[Workshop Reflection] Museums, Dreams, and Possibilities

by Carrie Brave Heart 


 "Lost Neighborhoods" exhibit, Centre d'histoire de Montreal 

"Lost Neighborhoods" exhibit, Centre d'histoire de Montreal 

I like visiting museums.  No matter where I have lived, I have always made it a point to visit them.  Having a great love of Native American history, when I moved to New York City to attend Columbia University, the first museum I visited was the Museum of the American Indian.  This museum is located in a very large building in southern Manhattan that features revolving exhibits throughout the year.  What I noticed, upon my visit, was the lack of oral history in the telling of the Native American experience.  The exhibits were mainly filled with artifacts and information cards to tell a story.  The experience was more visual than aural.  I was very much disappointed with the lack of use of oral history in the museum space as it contradicts the importance of storytelling among Native peoples.  I left wishing, hoping, dreaming that one day this museum will incorporate the stories of Native peoples through an exhibit of recorded oral histories.           
Dreaming is good.  But, when dreams become reality it is even better. 

 "Lost Neighborhoods" exhibit, Centre d'histoire de Montreal 

"Lost Neighborhoods" exhibit, Centre d'histoire de Montreal 

Catherine Charlebois came to speak at Columbia at a public workshop:  Making Oral History Central in a Musuem Exhibition on April 24, 2014.  What first interested me about her topic was in the place where she worked as the Oral History Program coordinator.  The Centre d’histoire de Montreal museum is dedicated to the memories of its peoples (Montrealers) through the recording of their memories (often using oral history) and using these memories in exhibits to tell a history.   She introduced the museum:  

and then went on to talk about the museum and oral history and how unique it is:

Catherine’s talk focused particularly on the exhibit Lost Neighborhoods.  This award-winning project recorded the memories of people who had lived in neighborhoods in Montreal demolished between 1950 and 1975 (the Red Light District, Faubourg a m’lasse, Goose Village) to make way for ambitious city revitalization projects.  The memories of these residents were then placed within a curated exhibit in the museum from June of 2011 to September of 2013 to convey the human experiences of living neighborhoods gone in time.  Catherine discussed the project: 

This was the first that I had heard of a museum so dedicated to the use of oral history.  It was and is very exciting for me as an Oral Historian.   I was especially interested in the museum having a dream and making it a reality.

When I think about the future of museums, I now feel more optimistic that as time goes on the example of the Centre d’histoire de Montreal and its use of oral history, will be followed by more institutions.  I, for one, do want to hear the memories and stories of the people featured in museum exhibits.  I don’t want to look at just artifacts or picture cards, anymore.

Instead of looking at a carving at the National Museum of the American Indian, I want to hear a carver speak to me:

 

It is about dreams and the sharing of the human experience. 

Dreaming is good.  But, when dreams become reality it is even better.