uncovering the smithsonian’s jazz archives

James Moody 1984. copyright 2011, Stephanie Myers.

Jazz saxophonist James Moody was raised in Newark, New Jersey, so it is little wonder that the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District, the sole New Jersey Affiliate, celebrates his legacy so predominantly. In 2008 as part of the District’s annual Music Festival, they hosted a homage to James Moody, in which he himself played with many jazz luminaries, as well as with the Smithsonian’s Jazz Masterworks Orchestra.

When Moody passed away in 2010, Anthony Smith, Director of Communications and Community Affairs, and Producer of the Music Festival, knew that it was time for a major tribute to this legendary figure. That’s when he turned to the Smithsonian. In addition to a musical tribute and naming a housing unit in the District for Moody, Anthony wanted to highlight Moody’s career through images, and to create a photography exhibition in Lincoln Park’s community gallery.

With the help of archivists in the Archives Center of the National Museum of American History, Anthony found a collection of Stephanie Myers’ photographs, an artist and jazz photographer who donated prints to the Smithsonian in 2005 and 2009. In addition to images of Moody and his peers, she also captured timeless moments from prominent jazz festivals, such as La Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, France, represented in the Archives Center’s collection of her works.

David Haberstich, Curator of Photography in the Archives Center, remarked that a great strength of the Archives Center’s holdings is material related to American music, especially jazz. “This includes a good representation of many fine photographers who specialize in photographing jazz musicians in action, up close and personal,” he said. “We’re eager for opportunities to exhibit these photographs and share them. We’re pleased to show them to anyone by appointment, from members of the general public to serious scholars.”

Although the Smithsonian’s prints could not be reproduced because of intellectual property concerns, seeing this collection “opened a door” for Anthony that led him directly to the photographer herself, who lives in New York City. Stephanie Myers was also a close friend to James Moody. “We hit it off immediately,” says Anthony. “She understood how we were trying to honor James, and wanted to be a part of it.”

James Moody, 1987. Copyright 2011, Stephanie Myers.

Together, they consulted Moody’s discography and crafted an exhibition of 30 of Stephanie’s photographs that highlight Moody and the musicians who played with him throughout his 50+ year career. The prints will be arranged in the gallery much like a stage performance, with Moody surrounded by various members of the rhythm section and fellow soloists. (Many of these same musicians will be playing in the 6th Annual Music Festival in Newark, July 29-31, 2011.) In addition, the gallery will present 20 of the District’s own photographs from the 2008 Music Festival Tribute to Moody.

Music Speaks: Moody’s Musical Moods show will open on July 28, 2011 and run through October. Visitors to the exhibition will be encouraged to leave their memories and experiences with James Moody’s music. Several public programs are planned, including a photography workshop for youth with Stephanie Myers.

“Sometimes collaborations with Affiliates turn out differently than the original plan,” said Jennifer Brundage, National Outreach Manager in Smithsonian Affiliations. “It’s especially nice when it results in new opportunities we hadn’t imagined before!”



conference road trip to focus on community museums

Anacostia Community Museum

Yes, there are Smithsonian museums off the National Mall!  Most Affiliates know about the ones in New York City, but the Institution has another gem of a museum across the river in the Anacostia Community Museum.  Affiliations’ conference participants will be able to experience this resource on a special road trip designed to explore issues of specific concern to community museums.

Opened in 1967, the Anacostia Community Museum documents and interprets the impact of historical and contemporary social issues on communities.  After a narrated tour (on the bus) en route to the Museum, participants will receive a guided tour of the pioneering exhibition, Word, Shout, Song: Lorenzo Dow Turner, Connecting Communities through Language.  This show details the historical journey made by Africans, their language and their music, to the Americas.

Doing the Ring Shout in Georgia, ca. 1930s, from the Lorenzo Dow Turner Papers, Anacostia Museum Archives

Following the tour, Affiliates will sit down with the Museum’s staff to discuss the challenges and opportunities of working at the community level.  The Museum’s curators will also discuss projects underway with potential for Affiliate collaboration, including professional development and the Urban Waterways project.

Hope to see you there!  For information on the 2011 Affiliations’ National Conference, and to register, click here.

NMAI colleague couriers artifacts cross-country to Affiliates

Thanks to Raj Solanki of the National Museum of the American Indian for the guest blog post.  

