Sunday, October 23, 2022

Exhibition Layers: Small but Mighty in Prague


I've spent more hours than I could possibly imagine working on how to tell complex stories in exhibitions:  how to layer a story,  how to draw people in, how to include multiple perspectives, and most of all, how to make it something where people want to look, to read text labels, and something where visitors walk away talking about it.  As those of you who also do this work know, it's really hard!

So when I see an exhibit that really is layered, that really draws people in, and is the first exhibit produced by an organization, I really want to share it.

This summer in Prague, I had a chance to see the exhibit "Sandarmokh – Where the Trees Have Faces"  produced by Gulag.cz, an organization dedicated to documenting gulag sites of the former Soviet Union (and elsewhere).  Gulag.cz was also the sponsor of a series of workshops I did in the Czech Republic this spring--their work is tremendous on many levels.  

What were the layers?  First, the exhibit is the story of Sandermokh,  "a distant place in Russia’s Karelia, close to the Finnish border, and the scene of a massacre that was meant to be forgotten. As the Stalin repressions peaked in 1937–1938, more than 6,000 people of 56 nationalities were executed there. In addition to many Russians, Karelians, Finns, Ukrainians and the members of other European and Soviet nationalities."  

Second, it's the story of historian Yuri Dmitriev from the Memorial association in Russia. Dmitriev and colleagues from the St. Petersburg Memorial office located Sandarmokh precisely in 1997, and they found and documented the names of the majority of those executed in the years that followed.  But the official attitude of this work has changed greatly over the decades.  Dmitriev was unjustly arrested, tried three times, and finally sentenced by the Russian Federation's Supreme Court.  He is now serving a sentence of 15 years in a Russian penal colony.

The third part of the story is that of Memorial International, a co-winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize but also an organization that Russia considers a direct threat and which has faced repeated challenges to its work in Russia and has been disbanded there (though it continues its work elsewhere).

And the final part of the story: Gulag.cz issued an open call for art relating to the topic.  More than seventy artists responded with an astonishing variety of work.  When I saw the exhibit in Prague, just a few of the works were on exhibition, with others to be shown at each location. Once the tour is completed, the works will be auctioned off to benefit humanitarian aid to Ukraine.




What made all these stories, all these layers, work together in a small-scale panel exhibition when we often see layering attempts in big, expensive exhibits that fail?  Here's the elements that I thin made it work.

People-centered.  This exhibit is about people, about Yuri Dmitriev and his work, about others at Memorial, about those killed in the forest, and the artist statements give us an entirely other group of people to consider.  No matter where you are in the exhibit, people are at the center.  The goal of Stalin was to eliminate people and in every way, this exhibit reinforces that these people, and these stories matter.  It's particularly relevant as Stalin's tools are returning every day in Ukraine.

Different ways of learning.  You can look at the artwork--some of it easily accessible and some of it more challenging.  You can read the labels.  You can look at a recreation of Yuri's desk.  You can look at historic photos of those who were killed and more recent, yet historic photos of memorial ceremonies at the site.

Really well-written labels.   I was lucky enough to visit the exhibit with Stepan Cernousek and Petra Černoušková of Gulag.cz.  When I mentioned how well-written--brief and compelling--the labels were, Stepan laughed and said, "oh, that was all Kristýna!  She kept telling us that we had to use less text!"  A big shout-out to Kristýna Pinkrová, a tremendous museum colleague who I also got to know this spring.

Simple, low-budget design.   The exhibit is traveling, so the design needed to be affordable and adaptable to many different spaces. It was a modern, window-filled space in Prague and it looks like a vaulted brick-ceiling space in Brno.  But the design works both places.

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, tell stories that matter.  There are important, vital stories to tell in every community, no matter where you are in the world.  You don't need to do another display of wedding dresses or the chronological history of your town. If you don't think those stories exist, you aren't listening. 

