The American Association for State and Local History hosted the webinar Peb Yog Hmoob Minnesota: Sharing Authority and Building Relationships with Your Communities this week. This discussion featured staff from the Minnesota History Center and representatives from the Hmong community who originally proposed the exhibit. They talked about how the project came to be and how the process differed from traditional exhibition development.
At the core of this exhibit was the idea of shared authority between the community and the museum. There is a growing awareness of this idea in the cultural heritage community, and it was wonderful to learn about how this was put into practice. They found that inviting non-museum staff to be a part of the project helped to break down museum hierarchies and necessitated all staff to be on board, even when the processes diverged from normal museum practice. As such, this exhibit went beyond a partnership, the community was given control. This helped build trust between the institution and the Hmong, amplifying their voice and experience. The resulting exhibit was hugely successful, and it has helped foster an important relationship with the previously often underrepresented and misunderstood community. It is also helping the institution to build its collection to more accurately represent the diverse Hmong stories.
The framework the Minnesota History Center used in approaching this project will be helpful for the National Public Housing Museum as they continue their work. It is crucial that there is a strong relationship between the community stakeholders, whose grassroots efforts created the museum, and the institution itself.