As my recent post on "Community Engagement in Commemoration" mentioned I've been thinking a lot about community involvement in the practices of museums and heritage sites. The recent issue of Muse contains a short piece, "Redefining First Nations and Inuit Involvement in Exhibit Planning," by Jameson C. Brant that focuses on similar questions of engagement.
Brant's writing focuses on This Is Our Story: First Nations and Inuit in the 21st Century a new permanent exhibition at Les Musées De La Civilization in Quebec City. Brant maintains that the success of This is Our Story comes from the Museum's practice of consultation and inclusion of First Nation and Inuit people in the exhibit process. She notes, "the messages in this exhibition are fresh and inspiring because they are raw. The content breaks through the stereotypical barriers that have in the past separated museums from First Peoples."
The exhibition content was developed over a two year period and saw the museum working with the 11 Aboriginal nations of Quebec. Consultation meetings were held with representatives from each First Nation and Inuit community as well as various Indigenous organizations. The result was an exhibit that shares the world view of contemporary Aboriginal people. It showcases every day objects, artwork by Aboriginal artists, and integrates the sounds and stories of communities through audio visual components.
This Is Our Story highlights the importance of approaching exhibits and community collaboration with respect, cultural sensitivity, and patience. As Brant notes the exhibition planners "have overcome many of the challenges faced by museums today...creating an educational experience that satisfies the demands of varying audiences. These not only include families, school grounds, tourists as well as the museum's frequent visitors, but also the First Nations and Inuit people themselves."
Creating an exhibit that reflects the desire of the community and provides serves the broader community is a huge task and a tremendous feat when done successfully. It's great to see museums becoming more aware of the importance of building relations and involving community in all stages of exhibit development.