GLAMi nomination: Tending the Wild

nominated by: Laura Purdy, The Autry Museum of the American West, USA
institution: The Autry Museum of the American West and KCETLink Television
category: Groundbreaking

Developing museum exhibitions in the twenty-first century is not for the faint of heart. Museum visitors are evolving, and their expectations are changing too. With the California Continued project, we gave considerable thought to how best interpret a historic collection for visitors today beyond presenting an ethnographic and dusty recounting. We couldn’t have chosen a more resonant and relevant subject to tackle: California and the environment. Foremost on our minds was to share stories from Native communities across California and to include as many voices as possible.

As a community-centered museum in concept and practice, the Autry is continually seeking ways to extend storytelling beyond the museum’s physical walls. Looking for innovative ways to pool resources and to create groundbreaking digital content that spans all of California, we knew we needed a robust partner. We developed a multi- platform collaboration with KCETLink TV, featuring in-gallery media and an online presence, Tending the Wild. The website includes: 6 short documentaries (10-15 minutes each); 17 clips and segments of the short documentaries (1-3 minutes each); 19 social media videos (1 minute each) on Facebook and Instagram; 45 original articles; 1 Series Teaser; and an hour long broadcast documentary, now featured on the website as well.

The partnership is connected to The Autry’s California Continued project–the most transformative in the museum’s 30-year history, featuring two new galleries, an ethnobotanical garden, and the museum’s first ever immersive media installation, exploring how traditional ecological knowledge gained through centuries of experience can help present-day residents understand and care for the California environment. Drawing on a combination of Native cultural materials and contemporary artwork, this project connects Native California history, traditional ecological knowledge, and cultural practice to address environmental issues facing Californians today.

The website Tending the Wild has been one of KCETLink TV’s most successful digital launches for an original series. From October through February, the station reports over half a million social media impressions; 153,600 page views; 29,800 video views; 5,100 YouTube views; and 1,755,900 television viewers. For a museum that averages 200,000 visitors per year this collaboration has proven wildly successful, allowing both the station and the museum to engage substantially more viewers and visitors around sensitive, difficult, and not always popular content.

Our Autry mission is to tell all the stories of the American West, past and present, to inspire our shared future. To do so clearly and emphatically, we must be honest about the great diversity that is the American West, culturally and otherwise, and we must empower different voices to be heard. By finding the right partner museums can greatly expand their influence, invigorate urgent dialogue, and continue their relevance in the 21st century.