At the Prague opening, Dmitriev himself was able to speak by phone from the penal colony where he is currently unjustly incarcerated and delivered the following thoughts:

"I immensely appreciate your hard work which you do to preserve the memory. However, I think we've done less than we could. At least, those who were engaged in the preservation of memory in the Soviet Union and in Russia. Maybe that's why we live in such difficult times now. Complicated and tragic times. Nevertheless, I don't think we should give up for we must continue to deal with what we have dealt with, to talk about what has happened and what is happening now. For there is a direct connection between the past and the present. That's probably all I wanted to say to everyone here. Good luck.“

These are my own photos--you can see many more, and much better ones on Gulag.cz's site.  Many, many thanks to Stepan, Petra, Kristýna, and all those who worked on the exhibition.  I am so proud to know you and inspired by your work!

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Manifesta 14: The Stories in Pristina


In late August, my colleague and friend Annemarie DeWildt and I set off (see previous post) to Pristina, Kosovo to explore the art at Manifesta 14.   

Manifesta, headquartered in Amsterdam, describes this year's event:

rethink[ing] the relation between culture and civic society, investigating and instigating positive social change through contemporary culture in response to, and in close dialogue with, the social sphere of the Host City and its communities. Manifesta has consistently chosen unexpected host locations that reflect Europe’s ever-changing DNA to shed light on a world defined by changing ethical and aesthetic imperatives. Manifesta, as a recurring event, has transformed itself into a multilayered and inclusive instrument of civic engagement projects. In 2022, Manifesta 14 Prishtina will take place in Prishtina, Kosovo. Manifesta 14 aims to support the citizens of Kosovo in their ambition to reclaim public space and to rewrite the future of their capital as an open-minded metropolis in the Balkans and in Europe through the development of a new cultural institution.

I had encountered bits and pieces of a previous Manifest, in 2014 in St. Petersburg, Russia, and needless to say, this was quite a different experience. Kosovo is a young country, having declared its independence from Serbia only in 2008, and is now formally recognized by more than a hundred countries, although not Serbia, Russia, or China.  The wars of the Balkans, too complicated to explain in this blog post, shaped a great deal of what we saw in Pristina as it continues to echo into and shape the lives of Kosovans and others in the region. 

The art was all over the city, and in just over two days, we visited as many places as possible, which helped us understand one goal of Manifesta, to "support the citizens of Kosovo in their ambition to reclaim public space."  Ir's not a large city, and by walking everywhere, we got a sense of the city itself, encountering artworks and public spaces along the way, creating as it were, our own narrative of this place.   For both of us, I think, we found the works that explored the complex past, present and future of the region most compelling and often found ourselves, as history museum people, talking about the many ways that the artists used narratives in their work--and sometimes wondering about who gets to use whose narratives and who tells what stories.  My understanding of contemporary art is really that of an interested observer--so context, other artistic inspirations, movements and the like are absent for me.

Here's just a sampling of some of the works I'll long remember (and as I write this, so many others return to me--so please explore them all here).

photo: Manifesta 14

Marta Popivoda's Yugoslavia, How Ideology Moved Our Collective Body   looked at the ways in which Yugoslavia's collective body, as shown primarily in found footage of youth festivals, changed over time, from an idea of a collective solidarity, leading to the question she poses, "Why, did citizens so readily abandon the maxim of brotherhood and unity in favour of nationalism, individualism and capitalism? Was there, is there not something to be salvaged from socialism? "  When my daughter was in middle-school, she came home one day having learned about Communism for the first time.  "I don't get it, she said, "it seems like a good idea."  Marta took that sense of a good idea and by brilliant editing and narrative, brought a sense of the collective body and of the possibilities, than then fell away.   The narrative in this was both collective and intensely personal.

Artan Hajrullahu's beautiful small-scale works, done on brown packing paper, are the most personal of narratives, showing images of everyday life in detail that is both realistic and dream-like.  They drew you into imagined lives, where you could both sense his story and create your own narratives.