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) received a loan request from Smithsonian Affiliate Riverside Metropolitan Museum in California for their exhibition Beyond Craft: American Indian Women Artists. Curated by Dr. Brenda Focht, this exhibition includes four contemporary Native artists Anita Fields, Pat Courtney Gold, Teri Greeves, and Margaret Wood.

Preparing to install the quilt at the Riverside Metropolitan Museum

What was so compelling about the exhibit, is the relationship that the Museum and Dr. Focht developed with each artist. Each artist was a co-curator to the exhibition and had a hand in developing content and programming. Because of this, NMAI eagerly said yes to the loan request of a Margaret Wood work titled Ribbon Shirt Quilt (NMAI 26/5800).

In March, I couriered the quilt and oversaw the installation at Riverside Museum. As a courier, I get to “see the behind the scenes” before a show goes up, and I was impressed by the objects chosen for the exhibit. Some objects came directly from the artists and private collectors. Other works were lent by other Smithsonian Affiliates – the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and Michigan State University Museum in East Lansing. I wished I could have stayed longer to see their “Meet the Artist” Program, which took place in April. However, the objects spoke for themselves.

Each artist has a way of conveying a story in her medium. The Riverside Museum allowed space for each artist to tell her story whether it was family history or Native identity in today’s context. Displayed prominently is Margaret Wood’s Ribbon Shirt Quilt, which was inspired by the meaning of a ribbon shirt as a symbol of ‘Indianness’. Explained on her website, Margaret writes “The origins of the ribbon shirts harkens to the fringed leather shirts of the Plains Indians. When woven cloth and ribbons became available as trade items, Plains women used the new materials to create facsimiles of the original leather shirts. There are some tribal styles and characteristics and a lot of variety and originality displayed in the ribbon shirts being made. They are worn by men, women, babies, elders and teenagers.”

Margaret Wood's Ribbon Shirt Quilt, installed.

The Riverside Metropolitan Museum is in the heart of Riverside, CA and is part of the city’s effort to revitalize the area. The façade of the building is under renovation. But don’t let the scaffolding fool you. It is not closed! This little building offers some great exhibits on natural history of the area, history on the Native population as well as the community that settled in the area and its continuing growth.

The Riverside Museum was a recipient of the 2010 National Museum of the American Indian’s Indigenous Contemporary Arts Program.

Look for Raj at the 2011 Affiliations’ National Conference Resource Fair on Tuesday afternoon, June 14.  The first five Affiliate staff members to mention this blog post win a prize!

wheeling visitors in…

I have a confession to make.  After 13 years in museum education, I have come to think of educational carts in the galleries as the Clydesdales of the field – the workhorses that are low-tech, straightforward, usually blue or made of sturdy metal.  I fully embrace them as an effective “vehicle” to engage visitors in the galleries… but certainly did not consider them a new frontier of innovation, especially in our world of iPad apps, videoconferencing, and Twitter.

Boy was I wrong.

Students at the Chicago History Museum track the history of the city's great fire of 1871.

Educators at the Smithsonian recently gathered for a brown bag lunch session to explore this idea of innovation in educational carts.  We were treated to a presentation by guest speakers Rich Faron of museum explorer and Heidi Moisan from the Chicago History Museum.  Through a slideshow of case studies and prototypes, it became clear that their examples did not represent the cart I had come to stereotype over the years.  Rather, they presented carts as an appealing, active launch pad for visitor team-building, collaboration, and a deeper engagement with exhibitions.  And they came in all different shapes and sizes.

For example, using an oversized map of the city and 3-D markers (disguised as a cart), students trace the route of the great Chicago fire of 1871 (try making THAT exciting for a 3rd grader otherwise!).  Other carts used oversized skyscrapers to explore the city’s iconic architecture, or ropes to measure the height of native plants on the prairie. 

In short, it was simultaneously humbling and inspirational to think of the workhorse cart in such inventive ways.  And, exciting to know that seasoned professionals can still have the “ah ha!” moments we try to create for our audiences.  That’s what it’s all about, right?

Affiliates, do you have any inspirational cart stories or examples to share?

Chicago History Museum's Skyscrapers cart


Students explore Chicago's skyline through improvisation and building activities

Thanks to our friends Susan Nichols at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Heather Paisley-Jones at the National Museum of American History, for organzing this session!

