Museum Collaboration Manifesto

CollaborationsAfter many years working within museology we continue to see items in collections disguised with mistaken and unsuitable interpretations. With so much error many items gain false significance and meaning by the hand of outdated standards and practice. It is strange enough that things are removed from their local setting and context, now they have been renamed and reframed in languages and contexts foreign to the place and people from which they were born.

We are now finally witnesses to efforts that improve staid systems of museum classification and accounting. Let us bury the fit-in-a-box orthodoxy of one structured and established system of classifying objects and archival materials. The current system is not even binary. It is not two systems; with one recognizing the other, it is one system. And I will say this. No one has a right to restrict what we name or label this thing or that.

Inclusion of expert peoples representing the source of collection materials is the keystone of a collaborative movement. Welcoming and respecting knowledge of objects by the makers and users of the objects does not change the objects. Why must we even offer an explanation? Has a museum or archive ever created objects in their collections?

In the spirit of Amidolanne, the Zuni word for rainbow and the name of a multiple museum collection database situated at the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, we will advocate for pure and virtuous collaboration. This is a higher order than many may be concerned with and implies that collaboration involves reaching out and enlightening on equal terms: to decentralize power and leadership and share problem solving. We will not oppose each other; rather we will enable one another and allow objects and people to speak. Through pure collaborative spirit we will pay tribute to voices of objects, as the objects should be perceived and understood.

Clearly, many old conventions in museum collection management, lexicon, and conservation have lost their purpose. If the field of museology is truly egalitarian and moving forward then there must be centrifugal answers to our problems. We will labor, co-labor, collaborate from the fixed center. We are aware knowledges are transitory and fluid and the old systems supporting only one way of knowing are themselves artifacts of humanity’s misstep.

A new museum conservation dialogue has emerged. In some situations let us marvel in the beauty of aging things. In collaboration with the desires of source communities and makers of objects, we will respect that some items should fulfill their lifetime as naturally as possible. As we are fascinated with the age and seasoning of buildings and other structures, we can honor the aging of some items in collections. In this sense some items will reclaim their destinies. We will pay tribute to the creative, the impalpable nature, and the spiritual dynamics of objects together with the science of materials and their environments.

I believe the spirit of pure collaboration is a movement and the number of colleagues that are attaining pure collaboration is additive and promising. These colleagues’ works are principled and noble and I applaud them and everyone associated with their ideas.  

We are informed by many years of experience, we are serious people, and we are thinking differently from those that served before us. Surely, imaginative and unfamiliar concepts will be met with resistance, but when the tide goes out I imagine we will trust heretical notions as positive beacons that will enlighten the field of museology and manifest new accountability of all knowledges through pure collaboration.

(At the 2015 International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums. Washington, DC.)


Jim Enote, Director

A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center