info @ archimuse.com
published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010
Harvesting New Mexico's Cultural Resources
Traube, Executive Director, New Mexico CultureNet, USA
This paper is about a museum's digitizing project. In a larger sense,
it is about telecommunications, and its potential to capture, shape,
and deliver cultural information and, in doing so, address a number
of social, educational, and economic needs of my state, New Mexico.
It is my contention that the time is right for grassroots, bottom-up
change in these areas.
The Museum Project: In 1997, The Palace of The Governors, New
Mexico's State History Museum, began working on a digitization pilot
project with two educational institutions in Santa Fe. Only a few
museum projects of this kind had been completed previously in New
Mexico, none involving the kind of partnership described here. The
partners in this project, along with the Palace, were the SER Academy,
an alternative Santa Fe high school for at-risk, predominantly Hispanic
youth, and Santa Fe Community College.
The focus of this School-To-Work project, as it has become pegged,
is a brief but significant episode of the Civil War that took place
in New Mexico. Photographs, manuscripts, books, and artifacts associated
with the Civil War in New Mexico were photographed, digitized, and
catalogued by the teenage Academy students. The same students used
the digitized materials to create a Civil War In New Mexico web site.
The site will be available on publicly accessible computers at The
Palace of The Governors, in Santa Fe, and on the World Wide Web.
The roles of the partners in the collaboration were pretty straightforward:
The Palace of The Governors provided physical materials (artifacts
and photographs), intellectual content (scholarly articles), career
mentoring from staff, and library resources where the students were
taught to do genealogical research. The Academy selected the student-workers
and provided daily instruction for them in various subjects, including
software and hardware-related skill development. The community college
contributed technological leadership, including a course in HTML for
the students; the college also provided a clearly delineated educational
path for the Academy students for after high school. It was my role
as project coordinator to bring the partners to the table, make sure
the agreements were clear, and oversee the completion of the project
within the framework of agreed upon goals.
A PARTNERSHIP* MODEL FOR
EDUCATIONAL, CULTURAL, AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
About ten months before this project began, the director of the
Palace of The Governors, Dr. Tom Chávez, asked me what would be a
reasonable starting point for his museum to consider the issues inherent
in digitizing its considerable collections. My answer was, start with
a small, narrowly focused pilot project that would both stimulate
public interest and create staff buy-in. Such a project, we understood,
would cause the beginning of a sea change for the museum, disrupting
people's routines, causing staff the discomfort of having to learn
new skills and ways of working, and perhaps most significantly, would
force staffers to act more collaboratively, compelling them to relinquish
some dominion over areas which had been theirs alone for years, even
decades. It should be noted that virtually all of the Palace of The
Governors staff is close to retirement age and are reluctant to learn
new ways of doing things at this point in their professional lives
Fortunately, Dr. Chávez is passionate about the changes which implementation
of technology at the museum will bring to scholarship and to education.
Dr. Chávez and his colleagues decided that the Civil War represented
what was needed for a pilot project: a goodly amount (but not too
many) artifacts, photographs, maps, as well as original, in-house
scholarship. Two of the teachers at the Academy saw in this project
an opportunity to get funding via a Technology Literacy Grant from
the New Mexico State Department of Education. They were successful
and, within a fairly short period of time, we were able to begin planning
the project. So, a unique partnership formed between a museum, an
"alternative" high school, and a college. A picture of complementary
needs began to emerge.
A COMMUNITY OF NEEDS
The Museum: The
Palace of The Governors recognized that it needed to make more of
its collections accessible to the public and thus reach a wider audience.
After all, it is the state history museum, which in theory, means
that its purview is supposed to be statewide. Outreach, however,
is not easy in a sparsely populated, geographically large (fifth in
the union), poor state. New Mexico's culture, though widely celebrated,
is woefully underfunded.
