« February 2011 | Main | April 2011 »

March 25, 2011

Content Creation is Not for Kids – Creating the Infinity of Nations Family Guide


What I mean by ‘not for kids’ is that when I began thinking about what we were calling a Children’s Guide to the Infinity of Nations exhibition in New York, I didn’t fundamentally change my approach to creating content. The tools we use and the goals are universal in that we want to engage the visitor and provide a hook so they can find a way in. Of course in directing this towards kids, we focus on simpler concepts than what we might do for an older audience.

Splash edit
The exhibition, Infinity of Nations opened in our New York museum last year and it’s a more or less a permanent exhibition – it will be in place for at least a decade. We launched the ION app, the first app for this museum and the Smithsonian’s first English/Spanish bilingual app at the same time. You can download it for free at the iTunes store and we are distributing free players to deliver the content at our New York museum. Here is the direct link to the app store:


The Hand, The Eye and The Compass, A Family Guide was designed for families with children 8-12 years of age. We targeted that age group because we felt that the aptitude for visitors younger than age 8 is extremely variable and that teens could use the adult guide. The content for this guide is original and was produced for this project.

Hand       Eye      Compass

Each of the highlighted objects in the family guide can be seen from one of three points of view, an artist (represented by a hand icon), a reporter (represented by an eye icon) or a traveler (represented by the compass icon). This allows kids to decide what they want to do and where they want to go. Choices give users the very clear message that there is always more than one way to look at objects and that’s an important message for all our visitors but especially for our younger audience.

We felt that part of the fun will be for kids to find the object that we will be talking about in each of the cases. Here the user can click on “WHERE IS IT?” If they want a hint:

  IMG_0046             IMG_0047

And the hint gives kids an idea of where to look in the case. Clicking on the “OK I FOUND IT” button plays the stop.



The design of the app is sophisticated but many of the on screen activities were created without expensive or complex interactive programming. The stop below works and feels like an interactive but it’s a simple slide show.



This is also a way to encourage family interaction - instead of isolating users, it gives them an activity to do together.


Sound is more important than visuals in creating content. To my mind that is one of the golden rules. My feeling is that sound really carries the content. The sound design of this guide was developed as another character to engage kids and help set the tone. Having Buffy Sainte-Marie as our narrator greatly benefited our project as well. This stop below shows how we use sound to enter the world of this object, a Conibo jar from the Amazon.



We created a couple of stops that we call “Kids Talk Back”. We got together a group of kids in the gallery and asked them about specific objects so we could get recordings of kids responding to the objects on view. This gives the kids permission to have their own ideas and opinions about the artwork and it was a really fun to record.


The Hand, The Eye and The Compass, A Family Guide was just added to the exisiting iPhone app this week and I hope that I’ve piqued your curiosity about this project and you’ll consider downloading the app at the iTunes store or better yet visit us in lower Manhattan and check out the guide in the gallery.

Comments (6)

    » Post a Comment

Hello, I am a skateboarder from Santa Rosa Peru, wich is a 30 minute drive from machu picchu, and the first image on this post I have seen something similar on a brazilian skateboard deck from this store. I think the people from the north, south and central America where somehow related, cause this cave painting from the deck I saw, were discovered in Serra da Capivara Brasil http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serra_da_Capivara_National_Park

You make an interesting connection. However, the icons that we use for the family guide are actually based on objects from the NMAI collection included in the Infinity of Nations exhibition. The hand and the compass are from objects in the woodlands section of the show and the eye is from a Northwest coast mask. If you get the chance to look at the family guide you'll be able to see these objects.

Content Creation is Not for Kids. Yes Exactly. As you define. The videos are awesome and cool.

Nice post. Thanks. very exciting article and good guidelines. Keep posting.

Nice collection of vids. As a designer I often look around for inspiration, picking up on what nature has to display that helps me be creative. My logo comes from a visit to Queensland where I saw a green tree frog. I love the combination of nature and design. Again, nice work.

Creative Director

Good videos, i really like them!
Dan Mitroi

March 24, 2011

Spring Events in Indian Country ❧ Please Add Your Favorites

Spring traditionally begins an integral timetable of renewal for many Native communities. The first thunder is an ancient signal to begin preparing for the new year. After the first thunder, animals give birth, plants begin to blossom, and rivers and lakes begin to swell with life-giving abundance. In ancient days, this signaled the time for preparations for moving, planting, hunting, gathering, ceremonies, and war exploits.

