My museum of choice for this post is the Heard Museum, located in Phoenix Arizona.

Image result for the heard museum

(photo from the Heard Museum’s Exhibit: “Home: Native People in the Southwest”)

This museum is on my list of museums I want to visit and hopefully will in the coming the years. I have viewed their website before but for the sake of this assignment I went straight to the “About Us” tab to see if I could find answers to the questions posted in the module. The museum it’s self is a large nonprofit Art museum of Indigenous cultures of the Southwest where they blend their cultural and natural history collections together for the sake of exemplifying Art as a vehicle to understanding History and Culture.
At first glance they don’t seem to have an exact quote un quote “Governance Structure” posted or listed, I originally thought the tabs labeled, “Museum Council” or “Heard Museum Guild” would be where to go, but unfortunately not. Both are organizations under the museum that are for volunteers and members, not exactly what I was seeking. The next tab I went to was for their “Board of Trustees” whose sub headline on the tab was, “View members of the senior leadership who oversee the mission and future of the Heard Museum.” Simply was just a list of their board members….

The Heard Museum’s mission statement is: “The mission of the Heard Museum is to be the world’s preeminent museum for the presentation, interpretation and advancement of American Indian art, emphasizing its intersection with broader artistic and cultural themes.”

Their vision is to set the standard for collaborating with American Indian artists and tribal communities to provide visitors with a distinctive perspective about the art of Native people, especially those from the Southwest.

The Heard Museum works closely with it’s Indigenous community as it’s artwork and items come directly from them. They actually have their own American Indian Advisory Council (AIAC) with more than half of their members / trustees being from several Indigenous Tribes found in the Southwest. The same page where you can find this information with the trustees names listed along side their tribal affiliations is a statement that reads, “The American Indian Advisory Committee will provide advice and guidance to the museum on policy and procedural issues associated with American Indian matters. The Committee is responsible for annually nominating the recipient of the Spirit of the Heard Museum Award – for approval by the Board of Trustees. Committee members help to foster mutual respect, understanding and involvement of Indian communities in the museum.”  The heard museum doesn’t have a direct, “here are our Ethics tab.” but sprinkled without their telling of the museum’s history and other locations on the website their Ethics fall in line with their Mission Statement as well as their vision. When searching their website explicitly for the word, “Ethics” I was simply taken to a list of Arizona Indian Communities they are partnered with and in the description of some of the communities was their own cultural ethics.

Question: While it may seem obvious through other statements and information found on the website do you think they should, as well as all museums should, have a very specific Code of Ethics tab?  Again I feel like it is thoroughly incorporated into other aspects of the website (also never being there, it could be posted on site somewhere) but do you think it’d be further beneficial to have a clear “Ethics” section on the website?

5 Thoughts to “Topic 4: Museum Governance”

  1. Martin Gutoski

    I have chosen a batch of small museums in my neighborhood of Taos to look at. Taos art community was founded by a batch of wealthy patrons from mostly the east coast clan drawn to the southwest in the early 1900’s up through the Depression, World Wars and the hippie era of the 1960’s.. This included Georgia O’Keefe, writers like D.H. Lawrence and photographers including Ansel Adams . Mostly because they are small private ones, these museums really don’t have any mission statements or governance links on their websites. But the one big thing they have in common is the art and artifacts they have accumulated about the indigenous culture of New Mexico dating back to the pueblo people who preceded Spanish, Mexican and U.S. Anglo dominance. They all have exploited the native and Spanish heritage in good selling art that made the market in southwest cultural icons popular today. Many subjects who posed for painting and photographing were with artifacts staged in studios that were paid some small amount for hours of sitting still.
    And of course the famous pottery and cultural artifacts abounded. Some items were donated by other art collectors or may have been purchased from the original artists it they were alive, but provenance was sketchy at times coming from pot hunters.
    One thing I’m doing for the Taos Archaeological Society is photographing sherds that were donated to the Southern Methodist University by the Blumenschein Museum from a dig at an ancient pueblo in the 1200’s BCE. There are over 600 sherds in the collection with very little information how or from whom they were gathered.

  2. Angela Linn

    Thanks for your post Elizabeth. I love the Heard Museum! They definitely do serve as a model for collaboration and partnering with representatives of the people whose collections they hold in trust. I personally feel strongly that museums should include their institutional documents online in an easy-to-find location, as part of their promise to be transparent and accountable. After all, what do they have to hide? I was surprised that you have to go to the Library tab under the Education menu to get to the collection database! Especially during this global pandemic when our museum websites are such a crucial way for us to share our museums, easy & clear access to the collection information is essential!

  3. Barbara Long

    Hello All,
    I enjoyed the post and responses. I love the Heard Museum. The exhibits showcase craftsmanship that are exquisite, many with vibrant colors. In response to the question: should museums have an ethics tab? This seems to be a touchy subject for museums. However, I believe that transparency is key, as well as establishing trust. Yes, they should have an ethics tab. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Michael Hubert

    hello, I have never been to this museum. but thank you for sharing this post. it will be on my list of places to see. I found it when researching the museums that their was not a strait forward code of ethics tab or statement. I am sure that many have one.but would the general public care to read it or even know what it is? we look for one because we are interested in it or that we know more about it and want to see if it falls in line with the museums mission. I would like to see a tab or location to find one.

  5. Erin Gingrich

    The Heard museum is a nice pick and a place that I have had the pleasure of visiting. That being said, I do firmly feel that the ethics that a museum uses for its standards of operation should definitely be viewable to the public and easy to find. It should also be something that is presented to the artists that work with the museum incase they need something to assist them is in making sure things are happening ethically or if they need to inform the museum of unethical treatment. While these mission/vision statements and intentions sound good and well, things may still occur in the operations of the museum and it should be available to everyone to understand if things are happening ethically or not. Quyana!

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