Accepted paper:

Representing Indigenous America in the Teaching Museum: Expanding Engagement at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum


Aaron Miller (Mount Holyoke College)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum's evolving engagement with Native American material culture and communities through examples of changing exhibition strategies and direct collaborations with Native artists and scholars.

Paper long abstract:

The Mount Holyoke College Art Museum (MHCAM) (founded in 1876) and the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum (1932) together form a teaching museum that embraces its collection of more than 24,000 objects of art and material culture. This collection includes everything from ancient hominid tools to Andy Warhol's Sitting Bull. In the last decade, as MHCAM transitioned from a more traditional art gallery to a teaching museum, the mission has evolved to embrace this breadth, particularly material from North American Indigenous communities. The deep holdings of Native American material culture requires consultation with origin communities concerning grave materials and sacred objects (1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act). Compliance with the legislation brought the opportunity and desire to engage with appropriate Native materials through exhibition, community collaboration, and in classroom settings. This new strategy has prompted curatorial conversations on the inclusion of Native art in art museums rather than natural history collections, ideas related to "authenticity" and objects made for the market, art versus craft, and the visibility of contemporary Native American artists on the market and in museums. MHCAM is directly engaging with Indigenous communities in an effort to create a more inclusive and more socially responsible museum. This approach is leading to both meaningful changes in the curatorial process and what visitors encounter in the permanent and special exhibition galleries. This paper will discuss various forms of engagement focused on decolonizing the Museum through community consultation on exhibition strategies and working with Native artists and guest curators.

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Anthropology in the Art Museum