chapter  12
16 Pages

Madeleine Tudor and Alaka Wali Showcasing Heritage: Engaging Local Communities through Museum Practice

At the 2014 Field Museum Members’ Night in Chicago (an annual event that allows museum members to go “behind the scenes” and interact with staff), we displayed a newly accessioned selection of objects collected from the Calumet region of southeastern Chicago and northwestern Indiana. We were excited to show these new collections to our members, in part to make them aware that our collections program was a way in which the museum was addressing contemporary, relevant concerns by documenting the urban lifeways that are taking place within the milieu in which the museum itself is embedded. However, this demonstration of relevance was lost on some of the members. Since this was a special event and not an exhibit, the objects were laid out on a table, without the usual label copy, graphic design, or photographic accompaniment that provide the interpretive exhibition experience. Also, these objects were different from what our members normally encounter at the museum: they appeared to be too “ordinary” to be in the Natural History Museum’s collections. Even so, many visitors were drawn to the objects, and they elicited responses. When viewing a steelworker’s green uniform and hard hat, for example, members said: “Wow, those are just like your uncle’s!” or “I know what those are…” or “I had a hat just like that.”