On May 20th, Freeman Hrabowski III, the President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), gave the keynote address at the American Alliance of Museums (formerly the American Association of Museums) annual meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center. The theme of this year’s meeting was the Power of Story, and in front of over 5000 attendees, President Hrabowski spoke of his own stories of growing up in the segregated South, participating in the Children’s March of the Civil Rights Movement when he was 12, and how museums can play many roles in storytelling, educating and amplifying a wide range of voices to be heard.
For his address, President Hrabowski consulted with ICCHS alumna (2010), Michelle Stefano, the Folklorist-in-Residence within the American Studies Department at UMBC. He noted:
“In preparing for my talk today, I spoke with a number of my faculty colleagues, including Michelle Stefano, who focuses on art and culture and has worked in several museums in Europe and New York. She told me that there are roughly 55,000 museums worldwide (according to the International Council of Museums), and approximately 17,500 in the U.S. (according to the Alliance). And given these numbers, she commented, “Museums can certainly be considered a popular human endeavor.” She went on to ask,
Nonetheless, what is it about museums that has us caring so much? Is it simply some deep need to collect and put on display an infinite amount of ‘things’? Is it the long-standing history of museums serving as the storehouses of our rich and diverse heritage, protecting the past for future generations? Is it the space they provide for learning, cross-cultural communication, and dialogue? Or is it also about the present: making the much-needed connections, mostly in intangible form, with the communities, groups, and individuals who embody cultural knowledge, values, shared memories, and experiences outside museum doors?”
At the end of his address, he referred back to his conversation with Michelle by also noting:
“Today, as we think about museums and the power of story, it’s important to consider the connection between power and authority – and how that relates to the storytelling museums do. As my colleague, Michelle Stefano, said to me,
Stories are seldom static; they can change along with time and with those who embody, know, and are telling them. Similarly, our stories are greatly influenced by social, political, economic, cultural, and environmental forces. In recent decades, museums across the world have become increasingly responsive to breaking down what arguably have been the more ‘official narratives’ of history, statehood, and commemorated and memorialized events, and have become more inclusive of multiple voices: the expansion of one narrative to include many more, especially those that have been traditionally marginalized, hidden, and/or forgotten. Museums are moving away from generalizing the past and moving toward reflecting the complexities of the contemporary world outside.”
In addition to teaching courses on ethnography, heritage and museums studies that have at their focus community-based research and collaboration, Michelle also works as the Program Coordinator for Maryland Traditions, the folklife program of the Maryland State Arts Council. When consulting with President Hrabowski, she drew on the knowledge she gained during her PhD experiences within the North East of England, where she examined the potential for 12 regional museums to effectively safeguard living, or intangible, heritage, as well as her more recent experiences working with numerous cultural communities in helping to safeguard their living cultural practices and expressions across the state of Maryland. Michelle is happy to invite any ICCHS students and alumni in the Baltimore/DC area to the Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival on Saturday, June 15th at the Creative Alliance in East Baltimore (more info here: http://www.msac.org/detail.cfm?nid=625 )!