One major theme I’ve encountered during my summer internships is how beholden government organizations and agencies are to politics and donors. Ideologies and individual stakeholders drastically affect everything from collecting policies and exhibit content, to networking and accessibility. If I was disillusioned with institutions before, I foresee this summer’s experience helping to end any remaining optimism I had for the future of our field. We cannot carry on this way, eking out progress little by little. But are there feasible alternatives? And what is "progress" in the face of slow change – shifts in bureaucracy that adapt to resistance and subsume minority interests in lieu of upending existing structures?
I found this 2008 dissertation by Philadelphia-based museum professional Joseph Gonzales – "Complicated Business: Chicanos, Museums, and Corporate Sponsorship." He examines a series of traveling museum exhibitions entitled Chicano – "developed by BBH Exhibits, Inc. in collaboration with Cheech Marin and Chicano cultural workers, and
presented by Target Corporation" (v). Dealing with an inherently interdisciplinary topic, Gonzales builds a framework based on cultural production, art, Chicano and museum studies.
"The Revolution Will Not Be Funded." Duke
University Press. Accessed June 18, 2018.
As a trained anthropologist, Gonzales approaches these issues using long-term ethnographic research – participant-observation and interviews. Public historians often encounter the clash between community, politics and capitalism through their own perspectives as cultural workers. Meanwhile, through his research, Gonzales straddles the worlds of activists, employees, academics and stakeholders. As a project insider, he was able to gain access to the planning process from the very beginning – insinuating himself without being conspicuous (39-40). He conducted individual interviews later on, after the exhibitions opened, to gather participants' reflections (40-41).
Ultimately, he argues that Chicano cultural workers strategically employed their ethnic identities and political investments in order to assert their presence and effect more change within the constraints of planning and implementation. The resultant exhibitions were a synthesis of community and outsider interests – reflected back at audiences. Gonzales' major themes include:
- Ideologies and cultural values – strategically invoked and negotiated
- Social/political group identity versus institutional policy and practice
- Commercialization and corporate interests
I will be looking to incorporate this text and several others into my MA thesis this year!