Today Native communities continue this cycle of annual renewal. In addition to ancient practices, modern Native people host events during the spring season. These events include conferences, sporting events, webinars, art shows, festivals, powwows, rodeos, pageants, etc. I would like to share with you a sampling of some of these events that you may be interested in attending across Indian Country.

Is there an American Indian event taking place this spring in your community, or at your university, or hosted by an organization you support? If so, please tell us about it and post a link in the comments section below.

 April 2011

[March 31] through April 3 | Heye Center, NMAI | 2011 Native American Film + Video Festival | New York City

2 | Heard Museum | Katsina Doll Marketplace | Phoenix, Arizona

3 | Autry Museum | American Indian Culture Day Family Activities: Stickball | Los Angeles, California

13 | Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Open Forum | Webinar

14–17 | Native Masters Championship Golf Week | El Cajon, California

16–17 | Five Civilized Tribes Museum | Art under the Oaks Market and Festival | Muskogee, Oklahoma

21–23 | National Indian Athletics Association | Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships | Tulalip, Washington

28–30 | Gathering of Nations Powwow and Miss Indian World Competition | Albuquerque, New Mexico

30 | University of Montana | Climate Change: Indigenous Peoples and Adaption Symposium. Missoula, Montana

30 | Harvard University Native American Program | Powwow | Cambridge, Massachusetts

May 2011

1 | Miss Indian Oklahoma Pageant | Norman, Oklahoma

7–8 | Dartmouth University | Powwow | Hanover, New Hampshire

14 | Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation | Visitor Appreciation Day | Cherokee, North Carolina

20–22 | Indigenous Language Institute/University of New Mexico | Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium | Albuquerque, New Mexico

21–22 | National Museum of the American Indian | This IS Hawai`i Festival and Exhibition Opening | Washington, DC

27–29 | Red Lake Band of Chippewa | Seven Clans Powwow | Thief River Falls, Minnesota

28–29 | Ralph Johnson Memorial Rodeo | Ganado, Arizona

Please check the events' web sites for more information and confirmations. And please call everyone's attention to spring festivals and events open to the public in your part of Indian Country by posting who, what, when, and where—with a web site address, if possible—in the comments, below.


Comments (6)

    » Post a Comment

Great list! Here are some additional Native Art Markets around the country: http://www.nativeart.net/indianartistcalendar.php

Thanks for your sharing the information!

It nice to know that some people still actually give importance to native cultures. These cultures are really great, it brings you back in time.

Really good information.Keep up the good work!

thanks for sharing this great information.

I’m usually to blogging and i actually appreciate your content. The article has genuinely peaks my interest. I’m going to bookmark your web page and maintain checking for new details. I am looking for some good blog sites for studying. I was searching over search engines and found your blog site. Well i like your high quality blog site design plus your posting abilities. Keep doing it. such a nice information about my search thanks for sharing...http://crackedtool.com/

March 23, 2011

Video Connects Native Consultants and NMAI Conservators

Conservation 1

In a quiet room removed from the midday sunlight at the NMAI Cultural Resources Center (CRC) in Suitland, Maryland, came a unison greeting, “Hello! Good morning!” It took a few attempts, but a live video feed was established between the conservation team at the CRC and a group of Southern Ute community members in Colorado. It was two hours earlier out on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, so as the conservation team readied objects for discussion, the Colorado group settled in with their coffee. The first objects up for discussion were a man’s dance shirt, a beaded bandolier bag, and a woman’s Ghost Dance dress.

The video consultation between NMAI and the new Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum (SUCCM) in Ignacio, Colorado, was arranged to discuss objects that are being documented and treated for loan to the SUCCM, which opens this May. Before conservation decisions are made for any object, a conservator conducts extensive documentation, examination, background research, and analysis. Oftentimes the literature on material culture falls short of a conservator’s queries. Video consultations, such as this one, provide cultural insight into an object’s meaning, use, original appearance, and materials that will ultimately enrich the documentation, treatment, and display of the object.

Shirt 167308
Southern Ute man's shirt, ca. 1880–1890. Colorado. Length, 68 cm. 7/3053. 

For example, when traces of dark red paint on the inside collar of the man’s shirt (7/3053) were described to the Ute consultants, tribal elders Bennett Thomas and Byron Red knew right away that they would find the same red paint on the inside front of the shirt. They explained that the traces seen on the shirt resulted from the rubbing off of ceremonial earth paint the wearer used on his body for spiritual protection. To a conservator, knowing the ceremonial aspects of the piece is important in guiding the treatment so that the integrity of the piece remains.

