Phoenix's Heard Museum Receives $1.1 Million Grant from Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust

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The Heard Museum recently received a $1.1 million grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, which will fund two major initiatives at the museum — including refreshing and updating a long-term exhibition titled “Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience.”

The exhibition explores the history and impact of federally-run boarding schools first developed in the late 19th century to “civilize” Native Americans, which separated children from their families and tribal cultures while seeking to assimilate them into mainstream Euro-American culture.

The grant will also fund the creation of a second-floor crosswalk that will provide easier visitor access to this exhibition.

“Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience,” which opened at the Heard Museum in 2000, was initially intended to run just two or three years, according to Janet Cantley, curator for the exhibition. But it was well received, she says, so the museum kept it in place — and now plans to refine it.

The Pulliam grant will fund changes designed to tell the Indian School story in more contemporary ways — in part through the additional use of technologies such as listening stations, touchscreens, and electronic scrapbooks. 

Cantley says they’ve seen these types of technologies used effectively at several museums — including the Tenement Museum and Cooper Hewitt/Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, as well as the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

It’s an exciting time for the Heard Museum, which explores the art, culture, and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas. First established in 1929, the museum’s focus is tribes and other cultures of the Southwest.

Effective January 1, 2016, they’ll have a new Director and CEO. David M. Roche comes to the Heard Museum after 18 years as Director of Sotheby’s American Indian Art Department.

This month the Heard Museum, which presents Native + U events blending visual art, performance, and cuisine during Phoenix First Friday art walks, became the newest stop for the First Friday trolley that shuttles visitors between popular First Friday destinations.

During November First Friday, the museum infused several spaces with Frida Kahlo-inspired dance choreographed by Liliana Gomez. The event drew 1,625 visitors. Their exhibition of photographs that belonged to Kahlo continues through February 8, 2016.

And they’ve partnered with the Phoenix Indian School Legacy Project to present an exhibition on view at Heritage Square through the end of the year. The Phoenix Indian School Legacy Project is working to restore the music building of the former Phoenix Indian School, which is located at what's now Steele Indian School Park, to create a community gathering space focused on Native American culture.

Initial planning for “Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience” is being funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant the museum received earlier this year. The museum has already assembled an “American Indian Boarding Schools: History and Legacy” team comprising five experts in related fields.

These experts include three university faculty members — Dr. K. Tsianina Lomawaima (Myskoke/Creek Nation) of Arizona State University, Dr. Brenda J. Child (Ojibwe) of the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Jon Reyher of Northern Arizona University. It also includes Patty Talahongva (Hopi) of the Phoenix Indian School Legacy Project and Dr. Charles M. Roessel (Navajo), Director for the Bureau of Indian Education. Talahongva served as a content advisor for the recently-developed "Native American Voices: The People — Here and Now" exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which Cantley praises for its incorporation of contemporary voices and technologies.

The Heard Museum team they’ll be working with includes Cantley as well as Dr. Ann Marshall, Director of Curation and Education; Jaclyn Roessel, Public Programs and Education Director; Ceasar Chaves, Creative Director; and Betty Murphy, Librarian.

An archivist will go through related materials the museum already has, but Cantley says that the refurbished exhibition may also include some new boarding school-related acquisitions. Cantley says it’s likely the exhibition will be closed for improvements, then reopen to the public, in 2018. It’s too early, she says, to know whether and how local artists might be involved in the exhibition’s transformation or events surrounding its development and debut.

Cantley says that several American Indian boarding schools established 100 or or year ago are still in existence, and being operated by the Bureau of Indian Education. They include Flandreau Indian Boarding School in South Dakota, Riverside Indian School in Oklahoma, Chemawa Indian School in Oregon, and Sherman Indian School in California.

She expects the renovated exhibition to better convey and connect both historical and contemporary experiences, but explains that the current exhibition is already quite “emotive and powerful.” Visitors entering the exhibition hear a cacophony of voices in different languages, and soon turn a corner to confront a barber shop chair signifying the ways American Indians have been expected to conform to the dominant culture.

“There’s still a long way to go to educate people,” says Cantley. She hopes people who see the exhibition, now or after it’s updated, will come away with a sense of the pride Native Americans have in their culture.

“It’s a very important story,” says Cantley. “Lots of people don’t even know that history, although they drive down Indian School Road every day.” 

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