I find myself often looking at hands and feet in portraits, and Alije Vokshi's work intrigued me.  After becoming fascinated with a laborer's hands, she began putting those large hands, those hands, she says, as  “a signifier of hard work and diligence.”  She makes seen the unseen narratives of hard work done by many,

And of course, I have to mention a story that includes pickles!  Fahrije Hoti and the Women of Krushë e Madhe is an incredible narrative, one not often seen in art exhibitions.  243 men and boys were taken from the village in 1999, now presumed killed by Serbian forces.  Those devastating losses also had economic impact.  In 2005, Hoti, along with other war widows, founded a company to sell ajvar and pickles, despite cultural prejudice against women in business  The company now employs 50 women and their products can be found all over the country.  I wanted to know more of the stories in the installation, but the inclusion alone in Manifesta told a particular narrative of feminism and resilience.



All of the above works were in the Grand Hotel, built in the 1970s and including, in an of itself, numerous narratives.  Half of most of the floors were stripped back to the concrete and used for exhibitions, but in the other half, the hallways and rooms remained. We got a glimpse of Tito's restored apartment (both creepy and cheesy) there and learned about the art that had once been on its walls. 



The work of Alevtina Kakhidze from Ukraine, "Invasion, 2022"  shared a different kind of narrative.  Her drawings and botanical samples combine to help us understand more about Ukraine's vibrant agricultural life--and at the same time, those plants, she proposes, can be examples for us, spreading around the world.  Plants, she says, "are pacifists as much as possible on this planet. They don't kill each other in an instant; they don't run away either in case of danger." Plants as storytellers!


At a historic hammam, 
Chiharu Shiota created a work of narratives that I found both beautiful and frustrating.  This installation is composed of hundreds of handwritten memories about the Kosovan war.  But whose are they?  How are they collected? How are decisions made about their use?  Is the goal (does art need a goal?) for us just to consider that memories are always a cascade together?



And finally, the
Hertica Schoolhouse and its many narratives provided the most memorable experiences of the trip.  It was the only place we had to take a taxi to, with the driver questioning why we would even want to go there.  In the 1990s, ethnic Albanians set up more than 400 schools in homes, essentially creating a parallel school system to teach in Albanian, which was banned in schools.  Mehmet Aliu-Hertica offered his home for high school students who met there for more than nine years, with classes running in shifts all day long.  The house was damaged by fire and now stands empty.  We were lucky enough to have Aliu-Hertica's daughter (above,right)  join the mediator on our tour to share her own memories and stories.  The future of this building is unclear, but I was struck by the power of this kind of fighting against oppression--not with guns and bombs, but rather with the power of knowledge. 


I saw so many other artists' works I was intrigued by, admired, or in some cases didn't understand at all.  I was particularly drawn to those works that helped me understand more about the city, the country and the region even though so many questions still remain.

As we traveled around the city, we talked about often how these works, using narratives, can inform the work of history museums.  Are we too concerned with only the factual truth?  What is the role of emotions in our work?  At the same time, can we do something that artists cannot?  

Yesterday on Twitter I came across this from writer Hilary Mantel, as part of tributes to her unexpected passing that somehow helped me connect artists and historical narratives. In a 2017 Reith Lecture, she wrote:

Evidence is always partial. Facts are not truth, though they are part of it – information is not knowledge. And history is not the past – it is the method we have evolved of organising our ignorance of the past. It’s the record of what’s left on the record. It’s the plan of the positions taken, when we to stop the dance to note them down. It’s what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it – a few stones, scraps of writing, scraps of cloth. It is no more “the past” than a birth certificate is a birth, or a script is a performance, or a map is a journey. It is the multiplication of the evidence of fallible and biased witnesses, combined with incomplete accounts of actions not fully understood by the people who performed them. It’s no more than the best we can do, and often it falls short of that.

