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AAM International Grant

'Dear Mr. Mandela, Dear Ms. Parks: Children's Letters, Global Lessons'

MSU Museum one of four institutions selected for international cultural exchange

AAM Announces International Grant Winners
Inaugural Museums & Community Collaborations Abroad Grants Awarded


rosa parks

Schoolchildren and teenagers in Tajikistan, India, South Africa, Bolivia and Mexico will connect with their counterparts in four U.S. cities through the inaugural round of the American Association of Museums' (AAM) Museums & Community Collaborations Abroad grant competition (MCCA).

A new partnership in cultural diplomacy between AAM and the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), MCCA is designed to strengthen connections between people in the U.S. and abroad through museum-based exchanges.

"Cross-cultural skills are critical in today's global economy. The museums participating in these four projects will help people better understand themselves and one another by working together across borders, and the connections made will help develop innovative solutions for important community issues," said Ford W. Bell, AAM president. "These projects demonstrate that museums can be key partners in bridging cultural differences and addressing social concerns."

An independent peer-review panel of international museum professionals with experience in global collaboration selected four winning partnerships from a competitive field of fourteen applications. The funded projects are:

  • Dear Mr. Mandela, Dear Ms. Parks: Children's Letters, Global Lessons- Michigan State University Museum, East Lansing, Mich., and the Nelson Mandela Museum, Mthatha, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa__In early 2007, Gregory Reed, the personal lawyer of Rosa Parks, announced a planned gift to the Michigan State University Museum of a collection of letters children wrote to Parks. A similar collection of letters to another civil rights hero, former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela, exists at a new museum in rural South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Museum in Eastern Cape Province. Working together, the two museums will use these letters to raise awareness of the deep parallels between the struggles for racial justice in the United States and South Africa. The partners will create a touring exhibition, an online gallery of the letters targeted at school-age children and a CD-ROM of music from each nation to accompany the exhibition. Local schoolchildren will be encouraged to write letters to their own heroes who embody the values of Mandela and Parks. These letters will be posted in the virtual gallery and added to the exhibition at each venue.

Other AAM-funded cultural exchanges are with:

  • Indo-U.S. Science Center Diversity Dialogue & Cultural Immersion Project- New York Hall of Science, Queens, N.Y.; National Council of Science of India; and Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum (VITM), Bangalore, India;
  • Inside/Outside/North & South- Museo de las Americas, Denver; El Museo Nacional De Etnografia y Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia; and El Centro Alipelt, Zacatlan, Mexico; and
  • Promoting Volunteerism to Improve Zoo Safety, Education and Animal Care- Black Pine Animal Park, Fort Wayne, Ind., and the Dushanbe Zoo, Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

MCCA awards are given in amounts between $60,000 and $100,000. Each of the successful applicants will match 50 percent of the award amount with locally contributed, direct or indirect funds and services.

AAM Museums and Community Background and History

In 1998, AAM undertook a major strategic initiative called "Museums and Community." With support from the Ford Foundation, the Wallace Foundation and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, "Museums and Community" gathered sound and current data and documented best practices by which museums can work in partnership with their communities, expand their civic engagement and involve new and diverse audiences in their work.

MCCA extends the philosophy of "Museums and Community" beyond U.S. borders by inviting museums abroad to partner with U.S. institutions to create new models for community-focused international partnerships. Through a robust application and partner-matching process, MCCA provides museums with a framework for initiating international collaboration, as well as tools for engaging communities beyond museums' walls.

MCCA also builds on a 25-year history of collaboration between the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and AAM on the International Partnerships Among Museums (IPAM) program. IPAM linked museums in 38 states and the District of Columbia with institutions in 84 countries in all regions of the world.

More About Michigan State University Museum's
'Dear Mr. Mandela, Dear Ms. Parks: Children's Letters, Global Lessons' Project

The Michigan State University Museum has had a significant history of work with colleagues in South Africa and in communities across Michigan and the U.S., including exhibition development, training and technology for South African museum professionals, and leading an MSU Study Abroad course in Expressive Arts, Cultural Heritage, and Museum Studies in South Africa.

"The MSU Museum will be able to build on these relationships to engage youth for rich educational opportunities that will enhance their personal development and world view-- as they examine the lives of these extraordinary individuals who dedicated their lives to support human rights and social justice," explains project organizer MSU Museum C. Kurt Dewhurst, a senior fellow for MSU University Outreach and Engagement and professor of English.

"The MSU Museum is honored to be able to collaborate with the Nelson Mandela Museum to develop innovative community programming that will present the lessons learned from the lives of President Nelson Mandela and Ms. Rosa Parks in schools and communities in South Africa and the United States," he adds.

MSU Museum's leadership in the project will center on the life and legacy of Rosa Parks as the "mother of the modern day civil rights movement" in the U.S. On a historical note: Dec. 1 is the anniversary of Rosa Parks' arrest in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, sparking a wave of protest.

Energizing this project is a close association with Michigan State University alumnus Gregory J. Reed, a long-time supporter of his alma mater and of the Michigan State University Museum. Reed, who has assembled a remarkable collection of materials related to Rosa Parks and some of the most influential African-Americans in sports, literature, and entertainment, shares the vision of the MSU Museum in strengthening resources for academic research and teaching, fostering community engagement in learning, and making history accessible for all.

For 15 years, Reed was the attorney for Parks, with whom he wrote two books, "Quiet Strength," and "Dear Mrs. Parks: a Dialogue with Today's Youth," which received Michigan's first National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Image Award for outstanding literature. In 2007, he brought the national premier of the exhibit, "The Journey: The Mother, The Movement, The King and Now," to MSU, showing excerpts from rare and never-before-seen documents from Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X.

Reed graduated from MSU and Wayne State University with degrees in engineering, management science and law. He is the first African-American in Michigan to receive a master's degree in taxation law. He also is Michigan's first recipient of the American Book Award for his "Economic Empowerment through the Church - a Blueprint for Progressive Community Development." His other MSU affiliations include serving as vice chairperson of the MSU Foundation, and as a member of the MSU Museum Development Council.

Nelson Mandela was named as an honorary doctorate recipient from Michigan State University at the Spring 2008 commencement. The U.S. part of this cultural exchange kicks off at Detroit's Cass Tech High School in May.

The Nelson Mandela National Museum, Mthatha, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, has an exhibit and special events planned surrounding the 90th birthday of Mandela in 2008.