Museum as Catalyst for Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Beginning a Conversation

Foreword by Lori Gross

2002, 64 pages. Museum Loan Network, MIT, 265 Massachusetts Avenue, N52-401, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307, 617-252-1888, fax: 617-252-1899, loanet@mit-edu.

The Museum Loan Network (MLN) is funded and was initiated by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, and is administered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Office of the Arts. MLN "facilitates the long-term loan of art and objects of cultural heritage among institutions as a way to enhance the installations of museums, thus enabling them to better serve their communities." After expanding their program focus to include "objects of cultural heritage," MLN decided to convene a series of annual meetings among museum leaders of different disciplines, but they had no idea that "the subject [of interdisciplinary collaboration] was so rich, it could not be exhausted." Instead of an annual meeting, they held three meetings involving nearly forty people over eighteen months to arrive at what MLN humbly calls "a beginning." Apropos this idea, they are inviting others to join the conversation about collaboration by publishing the proceedings. Readers will appreciate the wonderfully accessible summary of advice and experiences presented in "Museum as Catalyst for Interdisciplinary Collaboration."

The report has six sections entitled "Reasons to Collaborate," "Building Blocks," "Hallmarks of Successful Collaborations," "Managing Collaboration," "Evaluating Collaborations," and "Readiness to Collaborate." Each section contains an essay that distills a facet of the discussion, as well as sidebars with views from participants after the meetings and examples of "innovative partnerships."

Two of my favorite stories are Clement Alexander Price's experience with Ellis Island and Rick Lowe's work developing Project Row House in Houston. Price, a Rutgers history professor, participated on the New Jersey Governor's Committee for the Preservation and Use of Ellis Island and worked with government agencies and others representing differing perspectives. The project, Price acknowledges, "has had a profound effect on his thinking" as an historian. In turn he has been able to help the National Park Service deal with minorities and immigrants "in new ways."

Project Row House began with the vision of artist Rick Lowe. Working with other artists, Lowe wanted to renovate a group of shotgun houses to establish a "positive creative presence" in a largely African-American neighborhood of Houston. When the Menil Museum joined the effort, they galvanized support from other museums, foundations, corporations, and arts organizations to help the artists complete the renovation of all twenty-two houses. Thanks to Project Row House, artists have been involved in "neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation, community service, and youth education." The houses continue to host and inspire explorations of art and community through a variety of progressive programs.

Examples such as these two projects ground the musings, tips, and ideas about collaboration in specific, real-life situations. As one of the meeting participants, William Feeling, says in the report's afterword: "Collaboration stems from very concrete work on very specific projects with very specific people." The combination of storytelling and lessons learned effectively delivers valuable information to anyone participating, or thinking about participating, in collaborative partnerships.

Pam Gregg Wolkoff, Flintridge Foundation