next CAM Conference to be held February 18 – 20, 2015 in San Diego. Watch for details on the CAM website or Facebook!

Sue Lafferty is a Co-Chair of the California Association of Museums’ Program Committee.

Speak Up! Museums Advocacy Day 2014

MAD2014-1The Western Museums Association (WMA) was a proud Leader Sponsor of the Sixth Annual Museums Advocacy Day – a two-day event February 24-25, 2014, in Washington, DC. While many working in the museum field know that museums play a key role in education, job creation, tourism, economic development and more, many elected officials are not fully aware. In February, WMA Executive Director Jason B. Jones helped support the field by advocating on Capitol Hill for museums and against potential budget cuts for next year. The following is a brief update on Museum Advocacy Day 2014 from Ben Kershaw, Assistant Director of Congressional Relations, American Alliance of Museums.

By Ben Kershaw

A few weeks ago, 8-year-old Spencer Hahn spoke to an audience of hundreds on Capitol Hill before running across the room to leap into the arms of his friend Rex, a giant green dinosaur. It was a wonderful moment, but it was never supposed to happen. When Spencer was born, many thought he would never walk or talk, but he did both for the first time at his local museum. In fact, Spencer’s mother gives Rex and others at the museum all the credit for changing his life forever.

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Spencer Hahn and Rex the dinosaur

Those of us in the museum field spend a lot of time talking about how our institutions are good for the economy, for education, for our communities, and for our souls, and we should. But do you know who can tell these stories in ways even more powerful than us? The people whose lives have been changed by our museums.

That’s why we were so thrilled to be joined at Museums Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. this year by two Great American Museum Advocates. The entire crowd at the Congressional reception—including legislators, Congressional staff, federal agency staff, and museum advocates—lit up when Oakland teenager Simone Batiste spoke about how her local museum inspired her to a career in science. And dry eyes were few and far between when Spencer hugged his best friend Rex.

On February 24-25, 2014, over 300 museum professionals and supporters from around the country met in Washington, D.C. for the Sixth Annual Museums Advocacy Day. They spent their first day brushing up on policy issues and getting the coaching they’d need to make the greatest impact. They heard directly from leaders of federal agencies that support museums and from former Congressional staff about what to expect. The next day, they brought their message to the marble hallways of Capitol Hill. In fact, for the first time ever, legislators in all 50 states heard our field’s message.

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The Anatomy of a Capitol Hill Meeting

Want to know how we were able to make visits to Congressional offices in all 50 states this year? It was in large part because of one man—WMA’s fearless leader Jason Jones—and his willingness to cover meetings from Arizona to Idaho to Utah.

Jason, his fellow WMA members, and other citizen lobbyists asked legislators to support funding for key federal agencies like the IMLS Office of Museum Services. With serious talk of tax reform coming from both the President and Republicans in Congress, they reminded legislators that museums depend on charitable donations for over a third of their budgets. Many also made their legislators mindful that museums aren’t just key educational assets; they are beloved community anchors that receive over a million volunteer hours every week.

The Sixth Annual Museums Advocacy Day was a huge success, and we never could have done it without our sponsors, including the incredible support of the Western Museums Association. But we’ve still got a long way to go before all 535 members of Congress hear from their constituents.

So if you joined us in Washington, D.C. this year, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. If you couldn’t make it, we hope to see you next year.

While you’re thinking about your 2015 travel plans, here are three things you can do to advance the cause of museums everywhere:

  1. Set up a meeting in your legislator’s local office
  2. Take 2 minutes to email your Representative and Senators to support funding for the IMLS Office of Museum Services
  3. Get to know them and connect on social media

Ben Kershaw is the Assistant Director of Congressional Relations at the American Alliance of Museums.  Before coming to the Alliance, he handled tax, budget, and workforce issues for Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). He also previously served under Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), working on a wide range of issues including arts, historic preservation, taxes, and transportation.

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?

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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).