An Affiliate journey through Smithsonian collections storage

Special thanks for this guest post to Latasha M. Richards, collections manager at York County Culture & Heritage Museums, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Rock Hill, South Carolina. 

The idea to visit the Smithsonian came to mind while I worked on ways to improve and better utilize the current collections storage space at the York County Culture & Heritage Museums (CHM).  As the collections manager for CHM, I knew such an opportunity to learn from Smithsonian staff would allow me to gain valuable information to help my museum move forward with its own ideas to renovate one of our current collections storage facilities. 

Emily Kaplan, conservator, at the NMAI Cultural Resources Center shows Latasha the textile storage units.

Anyone who has gone through this type of process, particularly when it calls for moving large amounts of the collection, knows what a challenge such projects present. From the beginning, the CHM collections staff decided that talking to other professionals who have gone through similar activities would be one of the best ways to get a clear picture of just what to expect from the process.  Thanks to CHM’s participation in the Smithsonian Affiliations program, I was able to do just that.

I contacted my Smithsonian Affiliations National Outreach Manager, Caroline Mah, to talk about our collections storage renovation project and just what I hoped to gain from a visit to the Smithsonian.  She worked hard to ensure that she had a clear understanding of just want I was hoping to see and learn, and was able to set up tours for me with staff at the National Museum of the American Indian Cultural Resources Center (NMAI) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Compact storage at NMAI Cultural Resources Center.

Caroline and I met Raj Solanki, registration loan specialist, and Emily Kaplan, conservator, at the NMAI Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland on the first day. After a tour of the collections space, they summarized their experiences moving the collection from its previous facilities and what they loved or would change about their building if given the chance.  They recommended using a bar code system to track objects during relocation, a system that proved to be a successful process for them.  Emily and Raj also made recommendations for various vendors and professionals that they worked with and sent me a copy of NMAI’s “The Move Procedure Manual” which details the procedures used in their move.

The next two days were spent at the American Art Museum’s two different storage facilities–one located near the museum in D.C., and the other a short distance away in Maryland. I met with Denise D. Wamaling, collections manager, and James Concha, collections manager for painting and sculpture.  Both had worked together when the American Art Museum had to relocate its collection to new facilities.  Denise and James oversee different aspects of the collection so the needs for their individual spaces were unique.  They emphasized how important it is to work as a team throughout the entire process because it made things run more smoothly.  Denise gave recommendations on how to plan the space by taping-off areas of the floor to represent where storage equipment and workspaces would be located as well as making life-size cutouts to make sure objects could be moved not only through doorways but also within the collections space as a whole.  When speaking with James, he emphasized just how important it was to manage workspace and supplies while moving.  He noted that things can get overwhelming with boxes, crates, and supplies everywhere and that it was important to coordinate when things were being moved and when the supplies would be available so that everything ran smoothly and efficiently. 

More compact storage at NMAI Cultural Resources Center.

Overall, the trip was incredibly helpful.  Some of the information was already somewhere in my thought process but in talking with other professionals who had actually gone through the experience it reaffirmed my ideas or recalled things to memory.  By touring all of the facilities, I saw different ways to store various objects that I had not thought of or seen before, which will be invaluable when it comes to planning our new space. I know I have options.  Lastly, I was so pleased and appreciative to the Smithsonian staff for not only taking the time to speak to me during the winter holiday season but with how generous they were with their knowledge.  I walked away from the experience with new contacts, lists of potential vendors and professionals that I can work with, and a reminder of just how small the museum community is and how important it is to share our thoughts and experiences with one another.

If you are an Affiliate staff member interested in planning something similar, contact your Smithsonian Affiliations National Outreach Manager for details.

food for thought

Does there seem to be a cultural zeitgeist about food these days?  Food has always been a engrossing social topic of course, but between the First Lady’s vegetable garden, school lunch revolution movements, reality TV, and more, it seems that discussions of food and all its attendant concerns – health, nutrition, benefits of organic, agriculture policy, star chefs – are raging everywhere.

Even among museums.

