Michigan State University

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MSU Museum to Collaborate with Smithsonian and International Coalition of Sites of Conscience on Year-Long Community Engagement Initiative

The MSU Museum is one of only nine organizations selected as part of a cohort to participate in the Fostering Critical Conversations with Our Communities program, a year-long, Smithsonian Institution community engagement initiative in collaboration with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (Coalition). The 2022 pilot program is a hands-on opportunity for two staff members from the MSU Museum to develop skills that will deepen relationships in the community and implement projects to foster important, sometimes difficult or ignored, conversations in, with, and for the local community.

“Encouraging and supporting these kinds of essential conversations that bridge and connect communities and strengthen connections between people is key to our strategic goals,” said Myriam Springuel, Director of SITES and Smithsonian Affiliations. “We are grateful for the collaboration with the Coalition which allows us to provide one-on-one coaching and cohort meetups with their guidance for our Affiliate participants over the next six months of training sessions.”

Two MSU Museum staff members will work closely with cohort members to develop an implementation plan for learning how to create more equitable and sustainable relationships with priority communities. The MSU Museum intends to work with Michigan’s Tribal communities through this capacity-building program.

“As we embark upon activating our new strategic plan, we strive to become a more inclusive, equitable, and responsive institution,” said Devon Akmon, Director of the MSU Museum. “This exciting opportunity with the Smithsonian and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience will afford us a space to learn, grow, and develop as we work toward being more rooted within the communities we serve.”

The learning methodology for the program is provided by the Coalition with coaching from its staff members, Smithsonian leaders, and members of the cohort. Monthly trainings will address topics such as understanding community; learning about trauma, healing and memorialization; building reciprocal relationships; understanding organizational impacts; and maintaining community relationships. Project resources will be shared on the Smithsonian Affiliations website at the conclusion of the program.

“Having difficult conversations is not always easy, but it is necessary to build more just societies,” says Braden Paynter, Director of Methodology and Practice at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. “These trainings aim to help cultural organizations facilitate meaningful conversations that address the past with honesty and forge trust and compassion in their communities today. Through such dialogue we can begin to heal historic divisions and foster a new peace.”

In addition to the MSU Museum, other Smithsonian Affiliate organizations participating in Fostering Critical Conversations with Our Communities include Conner Prairie (Fishers, IN); Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum (McMinnville, OR); Greensboro History Museum (Greensboro, NC); Museum of History & Industry (Seattle, WA); Orange County Regional History Center (Orlando, FL); Shedd Aquarium (Chicago, IL); Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History (Kennesaw, GA); and Wisconsin Veteran Museum (Madison, WI).

Smithsonian Affiliations is a national outreach program that develops long-term, collaborative partnerships with museums, educational, and cultural organizations to share Smithsonian collections, build collaborative networks and engage learners of all ages with Smithsonian resources. More information is available at affiliations.si.edu

The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience is the only global network dedicated to transforming places that preserve the past into spaces that promote civic action. With more than 300 museums, historic sites, memorials, and memory initiatives in 66 countries, the Coalition has collaborated with sites around the world on dialogue-based initiatives, exhibition design, community-based memorialization, and interpretive and strategic planning. They have trained over 15,000 museum and historic site professionals at their member sites and other public and private entities in dialogue, audience engagement, equity, and inclusion. More information is available at https://www.sitesofconscience.org/en/home/