Indigenous Arts Gallery at Tucson Museum of Art Reflects Community-Based Approach to Exhibition Development

The Indigenous Arts Gallery at Tucson Museum of Art reopened on March 11 following a reinstallation that represents a rethinking of curatorial practices through collaborative, community-based approaches. The project pilots a new model for TMA using community curators in the exhibition development process. It will be on view in its current iteration through summer 2022.
Works of art were chosen that speak to thriving 21st-century Indigenous peoples, the complexities of tribal communities, cultural sovereignty, creativity, resiliency and continuity of cultural practices.
The collaborative effort was guided by a committee of six Indigenous representatives, in partnership with two TMA curators, to tell some of the stories behind artworks in TMA’s care. The approach was rooted in shared authority where community curators contributed their knowledge and experiences to offer insights on TMA’s collection, select artworks, develop themes and write exhibit texts.
“Stakeholders had an active role in identifying issues that relate to them,” said Dr. Marianna Pegno, TMA’s curator of community engagement. “Six community curators worked independently as well as collaboratively to conceptualize the new exhibition. We had multiple meetings with each person to co-curate the exhibition of the museum’s permanent collection of Indigenous Arts.”
Community curator Colleen Lucero (Hopi) explained why collaboration is necessary: “Institutions such as TMA have it in their power to help steward and heal past grievances about museums that Native people are still trying to heal from to this day. Including awareness in this collaborative process and being respectful of Indigenous knowledge builds new procedures in museum environments that help evolve essential practices. We all shared decision making and welcomed new concepts implemented in this exhibition.”
Through the community curators, museum staff gained new information about the permanent collection that became part of the museum’s knowledge base. According to Senior Curator Christine Brindza, Glasser Curator of Art of the American West: “By working with communities and broadening expertise beyond traditional curatorial knowledge, community-based interpretation has enhanced the understanding of works in TMA’s care.”
Dr. Reuben Naranjo (Tohono O’odham) reflected on his role, which involved making recommendations for loans: “The most exciting process for me was assisting TMA’s curatorial staff in picking baskets to be used in the exhibition. I could look at baskets for hours; they’re filled with individual tell-tale quirks and personal weaving styles of the artists.”
The collaborative, multivocal approach to the project aligns with TMA’s mission as well as its Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) Plan, adopted in 2020 to position TMA as a responsive, community-centered institution that represents, activates and advocates for its communities.
This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (MG-50-19-0044-19). In 2019, TMA was awarded a $220,000 National Leadership Grant for Museums for a three-year interdisciplinary project to develop culturally responsive approaches to gallery-based instruction, curatorial practices and programming. 
High-resolution images available upon request.
Contact: 
Anne Thwaits
520-616-2687
athwaits@TucsonMuseumofArt.org
Source: Tucson Museum of Art