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Museums are storytellers, offering narratives about artists, objects, cultures, moments in history, and sometimes more niche or even esoteric subjects. The Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA) connects communities through stories of dynamic cultural traditions, human creativity, and resilience. We believe that folk artists have the power to change lives. We strive to place artists and communities first by providing a platform for folk artists to showcase their work, share their stories, and offer our audiences new perspectives. Our Cultural Advisory initiative accomplishes this by creating a network of experts from the communities our collections and exhibition represent, and engaging their expertise about issues of cultural display and interpretation.
MOIFA’s Cultural Advisory Network’s first project is to re-envision the interpretive strategies for our long-term exhibition, Multiple Visions. Curated and designed by Alexander Girard in 1982, it has remained unchanged since then. This popular exhibition draws many to the museum, yet the limited exhibit interpretation does not reflect current thinking about diversity, inclusion and social engagement. Because there is no context provided for the objects, visitors do not gain any understanding of the vibrant living cultures whose works are displayed. This serves neither source communities nor museum audiences.
The work of the Network will result in a new interpretive plan, so that we may shape a more inclusive narrative for Multiple Visions; align interpretation with current museum best practices; and reconcile our responsibilities to preserve the integrity of Girard’s unique work with the ethical mandate and institutional desire to create exhibits that prioritize diversity and inclusion. This Network is part of a larger practice in museums of deep engagement and collaboration with communities and deferring curatorial authority to them - that is, allowing communities to be their own storytellers.
The Network’s process relies upon shared connections to create a network of cultural expertise that grows our collaborative potential exponentially. A network requires the wisdom and participation of many individuals; dialogue with community participants will yield new ideas for exhibit interpretation. These collaborations with cultural partners in New Mexico and abroad will generate new content and include diverse voices - and, we hope, they will become a catalyst for greater cultural understanding and connection.
This collaborative project will require slow, deliberate work that must be approached with patience and humility. There likely will be occasions when we will need to reassess and remap our efforts, because there will be as many perspectives as there are advisors, and consensus may be elusive. This is the nature of collaboration.
We hope that close to home, the Cultural Advisory Network will allow us to deepen our work with communities throughout the state, particularly Native American communities. The Network’s outcomes, in tandem with our increasing digital engagement, will allow us to significantly serve more counties across New Mexico through a culture of inquiry about living traditions that delivers stories and experiences on-site, off-site and on-line.