AAHC Forum: The Gathering Place Project-Training and Sustaining in North Carolina

This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.

Introduction: The North Carolina African American Heritage Commission was awarded a 2012 African American History and Culture grant to create the Gathering Place Project, a training and outreach initiative providing statewide assistance to African American cultural institutions. Working collaboratively with local African American museums and Historical Black Colleges and Universities, the project will develop a network for museum professionals, volunteers, and students throughout North Carolina.

By Michelle Lanier
Director, North Carolina African American Heritage Commission 
Schree Greene
Outreach Coordinator, Gathering Place Project, North Carolina African American Heritage Commission 

With funding from the IMLS Museum Grants for African American History and Culture program, the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission has created the Gathering Place Project (GPP). GPP is a “training and sustaining” initiative, which is providing statewide assistance in growing the best practices of African American museum spaces. The project highlights collaborative workforce development opportunities with African American museums and local Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to inspire a new generation of heritage practitioners.

Starting in August, at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture and in partnership with the Association of African American Museums, GPP will begin offering workshops pertaining to the basics of preservation (collections management concepts, institutional health, objects care, preservation of the built environment, disaster planning), sharing (interpretation, social media, exhibits, programming), and research (best practices in research and writing, oral history collection, application basics).

In the first year of our IMLS grant, our focus has been on conducting site visits at our partnering institutions and training venue spaces. These site visits have helped us to continue to identify institutional strengths, needs, and challenges. Additionally we have been able to gather institution-specific information, including data on size, budget, scope of collections, and overall operations. This precious data (qualitative and quantitative) will help us present the most relevant training sessions to our partnering organizations and venues.  These venues range from an archive in a renovated, historic home for Black nurses to an antebellum site with original dwellings for enslaved laborers, from a colonial Underground Railroad district to art galleries and museums at HBCUs such as Bennett College, Fayetteville State University, and Winston Salem State University.

At each institution, we saw a hands-on commitment to their community and their constituents. For instance, as we connected with Bamidele Demerson, executive director of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, we noticed his obvious commitment to curatorial and programmatic excellence as well as his engagement of youth through specialized programs. Demerson shared, “Every eight grader in Guilford County visits the museum because it’s mandated in the curriculum.”

SIMI’s Room (a children’s activity center at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum)

SIMI’s Room (a children’s activity center at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum)

At Bennett College for Women, the staff and faculty are fully devoted to creating a fundamental and integrated, educational source by connecting visual arts, archives, and history. Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson, Mott Professor of Africana Women’s Studies at Bennett College, stated, “We have to be a part of the solution, not the problem.”

Inspired by the vision of GPP, Dwight Smith, artist and art professor at Fayetteville State University, plans to use the university’s Rosenthal Gallery space and other local venues to create an “Intersession Course” on exhibition and museology.

Students at Fayetteville State University

Students at Fayetteville State University

During our visit to Historic Stagville, Anna Agbe-Davies, Professor of Anthropology at UNC Chapel Hill, expressed her dedication to increasing diversity in museum fields by expanding our ways of interpretation through public archeology and digital archiving.

Horton House, Historic Stagville Site-Visit

Horton House, Historic Stagville Site-Visit

At Johnson C. Smith University, Art Professor Hasaan Kirkland passionately expressed how GPP can reach into his student populations by providing historical relevance to museum functions. Kirkland noticed that his students respond to reciprocal benefits so he uses a collection of timelines to stimulate his students’ interest in history, arts, and culture.

Belinda Tate, director of Diggs Gallery at Winston Salem State University, serves as a great model for other institutions as she skillfully weaves local heritage and community values into the work of the gallery. Tate never forgets that community stakeholders continuously broaden the gallery’s audience and build a strong circle of supporters.

With the results of the site visits, GPP will compile data about African American museums and heritage institutions across the state through a survey process to help better serve each institution.

GPP has also engaged in listening sessions with heritage elders to grow our knowledge base of ongoing innovations in African American heritage interpretation, which provides another foundation for sustainable planning, preservation, and sharing.

Listening session with community elder Eleanor Quadirah, Founder of the Rowan County Music and Jazz Festival, pictured with Beverly Burnette, NC Black Storytellers Association president.

Listening session with community elder Eleanor Quadirah, Founder of the Rowan County Music and Jazz Festival, pictured with Beverly Burnette, NC Black Storytellers Association president.

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