Miranda Belarde-Lewis has dedicated her career to telling the stories of Indigenous communities and helping Native artists communicate the layers of meaning in their work to the public. Her work designing exhibits, researching pieces, and working with artists has allowed her to strengthen the interpretative strategies of tribal museums, as well as build relationships between museums and Native communities.
Miranda’s career has been a series of breaking through glass ceilings to achieve her goals, from her start as a museum intern. Before entering the Museology program, Miranda completed her undergraduate work in Cultural Anthropology at the University of Arizona, where she was able to do some work at the Arizona State Museum. She had an internship at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and from there, she “was hooked” on museum work. When Miranda returned as an employee at the NMAI, she was surrounded by individuals with advanced degrees at her internship and knew she would need to continue her education to pursue her work with tribal museums.
She chose the Museology program at UW, where she felt supported and encouraged in her research and practice in tribal museum. She credits faculty member Wilson O’Donnell and staff member Maya Farrar with helping her to realize her vision of what kind of museum professional she wanted to be. As Miranda said, “No one [in Museology] questioned the legitimacy of tribal museums, which really emboldened me.” She completed her master’s thesis, Shared Ownership: New Directions for Tribal/Museum Relations, in this area.
Researching for this thesis helped her with her eventual PhD and made her feel less intimidated about doing research in the iSchool. After earning her Museology degree in 2007, she pursued a PhD from the iSchool at UW, graduating in 2013. As Miranda puts it, “everything is information,” and having expertise and knowledge in information science is something that she thinks is important to all museum professionals. Others have followed her path, as two other Museology students have also gone on to pursue PhDs at the iSchool.
Miranda (Tlingit/Zuni), feels that the work she was able to do in Museology and later in the iSchool has helped her to feel more confident and connected to both her tribal communities and the greater academic community. Her Museology and iSchool degrees have helped her become a strong, visible, and qualified voice for Native communities; as Miranda stated, “My PhD can get us in the door or at the table.”
Miranda now works with the Frye, Museum of Glass, and the Bill Reid Gallery in British Columbia on a contract basis as a guest curator. She also works extensively with the Suquamish Museum on development, fundraising, and public programs. At the Frye, Miranda is curating two shows for artists who have received the James Ray Award: Seattle-based poet/performance artist Storme Webber and Alison Bremner, a Tlingit artist whose work appears across the Northwest Coast. At the Museum of Glass, Miranda is working as the Guest Curator of “Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight,” opening in November 2018. At the Bill Reid Gallery, she is working on a show highlighting the work of Sho Sho Esquiro, an indigenous fashion designer and artist, and the late Clarissa Rizal, a Tlingit weaver.
During her time in Museology, Miranda said she was able to “establish a network in academia and the local museum community,” which helped her to realize that she could unite her research and practice. Her studies in Museology and the iSchool gave her a greater understanding of how information science and the museum field compliment each other. Miranda’s time as a UW student helped her to see that “museum professionals are information professionals. Information is encoded into objects [that] we [then] interpret. In museums, we can provide the context for those objects and compassion for who or where that information comes from; it just depends on telling the story right.”
–Sydney Dratel, Museology Communications Assistant