Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Community-Based Exhibits

The Wing Luke Asian Museum has been a leader in creating community-based exhibits for over a decade. Their model is ask to around within the community that they want to work with for 12-15 people who would be willing to make up a Community Advisory Committee (CAC). Wing Luke tries to ensure that the CAC represents a wide cross-section of the community and then invites the committee to think about what kind of topics, messages, stories, moods, and displays they would want exhibit about their community to include. In addition to providing conceptual direction for an exhibit, the CAC also provides connections within their communities for oral history, artifacts, and other primary-source resources. They also play a major role in publicity and will even help set up exhibits, especially if a display features something with which they have special knowledge, like how to dress a mannequin in traditional garb. Basically, the idea is using the professional skills of the museum staff to help a community tell their own stories and express their culture in a way that give the most possible agency to the community.

Exhibits often feature materials borrowed from people's homes.

Here an artist has gathered letters written by immigrants. Visitors can send the artist a copy of their own family's letters to be included.
Opportunities for the community's voice to be heard do not end with the opening of the exhibit. Almost every room contains a display where visitors can add to the exhibit through their own experience of knowledge. For instance, time-lines will have a book where people can add other significant events that they know of in the life of the featured community. Pictured below is a wind-chime in an exhibit about immigration and deportation; visitors are encouraged to add the names of people they know who have been deported.

Wing Luke has become so famous for their model of community-based exhibits that they now have a handy manual for people like me that describes step-by-step their process in creating an exhibit.

1 comment:

MFConnection said...

This is an excellent example of returning social institutions to a human, local scale. Instead of blockbuster exhibits about some remote topic (in time, space and immediate relevance) such as French Impressionism, it encourages museum goers to care about what has been felt and thought about a subject that is intensely important to them.