Video consultations not only assist conservators, they also offer community members the opportunity to share personal reflections on objects and, in the case of loans, to preview objects they will soon receive for study and display. For example, a question about treatment of a doll’s hair led to a discussion by consultant Byron Red about the importance of hair for his people, describing how long hair can be a symbol of a long life and illustrate a person’s importance.

The video consultation for the SUCCM loan continued well into the afternoon, with discussion covering a range of objects and ideas, such as the designation of the front and back of certain garments, identification of tribal groups by the designs on arrow shafts, beaded “signatures” that indicate specific families, and an animal identification for a hide shirt.

Conservation 3
Conservator Landis Smith and Mellon Fellow Angela Duckwall display a Ute Ghost Dance dress for
When and where the dress (16/5949) was made, and by whom, was not recorded when
it was
purchased by the museum in 1929.

In concluding remarks both sides expressed gratitude and excitement. The familiarity between the two groups was evident from the cacophony of goodbyes and good wishes and arrangements for a follow-up consultation. 

Part of the consultation’s success was due to technical capacity of video equipment that can provide live close-up views of the objects. When, for example, a consultant posed a question about the fringe construction on the Ghost Dance dress, the camera allowed for close examination by the consultants in Colorado. The equipment also enables the museum to save the sound and video from the consultation for documentation and to provide a copy to each consultant and the SUCCM.

Conservation 4
Angela helps provide a close look at details of the Ghost Dance
in response to questions from dressmaker Elise Red
(Southern Ute), one of the consultants in Colorado. The fringe,
for example, was made using a method no longer seen.

Video consultation has an established history at NMAI, where it has been used since 2004 to enhance communication and education opportunities between NMAI and the Native communities the museum serves. In 2007, the museum initiated a pilot program called Cultural Conversations, through which tribal museums and schools can examine culturally relevant objects via video conferencing, to provide a forum for community members to share memories and histories around objects in the museum’s collections.

The conservation staff at NMAI also frequently conducts in-person consultations with Native communities, but these meetings can be more difficult to arrange and underwrite. Video consultations provide an alternative that will only become more advantageous as technology advances.

—Caitlin Mahony, NMAI conservation intern
Caitlin plans to pursue a Masters in Art Conservation


Comments (4)

    » Post a Comment

Video can makes visual explanation. If we talk about a thing, we are not need to imagine. we can look it directly. Video is very helpful for examine.

Great ides. Well honestly read on this blog reminds me with a kind of online education in which between one person to another is connected with a video. As there is visual connection, that will be easier to learn things.

Your information is awesome. The video talks by itself, and gives the perfect approach so after reading the post, all is crystal clear. Thanks for your wonderful help.

With the growth of video on the internet - work like this Native American project is going to become increasingly important.

Perhaps the most valuable thing we could be doing right now is to collect, record and log interviews with individuals from traditional cultures to preserve an oral record of their past.

- Mike the mortgage guy

March 21, 2011

Testing Prototypes for NMAI's Family Activity Center, opening in September


Ready to take the NMAI quiz show challenge?

How many American states have names using American Indian languages?

a. 5    b. 50    c. 26

What is another name for the Iroquois?

a. Wampanoag    b. Powhatan    c. Haudenosaunee

These are two of more than 120 questions Smithsonian staff have been testing with the public during the ongoing development of an American Indian quiz show—one of more than a dozen interactive activities that will be a part of the new Family Activity Center that will open at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington in September 2011.

Museum exhibitions and public programs often emerge from a long process of brainstorming, research, collaboration, prototyping, and testing. For the kinds of interactive activites we will install in the center, it is especially important to get target audiences involved in the development process. So the project team has been conducting public testing during special events that bring families to the museum. Most recently, we tested activity prototypes with the public during Sharing the Dream, a festival to commemorate Martin Luther King Day, and the Power of Chocolate festival on Valentine’s weekend.

Interactive prototypes can be anything from simple cardboard, tape, and glue-stick affairs to elaborate constructions that are very close to what a final activity will be. Observations of public interactions with prototypes guide further development, often leading to new prototypes. We also want to see if our target audiences, who may include very young children, pick up on the primary messages we wish to impart through the center.

A hands-on opportunity to test snowshoes versus tennis shoes apparently
doubles as a fun walking simulator.

