About This Project

How do artworks wind up on museum walls? How are objects chosen for display and who makes such decisions? What individuals/groups are highlighted in these exhibitions? When Indigenous objects are put on display, they often lack the voice of the very communities who produced them. I will explore how museums exhibit and interpret Indigenous material culture, and advocate for a more multidimensional museum that more accurately portrays the diverse experiences shaping our past, present, and future.

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What is the context of this research?

For over a year now I have interned at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, and have rigorously worked on digitizing every object in the collection. As the digital photographs amassed on the museum’s private server, I began to consider the potential of these virtual objects.

My internship inspired me to pursue an Art History Thesis, in which I am investigating how digital art surrogates can more effectively interact with their source communities to ultimately change the relationship between these two parties. My research in Quebec museums will allow me to pursue this line of inquiry and further examine to what degree they respond to Clifford’s “contact zone”, promoting “active collaboration and sharing of authority” (Routes, 121).

What is the significance of this project?

Haunted by their colonial pasts, museums often avoid the complex and troubled histories that tend to accompany Indigenous objects and instead illustrate a more homogenous, nationalistic identity. Through studying Indigenous exhibitions in Quebec, I hope to develop ways in which museums can more accurately reflect the plurality of these cultures’ artwork and objects. Reconnecting collections to their Indigenous source communities grants Native people their rightful input in how they want to be represented to the wider public, and extends a lateral set of narratives that may have gone untold otherwise. Creating a museum that fully demonstrates the diverse set of narratives connected to Indigenous objects promotes appreciation for all the unique threads that make up the rich human experience.

What are the goals of the project?

I will begin my research on January 3rd, 2016. I will visit seven museums during my stay in Quebec, including: Musée de la civilization, the McCord Museum, and Pointe-a-Calliere. While there, I will study the layout and design of the exhibition spaces. I will investigate if and how Indigenous communities were involved in development of the exhibition. I am interested in how Indigenous perspectives, or lack thereof, shape the exhibition's overall message. I will also determine how all of these various components work together to construct diverse histories and identities in a contemporary context. The data collected at each of these museums will further serve as essential comparisons to Indigenous collections here in the U.S.


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My budget outlines the essential costs of traveling and living in Quebec for 14 days. This trip will allow me to study the exhibition spaces inside various museums, as well talk with the museum professionals behind the displays. Not only will my research enhance my understanding of the processes of developing these exhibitions of Indigenous art, but it will also bolster the scope of my Senior Art History thesis. This trip allows me expand my exhibition case studies to an international level, which will ultimately produce more comprehensive results on Indigenous museum collections.

This trip is crucial to my research project as the museum and exhibition case studies available to me now are limited by my geographic location. Understanding the value of this trip to my overall research project, I have taken out a student loan to temporarily ease the financial burden. Any funding I receive will go directly towards offsetting the debt that I will have to repay upon graduation.

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This is a wonderful project that will significantly contribute to the way museums interact with source communities. It promotes changes that will make museums more inclusive, accessible and collaborative cultural spaces where multiple and diverse narratives of the human experience can be explored. Sydney brings in the project her strong research skills, her experience in working in museums and her commitment and enthusiasm to promote knowledge, equality and a true appreciation of the arts.

Meet the Team

Sydney Collins
Sydney Collins
Fourth Year Undergraduate Student


University of Virginia
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Sydney Collins

I am a fourth year Art History major, Anthropology minor at the University of Virginia. Currently, I am involved in two digital cataloging projects at the University of Virginia—one documents the collection at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection , and the other documents the Fine and Decorative Art Collection at the University.

When not in the library or in the museum, I also spend time playing Club Water Polo for the University of Virginia. On dry land, I am also an avid runner, weight lifter, and super hero movie connoisseur.

Additional Information

I am very grateful for any contribution, no matter how small. I would love to show my appreciation for your support by taking you virtually with me on this research trip. I hope to update all contributors with my observation and analysis (and images!) of the many exhibitions I visit throughout my stay through social media. Additionally, as a small token of my deep gratitude all my contributors will receive a handwritten postcard from one of the museums visited during my trip.

Lastly, if you have any questions regarding my project or my trip to Quebec don’t hesitate to contact me through the Experiment website or my email: sec5fu@virginia.edu.

Want more background on my involvement at the Kluge-Ruhe? Take a look at this article in the 2015 UVA Art Department Newsletter.

Project Backers

  • 55Backers
  • 102%Funded
  • $2,760Total Donations
  • $44.73Average Donation
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