The Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota won a $239,912 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), part of the agency’s Museums for America program. It is one of 120 organizations to receive this award.
“University art museums like WAM occupy a unique space in the cultural landscape, located simultaneously in the world of the arts and the academy,” said Weisman director Alejandra Peña Gutiérrez. “If we are to remain relevant as cultural institutions, we have a duty to develop practices that position museums as intentional actors in society, whose action extends far beyond museum walls, and even beyond the arts.”
The grant is focused on funding a truth and reconciliation project, including consultation with Indigenous communities in preparation for decolonization. The grant money will help repatriate some of WAM’s inventory of 2,000 indigenous objects from the Mimbres Valley. The process of repatriating these objects, unearthed more than 90 years ago by the U’s Department of Anthropology, is expected to be completed by December 2022.
The process is a long time coming and the grant is intended to help support it.
The Weisman dragged his feet in the process, which was started 30 years ago after Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which required federally funded institutions to return indigenous remains and sacred objects to the tribes.
Former Weisman director Lyndel King argued that these items should remain in museums even though she had taken steps to comply with the law. Peña Gutiérrez approaches the subject in a different way.
“This is a time for us to reflect, to consult with Indigenous community members, artists and leaders, and to fully engage in the wound healing work being done by WAM, and by museums and institutions more broadly. to develop new, more inclusive practices in conversation with the communities we serve,” said Peña Gutiérrez. “This project is an important step on the road to improving museum practices at Weisman.”
The IMLS grant also helps support an Indigenous Artist Fellowship and public conversations centered on decolonization and indigenization in Weisman.