Weisman Art Museum receives nearly $240,000 grant for Indigenous reconciliation project

The Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota won a $239,912 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), part of the agency’s Museums for America program. It is one of 120 organizations to receive this award and will go towards supporting organizational and systemic change in the operation of the museum.

“University art museums like WAM occupy a unique space in the cultural landscape, located simultaneously in the world of the arts and the academy,” said Weisman director Alejandra Peña Gutiérrez. “If we are to remain relevant as cultural institutions, we have a duty to develop practices that position museums as intentional actors in society, whose action extends far beyond museum walls, and even beyond the arts.”

The grant is focused on funding a truth and reconciliation project, including consultation with Indigenous communities towards decolonization, reconciliation research, and reparation. There will also be Indigenous-led development of culturally appropriate assessment practices for WAM. During the next grant cycle, WAM will launch an Indigenous Artist-in-Residence program.

Although the IMLS grant does not directly fund the repatriation, WAM is in the process of repatriating an inventory of 2,000 indigenous objects from the Vallée des Mimbres. The final submission of the full inventory of Mimbres cultural objects will be completed by December 2022. The Mimbres collection was unearthed over 90 years ago by the U Department of Anthropology; the actual repatriation will take place at a later date in consultation with the tribes descending from the Mimbres.

The Weisman dragged his feet in the process, which was started 30 years ago after Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which required federally funded institutions to return remains. and sacred objects from natives to tribes.

Former Weisman director Lyndel King argued that these items should remain in museums even though she had taken steps to comply with the law. Peña Gutiérrez approaches the subject in a different way.

Winning the IMLS grant and the truth and reconciliation work undertaken at WAM signals a shift in the museum’s approach to Indigenous artifacts and cultural history.

“This is a time for us to reflect, to consult with Indigenous community members, artists and leaders, and to fully engage in the wound healing work being done by WAM, and by museums and institutions more broadly. to develop new, more inclusive practices in conversation with the communities we serve,” said Peña Gutiérrez. “This project is an important step on the road to improving museum practices at Weisman.”

Mildred D. Field