Longtime readers of this blog probably remember Illusuak, the Inuit Cultural Centre I wrote and curated exhibit text for in northern Labrador. For those who are new here, I’ve blogged about the project here and here and I wrote a piece about it for Labrador Life back in 2016.
Well, earlier this year I wrote another article about it for the September/October issue of the Canadian Museums Association magazine, MUSE, which came out this month. The idea was straightforward — as per an informal note from MUSE editor, Rebecca Mackenzie, I was to just share the exhibit team’s “views on how outsiders can help a community achieve their exhibit goals and keep things authentic…”
But the execution proved tricky.
How do you talk about a team of white city folks coming in to help an Indigenous community develop exhibits for their cultural centre without coming off as “white saviour”? We hadn’t acted in that capacity, and I’m confident the community hadn’t perceived us that way, but it was too easy for the telling of the story to sound that way to outsiders. I was stuck in the same dilemma I had been in when writing the exhibits — how do I get myself out of the way?
I took a couple runs at it, but it just wasn’t sitting right. The “how to” approach was wrong because what worked for us in this particular project in this particular community, was not universal. And I couldn’t really speak to the general case because this was our only project like this. I had no other points of reference. And I certainly couldn’t speak to the Inuit experience.
So I did what every writer suffering a crisis of faith should do. I called my editor. For those of you who aren’t writers (or maybe even if you are), editors do more than just read and mark up your article. They are there to bring clear-eyed perspective to help guide and shape your piece. I needed that.
I raised my concerns with Rebecca and we talked about ways to approach to the article. But more importantly, we talked about the challenges and successes of project itself and how the exhibit team and the Nunatsiavut staff and community developed a relationship that successfully carried us through a long two-year project. As I talked, she called out details that she thought readers would find interesting. I took notes.
In the end, her advice was solid — simply share our experience as a way to illustrate how museum experts and Indigenous communities can (not should) work together. The idea was to help other communities and museum professionals feel more confident in tackling these kinds of projects.
So I got started and a month or so later, I had a pretty solid draft to send Rebecca. I also ran it by Belinda Webb, our contact in Nunatsiavut, to make sure she was comfortable with what I wrote, and the Blue Rhino Design team for fact-checking. Belinda had no comments but the design team brought up some points that I needed to address. I rewrote a couple of paragraphs, sent it off to Rebecca, and that was that. Done!
To read the story (pdf), click here: Muse Magazine – Illusuak
Article provided courtesy of the Canadian Museums Association.