Vietnamese: “I love the look of it, coming in to the bamboo makes it really comfortable…. Sometimes science exhibits are more professional or academic, and less inviting. But this one with the umbrellas, it’s a really fun place to be in. And it reminds me of Vietnam, just the different bamboo that I’ve seen in my life, it makes me really comfortable. And the fabrics and colors feel very rich.”
Progress Made, More Work Ahead
From the outset, the initiative brought in advisers from the Vietnamese community to build long-term relationships and to help with exhibition and program planning. The evaluation of the initiative indicated that museum staff have developed very strong and solid relationships with community advisers. Advisers noted that they felt the partnership was a positive one, in which everyone’s ideas were heard and which gave them an opportunity to share their knowledge and experiences. What’s more, the advisers expressed great appreciation for being invited to participate and partner with CDM.
The strong relationships forged with advisers have resulted in a cadre of people deeply committed to the mission of the museum and the vision of better serving the Vietnamese community. These advisers mentioned that their ongoing involvement emerged from the museum staff’s commitment to diversity, manifested in the open, collaborative way they worked with the advisers.
While relationships with the advisers are strong overall, the most active and supportive partners were those who worked at organizations whose mission closely aligned with that of CDM. These partners not only understood what the museum offers, but also noted that their own organizations are working toward similar goals, such as education; as a result, these organizations were invested in the project. Because of the crucial role that partners play in the initiative and the fact that many are already stretched in terms of time and money, advisers commented on the need to expand community relationships beyond the current team.
The experience working on the exhibition and the initiative as a whole has been an eye-opening one for the museum staff. For one thing, the staff discovered that developing an understanding of and competence with a culture is an ongoing process. In fact, according to the Garibay Group’s final evaluation, even after working on the project for several years, many staff members still felt tentative about their decisions and were concerned that they may inadvertently offend Vietnamese community members. One recommendation made by the evaluator that may help considerably is to hire Vietnamese staff who can serve as “cultural translators” for the museum staff who are not Vietnamese, helping to bridge the gap between the museum’s culture and that of the Vietnamese community.
Although staff members learned a lot from the initiative, they recognize they still have a long way to go. “Being involved in the Initiative has raised many questions for me,” says Martin. “I’m still not completely satisfied that we have been successful in our work with the Vietnamese community. We would like to continue to build that relationship.”7