In 2013, the Hood Museum of Art was awarded a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to digitize the museum's entire collection of Native American art and make images and information about the objects available on a dedicated Web forum. As part of this three-year project, more than 3,500 Native American objects in the collection are being photographed, and experts on Native American art are reviewing the collection and updating the museum's catalogue information.
The Web forum (scheduled to launch in 2016) will feature a searchable database of the collection and provide information, stories, images, and videos about objects in the collection. Two Native American Dartmouth students working as interns at the museum last year and next year are helping to support communication with representatives of relevant Native American communities at the College and across the country. This feedback on the collection, combined with that of invited academic consultants, will significantly enhance the museum's knowledge base—as well as the teaching value of the objects, which is one of the key goals of the initiative. The more that is known about objects in the collection, the wider the range of ways they can be integrated into both the college and K-12 curriculum.
At the same time the museum is working to enhance its understanding and appreciation of the objects in the collection, it is also working to better understand the curricular needs and teaching practices of regional schools. Museum education staff have formed a teacher advisory group comprised of elementary, middle, and high school educators who have attended workshops and brought groups of students to the museum for tours of Native American art exhibitions in the past, and who regularly teach about Native American art and culture in the classroom. The new Native American Art at Dartmouth Web forum will feature learning resources designed to help integrate the study of these works of art into the curriculum. The teacher advisory group reflects the museum's longstanding commitment to audience research, and will help ensure that any learning resources developed by the museum related to its Native American collections will be as effective as possible.
The teacher advisory group convened during the winter and will continue to meet periodically throughout the year. Following an introduction to the museum's Native American collections and the IMLS project, teachers were asked to describe how they use online resources for their own research as well as in the classroom with students. Next, they were asked to explore and critique online resources related to Native American art that have been created by other museums and organizations, to help Hood Museum staff understand what they find most and least useful. Over time, Hood staff will develop prototypes of learning resources related to its own collection of Native American art, and the teachers will use and evaluate those resources, providing feedback that will help to shape these educational tools. This collaboration between museum staff and regional teachers is an example of the many ways the museum seeks to fulfill its mission to create an ideal learning environment (online as well as in the galleries) that fosters transformative encounters with works of art. In this instance, the beneficiaries will be regional K-12 teachers and students, as well as anyone who draws upon the museum's new Native American Web forum as an educational resource.