In Pristina, many artists turned  those scraps of history, personal and collective into something new, and for me, helped turn history from just a map, just a scrap, into a journey.  Here's just some other bits and pieces (I notice that I am also attracted to artwork that uses text!)



[Special thanks to Annemarie for asking me along on this adventure and to the many terrific young mediators at every venue.]

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Back to Blogging? On the Road Again


For more than a decade, I blogged regularly--I aimed for once a week.  But, since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, I have managed a measly total of 8 posts, with absolutely no posts since May 2021.  Every once in a while, I think about it, and don't quite manage it.  It's been a time of change for sure--I shifted to a new position at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience in November 2020 and last year, undertook my non-travel personal project of driving every road in the county I live in--something that proved unexpectedly joyous.  But I think I should jump back in.  I certainly can't promise every week, and for sure, it seems that blogging may be out of style. Is it?  Should I be making Tik-Tok videos?  Doing a newsletter? But blogging it is--and I'm jumping back in with a travel post.

In August, I joined friend and colleague Annemarie DeWildt for a road trip through the Balkans to Manifesta 14 in Pristina, Kosovo and then on to the ICOM Triennial meeting in Prague. Manifesta is a roving contemporary art exhibition, held, I think, every two years.  Believe it or not, I saw an earlier iteration in St. Petersburg, Russia, which seems a lifetime ago. I'll come to Manifesta and ICOM in later posts but will start with the road trip.  


Annemarie and I flew separately to Dubrovnik, Croatia, and took a taxi to Trebinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina (first border crossed).  We overnighted in Trebinje and met the guy who was renting us his car.  Off we went, a bit bumpy at first.  Our first stop was an artist residency in, literally, the middle of nowhere, to the artists' residency Kamen run Kostana Banovic, a friend of Annemarie's. The residency on the shores of a man-made lake and when we arrived, much back and forthing to set up a screen directly on the shores of the lake to show a film by Vita Soul Wilmering. In some ways, this lovely and moving film set the tone for the rest of the trip. Vita uses Dutch tourist films of the former Yugoslavia overlaid with narration by a local man, observing what he says--they are not from here, he says, they are from here, he says about another shot. Who's from here, who's not from here, who belongs and who doesn't were thoughts that continued to resonate as we crossed more borders (Bosnia/Montenegro;  Montenegro/Albania; and Albania/Kosovo) in a single day's drive.   We drove along, up and down mountains, alongside lakes and broad fields, passing roadside watermelons for sale, over and over (and even spotted a watermelon on the walls of a mosque).


We made a stop for lunch in Prizren, Kosovo, which was full, full full of tourists.  But we came upon a quiet corner with a mosque--and a shaded courtyard of kids, including girls, playing soccer and dashing in and out of the mosque, respectfully putting their shoes on and off each time. It made a tourist-filled city seemed like a real place, the place that people lived and cared about. At another stop at a church, we couldn't enter, but the guards, once they learned Annemarie was Dutch, wanted to chat about Dutch footballers from earlier eras.  

It wouldn't be a road trip without a little car trouble, and we put-putted into Pristina under much-diminished power.  Luckily, our Airbnb host recommended the Volkswagon/Mercedes dealer for repairs to our VW Gulf.  In the morning we arrived at the dealer's and explained the issue, with the help of another customer, who, as it happened, had gone to school in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  After a bit, they come out with the news.  The car was twenty (!) years old and this shiny new dealership didn't carry parts that old, but they made a temporary fix.  

