In March, I attended the Museums Association of the Caribbean (MAC) conference in the Bahamas in my role as Co-President of the MAC Board (NMB is also a MAC Institutional Board member). Over 40 presenters representing the Dutch, French, Spanish and English-speaking Caribbean and the Caribbean diaspora gathered with 150 attendees to explore “The Power of Museums”. We reflected on and shared changes the museum sector has witnessed since the onset of the pandemic and how museums have creatively responded.
While Bermuda is not geographically located in the Caribbean, we share many familial, cultural, and historical ties and a colonial experience with our southern neighbours. NMB also operates in a similar context to many Caribbean museums: we have a small staff, limited resources and are impacted by hot, humid environments and frequent hurricanes. Being part of a wider association like MAC allows us to build a network of peers to share knowledge and expertise.
The conference highlighted the vital role that local museums play not only in their communities but also globally. Presenters shared how Caribbean museums are critical: in shaping identity; undertaking research; sharing multiple perspectives and the lived experiences of people; challenging the dominant narrative; advancing the definition of museum; preserving heritage; fostering well-being; and strengthening communities.
Museums are more than just repositories of artefacts and knowledge. They are stewards of culture, preserving it for posterity while fostering an informed appreciation of our complex and ever-changing world. Held in deep public trust, museums build bridges between communities and generate and share knowledge so we can better understand each other and the world.
A recurring theme at the MAC conference was the necessity for our sector to advocate the important role that museums and cultural heritage spaces play in society. In this blog, I reflect on the power of museums and share how NMB is expanding in its role as an educational resource, a community anchor and an agent of change.
The Power of Museums as Educational Resources
At NMB, we aim to shift how history is shared and taught in Bermuda through community crowdsourcing projects, digital storytelling, genealogy, contemporary art exhibits, and programmes like our award-winning Tracing Our Roots/Routes.
We want to make learning Bermuda history part of every educational journey on Island, for everyone ages 3-100 years old. We are on- boarding a new Learning & Engagement Officer who will enhance our team and allow us to deliver more programming in high demand. Our Adult Ambassador programme (which filled up in five days!) moves beyond traditional docent tours. Participants deepen their understanding of Bermuda history and learn how to facilitate tours and education activities, bringing Bermuda history to life.
Our Early Years programme is also progressing. Our early education expert, in consultation with peers, has identified themes that fit both public and private schools. She is prototyping hands-on, inquiry- and play-based activities for 4 to 5-year-olds that will build a strong platform for a lifetime of learning and museum engagement.
In our Teacher Professional Development programme, we are focused on creating essential and needed teacher resources (historical summaries and activities) that will live on our website to support classroom learning.
“NMB have helped realise a shifting of teaching practices, as well as help teachers see the museum as an authentic learning environment. I look forward to continued collective success.”
— Nekesha Holdipp, Acting Education Officer, Social Studies, Department of Education
NEW LEARNING SPACES
In addition to creating and rolling out programming, we are also envisioning new learning spaces that will inspire, engage and cater to contemporary learners. Funds secured through The Future of History Campaign will see the historic Shifting House on the lower grounds transform into a Learning Centre to welcome learners of all ages. Preliminary building plans are complete and Planning submission phase is next.
Exhibit updates in the pipeline will enhance our programming and share the most up-to-date research. Transformation of our historic Boat Loft, (one of the last buildings at NMB awaiting updates) will include tactile and digital displays, audio components and oral histories to create two new exhibits, putting hundreds more objects on display. Research and interpretative planning are currently underway.
On the Open Ocean exhibit will explore how Bermudians have seized opportunity and show how extensive kinship and communication networks throughout Atlantic ports impacted mariners and their families and networks in Bermuda. In Local Waters exhibit will explore how Bermuda’s shape and geography formed a natural nursery for innovations in maritime technology. Using local watercraft, we will show how skills and knowledge drawn from Africa, the Caribbean and Europe became second nature in a culture reliant on boats.
