Museum Anthropology Futures, Day 3: Conference Ethnography Report

Written by Haley Bryant, Emily Cain, and Lillia McEnaney

Today, Saturday, was the third and final day of the Inaugural CMA Conference. In the previous two days of the conference, we primarily explored the over-arching themes of collaborative practices, pedagogies, and student perspectives. Today marked a turn away from these ideas and placed an distinctive focus on what Dr. Wayne Modest called today’s “anxious” politics.

Like others, today’s activities started with opening remarks. But, today’s comments were given by us, the conference ethnographers. We urged the organizers, participants, and attendees, as well as faculty, practitioners, and students, to think about what the future of museum anthropology means. What do we want future scholars to remember about how museum anthropologists responded to today’s political climate? We also noticed that the conference was consistently focused on ideas, practices, and methodologies, but had not yet proposed any active ways we can make a difference. So, we ended our provocation by prompting a call to action: brainstorm and come up with a way to enact one tangible change in your  home institution.

From there, Heather Igloliorte (Assistant Professor of Art History, Concordia University), Linda Grussani (Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation), and John Moses (Six Nations Delaware Band) participated in a roundtable that presented the “Curatorial Legacy of the Expo ‘67 Indians of Canada Pavilion and the Future of Indigenous Museum Practice.” The roundtable was extraordinarily provocative, and engaged audience members from all corners of the field. Their discussion became a grounding theme for the discussions happening throughout the day.

The conference then split into two additional roundtables. The first of which, “Specimen, Object, Data: Transforming Collections Across Disciplines,” lead by Adrian Van Allen, Joshua Bell, Robert Leopold, Chris Patrello, and Hannah Turner, examined technology from an anthropological perspective, as well as the new role that technology holds in connecting collections to communities. Concurrently, Margaret Bruchac (Abenaki), Stephanie Mach (Navajo), Diana Marsh, and Lise Puyo held a roundtable that focused on “The Challenges of Re-discovering and Re-presenting Hidden Indigenous Collections.” This panel highlighted the methodological challenges in studying ‘hidden collections,’ and used the case studies of the indigenous collections at the American Philosophical Society and the University of Pennsylvania Museum, among others.

The afternoon continued with marked difference from the previous sessions -- a roundtable entitled “Slow Museology for Difficult Histories: Relationship Advice for Scholars, Activists, Educations, and Curators Looking for Commitment,” presented by Erica Lehrer, Tal Adler, Nora Landkammer, Sylvia Forni, and Karine Duhamel. These presentations largely examined the state of European museum method and theory within the context of difficult or contested histories. Presenters also discussed alternative ways to foster long-term collaboration through artists’ residences and museum programming.

Conference participants were then split up to four separate breakout sessions. Christy DeLair and Emily Stokes-Rees lead a session that asked “How can museums be more responsive to current events? Creating a Tool-kit.” Their session aimed to workshop tangible ways that museums and museum anthropologists can work against the current political climate, and promote active problem solving. Next, Solen Roth, Matt Edling, Hannah Turner, Gabby Resch, and Adam Matello presented a discussion entitled “New technologies, better relationships? People, objects, and 3D museology.” In a broad discussion of community-based relationships and the recent trend towards 3D museum practice, they critically asked, “When do these technologies engender new relations, and when do they reinforce -- or weaken -- existing ones?” Next, Susan Rowley lead a discussion on using collections in teaching, titled “Engaging Students and Activating Collections,” which was the second panel of its kind in this conference. Lastly, the museum ethnographers, Haley Bryant, Emily Cain, and Lillia McEnaney, lead a discussion on the future of the Museum Anthropology Conference, and asked participants for suggestions for future events and for a critical reflection on their experience at Museum Anthropology Futures.

Museum Anthropology Futures came to a close with remarks from the conference organizers, Joshua Bell, Erica Lehrer, John Lukavic, and Jennifer Shannon. Many conference presenters, participants, and organizers noted that they felt a heightened sense of a museum anthropology community, and all expressed hope for a future conference.

The conference ethnographers wish to thank all Museum Anthropology Futures attendees for an enriching conference experience, and extend special thanks to Josh, Erica, John, and Jen for their continuous support and guidance throughout this ever-evolving process.

Remember to stay tuned for more blog posts,  Anthropology News articles, and additional post-conference information. Lastly, if you participated in the conference in any capacity, please email us and let us know what you think!

Haley Bryant:
Emily Cain:
Lillia McEnaney: