Sparking Ideas

The second half of Letting Go was more thought-provoking to me. I suppose that is because these chapters focused on collaboration and creativity, which are really important to me with projects. Here are a few reflections, and some ideas that these chapters sparked for me:

The Black Bottom
The stark difference in perspectives about the Black Bottom neighborhood between West Philadelphia’s Redevelopment Agency’s 1954 statement of authority and Dr. Pearl Simpson’s recollection of her neighborhood got my attention! The entire piece drove home to me the ways communities can use collective memory to present history. The relationships between the Black Bottom and the University taught me that sensitive topics can be broached with the right attitudes at a collaborative table, but that trust must first be earned. Several ideas popped out of this that we may consider for a group class project: college students mentoring high school students project; pairing generations together to present history, such as the powerful life stories that were shared by the older generation with the younger students. I know that politics of community councils, working with elected officials, and partnerships can sometimes inhibit or even derail projects, but the collaborative aspects of the Black Bottom Advisory Council and community representation to evaluate the project and develop it further worked to their advantage. People’s voices were heard, which is critical. Could we do something with the City of Boise, or some of the State elected officials?

Listening Intently: StoryCorps
I am such a huge fan of this project that I enjoy reading both the pros and cons of it. The debate about “polish” and what gets edited to be presented to the public on the airwaves is very interesting. I do believe there is great power in telling and sharing stories and that sharing common, everyday story resonates with us all. Filene’s statement that the project aims to shift historical understanding by allowing listeners to learn that “ordinary people shape history” is foundational to public history. I agree that facilitated discussions are helpful, as that role can help the more inexperienced or cautious interviewees and interviewers get over tough humps – emotionally and technically during the interview. One of the most intriguing aspects of StoryCorps to me is the trailer and the recording booth environment that StoryCorps uses. Has anyone been in one? I love the intimate space, and the “road-traveling” aspect of it, which is reminiscent of family camping trips of the 50s to me. So, my point in mentioning this is two-fold. First, it led me to realize that physical space is critical to oral history and cultural sharing. It can make or break the project. I would love to use an old sheep wagon to do a generational oral history project, or to do a traveling Basque exhibit – maybe even a digital hands-on for kids!!! Secondly, intimate spaces are critical for one of this article’s key points: Listening. As Filene says for the storytelling project, “its biggest ambitions lie not in the telling but in the hearing.” Lastly, can storytelling affect social change, or at least increase cultural awareness, because it stays firmly in the realm of emotion? I would like to see more emotion in public history: detachment seems to alienate.

Public Curation Research Framework
This was just so-so for me, but it did make me draw parallels between my previous life working for scientific agencies and history learning. The messages and goals are very similar. I know research and strategic planning are important for museums and other public projects, but sometimes I have found that planning and research won’t always get the results you hope for…sometimes, it just takes trying something out of (yes, intuition), and let it move forward — with shared input.

General thoughts about historians and artists
Hmmm…I am an artist, and an historian. It never really occurred to me that they could be mutually exclusive or problematic as some of these pieces note. Rachleff’s mention of “winners and losers” with stakeholders and museum staff just didn’t sit well with me, neither did her comment that “Artist provoke accepted interpretations.” I guess if we look at art as a purely internal, personal experience, collaboration with artists can affect viewing experiences and public (or Board/stakeholder) relationships. The Peter Severs house project was the epitome of internal personal experience. Mining the Museum – wow – powerful, and yes, individual reactions cold be all over the board. I can see why it sparked debate. The pre-work between artists, museum staffs, advisors, all – everyone must have initial input at the table. That was a big problem as Adair acknowledged with the Rosenbach project. Of all the art pieces, I took away the message that more than just artistic collaboration may help museums with the issue of dwindling relevance: interdisciplinary collaboration may be more important. History and science…History and nature trails/outdoor experiences…History and performance such as Katchor’s Rosenbach Tragicomedy. Fascinating lessons in historians’ responsibility to help connections to others – not objects. Lastly, maybe we could start some sort of an interdisciplinary-in-residence program, not just an artist-in-residence? Could we work with another class on an interdisciplinary project? These seem to be healthy and progressive approaches to increasing attention and historical awareness.

One thought on “Sparking Ideas”

  1. Meggan – I am a big fan of interdisciplinary. It is really interesting to see what happens when you get a group of people with different interests, schools of knowledge, and perspectives involved in the same project. It does make me ponder the possibilities of having intersections between museums and experts of various fields, beyond the artist-in-residence model…

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