The Power of Museums as Community Anchors
We want community to be at the center of NMB, and the Museum to be a place where everyone can find their story. We are doing this through new exhibits like Homestead and projects such as Bermuda Family Scrapbook (and The Objects that Make Us, launching later this year).
Homestead, our newest contemporary art exhibit by local artist Meredith Andrews, features 10 multi-generational Bermudian families in front of their homes. The large, vibrant family portraits are an artistic response to the Bermuda Family Scrapbook project and capture the fortitude of family life in Bermuda.
In addition to using contemporary art as an entry point to learning Bermuda history, we are incorporating technology. Download the free Smartify app to hear the families of Homestead share what home and family means to them. You’ll also find a brand-new Black History in Bermuda tour that shares contributions of Black Bermudian community leaders and highlights associated NMB artefacts on display. The app enhances NMB visits, and can be used off-site, too.
Our ongoing Bermuda Family Scrapbook project is gathering momentum. We are still seeking more historic photographs and stories. Submit today to put the faces of our community on our walls and help us all better connect to history through real people and their stories.
A Community Space
This year, we saw over 2,000 Bermuda residents take advantage of Free for February and 1,106 participants in our first ever free Community Day on 26 March. Thanks to the support of BF&M, we opened our doors for free, allowing everyone to engage with Bermuda’s past without having to pay admission.
Those who visit NMB will find over a dozen exhibits spanning 500 years of Bermuda history. Our 16-acre property also includes green spaces and long stretches of ramparts for walking, picnicking, and exploring, and quiet areas for reflection. Our children’s playground and playhouse introduce the youngest learners to Bermuda history.
We know more needs to be done for everyone to find their story at NMB. For us to do this work, we encourage you to support our annual operating fund, The Anchor Fund, the backbone of all we do.
The Power of Museums as Agents of Change
Museums play a crucial role in bringing people together and building bridges so we can all better understand each other.
Bermuda’s position in the North Atlantic has meant that our shores, and our history, have always been deeply intertwined with the Americas, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. As a cultural and educational institution, we use a distinct Atlantic World view to frame and contextualise Bermuda history. We are constantly working to expand knowledge of Bermuda and deepen our understanding of ourselves and the past.
Our collaborations with local and international researchers and academics mean that we are active participants in the most current conversations, constantly working to expand knowledge and understanding about Bermuda. Contemporary scholarly research is integral to a comprehensive understanding of our history and how it has shaped our present. We combine this research with personal stories and our vast collections to create exhibits, blogs, publications and programmes that inspire curiosity and launch conversations about every aspect of Bermuda history. This helps us better understand our present and plan for our collective future.
Dr. Kristy Warren, a senior lecturer in Black History at the Lincoln School of Humanities and Heritage, is changing the narrative about the history of Black migration to the U.K. by emphasizing the stories of Bermudian merchant mariners. With NMB assistance, archival sources, and Wooten’s descendants (including Lisa Howie, NMB Education Consultant), Dr. Warren has incorporated Wooten’s family history into her research, adding perspectives that have been traditionally overlooked.
“As a team of Black Bermudian women, we also reflect on the process of working on the Wooten project, and our experiences of tracing Bermudian roots through these merchant mariners who crisscorssed the Atlantic, and in some cases, traversed the globe”
— Chynna Trott, NMB Curatorial Assistant who assisted Dr. Warren’s research, with NMB intern Jaylen Simons
Our upcoming Bermuda Journal of Archaeology and Maritime History contains articles ranging from an examination of military and ceremonial items belonging to indigenous groups found on the San Pedro wreck (1595); to how families in the US and Bermuda mined relationships to advance economic interests as they engaged in illicit trade with the Dutch and French; to maritime archaeologists using 3-D models to learn more about the human and environmental processes that shaped the Fraternite wreck (1915).
By making research like this accessible to the public through our exhibits, publications, and programmes, we are expanding our collective understanding of Bermuda history and each other. Knowing and understanding our history helps us all develop a stronger sense of place, identity and belonging.
Our work would not be possible without our community and supporters– thank you.