“It is clear that you did not come to San Francisco to be silent or passive.” So proclaimed poet, dancer and educator Janice Mirikitani to a packed audience on December 18, 2015 at University of San Francisco’s winter graduation ceremony.
Mirikitani received an honorary doctorate in recognition of her advocacy against institutional racism and the enslavement of women and the poor. As director of Glide Memorial Church, along with her husband, the Reverend Cecil B. Williams, Mirikitani feeds and counsels hundreds of homeless people in San Francisco daily, often with the help of community volunteers from USF.
USF’s Museum Studies program has pitched in at Glide and further honored this spirit of activism and social justice on November 17, the day before USF’s formal graduation ceremony.
As part of their graduation rites, our seventeen newest museum studies M.A. graduates presented their capstone projects in a day-long program, attended by the museum community as well as faculty and family. The museum studies students then participated in an emotional ceremony honoring their commitment to museums and social justice, led by the family of Jordan Dresser (MA, 2015).
After introductions by faculty members Paula Birnbaum, Stephanie Brown and Marjorie Schwarzer, Melissa Zabel took the stage. She opened the day with her presentation about Evaluation of 21st Century Skills in Museum Field Trips. Using the Oakland Museum of California as her case study, Melissa advocated for robust measures for new kinds of field trip curriculum that enhances skills needed to thrive in the 21st century, including collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity.
Amber Spicer followed with a moving presentation about Accessible Exhibition Planning for people with visual impairments through the use of Multisensory Artwork. Inspired especially by the work at the Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK, she concluded with this vision: “I want there to be a day where anyone can come into a museum at any time and know that they are welcome.”
Making museums fully accessible isn’t as difficult as it sounds; with commitment to not only abiding by the law but doing the right thing, but it can become a reality. So stated Kathleen Schlier in her presentation about the genesis of the American with Disabilities Act and her project, Americans with Disabilities Act policy for Aquarium of the Bay. Laura Langlois‘ presentation A Sensitivity Training Symposium for Museum Staff and Docents to Improve the Visitor Experience continued this theme of access. Laura led us through an exercise that exposed our own biases and how simple training techniques can refine the way museum interpret objects to the public.
Rheilly Llanos’ presentation, titled Picture This: Archiving an Artist’s Personal Photograph Collection addressed the steps needed to preserve an artist’s process and memory through a carefully-completed photograph archive. “In our drive to digitize objects, let’s not forget how important the originals are,” Rheilly reminded us. Her case study project, David Ireland’s life’s work at 500 Capp Street will open to the public next month.
Yet, as Angela Gala pointed out, the digital world contains powerful tools and information that museums can harness to their benefit. Drawing from her experience in fundraising prospect research, Angela has envisioned a project management plan for Software that advances Museums’ Prospect Research Effectiveness through analyzing social media. In much the same way that companies continually mine data for clues to consumer preferences, Angela asks, why shouldn’t museums do something similar on behalf of our missions?
Crowd-sourcing, whether via the internet or through careful community engagement strategies, is critical to success in today’s world. Hillary Eichinger emphasized this point in her presentation about how the deYoung can engage communities to animate its Permanent Collection through programs developed for and by local communities. Likewise, Victor Crosetti presented a multi-year strategy and action plan for the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona to engage that city’s Latino Community. His project was titled A Project Management Plan for a Day of the Dead Community Exhibit & Celebration at the American Museum of Ceramic Art.
Miriam Blumenfeld‘s project proposed a careful plan for capturing artists’ oral histories and using these stories to create connections between visitors and artwork. Fahimeh Rahravan told us one such story in her presentation about the largely-unacknowledged connections between Joseph Henry, director of the Smithsonian, and Alexander Graham Bell, commonly known as the inventor of the telephone. Her project advocates for telling this story of how two scientists connected to solve an engineering puzzle through Cataloging the Alexander Graham Bell-Joseph Henry Rare Book Collection of the Smithsonian Libraries.
Similarly Kayla Bruemmer created a plan for A Complete Catalog of a Japanese Basket Collection at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum, another collection whose cataloging will enable important stories of cultural exchange to be shared with a wider public.
The histories and contributions to the United States of many peoples and communities remain invisible to this day. Sabrina Oliveros movingly presented her own experience moving to San Francisco from the Philippines and discovering that, despite the fact that Filipinos are the largest Asian group in the Bay Area, their contributions to this region remains largely untold. She presented a plan for The City as Our Museum: A Mobile Tour Proposal for the Filipino Social Heritage District in San Francisco’s South of Market Neighborhood as a way to use technology to bring this important history to light for both tourists and residents.
California also has the largest population of diasporic Palestinians in the US. Lydia Marouf‘s project The Palestinian Museum in California: A Fundraising Plan presents a way to engage this community in soon-to-open museum in Berzeit, Palestine. Likewise, Erin Golightly presented the untold story of the 100 year struggles to build the National Museum of the African American History and Culture on the Washington DC Mall in her project titled Building a National Museum: A Documentary Film Series for the NMAAHC. The museum will open to the public in Washington DC next year.
Also opening next year in downtown San Francisco is the 300,000+ square foot newly-configured San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Katie Booth, envisioned a marketing strategy to engage a community of members of the Millennial generation that actively seeks the spiritual uplift that modern art can provide. In her presentation The Secular Sacred: A Strategy for the Engagement of Christian Millennials with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Katie reminded museums to be authentic as well as non-judgmental in the ways they reach out to young adults.
If you are fascinated with maps, stay tuned for a series of collaborations inspired by Father Matteo Ricci’s extraordinary 17th century map of the world this spring by USF’s Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western cultural history, Manresa Gallery, Thacher Gallery and the Asian Art Museum. In her presentation Curating Adjacent Shores: A Contemporary Art Exhibition at USF’s Thatcher Gallery, Nell Herbert described her work curating a contemporary response to this historically-significant map of the Pacific Rim by artists Hughen / Starkweather
Our stimulating day of presentations and discussion closed with Jordan Dresser’s The Wind Returns: A Capstone Project for the Northern Arapaho Experience Cultural Room. A member of the Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes, Jordan grew up on Wyoming’s Wind River reservation and has worked to research, display and ultimately enable the repatriation of sacred objects there were stolen from his tribe through colonization. “We believe that each object contains not only many important stories, but the spirit of its maker, its creator,” said Jordan.
After his dynamic presentation about Native Americans’ rights as embodied in the museum he is helping to create, Jordan asked his four sisters to take the stage. They had driven to San Francisco with other members of his family from Wyoming to be part of the festivities. Each classmate was called to the stage and presented with a specially-made hand-beaded work of art meant to guide them in their work and careers ahead.
“Congratulations Class of 2015!” Janice Mirikitani sang out the next day, at the end of her rousing graduation address. “There is much to be done toward social justice and the greater good. Don’t smother your spirit. Work together and with hope and joyfulness.”