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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Exhibition Records: Source for Discovering Hidden Treasures

Exhibition records contain files which document the planning, organizing, execution, and promotion of an exhibition.  The material can include multiple versions of the exhibit script, brochures, press coverage, education packets, floor plans, catalogues, installation imagery, administrative records, correspondence, and research files.  Besides these types of documents, exhibition records often offer a wealth of primary resources suitable for scholarly research though sometimes hidden within the collection due to the lack of detail collection level description.  For example, Black Mosaic:  Community, Race, and Ethnicity Among Black Immigrants in Washington, D.C., exhibition records in the Anacostia Community Museum Archives, contain photographs, as well as oral history interviews critical to the study of Latinos in Washington, D.C.   The imagery of and interviews with Latino participants were created during the pivotal period of 1991-1995 following the Mt. Pleasant Riots, and document those who worked to organize and rebuild the local community in the wake of the 1991 riots.
Black Mosaic was a ground breaking exhibition that explored the cultural, national, linguistic, and social diversity responsible for enriching Black community life in the Washington, D.C., area.  The multilingual and multicultural exhibition was about people their dreams and memories, and their sense of self and community.  It explored local migration and immigration and wouldn’t have been possible without the participation of  local community leaders from Costa Rica, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Panama, Cuba, Ghana, Dominican Republic, and Haiti to name a few.  The research conducted for the exhibition in partnership with community scholars resulted in a vast archival collection in and of itself. 

Installation image, Black Mosaic Exhibiton Records, B1, F3
Anacostia Community Museum Archives
Exhibition records similar to Black Mosaic frequently contain valuable resources which make exhibition records an invaluable source for conducting scholarly and community research. In turn, perhaps archivists and catalogers should revisit how we describe exhibition records.  Enhanced descriptive cataloguing of these records and digitization projects would probably facilitate greater discoverability of hidden resources similar to the Mt. Pleasant Riots materials within exhibition records!

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blogathon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

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