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For IARC Education Department, Native American Community Connections Matter

Jan 24, 2020

IARC Anne Ray Interns Felicia Garcia and Samantha Tracy working in collections vaults, 2018. Photo by Elysia Poon.

For Felicia Garcia, SAR’s new curator of education at the Indian Arts Research Center (IARC), one of the most exciting reasons to be at SAR is the organization’s proven dedication to community that drives much of the work at the IARC.

We spoke with Felicia about what makes the IARC unique, the importance of land acknowledgement practices, and how the education department fits within the organization.

We also share how people from all backgrounds can get involved in the work we do.

Listen to the full interview and find highlighted excerpts below.

Felicia Garcia, Elysia Poon, and Samantha Tracy at 2018 teachers night out event hosted at SITE Santa Fe.

​I think it’s really amazing to see how much this institution prioritizes its relationships with communities. And I feel really lucky that I get to be involved with that and help work on some programs that create opportunities for community members to come in… There aren’t a lot of opportunities for young people to spend time in museums. So I would love to figure out ways to make more opportunities for young adults to connect with the collections here as well.

Learn more about our education programs by taking an Indian Arts Research Center collections tour.

Offered every Friday throughout the year at 2:00 p.m. (and on Wednesdays from June-September) 

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Indian Arts Research Center Vaults, Photo by Byron Flesher

Indian Arts Research Center Vault 1, 2019, photo by Byron Flesher

Full Interview Transcript


Schweitzer: Hi, I’m Meredith Schweitzer. I’m our director of communications and public programs at the School for Advanced Research, and I’m sitting down today with Felicia Garcia, our new curator of education. If you’ve been around SAR for a while, you probably recognize her name because she was one of our Anne Ray interns last year. Felicia, go ahead and introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself.

Garcia: Hi there. I’m Felicia Garcia. I am Samala Chumash from San Ynez, California. I moved to Santa Fe for the Anne Ray internship. I was living in Manhattan and I was attending New York university for grad school, and so I came straight here after that, and have loved living in Santa Fe ever since.

Schweitzer: One of the things I think is so interesting about the work that you were doing in grad school is all of the work that you did on a land acknowledgement project. Can you give us a little background on the land acknowledgement work that you’ve done.

Garcia: When I was in New York, I was going to as many museums as I possibly could, maybe as many as five a week. I absolutely loved it. And something that I was constantly surprised by was the lack of information about the original peoples of that region. And so, to me, it was really shocking because New York is really known for its prestigious cultural institutions, and

I had seen some other museums starting to recognize the original inhabitants of the land on which their institutions reside, and so I was surprised that museums in New York hadn’t also adopted this practice. And so I began to do some research to find out what kinds of resources were out there on the practice of landing acknowledgement, and I didn’t find a whole lot, and so I thought maybe I should take it upon myself to create a guide of my own, specifically for museums who might be interested in learning a little bit more about the practice of landing acknowledgement and might want to adopt it for themselves.

Schweitzer: How do you describe land acknowledgement for people who just have no idea, they’ve never come across it before?

Garcia: It’s really simple. It’s just a statement or even a plaque or really it can take a lot of different forms, but just something that recognizes, pays tribute to the original inhabitants of the land on which an event or a meeting or an institution is permanently residing. So I’ve seen these take the form of a poem. It can be just a really quick, before we begin this lecture, I’d like to recognize that we’re on the traditional lands of the Tewa people. And that’s where we are right now. I’m in Santa Fe where I’m in Tewa territory. And so it can just be as simple as that, but it can also be more complex and give some more information such as maybe the original name for the place or some more historical information or maybe some information about the contemporary indigenous folks who continue to live in that region. And so many cultural institutions have built their name using their collections of Indigenous, cultural, and artistic material. And so I think it’s important too to recognize the huge honor that we have to tell those stories. And a lot of the times people aren’t really aware of the history of a place and the original inhabitants. Like in Santa Fe, you know, there are so many Pueblo communities around the city and they’re just thriving. And I think that it’s really important for us to tell those histories but also bring attention to the fact that they’re still here. You know, that these aren’t people of the past. And while Santa Fe is no longer–we don’t recognize it by its original name–there are still many Tewa people who continue to live here and continue to have deep connections to this place. And so, I think it’s important to talk about that and to bring awareness to people who might not know that history or know the contemporary connections that still exist for many indigenous people.

Schweitzer: Did you find that when you came here as an intern, coming out of this kind of work of looking at other institutions that were doing land acknowledgement and thinking about that so much on kind of a national scale, how did that impact what you are doing as a an Anne Ray intern?

Garcia: When I came to SAR, I was really, I just felt like there was a lot of potential here. You know, as an intern, even before I came here, it was really apparent that there is a really strong connection between, you know, contemporary Indigenous people, the people whose ancestors created the pottery in this collection, there’s still a huge connection between the institution and those individuals. That’s manifested in the artist fellowship program, the community review sessions that we do, and then all of the community visits.

For me, originally going into the museum studies program at NYU, I always thought that, you know, these bigger institutions, these big name museums that have really vast collections, that was where there was the most opportunity because they’re, you know, they have a lot more financial resources and a lot more visibility. But then I think when I came to SAR, I realized that it’s places like the Indian Arts Research Center that have a small staff and a strong connection to the community, there is so much more flexibility in a place like this and ability to try out new ideas and make changes. It’s really amazing that for such a small institution, the Indian Arts Research Center has been a great model for other larger museums, especially with things like the Guidelines for Collaboration.

