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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Game Night at the Museum

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.

Every so often the archivist runs across a lone box sitting forgotten in the stacks unfortunately labeled, “Miscellaneous Oversize”.  For this archivist it was a particularly painful sight since the box belonged to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation (MAI) records, which had been processed and described in full. [See previous blog post here] Luckily, after examining the contents, my dismay turned to interest when the items were revealed to include: copper printing plates, a museum seal, United States Postal Service  stamps featuring Navajo blankets from MAI’s collection, a matchbox in a plastic bag, shopping bags with the MAI logo, and (drum roll please) “DIRECTOR a game for two, three or four players”.

Photo by Rachel Menyuk

The object of “Director” the board game, as the instructions describe, is to be the first of the directors to reach a $1,000,000.00 unrestricted grant.  Each player selects one of the four kinds of institutions (science, natural history, art, or zoo) and rolls a die to determine which square he or she lands on.   When players land on a question mark they pick a “decision card” from the deck, which can be positive or negative depending on the roll. Some example cards read: 

A school class comes for a visit; they:
+3 Have a worthwhile experience
-3 Cannot find the bathrooms and riot in the cafeteria

Your books are audited by the IRS:
+3 Your retain your tax-exempt status.
-3 Your treasurer is indicted for embezzling

If you don’t land on a question mark, your square may have particular instructions depending on which museum you represent. Here are a few of my favorites:

Art: All abstract paintings are hanging upside-down. BACK 1.
Science: New theory of physics renders museum obsolete. BACK 3.
Natural History: Dinosaur egg hatches. Pelican emerges. BACK 3.
Zoo: Hyena escapes and impregnates trustee’s poodle. BACK 5.

Lastly, when a player lands on the squares marked “STAFF MEETING”, “ANOTHER STAFF MEETING”, or “MY GOD ANOTHER STAFF MEETING” he has to go back to the center and start all over again.

After discovering this gem, showing the rest of the archive staff, and deciding we would have to have a game night at our holiday party, I got to thinking about how this game came into the collection.  The copyright states “1970 Museum Planning, Inc.,” and the game appears to be a promotional tool for this company.  A couple of the cards in the decision deck just say “Museum Planning, Inc” and can be used to nullify a “move back” instruction since, according to the directions, “MPI solves problems.” Although I’m not sure if the MAI decided to employ Museum Planning, Inc., MAI was indeed in financial straits in the 1970s.  The director at the time, Frederick Dockstader, came into what Roland Force, his successor and author of Politics and the Museum of the American Indian: The Heye and the Mighty, called a Catch-22 situation. According to Force, the Museum needed grants to secure staff and staff to secure grants. For the staff employed by the Museum in 1970 perhaps a riveting game of “Directors” was enough to ease their troubles for an hour or two. After all, they could always be thankful that their trustees’ poodles were safe and the museum bathrooms well marked. 

MAI Director Frederick Dockstader autographing a shirt after a lecture in Tucson, Arizona. [P20929]

~Rachel Menyuk, Archives Technician, NMAI Archive Center

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