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Monday, October 27, 2014

Happy Anniversary Cultural Resources Center!

This October, the Smithsonian Collections Blog is celebrating American Archives Month with a month-long blogathon! We will be posting new content almost every weekday with the theme Discover and Connect. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

2014 is an exciting year of anniversaries for the National Museum of the American Indian. Twenty five years ago our authorizing legislation passed, creating NMAI as part of the Smithsonian Institution. Twenty years ago our public space in New York City, the George Gustav Heye Center, opened its doors. Just ten years ago our flagship building on the National Mall opened to the public with great fanfare. But for those of us who work in NMAI’s archives, this year is special because it marks the fifteenth anniversary of the opening of our home, the Cultural Resources Center, the museum’s purpose-built collections facility.

The CRC houses NMAI’s object collections, archival collections, library, conservation labs, repatriation department, and many other offices. It’s a special place, and is quite different than other collections facilities in important ways. It was designed in consultation with many Native American communities, and their input is quickly evident in the building’s organic design and aesthetics, which reflect visual motifs often found in nature. In much the same way that our Mall Museum building takes inspiration from colors, textures, and forms found throughout the Americas, so too does the CRC.  But NMAI’s discussions with our Native American constituents had a much deeper impact on the museum than simply how the CRC looks. These consultations formed the basis of many of the collections management and stewardship policies and practices that set NMAI apart from other museums. From the natural light in our collections’ areas, to the physical arrangement of collections, to the traditional care and handling we practice here, respect for cultural sensitivities is literally built into the CRC.

NMAI Cultural Resources Center Rendering. National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center,
Smithsonian Institution.

The consultations that informed the design of the CRC took years, and resulted in a massive document called “The Way of the People.”  And once the building was designed and built, the real work began: moving the collections.  But as a result of all of the planning and consultation, the CRC was ready to be a safe and supportive home to the incredible cultural patrimony in NMAI’s care. Here’s to fifteen years of the CRC, and many more to come!

Michael Pahn, Head Archivist
National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center

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