In addition to the clearly perceived imperative to extend the museum's
reach, the director understands that research ought to be integrated,
not discrete and determined by curatorial fiefdoms. Why shouldn't
one be able to search through photographs, books, maps, artifacts,
and paintings, all at the same time? A good question indeed.
The High School: The
Academy, as the high school is called, uses computers extensively
for self-paced learning. In addition, the school staff see computers
as relating directly to the world of work. Programs like the one with
the Palace of The Governors tie in with a well funded but underutilized
School To Work initiative in the Santa Fe Public School District.
This project also was viewed as a grant magnet, something which proved
to be correct.
Employment for young people, along with a 40+% high school drop
out rate (higher for Hispanics), is a major concern in Santa Fe. There
are few opportunities outside of state government (Santa Fe is the
state capital) or tourism-related service industries for employment.
There is a crying need for meaningful, sustained, professional level
jobs in Santa Fe, in all of New Mexico, really. Education and work-directed
training are essential requirements for improvement of this scenario.
The Community College: Santa
Fe Community College was founded about ten years ago and immediately
became one of the cherished institutions of Santa Fe. The college
campus is pretty, modern, and clean; tuition is an incredible $17
a credit hour, with complete tuition waivers for any Santa Fe high
school graduate who wants to continue his or her education. Santa
Fe Community College is highly proactive to the poor and underserved
in a community which often only caters to the rich and well connected.
In addition to providing post secondary and lifelong educational
opportunities to the people of this community, SFCC is a designated
New Media Center, one of only 400 such sites worldwide. This designation
means that the college has an obligation to use technology in the
service of cultural preservation.
A COMMUNITY OF OPPORTUNITIES
Increased Access to Our Cultural Patrimony
There is a wealth of cultural resources in New Mexico waiting to
be harvested and processed. Museum, archival, library,
and individual collections need to be translated into electronic forms
which people can access, independent of location- in their homes,
classrooms, and other public facilities. To cite one example of an
underutilized, almost inaccessible collection, the Palace of The Governors
has the best collection of historical photographs in the United States,
west of the Mississippi. Its Photographic Archives contains over 530,000
images, which are not even in a database, let alone digitized.
Other examples of material awaiting digitization and electronic
publication are: Indian languages which are oral only, manuscripts
which are too fragile to be handled, sites too remote for most people
to get to (e.g., El Morro State Park, the site of the Inscription
Rock, with the carved names of early Spanish settlers to New Mexico),
murals, buildings, furniture, and writing done by WPA writers, etc.,
Creating Economic Opportunities
Am I being naive or is there a gigantic opportunity inherent in
the Information Age in New Mexico? Why is no one in our state talking
about INFORMATION as a generator of economic growth? We have the raw
materials. Shouldn't we be able to create jobs with the generations-long
tasks which lie ahead of us? Are we not at the beginning of a long,
long process of using technology in service of building "Cultural
Pyramids," new information structures? We contend that these new information
structures can turn the economy of New Mexico around.
The huge quantity of materials that need to be digitally captured
(via still cameras, scanners, video cameras, tape recorders, etc.),
shaped (into databases, web sites, curricula, etc.), and published
(on the web, over public access television, on radio, on videotape,
and, even, on paper) present us with critically needed opportunities
to train young people for meaningful work and, in doing so, make the
process our own. We need to own the process!
Education & Training As The Keys To Success
Without rigorous education and training, all the meaningful
jobs in the world don't mean a thing for citizens of New Mexico. These
jobs will go to transplants from California or Chicago. This would
be yet another form of colonization that we can't afford. We need
to look at the Information Age in New Mexico as the mechanism to foster
education, ethnic knowledge and pride, career training, cultural preservation,
and equalized access to publicly owned information. Commitment to
education is the key to capitalizing on the opportunities presented
by technology's capability to deliver information and images of our
culture to people who need them the most.