Manifesta in the next post, but some observations about travel these days.  We found Pristina to have the nicest people of almost anywhere I've been.  Someone asked me not long ago how I managed in countries where I didn't speak the language (which, to be honest, is pretty much everywhere).  I still remember, pre-smartphones, all the maps that people had to draw me my first year in Kyiv, to do the simplest things!  Pristina had, it seemed, a large number of English speakers, and that, combined with their friendliness, made it really easy.  Annemarie and I were sitting outdoors at dinner one night, trying to figure out why to order from an Albanian-language menu.  The woman at the next table leans over, and says, "can we help you?"  She and her husband explain all the dishes, explain which ones are mostly local, pulls up pictures on her phone so we can see what they look like, and as well, tells us that her mother, sitting with them, makes some of the dishes the best. It's lovely to be back traveling again, and this trip reinforced for me that it's not the big destinations or sights that make it worthwhile, it's the kids in the mosque courtyard or the friendly family next to us at dinner.  

This is an immensely complex part of the world, with the former Yugoslavia now divided into seven countries. For centuries differences have been exploited, often by those outside the region, and wars are within living memory of most people. But at a time when the world seems ever more fractious and despite the many borders we crossed, this trip was a hopeful reminder that there might just be more things that bring us together than we think. (And oh yes, we made the round trip safely back to Trebinje).


For those map-lovers among you, here's the route we drove.



Sunday, May 23, 2021

Most Useful: Community Engagement


I've just wrapped up another semester of the course, International Experiments in Community Engagement for the Johns Hopkins Museum Studies Program.  It's a bit of an unusual course, in which students each semester work in teams with a museum from somewhere in the world that is not the United States to develop community engagement plans for that museum.  So to begin this post, many many thanks to the staff at the four museums who worked with us this semester:  


Four very different museums, four very different places, four very different resources and connections.  But together, they give students the chance to step outside their own country-specific knowledge to push the boundaries of their learning!  And another big shout-out to all of my students this semester, who persevered, despite illnesses, a new baby, layoffs, and much more to all graduate!

I work to update the assigned readings every semester and rely heavily on sources that are not in journals or otherwise hard to access.  At the end of each course I ask students to tell me about the readings/videos they found most useful. I thought perhaps some of you readers might also find this useful.  I try and stay up-to-date, but one video and one reading get mentioned every year.

Angela Blanchard's 2011 Tedx Talk gets mentioned every year by students. This year, one student wrote,   "Her ideas about working from the existing assets of a group, and using these to then build community engagement were quite formative, both in my individual work and the ways in which the Baia Mare team approached our shared projects.  Though this video is now 10 years old, I believe her ideas and the questions she asks (“What works? What do you have?  What are your strengths?”) have really stood the test of time."

An oft-divisive reading but one I still continue to assign is Sherry Arnstein's Ladder of Participation (1969!) because of student comments like this: "It really pushed the limits of my understanding for how institutions should collaborate with their communities. Even my most ambitious ideas still only reached partway up her ladder, and it made me realize how much my imagination has been unconsciously foreshortened. Although the article is dated in many ways, it still struck me as one of the most visionary and bracingly uncompromising guideposts in the semester."

Many students were appreciative of the thoughtful ways in which writers/activists/thinkers/fellow colleagues held museums to account and projected different futures.  Useful readings (and reasons why):

" "We Don't Need New Models, We Need A New Mindset" by Karina Mangu-Ward

challenged how we approach our museum work and the models we've relied on that no longer suit the complex problems we face today."


"I also think that Porchia Moore’s article, “Cartography: A Black Woman’s Response to Museums in The Time of Racial Uprising,” was incredibly useful and important. I think it should be included every semester, because she brings up a lot of important points about how BIPOC, particularly Black women navigate the museum world and we (especially White people) need to be aware of how experiences can vary based on race, gender, etc. and how they intersect."

Although it is from 1988, this piece is still setting the table for conversation! "Elaine Gurian's The Museum as a Socially Responsible Institution because it really opened up a great discussion on to what different kinds of museums should be doing to both support and care for their audiences." 


Readings that focused on the practical also got some recognition. "The Community Building Workbook is a useful and practical tool for planning community-based programs. I know I’ll be referring to the worksheets and templates for future planning." Said another, "Week 5’s 2020 survey posters developed by Susie Wilkening are crucial in understanding our polarized society and how museums can use this information to inform decisions regarding programming and exhibits."


