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BlogBack: Field Museum Official on AAM/State Department Collaboration

Daniel Brinkmeier, the Field Museum’s manager for international community outreach by the environmental and conservation programs, responds to My NPR Soundbite on the Museum Propaganda Initiative:
It is interesting for me to see this discussion come up about State Department support for U.S. museum exhibits, training, and programming in other countries through the new MCCA funding program. I can only speak about this based on my own experience, having had two AAM-IPAM [International Partnerships Among Museums] museum exchanges, in the former Zaire in 1991 and, more recently, a very lengthy relationship with AAM-IPAM from 2002-2005, to develop a new natural history museum and teaching collection based at a university in northern Bolivia. This museum training and exhibit development effort was completely community based. That is, the content for what we did with the Bolivians came from the Bolivians, and nobody else.
At no time did anybody from Washington or the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia ever take the slightest interest in telling us what to do, or what not to do, and frankly, the issue you brought up in the NPR story broadcast yesterday sort of surprised me. Perhaps there are other areas of the world where your case can be made (things in the Middle East are quite different) but in my specific experience, State Department meddling or attempts to “direct” these projects for some kind of political agenda has never been an issue. This can also be said for the other Field Museum AAM-IPAM grant that was done in southern Peru several years ago with an archaeology museum in Moquegua. (I collaborated on that project as well.)
Within the last month, I also worked on developing a new proposal for MCCA funding in eastern Ecuador, which would have more fully documented the indigenous knowledge of an Amazonian group called the Cofán, as well as created a digital museum for them, trained young Cofán to gather and process information about their own culture and traditions, and also helped the Cofán to produce educational materials for their own schools. We are not submitting the proposal, due to administrative issues here in our department at the Field Museum, but again, during the entire process of developing the proposal, I never got a single indication from Washington or the U.S. Embassy in Ecuador that they had any interest in telling us what to do or how to do it.
To be honest with you, with the funding situation being what is, the State Department’s providing these funds can really make a huge difference for institutions like ours and our collaborators in other countries. In our case, we have been able to apply these funds to areas that fall outside of normal funding efforts from Washington—indigenous communities, remote areas of the Amazon, students and poor rural families.

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