Avoiding Cultural Colonization
New Mexico is more than a destination point or a style. It is a
cultural confluence, a counterpoint to the history of the United States
as it is told in most history books. We need to tell our own history
and add it to the fabric of our nation's identity. If we do not, we
face the real possibility that, once again, others will come to New
Mexico and will do the job for us-at a cost. They will claim to be
respectful and objective, but they will not know how to be so. They
will mainly know how to profit from our heritage, our patrimony.
There is the real possibility that no new jobs will be created,
save those of support staff. There is the possibility that corporate
outsiders will re-write our culture. There is the chance that we will
come to a point where we no longer know who we are, who we were, or
who we could have been. This must not happen!
New Mexico CultureNet: A MODEL OF COLLABORATION
New Mexico CultureNet's focus is very similar to the project described
above. We feel it is a model for delivery of the kind of information
found in The Civil War in New Mexico project. Furthermore, New Mexico
CultureNet is about creating access to cultural information. It is
about collaboration, inclusiveness, and ethnic pride.
New Mexico CultureNet is a web site, an online "Mother Index," dedicated
to providing cultural and educational information on the World Wide
Web for New Mexicans and others who are interested in New Mexico.
The site hosts cultural and educational calendars, provides directories
of various kinds, develops or adapts articles, features, curricula,
New Mexico CultureNet is also a human web of people willing to work
outside the box. The following are some of the focal points of this
Focus of New Mexico CultureNet
New Mexico CultureNet reflects the need of people in New Mexico
to have increased and equal access to cultural information. Much
of the information in museums, libraries, archives, and universities
has been funded by taxpayer dollars; those same taxpayers, we feel,
should have greater access than they now do.
New Mexico CultureNet reflects the need for young people to participate
in their community's cultural life, not only as visitors, but an
salaried employees. Current staff are approaching retirement age,
this as audiences are becoming overwhelmingly gray.
New Mexico CultureNet reflects the need to create economic development
and employment opportunities in New Mexico, particularly for youth.
We see culture as the great untapped, clean resource which can drive
economic development, create jobs, and allow people to remain in
New Mexico CultureNet reflects the need to integrate the arts
up and down and across the curriculum in education. We provide resources
which can be easily found and used by people of all ages, including
teachers and students.
New Mexico CultureNet reflects the need to encourage participation
in and enjoyment of the arts. Clear data exist which demonstrate
that technology training alone is not enough to produce workers
capable of handling the demands of jobs in this Information Age.
We must train the imaginative, the articulate, and the collaborative
sides of people's brains in order for them succeed in this New World.
New Mexico CultureNet reflects the need to learn more about the
cultures and history of New Mexico in order to cultivate pride,
understanding, and tolerance. We are at risk of becoming peoples
without culture, without a sense of who we are, but filled with
prejudices built on ignorance. Our strategy is to create information
resources which are objective and multicultural.
* APPENDIX: BANAL LESSONS LEARNED IN THE
While the following observations may not seem to directly relate
to cultural information and economic development, they pertain to
the partnerships which foster such development.
- Slowness: Dealing with bureaucracies can sometimes be maddening;
dealing with schools is worse.
- Cooperation: Educators, bureaucrats, museum professionals all
can be like hens guarding their nests. Refocusing agreed upon goals
and objectives at regular intervals is imperative.
- Funding: One has to be crystal clear about who gets how much for
- Independence vs. Interdependence: The current wisdom is, collaborate
or die! Make sure that each and every partner gets and receives;
win/win is critical to successful partnerships.
- What Is Needed vs. What is Wanted: Someone said at a meeting last
summer, "Anyone can give a client what they need; the trick is to
give them what they want." We need to remember this daily, particularly
in the education and cultural communities. Of course, the real trick
is to get people to want what they need.
- Who Really Does the Work: Map out tasks as much as possible, the
clearer the better.
- Scalability: Make sure you can reuse your project on a larger
scale. Also make sure you can hand off the collaboration as a model
to other similar organizations; this is what the TIIAP folks call
Last modified: March 19, 1998. This file can be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/
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