Tag Archives: museums

AASLH 2012 Small Museums Scholarship

Before I headed to the conference I saw a comment on the AASLH list serv. Someone asked about admission fees and a responder mentioned that a she had to do a 36$ tour for 6 people on her day off and it wasn’t worth her time. Then make it worth your while, I thought. Develop a 50 dollar tour instead of a $6 tour.

At the conference, I learned that we at the IVDM are living in the new paradigm of museum. Institutions that just do it. Just do the event. Just host the art. Just have a sense of humor. Just ask for money. Just let people help. Just be fun. If the risk assessment is small, what is there to be afraid of?


3,000 Artifacts in a Day event

Twenty-four volunteers helped curate 1,908 artifacts.

Saturday the museum held a 14-hour, 3,000 Artifacts in a Day event: 10am – midnight. Twenty four volunteers made good headway toward the ambitious goal, contributing over a hundred hours combined.  People actually started working around 9:00am and came throughout the day. At the end of the day, around 8pm, a  group of IVC students arrived and gave the event a second wind. We worked through the night.

Normally our volunteers complete 600 artifacts in a week, so trying to re-curate 3,000 in one day was a large goal. In the end about 1,900 artifacts were moved from temporary storage into permanent storage.

Imperial Valley College students curated through the night.

Some of the archaeologists who originally collected the artifacts were on hand to talk about the significance of the collections and their experience in the field. Volunteers were also invited on tours of the collection rooms, where they received a behind the scenes look at the process of starting a new museum. 

One of our volunteers, a new curator, saw a sign posted on the wall that the most someone had curated in a day was 161 artifacts. Intending to stay from 10:30am-2pm, he actually worked until 7pm to beat that number. “I was late,” he said, “I came at 10:30. I had to put in my time.” When he left, we tallied up his total: 181 artifacts.

At the very end of the evening, we screened the movie “Somewhere Between” as part of the Sundance Institute, and their partners, Film Forward program. The documentary records the life experience of 7 young girls who were adopted into American families from Asia. I continued to lead the curation, but I heard some stimulating conversation going on during the movie. Curation and movie = success.

Intern Program Begins

We picked up our new staff member and our board member insisted we make a small pit stop so that I could see La Jolla Cove. We stopped at the Children’s Pool, a protected cove where the kids and the seals play together on the beach.




Anne has arrived to complete a project to survey the museum archive and establish system by which the papers are digitally linked to the artifact collection through the Past Perfect database. Anne is a recent graduate of Simmons and was at the SAA conference looking for the next step. You can’t get work like this many other places, I told her, you’d better come on out.

One of my goals here is to give professional opportunities that interns can’t receive anywhere else. I want to help them develop programs that showcase their skills. I want them to be able to package themselves so that when they move on to the next place, they can excel. I want them to interact with the youth of the Valley and provide examples for what can be accomplished if you are willing to take a risk.

Anne is the first of 3 interns we plan on hosting in the next few months. Soon we will travel around the region collecting artists’ work as stock for the giftshop and begin creating displays to promote their local galleries and art. Our programming is kicking off again starting with a continuation of the Sundance Festival’s Film Forward program and a massive curation day in celebration of National Museum Day. October will see an art opening and a photography class. We are working to make the museum a place people are comfortable to visit. We are working to make people feel what we do – that this is the most fun museum ever.



Salvation Mountain Research

The museum is researching Desert Sized Art as part of it’s Artist-in-Residence program funded by the Stern Foundation. We have a wall assigned for dynamic research – as visitors place their votes for things that interest them, the artist finds similar art installations to hang, creating an interactive exhibit. As the exhibit grows, we develop the concept of Desert Sized Art and what types appeal to the local community.

We took a weekend to explore some local Desert Sized Art – the famous Salvation Mountain in Niland, just 40 mins north.

The Folk Art Society of America has declared Salvation Mountain a national folk art shrine worthy of preserving. Leonard Knight created the mountain out of adobe covered straw,  tires, and natural wood supports. In the middle of the barren desert it’s a colorful haven and obviously a labor of love. He worked on it for over 30 years. It still has signs of expansion.