I was delighted to discover, in the first post of 2011 on the Center for the Future of Museum’s blog, that museums, food and community will be one of their focus themes this year.  No doubt we are all aware of and have seen many food-related exhibitions over the years, such as The Field Museum’s Chocolate show, or the Smithsonian’s own Key Ingredients: America by Food.  We’ve all experienced many collections shows related to food, foodways programs, and museum cafes that reinforce missions, such as Mitsitam at the National Museum of the American Indian.   But the specific inclusion of “community” as a component is an important one that seems to be gaining momentum and relevance in the museum field.

The CFM blog post links to an example of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Illinois.  But there are some great examples among Smithsonian Affiliates too.

Students learn about composting at Snug Harbor in NYC

At Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island in New York City, gardening is already an integral part of their identity.  Their expansive grounds house an exquisite Chinese Scholar’s Garden, and a newly-opened Tuscan Garden, both authentic replicas of their international precedents.  But their Compost program, and under-construction Sustainable Farm, are taking their commitment to gardens to the next level.

Working with the NYC Department of Sanitation’s Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling, Snug Harbor’s Compost Project teaches community groups, teachers, and students through tailored hands-on workshops.  In addition to exposing the benefits of composting, the workshops, classes and curricula foster a sense of environmental stewardship, uncover complex ecosystems, and explore soil and plant health.   Now, in the same plot of land that historically was farmed to feed sailors, Snug Harbor will start plantings in the spring on its own Sustainable Farm.  A brand new initiative, the farm is engendering ideas ranging from “grow a row” for classrooms, growing food for food banks, duplicating the Obama vegetable garden, and presenting exhibitions of artists who address ecosystems.   “We want to create a triangle of programming,” says Patrick Grenier, Director of Visual Arts, “that combines our gardens, the farm, and [adjacent] gallery to present exhibitions and programs about horticulture.”

LPCCD's farm sits behind the historic church facade that serves as gateway to the neighborhood

At the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District (LPCCD) in Newark, NJ, leaders have created a community farm in the iconic center of the neighborhood.  LPCCD’s mission is to transform a low-income neighborhood from blighted lots into an urban eco-arts village.  And they are doing it, in a completely holistic way.  The neighborhood being created there is a mixture of LEED-certified housing units, green collar jobs, music festivals, historic restoration projects, a gallery, and eventually, a museum honoring African American music. 

LPCCD’s community farm addresses a common issue raised in the healthy eating dialogue – that of fresh, natural food being affordable and available in low-income urban areas.  Having just finished its first year, the farm promotes community supported agriculture (CSA) that enables city residents to have direct access to affordable ($40-80 per month) organic produce.  What’s more, the choice of produce grown is customized to the area’s demographic and responds directly to what local consumers most want – mostly hearty greens, like collard and mustard.  “People appreciate the value of the farm as an avenue to promote dialogue.  They loved the space and came to share stories of their histories, their parents’ recipes.  And they loved that something was growing in Newark, especially in our neighborhood,” according to Rob Wisniewski, Director Sustainable Development.   In its second year, LPCCD plans to focus on education of the price value of the food, in terms of nutrition and environmental impact.  They also hope to get the community even more involved by directing marketing efforts specifically to neighborhood stakeholders – the local school, restaurants, and residents.  To entice participation, LPCCD hopes to offer personal plots to garden, as well as the CSA, and to tie the farm’s maintenance into their green jobs training program.

a shopper at Plymouth's Winter Farmers Market

Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA is known for its historic foodways program.  It is ground zero for Thanksgiving after all!   Just last year though, Plimoth Plantation, which closes its living history exhibits for the winter, became home to the city of Plymouth’s winter farmers’ market once a month. 

And now they are linking the farmers’ market to their mission and programming.  This year, the Plantation is asking shoppers to bring their food to a communal “Cook Like a Pilgrim” program.  Together, they will prepare and eat a meal of their local and seasonal foods, guided by the museum’s colonial foodways historian to make the whole event historically accurate and educational.  “We like to think of ourselves as the hearth of the community,” says Jennifer Monac, Plimoth Plantation’s Public Relations Manager.  “When examining the values and goals of the Farmer’s Market, it just seemed like a perfect fit to make Plimoth Plantation’s unique resources available to its participants.”  

These projects (and no doubt countless others like it) exemplify the roles that museums can and do play as good neighbors and community partners.  They reveal the creativity with which museum missions can extend beyond collections and exhibitions, using their sites and resources to fill community needs in the social and cultural fabric of their cities. And, they leave you hungry for more.