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Etan Schwartz


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Etan Schwartz

Etan Schwartz

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  • 1. The National Museum of the American Indian
    April 25th, 2011
  • 2. History of the Museum
    The story of the NMAI begins with George Gustav Heye (1874-1957)
    Collector of Native American Artifacts
    Eventually he turned his collection into a museum in NY
    The museum became part of the Smithsonian through an act of Congress in 1989, signed by President Bush
    “Give all Americans opportunity to learn of the cultural legacy, historic grandeur and contemporary culture of Native Americans”
  • 3. History of the Museum (cont)
    Oct. 30, 1994—The museum’s first facility, George Gustav Heye Center opened in New York City.
    January 1999—The National Museum of the American Indian opened its second facility, the Cultural Resources Center, a state-of-the art research and collections facility, located in Suitland, Md.
  • 4. Museum on the Mall
    Sept. 28, 1999—The groundbreaking and blessing ceremony take place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., at the site of the National Museum of the American Indian. Three planned inaugural exhibitions are planned to highlight objects from the museum’s priceless collection.
    Sept. 14-15, 2002—The museum sponsored a powwow on the National Mall adjacent to the museum construction site. Approximately 25,000 people attended to watch nearly 500 Native Americans dance throughout the two-day event.
    Sept. 21, 2004—The National Museum of the American Indian’s third facility and flagship museum opened on Sept. 21, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in front of the U.S. Capitol. The grand opening included a Native Nations Procession, Opening Ceremony and a six-day First Americans Festival. Opening day alone brought more than 80,000 people to the National Mall, which included Native Nations Procession participants.
    The first national museum in the country dedicated exclusively to Native Americans, the first to present all exhibitions from a Native viewpoint and the first constructed on the National Mall since 1987.
  • 5. Constituents
    Who is the NMAI geared towards?
    All Americans
    “Special responsibility to Native Americans”
    ''special responsibility protect, support and enhance the development, maintenance and perpetuation of native culture and community.'‘
    Director W. Richard West Jr – “Indians would tell their own stories; no outside anthropologists would intrude. The objects would even be available for ritual tribal use. “
  • 6. Funding
    Legislation stated that funding should be half federal and half private
    $100 million of its $219 million from private sources (a third of that from Indian tribes made wealthy from gambling casinos)
  • 7. Curation
    Who is involved and at what level?
    Consultation vs. Collaboration
    Professional vs. Grass-roots
    How is the subject to be understood by visitors?
    Modern vs. Pre-modern vs. Post-modern
    Strict discipline vs. Interdisciplinary
    Static cultural repository
    vs. Dynamic forum
    Debates: Guiding Visions
    Dinosaurs to the left, Indians to the right
    “A museum different.”
  • 8. For those of you accustomed to a structure that moves from point A to point B to point C, this presentation may be somewhat difficult to follow because the structure of Pueblo expression resembles something like a spider’s web—with many little threads radiating from a center, criss-crossing each other. As with the web, the structure will emerge as it is made and you
    must simply listen and trust,
    as the Pueblo people do,
    that meaning will be made.
    - Leslie Marmon Silko, writer
  • 9. Debates: Content
    Accuracy describing past vs. Cultural continuance
    Cold facts vs. Feel-good celebration
    Loss vs. Survivance
    Other issues
    Tribes to showcase?
    “It is hard to see the future with tears in your eyes.”
    - W. Richard West, citing a Mohawk saying at the NMAI Opening Ceremony
  • 10. Debates: Architecture
    Harmonize with environment vs. Reclaim land
    European vs. Native principles of order
    Redolent of times past vs. Modern
    National Gallery of Art, West Wing, near 4th & Constitution
    NMAI, near 3rd & Independence
  • 11. Debates: Critical Reception
    Lacks “scholarship”, lacks “crisp lessons”
    “The notion that tribal voices should ‘be heard’ becomes a problem when the selected voices have so little so say”
    “Understanding…is not a matter of whose voice is heard…it is a matter of scholarship”
    Edward Rothstein (2004), New York Times
    “The Smithsonian accepted the trendy faux-selflessness of today’s historians and let the Indians present themselves as they wish to be seen”
    “Studious avoidance of scholarship”
    Displays “a warm and earthy mysticism with comforting homilies behind every façade”
    “A self-celebratory romance”
    Marc Fisher (2004), The Washington Post
    “The museum doesn’t nourish thought”
    “The exhibitions are a blur” and lack “the glue of thought”
    Paul Richard (2004), The Washington Post
  • 12. The Message
    Focus on the present and the future, not just the past
    Protect Native culture through the preservation, study and exhibition of the life, languages, and history of Native Americans
    Empower the Indian voice
    Not a message of “never again”
    Maintain and foster Native culture moving forward
  • 13. Visiting the Museum
    Three parts to the NMAI experience
    The museum’s collections
    The building
    The landscape
    Background Information
    NMAI collections include more than 800,000 works and artifacts that represent over 10,000 years of Native history and more than 1,200 indigenous tribes from across the hemisphere
    Exhibitions are designed with the collaboration of Native communities from across the hemisphere
  • 14. The Museum’s Collections
    Permanent and temporary exhibits
    Research and Education
    Events and activities
    Mitsitam Café
    Message of condemnation
  • 15. The Building and the Landscape
    The Building
    Wind and water sculpted exterior rock formation
    Sky dome and atrium interior
    The Landscape
    Close proximity to nature
    Features 4 environments indigenous to the Chesapeake Bay region
    33,000 indigenous plants
  • 16. The Museum – A Success
    1.5 million visitors per year
    Established connections across hundreds of native tribes throughout the hemisphere
    Overcame initial criticisms
    Largely run and staffed by Natives
    Successfully achieves its mission
  • 17. Conclusion
    Closing and “re-beginning” the circle of the Mall’s monumental landscape, NMAI says “We are here”
    “No visitor…will leave hearing this message, ‘We are still here—to hell with everybody else.’ Nor will they hear, ‘We are still here—beaten and downtrodden.’ Instead visitors will hear, ‘We are still here—isn’t that amazing and beautiful?’ They will hear, ‘We are still here—we have something lovely to share. Welcome.’”
    –Amanda Cobb (2005), Editor, American Indian Quarterly