On July 10, 12 NMAI interns and fellows visited the National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York City. We arrived at the museum as thousands of fans poured into lower Manhattan to shower us with cheers and admiration, or was that for the U.S. women’s soccer team?
As the crowds dispersed we headed into the museum, but not before taking a picture with a U.S. marshal (below).
We were greeted by Duane Blue Spruce , public spaces planning coordinator (below, wearing a red shirt). After a round of introductions, he told us about his involvement with the Heye Center. His experience began when the museum was the Museum of the American Indian at West 155th and Broadway, before it became part of the Smithsonian and moved downtown. Duane showed us two books he created to illustrate the experiences of Native peoples in the New York City area—Mother Earth, Father Skyline: The Native American Experience in New York City and Concrete Tipi. “It’s fun to come and work here every day,” he said, “because the things we produce represent Native people and educate the public. We’re doing good stuff.”
We were joined by John Haworth, NMAI assistant director for Museum Programs (above, far right), who told us about the imagiNATIONS project being developed in New York. This new hands-on learning space will be geared towards pre-teens and will demonstrate the ingenuity of Native peoples, including their contributions in food, medicine, and architecture. Connor Bliss, an intern in the Exhibits Department, explained that “being able to witness the progress that is being made on . . . the imagiNATIONS Activity Center has further increased the understanding of the exhibitions process I’ve learned here during my time at the Smithsonian.”
Later, Peter Brill, deputy assistant director of the museum in New York (right), walked us through the exhibit design process. His enthusiasm for the museum was infectious, and he encouraged us to speak up and present our ideas: “In these projects, you have a voice, and it’s important to think and be responsive to each other, bring your ideas forward, and try not to be fearful of making a silly suggestion.”
Charlotte Basch, an intern in Community and Constituent Services, told me she was impressed by how encouraging the New York staff is: “It was a great opportunity to see that each individual plays an important role in the NMAI and Smithsonian network. . . . Peter and Duane and everyone else were obviously excited about the work they do for both tribal communities and their fellow New Yorkers.”
Carrie Gonzalez, a cultural interpreter on the Heye Center staff, then guided us on a wonderful tour of the museum (above and right). She also led us through three major exhibitions: Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family, Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American, and Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed, as well as Circle of Dance.
Carrie told us that she leads school groups on tours during the school year, sometimes with over 50 kids! I think we were slightly easier to manage.
We also got the chance to explore the museum’s activity center (below). Some interns tried their hand at a Yup'ik yo-yo a game that requires the player to take two sealskin balls attached by a caribou-sinew string and swing them around in opposite directions. I ventured into a tipi with Sara Morales, a Collections intern, and spent some time looking at the artwork on the interior.
After the tour was over, the interns scattered across the city—some uptown to see friends, some to Brooklyn. We all left the Heye Center with an appreciation for how the museum is changing understandings of Native lives in New York City.
Sarah Frost spent her summer internship at the museum in Washington, D.C., as a member of the Web staff, working on the Inka Road website and new projects online and in social media.
Photos: Tipi interior courtesy of Conservation intern Rachel Mochon. View of Manhattan courtesy of Applications intern Abby Malkin. All other photos courtesy of Sarah Frost.