Though I was navigating in ankle-deep slush and life-threatening ice slicks, my walk across Salem Common to work today was filled with thoughts of summer. Not just because it’ll bring back the green grass, but because it also brings fresh ideas, new approaches and infectious energy to PEM in the form of a new group of Native American Fellows.
Now entering its fifth year, this advanced professional development program is one of PEM’s most distinctive educational offerings. Designed as an experience in museum leadership for graduate students and emerging professionals affiliated with an indigenous community, the 10-week paid fellowship creates mutual exchange among a diverse group of learner-scholars from around North America (including Alaska and Hawaii) and the PEM community of staff, volunteers, interns and audiences.
Applications for the Fellowship are open until the end of this month. I’m watching the inbox daily for inquiries from this year’s applicants, getting more excited every day. What new ideas, skills, knowledge and interpretive approaches will the 2015 Fellows bring to PEM?
I think back to last summer’s crew. Not long after we greeted them all with a welcoming circle, Dominic Henry (Diné), brought a detail-focused mindset to a major historic preservation project, crawling in, over and around our historic houses to enhance the museum’s documentation. He reminded us that these buildings were more than just structures of wood and plaster, saying “Places are alive and define our origins and who we are.”
For the Schools Programs group in our Education Division, Jennifer Aposuk McCarty, (Iñupiat), crafted detailed guidelines for art educators in museums and public schools, using research on culturally sensitive practice to give teachers greater confidence in selecting and presenting appropriately respectful art experiences.
Paulina Johnson (Plains Cree), created this rad Google Sketchup model (PEM’s first ever) that led the way to a signature gallery experience, the Impressionists on the Water Studio Boat, and researched several Japanese aesthetic concepts underlying PEM’s presentation of Future Beauty. Jared Canty (Catawba) supported PEM’s Native American curator Karen Kramer on collections research and preparations for her upcoming show, Native Fashion Now.
The range of projects and unique contributions is characteristic of the Fellowship and builds on its growing legacy. Since 2010, Fellows have enhanced collections documentation, connected the Museum with contemporary Native American artists and performers, evaluated educational programs, created lesson plans, worked on exhibitions like Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art, researched and wrote federal grant applications and more. Not only are the Fellowship projects meaty and meaningful, with real impact on museum projects, the program also includes roundtables with museum leaders and specialized staff, collections visits, field trips to other regional institutions and a dose of R&R – like sailing in Salem Harbor at sunset on the Schooner Fame.
The Native American Fellowship is a partnership that makes the most of each Fellow’s experience, interests, and skills while focusing on building their knowledge and confidence as future museum leaders, who will change and improve the interpretation of art and culture throughout their careers. After just four years, it’s already hard to imagine summer at PEM without the vibrant energy of this motivated, mission-driven, talented group of emerging professionals. Over the next two weeks, we look forward to seeing the virtual mailbox fill up with applications from the future 2014 Native American Fellows, and spending the last icy days of winter imagining the bright, busy summer we’ll have together.