I do ask students to read the first chapter of Rainey Tisdale and my book Creativity in Museum Practice because I continue to believe that we all need to understand and develop our creative practice to shape better museums and to be in greater service to our communities. It's great to hear that they continue to find it useful!


Duds this semester? I tried teaching logic models for the first time to really get at issues of impact. Big fail on my end, so if you have some great reading about logic models, please share. One reading I'll be dropping because it feels like the field may have moved on is Judith Dorbryzinski's negative take on crowd-sourcing museum exhibitions from 2016.


But what am I missing? When you think about museums and community engagement, what readings or videos inspire you? Let me know in the comments!


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Looking at Layers


It's been a full year at home--which for me is a small hamlet in Delaware County, NY in the northwestern Catskills.  I've been able to spend it here, zooming away, socially distancing with a tiny group of friends, and trying to get out for walks every day (okay, not in the deepest winter!).  But as spring approached this year, for some reason I decided to take on a new project.  This spring (until June 21) I am working on driving every single road in this very large county of 1467 miles.  

It's a county where I used to drive a great deal.  At the start of my museum career, I was director of the local historical association and went everywhere--speaking at a Masonic Lodge in Hancock, going to hearings about watershed protection, driving down dirt roads to look at an artifact for donation, undertaking a project of mapping barns in towns, and spending a week at our tent at the Walton Fair.  But my career path has taken me far away from this so I thought it might be both fun and interesting to do a bit of exploring (if you're interested in regular updates, follow me on Instagram at @lindabnorris).

As you can see from this map, I've got lots to do.  I'm appreciating having a paper map and am marking roads driven as I go.  And, as you can see, I am less than systematic about it!  It's a beautiful place.  Despite being only a few hours outside New York City, it is a really rural place.  Those 1467 square miles only contain about 44,000 people. We tried to count stoplights in the county the other day, and I think there are less than ten.  With rolling farmland,  the branches of the Delaware River, and small towns, there is always something to appreciate.

But what am I am really appreciating is how many layers I can see as I look (also making me appreciate my time at the historical association).  Probably the last eel weir on the Delaware River down near Hancock combined with streams with great trout fishing demonstrate the ongoing importance of water to the local community while a tiny cemetery up on a hill near the Pepaction Reservoir demonstrates how important that water is to others.  The cemetery contains the graves from cemeteries relocated when the reservoir, which provides water to New York City, was built.   That reservoir is not far from Andes, the epicenter of the Anti-Rent Wars of the 1840s, a rebellion against large Hudson Valley landowners.

It's also the time of year when all of your senses can be engaged:  with the car windows open, I've driven through the sweet steam of a sugar shack and the spreading of manure (not a bad smell, it's a sign of farming!) the peepers (take a listen) are out full force every time I drive by a pond, and when I get out of the car to check out a stone wall or a stream, the leaves crunch beneath my feet and I gently touch the lichen on the top of the stone wall.

There are still some dairy farms in the county, but far fewer than their heyday and many farmers maintain those barns with a great deal of pride.  At the same time, new growers and makers are coming to the county, bringing change once again.  This tiny milkhouse was a place where milk was picked up, for transport to a creamery, and eventual transport by rail to the city.  The stone walls up in the woods and places like the abandoned farmstead we found at the end of a dead-end road, dotted with daffodils, all represent the multi-layered place I continue to see as I drive.  Road names and names on a map that are now often just a house at a crossroads testify to the multi-layered of industry and community:  Steam Mill Road, Deposit,  Blue School Road, and many more.  

The landscape also shows me the complex web of economic relationships and income disparity.  Delaware County's per capita income is $27,201 compared to the average US per capita income of $59,279.  For more than a century, well-off New Yorkers have been coming here for rest and relaxation.  Although grand hotels no longer exist (see this sad example below),  there are many big new houses on back roads, built by second-home owners.  The pandemic has meant that real estate is booming--but what does that mean for those locals starting out who would like to own a home?  Can new businesses opened by newcomers boost the economy in a permanent way?  Are there ways to bridge economic and political differences?

