by Samantha Gibbs
Our previous posts prove that the staff at Chucalissa is passionate about exploring and expanding community engagement. In fact, community education and engagement is a main priority listed in our Museum’s mission! But what exactly is community engagement? The definition could potentially take on different meanings; however, for us, it means partnering with various organizations, associations, individuals, universities, and more on initiatives and projects. Examples range from partnering with AmeriCorps teams to local community groups on planting gardens. Another example is the African American Cultural Heritage in Southwest Memphis (AACHSWM) project conducted during the summer of 2010, something we’ve discussed previously on the blog. These projects are unique in not only being collaborative, but by being sustainable, meaning the partnership isn’t over after the project ends.
The AACHSWM exhibit began creating and developing sustainable links between the museum and the surrounding neighborhoods. This produced a stronger partnership between the museum and the community, as evident in projects involving AmeriCorps, the community garden, and Black History Month events. This summer we are continuing to develop and expand the AACHSWM project by working intimately with the local neighborhood associations. Intern Lyndsey Pender, a Southwest Memphis native, came to us a couple of weeks ago from Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, where she is a sophomore majoring in Anthropology. Her internship at Chucalissa revolves around working to build the AACHSWM exhibit, and expand the project’s visibility. The exhibit development doesn’t include a physical rearrangement inside the museum, but instead an expansion outside of the museum walls. Her main priority is to create a website dedicated to the history of the Southwest Memphis community. The exhibit was used as a reference and is included on the website.
The website’s construction has depended on the participation of Southwest Memphis community members. On Saturday, June 1st the Westwood Community Association held an executive community meeting at Chucalissa. Lyndsey and I attended to present the website and ask the community for input. The meeting’s intention was to allow the community to take co-ownership of the website. After Lyndsey displayed and explained the plans for the website, many community members contributed by discussing historical events and places in the area. Robert Gurley, the director of the Westwood Community Association, suggested reaching out to other neighborhoods for their input. The successful participation of the community, in collaboration with Lyndsey’s web design experience and passion for preserving cultural heritage, is resulting in great potential for the future of the AACHSWM website. The possibility of this website developing into a centralized web presence for Southwest Memphis, as well as an access point for neighborhood associations, future events, and events involving the exhibit at Chucalissa, is truly exciting and inspiring.
What are the next steps? Lyndsey will continue to work on the AACHSWM website and gather community input throughout the summer. We also plan to add documents from our Cultural Resource Center to the website. Oral history interviews and further research in historic landmarks in the area are short-term goals. What kind of goals would you set for a website such as this one?