Cross-Institutional Partnerships: Opportunities for Inclusion

This month, our regular contributor Porchia Moore highlights two collaborative programs carried out by the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina. She proposes that cross-institutional partnerships like the ones described below might hold greater inclusive potential than any single one of these organizations could achieve on its own. Have you ever participated in cross-institutional partnerships? What was your experience?

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While the majority of my academic scholarship concentrates on museums; I am earning a degree in Library and Information Science. I am one of many scholars experiencing the exciting ways that new media and digital technologies are transforming their respective disciplines, pedagogies, and institutions. Since embarking upon my academic scholarship in cultural heritage, I have fastidiously examined the relationship between libraries and museums; specifically I am interested in technology, public value, cultural competencies, and discourses of inclusion within each institution.  As my work continues to employ informative frameworks of Critical Race Theory and social inclusion, I have repeatedly sought new models which might speak to the knowledge gaps between these institutions and provide growth opportunities for lessening some of the tensions between the silos.  In short, my hope is that museums and libraries would grow more inclusive of each other.  In this sense, I employ “inclusive” to exact deep, connective partnerships.  I often feel that museums and libraries smile and wave at one another across the cultural heritage cafeteria but we rarely sit down together and plan sleepovers. I think it’s time for more sleepovers.

As cultural heritage institutions continue to blend job descriptions, job titles, and grow increasingly cognizant of their shared responsibility for digital preservation of cultural heritage content; this type of deep, connective inclusive partnership will only help to increase public perceptions of the public good and value of libraries, archives, and museums.  Clearly, the Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS) promotes and encourages the intertwining nature of these cultural heritage institutions as is suggested by its name. In this same manner, the Digital Library Federation (DLF) recently announced its new Cross-Pollinator fellowship which recognizes the inherent collaborative nature of libraries and museums in the 21st Century. The rationale for the Cross-Pollinator fellowship reads as follows:

  • Museums, archives, and libraries face similar challenges in the digital landscape, but often do not meet outside of their organizational silos
  • DLF values varied perspectives and believes that bringing in colleagues from the museum community could add value to our conversations
  • Innovation comes from having new ideas and fresh viewpoints; there is much we can learn from our museum colleagues
  • Museums are thriving in the digital environment; attending the Forum offers the opportunity to hear about the latest digital initiatives and meet innovators who are contributing to the advancement of cultural heritage in a networked world (http://www.diglib.org/archives/6096/)

The key word for me is “networked”.  I assert that the more collaboration between cultural heritage institutions, the more networks we create. The more networks we create, the greater we reinforce our collective values in our communities.  The more we reinforce our collective values in our communities; the greater instances of participation and engagement. This month, I spotlight two collaborative efforts by the Columbia Museum of Art (CMA) in Columbia, South Carolina which I feel exemplifies excellence in deep, collaborative inclusivity.

All Around Town

The Columbia Museum of Art (CMA) partners with the State Library (of South Carolina) and with the Richland County Public Library to host, All Around TownAll Around Town is a school program which is based on a children’s book of the same name by local author and scholar, Dinah Johnson. Johnson’s book employs the photographs of Richard Samuel Roberts (1888-1936), an important African American photographer who chronicled the lives of southern blacks with his vibrant black and white photographs; thousands of which were recovered as glass-plate negatives from underneath his home some 50 years after his passing. While the majority of Roberts’ photographs are housed as a part of CMA’s permanent collection, Johnson went on to write a children’s book which constructs a beautiful narrative using the photographs. All Around Town  invites third graders from across the state to visit the art museum and view the Roberts collection. The program encompasses three unique opportunities for engagement:

  1. Students tour the galleries and spend significant time focusing on the Roberts portrait collection.
  2. Students create art in CMA art education studios creating collages and portraits by using images of Roberts’ photographs.
  3. Students visit the main branch of the library where Johnson reads her book, All Around Town, to students. Students visit the Children’s Room of the library and upon the conclusion of the program, leave with their own free copy of All Around Town.
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Photo Credit: CMA

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Photo Credit: CMA

Since 2012, this innovative partnership serves 2,000 third-graders annually. All Around Town demonstrates the important links between museums and libraries and forges collaborative efforts across institutions for museum and library professionals while simultaneously exposing children to two cultural heritage institutions and the power of their collections.

LEAF

The second program of note is the Linking Ecology and Art of Floodplains (LEAF) program now in its 7th year. While the LEAF program is not a partnership with a library, it still speaks to the power of harnessing exciting opportunities for collaboration.  The LEAF program is a partnership between the National Park Service and CMA. The LEAF program takes place at Congaree National park’s Old-Growth Bottomland Forest Research and Education Center. The full day program envelops a two-pronged outcome:

  1. To get students interested in the connections between earth science and art by exploring the Carolina floodplains ( which culminates in an art project)
  2.  To reinforce South Carolina state education standards for visual arts and science.
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Photo Credit: CMA

Partnerships between libraries and museums is not a new concept. However, as technology continues to transform our cultural heritage institutions, some form of hybridization of these institutions seems inevitable whether in the way that collections are accessed, the cultivation of a new institution altogether, or in the cross-pollination of skill sets and job titles.  There are obvious challenges and risks associated with collaborative efforts. Yet, our deep connective partnerships are ultimately about the visitors we serve. When cultural heritage institutions model inclusion in the form of deep, connective partnerships, perhaps we are one step closer in generating other forms of inclusion racially, economically, communally, etc. Perhaps, what we really create with these collaborative partnerships are important opportunities of overlap for our visitors and subsequently assured perceptions of our intrinsic value. If this is true, sign me up for a sleepover.

For more information about All Around Town or LEAF, please contact:

Kerry Kuhlkin-Hornsby; Director of Education (kerry@columbiamuseum.org) or Kayleigh Vaughn; Education Manager (kayleigh@columbiamuseum.org) at the Columbia Museum of Art.

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Porchia Moore, is a third year doctoral candidate dually enrolled in the School of Library and Information Science and McKissick Museum’s Museum Management Program at the University of South Carolina. She is the recipient of the Cultural Heritage Informatics Leadership fellowship as endowed by the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Grant. Her work employs Critical Race Theory as an informative framework for interrogating and exploring the museum space as a means to advocate for inclusion in the museum world. In addition, she is interested in the intersection between culture, technology, information, and race. She is a 2013-2014 Humanities, Arts, Science & Technology Alliance & Colloboratory (HASTAC) Scholar. Currently, she serves a two year appointment to the Professional Development Committee, which helps design and plan the annual conference for the South Carolina Federation of Museums. She regularly presents on race, culture, and museums at conferences such as Museums and the Web and Museum Computer Network. She is an avid lover of museums, having explored museums from Malaysia to New Zealand and back. Follow her on Twitter @PorchiaMuseM.

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