On Martin Luther King weekend we tested prototypes of a snowshoe activity, a travois activity, a wetlands activity, and the quiz show. We also did some paper-and-pencil tests of quiz show questions, an activity related to baskets, and a passport activity. We encountered design challenges throughout the day that are informing the next iteration of development. For instance, the snowshoe prototype compares a tennis shoe with a snowshoe in supporting weight on a bed plastic beads that simulate snow. The shoes are represented by plywood cutouts mounted on separate handles and held up by springs. Vistors are asked to press each shoe into the “snow” to feel how the two designs work differently. Most children chose to pressing each handle repeatedly in turn, to simulate walking. We added a sign that said, “Press Down HARD,” to encourage people to really feel the difference in resistance between the two shapes. This simple addition seemed to help, and more kids pressed each shoe hard into the simulated snow and experienced the tennis shoe sinking in and the snowshoe providing support. They still liked pretending to walk on the snow with the two shoes, though.

Even very young children grasp the idea of the model igloo, and older visitors notice principles of its construction.

During the Chocolate Festival we tested prototypes for an igloo-building activity and a basket-weaving activity, as well as trying out more game show questions. The igloo activity is perhaps the most successful of our prototypes so far. Visitors get to complete a partially constructed igloo by adding foam blocks that have been numbered to guide how they are placed. The finished structure is large enough to enclose several young children. Children seem to understand immediately how to put together this three-dimensional puzzle. “Do you know how to do this?” I asked one 9-year-old. “Yeah, just match up the numbers!” This activity attracted the collaboration of several families with a wide range of ages, from 3 years old and up. The activity also has a short cycle: The igloo was built and dismantled eight times in the first hour on Sunday. The excitement of the kids was palpable, and adults were clearly enjoying it, as well, organizing the activity and helping to place the higher pieces. And it proved to be a great photo-op for visiting families. Even dismantling the igloo for the next group of participants was a joyous event, with kids inside bursting the dome outward like chicks hatching from an egg.

Robert Freeland and Eric Supensky from Quatrefoil Associates, our contractor for some of the activities, took special interest and pride in the igloo. “I love working with foam,” Eric told me. “It’s light and sturdy. Kids won’t get hurt if a block falls on them.” Foam is also brittle, however, and tends to erode with the kind of enthusiastic handling the kids were giving it. By the end of the day, flakes of foam had been tracked all over the museum. Eric plans to coat the blocks with a rubber film for the final product to prevent the flaking. The rubber will also provide extra friction that will help the blocks stay in place as children build. Robert told me that one visitor noticed how the blocks spiral up on a slope, a detail that demonstrates the ingenious architectural design of this traditional shelter.  That is the kind of indigenous knowledge we want visitors to our museum to appreciate.

The museum has tested a number of warp materials on young basketmakers.

The basketry activity had already been through several tests, as we have looked for the most appropriate weaving material. Since last summer we've tried strips of vinyl, felt, and cloth, none of which worked well. On this trial we tried webbing similar to seat belt material. We also tested using strips of Velcro on the inside of the wooden basket uprights to hold the material in place. The combination seemed to work well. We’re now thinking about trying out a larger basket. This activity seems to be quite appropriate for very young children.

The testing goes on. The next public session will take place during our Hawaiian Festival the weekend of May 21 and 22. If you want join in the process, we’d love to have you take part.

In the meantime, here are the answers to the quiz questions above:

How many American states have names using American Indian languages?

b. 26 is the best answer (some lists give 27 or 28 names). 68% of our visitors answered correctly.

What is another name for the Iroquois?

c. Haudenosaunee. 22% of our visitors answered correctly.

—Mark Christal, Family Activity Center project team

All photographs by Mark Christal, NMAI


Comments (8)

    » Post a Comment

What a fantastic hands-on set of activities bringing science and traditional methods of construction together to make learning fun.

Seems like some great activities awaiting the children. Can't wait for the opening. thanks for sharing the information, I'll be back for more updates.


WoW. Those things look hecka fun!

And they say learning is boring :P

Cool article


Thanks a lot, appreciate your dedication here. Outstanding website

Hey...Look cool and I wish that museum in my country will organize this type of exhibition. Fun and educate. I am really to read your post...thanks for sharing...

Being able to touch and move objects and prototypes is the dream of any child, and as a father, I must state it is also the dream of any father!!! It is wonderful to see how by touching and moving the prototypes anyone can be part of the process and be involved in the prototyping desing process while having fun.

Wow, you might say that the technology is very good! Photo, so beautiful, very clear, wish you good luck, create the future together!

