Here at Chucalissa, graduate assistants are involved in many different projects. Each semester, we focus on one main project at the museum. This semester, I worked on gathering information for an exhibit hall redesign for the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. This project involved receiving input from the many users and stakeholders in the museum to help direct our intended upgrades and redevelopment of the exhibits in the main hall. However, the project is not simply about a plan to redesign the exhibits. This project seeks to engage and involve the public in many aspects of the museum including exhibit creation.
When I first began as a graduate assistant at Chucalissa, Dr. Connolly posed a question to all the staff members. He asked us to think about what we would do if we could completely redesign the museum exhibit hall area. Being at the museum almost every day, all the staff members had many different ideas about the potential of the exhibit hall area. However, we knew that others would have really great ideas as well. We have volunteers who have been around the museum for more years than all the staff members combined. We have visitors who tell us new things every day. We have faculty at the University who can provide us with perspectives for which we do not have the background. We have community members who have seen the progression of the museum through time. And of course, as a museum that interprets Native American cultures, the Chickasaw and Choctaw peoples will provide critical insights. All of these stakeholders plus many more are helping to provide a more inclusive and interesting perspective for our new exhibit hall area.
A little background about the exhibits in the main hall at Chucalissa–the first public museum at the site was opened in 1956. Since 1962, the University of Memphis has owned and administrated Chucalissa. The current exhibits that are located in that building were installed around 1972. Although some of the exhibits have been updated or altered, the core content of most has remained the same. Since we were way overdue for an upgrade, we began thinking about how to accomplish the task. Living into our mission, we wanted to involve our various stakeholders and get their input in what worked and did not work within the exhibit hall area.
Before conducting any interviews, we received IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval for our survey through the University of Memphis. This is a process that agencies at the University of Memphis must complete to be certain that their work will not cause any harm to those they are surveying. Once approved, we sought the input of key stakeholders and users, along with the casual visitors to our museum. At this time, we have conducted a series of focus groups and interviews, with plans to continue for the next month. In each of these interviews and focus groups, a series of questions were asked of the participants on what worked and did not work in the exhibit hall area. Additionally, we asked our stakeholders questions about topics that they would like to see included in the exhibit hall area not currently in place.
Our interviews and focus groups came up with many interesting topics. But this project is certainly not complete. We want to include as many voices as we can. Do you have something you would like to share with us about the main exhibit hall area? Come out to the museum and participate in an interview or take a survey! We would love to hear all our wonderful readers’ perspectives and get your input!
Mallory Bader is a Graduate Assistant at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa