The Block co-presents convening on Indigenous practices in museums

A conference held September 28 and 29, 2023, brought together a national group of artists and museum professionals for a series of plenaries and workshops on rethinking museum work, focusing on Indigenous practices and modes of working.  The Block was proud to co-organize the event with The Field Museum and the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR) at Northwestern University.

“The Centering Indigenous Practices in Museums conference provided an opportunity to hear directly from Indigenous artists, emerging museum professionals, and senior leaders about their work, what’s occupying their thinking today, and their visions for the future,” said Block Museum Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs Kathleen Berzock.  

Berzock and Janet Dees, The Block’s Steven and Lisa Munster Tananbaum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, served on the conference’s planning committee alongside colleagues from CNAIR and the Field Museum. Dees also facilitated workshops on collaborative curation. 

The conference consisted of three plenary sessions and three workshops held at The Field Museum. The plenary sessions presented the views of three subgroups – artists, emerging museum professionals, and senior curators and directors – and focused on foregrounding a collaborative environment.  

Among The Block’s partners participating and presenting were; Lois Taylor Biggs (Cherokee Nation, White Earth Ojibwe), former Block Curatorial Research Fellow; Jordan Poorman Cocker (Gáuigú (Kiowa) Tribe and the Kingdom of Tonga), Terra Foundation Guest Co-Curator of Woven Being; Kim Vigue (Oneida, Menominee), Executive Director, Mitchell Museum of the American Indian; and Woven Being artists Jason Wesaw (Potawatomi) and Kelly Church (Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi, Ottawa, Ojibwe)

Dees said that the conference’s array of workshops fostered unique engagement amongst participants. “That was the priority – wanting to make sure there were opportunities for dialogue and sharing amongst participants and not just listening to others,” she said. “I think those workshop environments really fostered that.”  

As part of the conference, The Block hosted a reception and open house viewing of Rosalie Favell: Indigenous Artists Facing the Camera, its fall 2023 exhibition showcasing Rosalie Favell’s extensive portraiture project of Indigenous artists and museum professionals. Adding to the celebratory atmosphere, the conference attendees included portrait sitters from the series who had not yet had the opportunity to visit the exhibition.  

“This was really wonderful as an opportunity to kind of showcase Rosalie’s exhibition and the work we’re doing with Indigenous artists,” Dees said. “Several people attending the conference were in the exhibition, so it was really fun seeing them posing in front of their photographs.”  

In addition to offering a uniquely collaborative environment that centered Indigenous-led approaches to pressing issues in museum work, the conference was unique as a large-scale gathering of Indigenous arts professionals. 

“I heard many people commenting on how unprecedented it was to be part of such a large gathering of Indigenous individuals who work in the arts,” Berzock said. “That made the event more special.” 

Images from the Celebration

Centering Indigenous Practices in Museums was generously sponsored by the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Driehaus Foundation, The Field Museum, Northwestern’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research, The Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, and The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana.

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