 

But this project isn't about finding answers.  Instead, I'm finding both more questions and a great deal of joy as spring arrives up and down these hills and valleys.


Saturday, March 20, 2021

Meet the 2021 Mentees!


I'm already several months into great conversations with the 2021 mentees, so it's long past time for me to share them.  To begin. however, my deep thanks go to all of you who took the time to apply.  It's wonderful to read about your work, your hopes, and ways you're going to change the museum field--and the world.  Thank you all!  The choice is always very difficult, but here are the folks I'm in conversation with this year.


Anna Stratton is completing her MA in History Museum Studies at the Cooperstown Graduate Program this semester.   She comes to museum work from a bit of a surprising place--the cooperative grocery industry.  We've already had some great chats about the ways in which that work--focused on together, the public, the workers, and the mission--can translate into museum work.  Although she was first attracted to the museum field through textile conservation, as a maker herself, she found a shift underway in her thinking.  When I asked applicants to respond to the question, "What are you passioante about?"  she responded:
I am passionate about many things, but it’s no coincidence that I am embarking on a career in the museum world just as conversations about racial justice abound. I am most passionate about racial equity. As a mixed white and Latina woman who grew up in a diverse city, I have always been keenly aware of racial differences, maybe due to the regular “What are you?” question directed at me throughout my life. I have straddled the uncomfortable grey area of being a person of color with a lot of white privilege for as long as I can remember....to be honest I didn’t realize what a non-negotiable this type of advocacy was for me until a few years ago, perhaps coinciding with…ahem…an emboldened white supremacist state. My reaffirmed commitment to antiracism blossomed simultaneously with a deep understanding that I needed to change careers.

Needless to say, it's a tough time to be finishing up graduate school from home and job hunting at the same time.   Anna's interested in development work and is currently interning remotely with Eastern State Penitentiary, along with working on a virtual exhibit on sugar cane workers in Puerto Rico as part of her coursework.  What's the change she's working towards in the field? "It seems so clear and unambiguous to me what museums must do, but first they must outgrow the idea that they are essentially separate from their communities. There might be a lot of problematic history to uncover, but this, too, must be museum work."

From a mentee who's going to school less than an hour from my house, to one much further away.  Anais Walsdorf is currently based in London.  What is she passionate about? 

I’m most passionate about amplifying voices and histories that have been and continue to be silenced, especially colonial histories and their present-day iterations and legacies. I spent most of my childhood growing up on a small island in the Philippines. In the past two decades, I’ve watched how tourism and development have caused immense damage to the environment and the local and indigenous communities. From an early age I was aware of this and the role of money and power in how quickly my home was changing.

Anais is a Visitor Experience Assistant at the Wellcome Collection, a position that has maintained throughout the pandemic lockdowns.  She's worked on a new label putting Napoleon's toothbrush in the context of colonialism as part of a larger project of rethinking permanent exhibits and is also working on team crafting guidelines for supporting researchers using collections related to trauma.  Pre-lockdown, she was also a Gallery Supervisor at the Migration Museum in London and a volunteer with the Museum of British Colonialism.

What would Anias jettison from museums?  "we absolutely need to abandon traditional understandings of what a museum is, and any arguments keeping Western museums from beginning processes of repatriation and restitution."  Another focus of her interest is that the pandemic laid bare, as it did for so many,  "the precarious position of Front of House workers, contractors, and cleaners, despite their being essential to the working of institutions and being the most high-risk."

In her application, Anais mentioned how much she missed the ways in which teamwork, those informal conversations, really lead to creative ideas and actions.  Me too.  And every year, this small mentor program provides me with new ideas and inspiration, widening my circle of colleagues.  Thanks Anna and Anais!