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Story 08: Working Together To Get It Right

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Sidebar: Learning from Disaster

Written by Joan Lester

In 1987 a two-day seminar, created especially for museum professionals and entitled "Through Indian Eyes: Whose Vision Is It Anyway?" was a disaster! We presented the issues in a preachy way, not recognizing that the room was filled with thoughtful museum professionals who had a great deal to share and who were already coming up with their own responses to the issues presented.

Wanting to demonstrate how a non-native institution could work effectively with a Native Advisory Board, I had invited the entire museum board to be presenters. That too was a failure, as our board, who had worked so openly and honestly with us at the museum, became confrontational, testy and even downright ornery toward an audience of unknown museum professionals. Reactions to the seminar were mixed. Still today I meet museum people who tell me that their professional and personal lives were dramatically and forever changed by that seminar. But on occasion, I also still meet people who say "oh, you're the one who ran that awful seminar." But for us the seminar was a major turning point.. Although Linda and I continued to team teach, we now taught very differently. Instead of pronouncements about what should not be done we laid out the issues, provided space for participants to question and even object, and encouraged participants to look at their own teaching styles and content and to think about what changes they might make.

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