I remember one day working with Lisa Barrera, the collections manager in the vault, and her and Lily, who was the collections assistant at the time were working on moving this one potter’s works from one community section to another. I asked why they were moving her pieces, and they said that after, you know, talking about it and thinking about it for a long time, her pieces had been stored with the community that she married into, but then they felt that it would be more appropriate for her pieces to be on display with the community that she was born in. And I had never talked to any museum professional about that level of thought that went into collections care and collections management. And for me, I felt like that experience really demonstrated the attention to detail and thoughtfulness that goes into the stewardship of this collection. It’s not just based in scientific or historical methods of museum management or museum theory. There is a lot of thought about the individual and community values. And that really stood out to me as something different that really demonstrated how much people care about their connection to the community and doing right by the folks whose culture and whose families are represented here.

Schweitzer: So talk to me about your new role as the curator of education. What do you see or what do you want the education department at the IARC to kind of go towards?

Garcia: This is a really new position for me and I’m really excited about being able to work with Diego Medina who is education assistant because he does really great work out in the community outside of IARC working with students and with a lot of young people. And so

I think there’s a lot of potential to effect change and to teach students about things that they might not have had the opportunity to learn about in their standard school curriculum. And so I think it’s really exciting that we have the ability to work together and come up with new and fun ways to kind of supplement and enrich their education and maybe teach them something new about the Indigenous communities of this region.

I’m also really excited to work with the interns. I know the internship that I had here was just a really great experience and I felt like I grew so much as an emerging museum professional and I think that it’s a great opportunity for, for individuals who are just entering the field to experiment and find out what they really love about museums and working with collections. And so I’m just excited to kind of find new ways to make the internship program as beneficial and fun as possible for future interns.

Schweitzer: Yeah, it’s really like a different approach to a museum internship than your typical museum because you’re not in a really specific department for the whole internship.

Garcia: Right. So the internship is split into four parts. And so during any given week you are working in five different areas at the IARC. So for a quarter of the time you work with Jennifer Day who’s the registrar here. For another quarter of the time you work with Lisa Barrera, the collections manager; another quarter you work with the curator of education who was formally Elysia Poon, who is now our director, so that’ll be me now, and then for the last quarter of the time you work on your own independent research project. That was something I really appreciate about it; I had the opportunity to work in all these different departments. Previously I had only worked in education and it was kind of, I was kind of stuck where in a position where I had only worked in education and so I could only get other internships in education. So I was really excited to try out registration and collections management. But in the end it turns out that education is what I liked best.

Schweitzer: So it reinforced it for you?

Garcia: Yeah, just confirmed that for me. And so that was really great. I always tell people that the internship is kind of like liberal arts of museum studies. You’re really getting to try a lot of different things and you know, it was nice to have the guidance of Lisa and Lily to make sure that I was learning the proper techniques for all of the tasks that I was given, but that, you know, there was a freedom to try and mess up a little bit and then realize that education was more of my strong suit.

Schweitzer: Yeah, that’s great. You get a little part of each of the departments, which is so cool, I think.

Garcia: Yeah, and it’s nice because you know, now I have some knowledge of what it means to be a collections manager or a collections assistant or a registrar. And so, as I continue to work here, I have the language and some understanding of what other folks duties are. So it makes communication that much easier. And I think that is something really valuable that people can get out of the experience here is the ability to better understand and better communicate with your colleagues at whatever institution you end up at.

Schweitzer: Yeah, definitely. I know you’ve been working with Diego and really the rest of the staff too on some of the existing education programs. I know we do like a lot of school visits, a lot of school groups who come in and do tours, and we’re sort of in this unique situation that, as a research center, we have people coming in pretty regularly, but I’m curious to hear from you, as the curator of education, why do you think the work that the education department does is so crucial?


I think it’s really amazing to see how much this institution prioritizes its relationships with communities. And I feel really lucky that I get to be involved with that and help work on some programs that create opportunities for community members to come in.

You know, we’re always available for Indigenous folks to come in and see the collection by appointment. Something that I’ll be working with Elysia on is bringing back some of the collection seminars and so creating programming for Indigenous folks. I think that’s something that’s really special is that we get to create programs that the community members want to attend and that are specifically designed for them. You know, I think at some of the larger institutions that have Indigenous collections, their focus isn’t necessarily on the communities who are represented by the collections. And so I think it’s really special that, you know, that’s a huge priority here, is our relationships with Pueblo folks and with all of the other Indigenous people who call New Mexico home. I think I’m really excited to continue to develop programs and to work with Elysia and Diego to find new pathways to create opportunities for indigenous folks to come in and connect with the collections here. I would love to see more college-age or high-school-age students in here, specifically Indigenous students. I think that as an undergrad, I would have loved to spend more time in museums. I kind of found my path a little bit later. I didn’t start getting interested in museum work as a career path until I was a senior in college, and so I think that if I had had more experiences to spend time in cultural institutions like this or to interact with individuals who work at places like this, that I would have been a little bit better informed and had a clearer sense of where I was headed from the beginning. And I think it just would have been fun for me, and interesting. And I think there aren’t a lot of opportunities for young people to, you know, spend time in museums. So I would love to figure out ways to make more opportunities for young adults to connect with the collections here as well.

Schweitzer: Well, this has been so interesting. Thanks for sitting with me and we look forward to seeing what you ended up doing in the new role.

Garcia: Thank you.


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