I loved the colored trees and in-sets like little treats that showed pictures and stories of the mountain’s progress.

While we were exploring the mountain, we saw in the distance the concrete water tanks that would have served the army base. They were covered in their own sort of art, but a very different theme than Salvation Mountain – The Karma Sutra.

I’m interested to know which art was placed first, though I think I have an inkling.

We also stopped to see the mud pots – geothermally heated boiling vats of mud. 

Partnership with Colorado Desert Archaeology Society

The Desert Museum and the Colorado Desert Archaeology Society are partnering to give a big boost to the re-curation of our inventory project. Affiliated with the Colorado Desert District California State Parks, the Colorado Desert Archaeology Society (CDAS) normally provides volunteer curation services to Anza-Borrego State Park. The CDAS group understands the research potential of our collection and its value as a complementary collection to the artifacts housed at the curation facility at Anza-Borrego.


The volunteers meet at the Begole Archaeological Research Center and travel over an hour to arrive at the Museum and work from 9:30am – 4pm on alternating Thursdays. Some of these volunteers have become invested in the work we do here and have started coming weekly.


With their extra hands on the project our volunteer artifact curation skyrocketed from 230 artifacts to 1,366. Getting the collections into museum quality storage is the number one priority of the museum and the volunteers’ efforts to support this cause cannot be understated.


Art in Miniature

The artist who arranged the museum’s Every Day is Earth Day exhibit invited Jenica and I to another opening this weekend. In Mexicali, Mexico.

The exhibit Madrecita: Arte en Miniatura allowed people to get up close and personal with the pieces. There were several that enticed the viewer with minute details, compelling a closer look and an intimate study of the work.

After the opening, which started at 9pm, we went out for karaoke, which was good for practicing our Spanish.

The artists didn’t stop working. (Sound familiar? I think we are going to get along with this crowd.)

Jorge Estrada, photographer

Pablo Castaneda, Visual artist

We got home as the sun came up.

Forensic Dogs

I was asked to tell a story and in the next breath warned that “not everybody would be happy if you told it”. We both agreed (separately) that since I’d had the privilege of seeing something not everyone gets to see, it’s better that it’s used to build awareness.

The museum staff was invited to go out to the field today to watch forensic dogs survey the areas that will be impacted and developed for the Ocotillo Wind Project.

Our guide strongly believes in the use of forensic dogs in modern archeology. If she had her way, they’d be used on every build site.

Why wouldn’t you use them, our guide asked, they help with 3 key things:

  1. Helps Native American remains to be treated with dignity as law requires.
  2. Actively involves Native Americans in the telling of their history.
  3. Gives archaeology a new perspective. In some cases, archeologists are running tests to prove what the tribes have known for generations. If Native Americans were involved in the process, there would be much less theoretical guessing and much more accuracy in building our nation’s history.

The dogs alerted at two locations over the 4 hour period we were there. We were standing in the shadow of the Coyote Mountains, a sacred site that is part of the creation story.

A handler gets an alert. The remains are flagged and a second dog is brought in to see if they give the same alert.

Documenting the alert. This site will be carefully monitored during construction.

A practical woman who knows her audience, she pointed out that not only the dogs helping human remains be treated with respect, it’s cost effective. For a minimal cost for 3 days of work, the contractor could save themselves the time and cost of dealing with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGRPA). If included in the early surveys, the dogs could notify engineers of locations to avoid during design. They should be a standard tool in site surveys. Get the word out!

We worked till sunset and the dogs will resume at 5am tomorrow. They can only work when the ground temperature is below 100 degrees and these days that happens early. I was reminded that this sunset could be one of the last without wind turbines in view.

Exhibit Opening and Bran Nue Dae

Our first exhibit opened on May 2nd.


I have always liked May.


The exhibit, entitled Every Day is Earth Day allows us to see the world through the eyes of seven members of the Imperial Valley College Arts Faculty.  We marked the occasion with a celebration of art and film that continued all evening.

