UW News

November 13, 2003

Virtual museum to ‘bridge distance,’ bring peninsula culture to broader audience

The UW recently received a $450,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to create a digital archive of Pacific Northwest cultural and historical items and to produce six online exhibitions over two years as the foundation for an online community museum.

The University, working with Olympic Peninsula Tribal Associations, the Clallam County Historical Society, the law firm of Preston Gates & Ellis LLP, Peninsula Community College and other partners, will design and carry out this digitization project that will document artifacts, stories, and events of northwest Olympic Peninsula heritage through photographs, videotape, and oral histories. The community-based curatorial and exhibition project will create Web sites, workshops, tools, and curriculum materials to aid local communities in preserving and sharing their history and culture.

The idea for the Community Museum Project surfaced in April 2000 in Forks, a town on the Olympic Peninsula, through a series of planning meetings to bring connectivity to all residents in the area.

“Frequently even tribal members don’t know some of their own traditions as well as they might,” says Viola Riebe, a cultural resource consultant for the Hoh Tribe who was one of the original participants in the early planning meetings. “A virtual museum would help pass knowledge of our traditions on to others.”

Community members, realizing that they did not have the resources to achieve the goals of the Community Museum Project alone, approached the UW to assist them, recognizing that the University could bring significant intellectual, archival and technological resources to such a project.

Paul Constantine, Associate Director of Libraries for Research and Instructional Services, and Vice Provost Louis Fox saw the value and promise of such a project. Together, they provided the necessary leadership at the UW.

“As many of the resources to be included in the museum, especially objects, are now inaccessible outside the communities, the museum will be invaluable to anyone studying the culture, history, and social life of these communities from a distance,” says Constantine.

The office that Louis Fox oversees, Educational Partnerships and Learning Technologies, was established for the purpose of shaping University-community partnerships strengthened by the expert use of technology. Fox’s office will be providing management personnel based in the community to oversee and facilitate the Community Museum Project.

“The Community Museum Project establishes a model whereby a large, urban, public university partners with small, rural community groups and tribes to provide training, technical assistance, and access to collections,” says Fox. “Meanwhile, the community members themselves design and curate their own online exhibitions.”

Kathy Monds, Director of the Clallam County Historical Society, looks forward to making their rich resources visible to a broader audience.

“Our mission is to educate people about the area’s history, but the distance between communities and between our region and the rest of the state makes that difficult,” says Monds. “Having items digitized and online could help bridge that distance and make the cultures of the North Olympic Peninsula more accessible.”

Bruce Hevly, Director of the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest at the University of Washington, will be directing the creation of curriculum materials surrounding the exhibits.

Hevly says, “This kind of project is exactly what the new information culture promises but as yet seldom delivers — a collection that does not echo a brick-and-mortar presence in a major population center, but adds to the breadth and diversity of our knowledge and cultural experience by presenting a digital collection as an introduction and an invitation to a major collection in an out of the way place.”

Seattle-based law firm Preston Gates & Ellis, is contributing hundreds of hours of pro-bono legal services to work through the intellectual property issues inherent in the project. This significant monetary commitment made the project feasible for grant funding.

“Preston Gates is excited to be part of this effort to help preserve the cultural traditions found on the Olympic Peninsula including the culture of the Hoh and Quileute tribes. The project represents a thoughtful use of technology and a fulfilling application of IP law,” says Bart Freedman, a Preston Gates partner. “While Preston Gates has a tradition of pro-bono work and community stewardship, the Community Museum Project is a particularly rewarding and cool project.”

The grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services will enable northwest Olympic Peninsula communities to create their vision of a cultural learning tool for all community members.