Magnificent Articles and Website, thanks for sharing with us :)

March 17, 2011

The Choctaw Nation's Gift (Happy St. Patrick's Day from the National Museum of the American Indian)

Ireland & Choctaw
George Catlin (1796–1872). Ball-play of the Choctaw: Ball-up, 1846–50. Oil on canvas; 65.4 x 81.4 cm. Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. Smithsonian American Art Museum 1985.66.428A. In 1834 Catlin watched Choctaws playing stickball during his travels in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).

On St. Patrick’s Day, the museum would like to call attention to a remarkable gift from the people of the Choctaw Nation to the people of Ireland during the Irish famine. We asked Judy Allen, senior executive officer of tribal relations for the Choctaw Nation, to tell the history of what she describes as “an act that shaped tribal culture."

The Choctaw people have a history of helping others. Only 16 years after their long, sad march along the Trail of Tears, the Choctaws learned of people starving to death in Ireland. With great empathy, in 1847 Choctaw individuals made donations totaling $170 [the equivalent of several thousand dollars today] to assist the Irish people during the famine. It was an amazing gesture. Though they had meager resources, they gave on behalf of others in greater need.

In 1995, Irish President Mary Robinson, later UN Commissioner for Human Rights, visited the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma to thank the Choctaws for their generosity toward the Irish, a people with whom she noted their only link was “a common humanity, a common sense of another people suffering as the Choctaw Nation had suffered when being removed from their tribal land."

President Robinson also acknowledged the many Choctaws who have visited Ireland to take part in commemorating the Famine Walk. “Earlier in the month I met one of the members of the tribe, the artist Gary Whitedeer,” she said. “He explained to me that taking part in that walk and remembering the past between the Choctaw Nation and Irish people and relinking our peoples is completing the circle. I have used that expression recently at a major conference on world hunger in New York. I spoke of the generosity of the Choctaw people and this idea of completing the circle.”

This charitable attitude resonates still today when crisis situations occur across the world. In 2001, tribal people made a huge contribution to the Firefighters Fund after the Twin Towers attack in New York City and have since made major contributions to Save the Children and the Red Cross in 2004 for tsunami relief, in 2005 for Hurricane Katrina relief, and more recently, for victims of the Haiti earthquake. Good works are not exclusive to humanitarian organizations and funds. The Choctaw Nation received the United States National Freedom Award in 2008 for the efforts made in support of members of the National Guard and Reserve and their families. There are countless stories of Choctaw individuals who have looked past their own needs to help their neighbors.

Stickball20100904_0652Traditional stickball games are still played today. Photo by Judy Allen, senior executive officer of tribal relations for the Choctaw Nation. Courtesy of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Comments (9)

    » Post a Comment

What a wonderful story. As an Irish person, this touches my heart.....Sending many Blessings back to the Choctaw people and gratitude from my heart to theirs, for the gift of humanity they gave to my ancestors.

Even though I've read of this before, it still brings tears to my eyes to think of the generosity extended to the starving Irish, including my own Irish ancestors, by the Choctaws, despite their own trials at the time. The famine was what moved my relatives to leave Ireland. England was doing nothing at all to help the Irish, despite being quite prosperous. Yet, the Choctaws helped—this is a lesson in how giving ordinary people can be even when they themselves are oppressed and not wealthy. That value of helping one's neighbor is something to be proud of, and grateful for!

What a lovely story, obviously the Choctaw people have a heart for serving others, a very touching relationship they have with the Irish.

The first time i've ever been to an irish event. I'm from Kenya and won't forget the people I met when I was here. The Choctaw people are just a blessing to all of us. Thanks everyone.

This is the coolest thing I've read all day! Wow Native Americans were real people that actually cared about the planet.

I only found about this today from my friends wife who is Choctaw. The world would be a better place if others could follow this wonderful piece of humanity.

The Bastille Day is a day to be remembered by us all.

Why is there no wonderful film about this moment in American and Irish history? And why can't we get the donation amount recorded corresctly? When I first began to investigate this Gift I read $!,710. as the amount donated. I found this amount noted in 3 different documents. Then, when the internet arrived I began to notice quite a variety of Gift amounts.

Then I noticed that $710. was the amount that the internet settled on, until then Pres. Clinton mispoke and called it $170. donation so now you will see either $710. or $170.

I sure wish that we could get this straightened out.

I am writing about this myself right now and I would like to report this correctly. For now I think I'm sticking with the historical documents.

Great post.