Earlier in the month, we held a preview of the event for the Friends of the Museum, a support group of members who have made a commitment to support the museum with a gift of $500 every year for the next five years. Lauryl Driscoll, who attended both events, commented that her parents had worked for more than 30 years to see this museum get built, “and it is great to see it finally happen.”

“I like the idea of having a new cultural institution that will support the arts,” said Bernardo Olmedo, who was instrumental in organizing the exhibit. Carol Hegarty, the Head of the Humanities Department at IVC, agreed, “It takes everyone working together in a community for local arts to be successful. It is not about competition, it is about partnership.” As I said when I opened the event that evening, I am realizing that much of what the Valley has to offer is under-appreciated and the Desert Museum can help highlight this spectacular community.

Rachel Perkins discusses her film, Bran Nue Dae.

The evening continued with a screening from the Film Forward program. This international program from the Sundance Institute brought two independent films to the Imperial Valley with the film directors. Here at the Museum, we screened Bran Nue Dae – my absolutely favorite Australian film. Director Rachel Perkins captivated the audience and demonstrated, as I’d been promoting for months now, that this was not an event to be missed.

We had an intimate group of 30, a solid turn out for a weekend event 25 miles outside of town. And now they are 30 people who now understand my adoration for this quirky little film. They join the 8 million people in Australia who have viewed the film – a huge number for a country with a population of only 2 million. Many attendees commented that the film was funnier than they thought it would be and the director explained that this film is one of only 3 Aboriginal comedies – and she has produced two of them. Usually, she said, films about Aboriginal people are somber and serious and she deliberately made a film that people could see themselves reflected in and laugh. People asked about the lack of dreaming references (though someone else said the jail scene with traditional dancing – ie dreaming – was the best in the movie). Rachel explained that this film was not a vehicle for that aspect. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about this film. It’s irreverent and zany, reaches all audiences, and captures the contemporary spirit of Australians today. 

The night overall successfully stimulated conversation on the commonalities and differences between cultures, cultural expression through art, and the charming grace of passionate communities.

This morning the last Film Forward event was an informal chat with the directors. I went with an aspiring young film maker who is now so excited I have to go out and find film editing software so he can make movies in the Museum’s technology lab. As we left the event, I was incredibly loathed to leave. “Did you ever imaging that when you came here and made us watch Bran Nue Dae that you’d be having a casual cup of coffee with the Director?” Never in my wildest. But I should know better than to be surprised. Australia is the biggest small town there is.


Small stories

Just going through the pictures I’ve accumulated:

In-house pest control and conservation on baskets:


The sunrise leaves me with one more reason this place is next closest thing to Australia:

cause this:



isn’t far from this:



One difference: no sun-kissed Ocotillo like this in Australia


And one of our neighbors introduced me to the rarely seen desert tortoise. She has them as pets:


This is me at the midway Museum back in February, pushing buttons like a little kid:

"Uh, these don't work anymore, right?"


And, lest we need reminding, the most successful exhibits aren’t always the newest:



First Exhibit – Every Day is Earth Day

Bernardo Olmedo joins in one of the many simultaneous discussions about expressions of culture through art.

If Earth Day is just one day, our days are numbered. At the Desert Museum, we celebrate the Earth every day – and we have an art exhibit to prove it.


The Desert Museum is a community-based project. Our philosophy is “if you need it, we can help you build it.” One of the artists participating in our new exhibit came to the Desert Museum to discuss a project partnership, and left with a commitment to fill our empty walls. There are very few galleries to show artists work, he told me, and people are always looking for new spaces to showcase their talents. “Bring me something,” I said, “and we’ll put together a show.” In a matter of weeks we had the commitment of 6 artists, all members of the Imperial Valley College Arts Faculty.


We have filled our empty walls with our FIRST exhibit, and the artists have a professional looking exhibit. On May 2nd the exhibit opens with an artist reception. The director is away at a conference, leaving me in charge of the event. He’s nervous, as you might expect. The reputation of the museum rides on each one of these early events. But he doesn’t know I was trained by the best gallery owners Rhode Island has ever seen. They’ve since retired from the business, but they left beauty in their wake.