The Difficulties of “Sharing Authority”

These past few days I’ve been examining files from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) project. Douglas Cardinal, who was commissioned to build the museum, left the project in 1999 due to difficulties with the Smithsonian administration and other architectural firms.  This dispute resulted in Cardinal sending out letters to countless politicians and journalists in Canada and the United States.  Many people sent out letters of support to Cardinal, saying that he was wrongly treated by the Smithsonian.  Cardinal recorded his frustrations with the NMAI in his files, emphasizing that his work was being copied and forged by the new architects hired by the museum.  The situation of the NMAI is problematic, yet fascinating to read about as both an archivist and a researcher.

The NMAI story is an interesting one to examine from a Public History standpoint.  Although things did not work out the way Cardinal wanted them to, this whole story of the construction of the NMAI speaks volumes to elements of Public History, such as the ideas of stakeholders and “shared authority.”  The vast size and scale of this museum makes it a contentious issue to begin with, as it was built on the last available space on the Washington Mall, and therefore the last of the grand Smithsonian museums.  It was a museum built with the intention of close talks to Native community leaders across North, Central and South America.  Even with its original good intentions, it ended up being a situation regarding the conflicts between people within the museum,  and how the museum administration chose to resolve it.  The situation at the NMAI reflects the differing needs and wants of stakeholders, which include architects, Elders, Smithsonian administrators, politicians, and of course, Douglas Cardinal.  This story shows us that building a grand museum like this one is never easy, and conflicts are inevitable.

Even with the tensions and controversies surrounding the NMAI, it is a fascinating case, and one that Public Historians can learn from.  It shows us the difficulties of museum relationships, and the long processes of museum building.  Although the situation did not turn out ideally for Douglas Cardinal, one thing is definite.  Douglas Cardinal and the NMAI have provided historians and the public an intellectually-driven discussion about the role and place of museums in our society.

-Erica Fagen

NMAI  
museum  
USA  

2 years ago

Update from the Douglas Cardinal Collection

The last few months have been a busy time for the Douglas Cardinal Collection here at Archives and Research Collections (ARC). The winter semester saw three enthusiastic practicum students from the art history department working with the collection. Two of the students were involved with the processing of the many architectural plans. This provided the students an opportunity to familiarize themselves with some archival theory as well as important practical experience. The third student was responsible for the arrangement and description of the roughly 1,700 Douglas Cardinal photographs that were included in this accession. In all, this was a great experience for ARC as it allowed the Cardinal Collection to be further opened up to a group of students, as well as our ever growing online following. The three students also had an opportunity to blog during their time with ARC on some of their discoveries within the archives, as you can view below.

Also over the last few months ARC has had the opportunity to showcase the Cardinal Collection on two separate occasions as part of the continuing Carleton in the Community Campaign. On March 20, ARC was present at the Carleton Community Celebration event. This provided an excellent opportunity to highlight the work that has been done on the Cardinal Collection up to this point to members of the Carleton Community as well as individuals external to the University.

Monday April 30 provided another excellent opportunity to show off elements of the collection at the “All Things Digital” showcase. This event gave ARC an excellent chance to show how we have been utilizing different social media tools to provide snapshots from the archives to interested parties. “All Things Digital” also allowed us to display the large quantity of digital material included within this accession of archival material. Both events were great outreach opportunities allowing ARC to establish relationships with multiple communities both at Carleton and external to the University.

This summer there will be a few exciting things happening with the Douglas Cardinal archives. ARC has a new member, Mamta Pathak, who will be assisting with the processing of the architectural plans. This extra help will go a long way in having all of the Cardinal plans processed by the end of the summer. ARC is also welcoming two new practicum students who will be an asset to the team. One of the students will pick up with the photograph collection and begin the digitization process. This will allow the Douglas Cardinal photographs to be made accessible through the ARC website over the course of the summer. The other practicum student will be involved with the continued processing of architectural plans.  

As the summer progresses we will be providing further snapshots from the Douglas Cardinal Collection via the blog, as well as the Facebook and Twitter accounts – Stay tuned.         

Early stages of construction; Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, QC

ARC  

2 years ago

Hello all!

This week, I’ve been processing the plans for the Turning Stone Casino on the Oneida Nation in Verona, New York. Designed by Cardinal in 1995, Turning Stone has many of Cardinal’s signature elements, complete with flowing, organic forms and an undulating facade. In comparing this to the Canadian Museum of Civilization below (Photo Source: Canadian Tourism Commission), it’s interesting to note the similarities in style, considering they have such different uses.

 

-Marianne Williams


2 years ago

Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute

Hello all!

I’m Allison, a 3rd year Art History Practicum student, working with the Douglas Cardinal Archives Project here at Carleton. I don’t have a background in architecture, so please bear with my known-architectural terminology – I promise to try and keep up! I’ve been working through the many series we have of Douglas Cardinal, and something caught my attention today that I’d like to share. Being the Art History student that I am, I noticed the museum exhibit space allocated in Cardinal’s Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute. The institute is a multi-purpose education and community centre in Oujé-Bougoumou, Quebec, and after the museum section of the building sparked my attention, I did a little research. This building was a very recent commission of Cardinal’s and was only just finished and opened to the public in November 2011. The Institute seems to be an equal forerunner for technology, just like Cardinal, by providing virtual exhibits to their museum space. If this is something that interests you (if you’re a museum junkie like I am!) check out the fascinating exhibits here:

http://exhibit.creeculturalinstitute.ca

-Allison

museum  

2 years ago

The Oujé-Bougoumou First Nations Church

Hello,

Marianne here! My second week of the practicum, I have been looking at and processing Douglas Cardinal’s plans for the Oujé-Bougoumou First Nations church.

Oujé-Bougoumou is located in Northern Quebec, approximately 740 kms north of Ottawa, with a population slightly over 600 in 2006.

While the church was completed in 1996, Cardinal has been a prominent architect in Oujé-Bougoumou. Along with working on the Oujé-Bougoumou School, Health Clinic and a number of residences in the community, he also drew up masterplans for the village in the early nineties. He returned to Oujé-Bougoumou recently to work on Aanischaaukamikw Cultural Institute (hyperlink: http://www.creeculturalinstitute.ca/en) in 2011.


Courtesy of flickr user: SamuelBenoit (hyperlink: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sbenoit/5370559375/in/set-72157625737244209)

-Marianne Williams

2 years ago