museum institute trains professionals from the Marianas in collections management | Way of life

Kneeling on plastic protecting the floor from paint splatter, Guam museum curator Michael Lujan Bevacqua painted leaves sprouting from a coconut on a large mural taped to the wall of the East-West Center Gallery in Honolulu while a dozen others watched and considered what they would contribute to the design.

“Perfection is not what we are looking for,” said Meleanna Aluli Meyer, a Native Hawaiian visual artist and filmmaker who was guiding the group on the mural project.

When completed, the work will visually represent the Pacific Island cultures of those in the room, members of a professional development program launched in January with six months of virtual classes.

The program, Weaving a Net(work) of Care for Oceanic Collections: A Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Museum Institute, was organized by the East-West Center in partnership with the University of Hawaii at the Department of American Studies at Mānoa.

Following the bi-weekly virtual sessions, participants from Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Aotearoa, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea and Samoa joined their Hawaiian counterparts in Honolulu for a month-long, in-person institute that culminates in an exhibit that opens Sunday at the center gallery.

Members of the cohort, who work in museums and cultural heritage centers, visited historical institutions and learned from experts about the care, conservation and exhibitions of the collections.

“What I was hoping to gain was knowledge of the types of equipment we need to best preserve the materials we hold and generate and collect, including materials in the CHamoru language,” Elyssa said. Santos, Special Projects Coordinator. to the Kumision i Fino’ Chamoru which manages the commission’s CHamoru archives.

“So there’s the practical side of it, but I’m also interested in learning more about indigenous methods of collections care, which is what I love about this program,” Santos said.

“They have always allowed us to compare Western practices as well as Indigenous or Pacific practices in the care of collections. So basically I’m interested in how to indigenize these practices in our home space.

And, as the name of the program suggests, creating a network across the Pacific that will continue beyond July has been one of the main goals of the institute.

“For those of us who come out of academia and work in Western institutions, we often don’t have the space…to be able to openly share our challenges, the microaggressions and sometimes…our cultural values ​​that are central to the kind of work we do,” Santos said.

“This program really gives us the space to decompress all of that. So what’s great is that we learn from each other and we also see a lot of parallels in our experiences, and we’re able to find solutions simply by sharing, crying and discussing together.

The depth and impact of these newly created connections among the cohort was visible even to the program organizers.

“The biggest surprise was how quickly they formed a sense of unity and support for each other,” said project director Noelle Kahanu, associate public humanities and Native Hawaiian programs specialist at the within the Department of American Studies. “And that he very clearly crossed cultural boundaries. … It’s like coming together as a people, as a community, and it’s manifested in many ways.

“I didn’t really understand what it means to bring them together to see these relationships form, to see people laughing and crying and joking,” Kahanu said. “We know we’ll be successful because we’ve created a network, and so when there’s a typhoon in American Samoa…they’ll have us, but they’ll also have each other to reach out.”

“It was such a powerful, amazing, blessed and wonderful project – beyond measure.”

She discovered a precedent for the program at the university: about 50 years ago, the East-West Center had offered a six-month training course in ethnomusicology, museology and archives management to people from the Asia-Pacific region, according to a flyer about the institute. .

The center agreed to co-host the 21st century version of the institute, and with the help of the Pacific Islands Museum Association, they developed a direction and format based on an assessment of the needs of regional institutions. .

“In the Pacific we have climate control issues, so even looking after your collection is so difficult because you have infestations, you have mold issues, and so even having the professionals they talk to about the curatorial issues, it’s amazing for them to now have these resources, these professionals they can go to and know what to do about these kinds of things,” said Annie Reynolds, curator of exhibitions and collections for East-West Center Arts Program.

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