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Director of SAR’s Indian Arts Research Center Collaborates with Field Museum of Chicago on Native North American Hall Revamp

Nov 7, 2018

IARC staff to Advise Museum on New Exhibit Curation and Collaboration with Source Communities
The School for Advanced Research (SAR) is honored to announce that its Indian Arts Research Center (IARC) director Brian Vallo will play an integral role as a community partner in plans to renovate and reimagine the Native North American Hall at the iconic Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. Alaka Wali, the museum’s curator of North American anthropology explains in a recent announcement, “It’s not just a new exhibition—it represents a whole new way of thinking.” The revised approach involves working with community partners who will be advisors in the development of the exhibit.
Brian Vallo, IARC director
Field Museum staff recruited formal partners from Native American communities around the country. Two are from New Mexico: Brian Vallo, from Acoma Pueblo, who now leads the Indian Arts Research Center at SAR, and Tony Chavarria, the curator of Ethnology at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, who was also SAR’s 1995 Branigar intern. “We have been invited to participate in developing exhibit design concepts, selection of objects, narrative development, and to provide guidance on the museum’s approach to addressing culturally sensitive issues – always encouraging collaboration with appropriate tribal communities,” says Vallo. Over the next three years, Field Museum curators and exhibition staff will work with the community partner-advisors in each step of the process.

IARC director Brian Vallo with Acoma potters Pearl Valdo and Dolores Lewis Garcia during a collections review

Scheduled to open in 2021, installations will completely transform the Native North American Hall’s spaces, some of which have not been updated since the 1950s. The Field sees this relationship as the development of an ongoing process rather than a single consultation with native communities. This effort will embrace a new way of collaborative exhibition development informed in part by the IARC’s Guidelines for Collaboration. The set of standards and guiding practices for working with source communities was released by the IARC in 2016. Created by Native and non-Native museum professionals, cultural leaders, and artists, the Guidelines establish a resource for museums who are working in collaboration with communities like the Field. Rather than a set of rules, the Guidelines offer principles and considerations for building successful collaborations. As the publication notes, “True collaboration does not happen immediately—it is process driven and takes time and commitment.” The Field’s long-term approach echoes this sentiment.

Michael F. Brown, President of the School for Advanced Research

Michael F. Brown, President of the School for Advanced Research

“We are proud to be a leader in national efforts to implement new ways of bringing Native American communities into museum planning as full partners,” says SAR president Michael F. Brown.  “Although SAR is a small institution compared to the Field Museum, our location in northern New Mexico brings us into daily contact with descendant communities, opening the door to productive conversations and collaborative stewardship of our collections.  The fruits of our experience are being applied in larger institutions through the country.”

Two years after the official publication, the Guidelines are already influencing national and international conversations on how collecting institutions work with source communities in stewarding and displaying their holdings. The Guidelines were employed in recent exhibits including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York’s exhibit, Art of Native America: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection.


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