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The Preservation is Mutual: Connecticut Museum Talking Heritage Arts at CLHO

“Community” is a subjective word, but two Connecticut Museum staff set out to share their interpretation of it at the Connecticut League of History Organizations (CLHO) annual conference at CCSU in June. With “Community Matters: Linking Past and Present in Meaningful Ways,” as the all-encompassing conference theme, Andrea Slater and Kerri Ana Provost gave a presentation called “Help! I Need Somebody: Enlivening History Through Community Input.”  

With funding from an IMLS grant, Slater and Provost, along with other staff, have been sorting, digitizing, and accessioning portions of the Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program (CCHAP) collection, meeting with members of the Bosnian, Cape Verdean, Hmong, Lao, Puerto Rican, Tibetan, and West Indian communities.  

The collection contains numerous stories with materials dating back to 1991, but museum staff have needed to consider how to communicate them and when to hold back. Working with a newer collection – as opposed to one from the American Revolution era – means having the good fortune of contact with many of these traditional artists, or at least with their close relations who could provide insights about what content should be shared and which kept from public view within the institutional files.  

A joy of archiving this collection has been seeing what reciprocal relationships and true collaboration look like in action. While the Connecticut Museum is archiving documentation of artists’ work, members in these communities have sought out assistance from CCHAP. For instance, when the Cape Verdean community in Norwich experienced a fire, many of their photographs and other records were lost, but because of their relationship with the museum, they can access copies of many materials presumed gone forever.  

There is no single story nor is there one person who can represent an entire community, a fact beautiful for those embracing diversity, and frustrating for those who want history to be neatly packaged. At the conference, Slater and Provost spoke about other ways museum and broader community have benefited from one another and could have continued talking about this all day had they not needed to yield the room to other conference participants. 

Image: Connecticut Museum of Culture and History 2015.196.356.1, Captain and model ship at Cape Verdean Festa de São João in Waterbury, 1998 

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