Wisconsin Veterans Museum: plans to collaborate with the Smithsonian and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience on a year-long community engagement initiative

MADISON — This Smithsonian Institution selected the Wisconsin Veterans Museum to participate in the Foster critical conversations with our communities program. The museum is one of nine organizations selected as part of a cohort to participate in a year-long Smithsonian Institution community engagement initiative in conjunction with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. The 2022 pilot program is a hands-on opportunity for two Wisconsin Veterans Museum staff to develop skills that will deepen relationships in the community and implement projects to foster important, sometimes difficult or ignored, conversations in, with and for the local community.

“Encouraging and supporting these kinds of essential conversations that connect and connect communities and strengthen bonds between people are critical to our strategic goals,” said Myriam Springuel, Director of SITES and Smithsonian Affiliations. “We are grateful for the collaboration with the Coalition which allows us to provide one-on-one coaching and cohort meetings with their guidance for our affiliate participants over the next six months of training sessions.”

Two staff members from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum will work closely with cohort members to develop an implementation plan to open conversations with Indigenous nations in Wisconsin and amplify the stories of Indigenous veterans in United States military service. The resulting project will help the Wisconsin Veterans Museum partner with Indigenous communities to share their stories with the Wisconsin public. It will also help the Wisconsin Veterans Museum become a place where “every veteran is a story.” This grassroots work with Indigenous communities in Wisconsin will also help the Wisconsin Veterans Museum reach and amplify the voices of Black, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQ+, and the female veteran community across the state of Wisconsin.

“We know there are more stories to tell about our Indigenous nations in the state, and we need to do better to understand the people, recognize their service and preserve their stories. With this understanding, two years ago staff added awareness and relationship building with underrepresented populations in our community as a strategic priority. We are honored and excited to begin this project to tell the full range of Wisconsin veterans’ stories,” said museum director Chris Kolakowski.

The program’s learning methodology is provided by the Coalition with guidance from its staff members, Smithsonian leaders, and cohort members. Monthly trainings will cover topics such as understanding the community; learn about trauma, healing and remembrance; build reciprocal relationships; understand the organizational impacts; and maintaining community relations. Project resources will be shared on the Smithsonian Affiliations website upon completion of the program.

“Having difficult conversations isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary to build more just societies,” says Braden Paynter, director of methodology and practice at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. “These trainings aim to help cultural organizations facilitate meaningful conversations that address the past with honesty and build trust and compassion in their communities today. Through such dialogue, we can begin to heal historical divisions and foster a new peace.

Smithsonian Affiliations is a national outreach program that develops long-term collaborative partnerships with museums, educational and cultural organizations to share Smithsonian collections, build collaborative networks, and engage learners of all ages with Smithsonian resources . More information is available at affiliations.si.edu

The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience is the only global network dedicated to transforming places that preserve the past into spaces that foster civic action. With more than 300 museums, historic sites, memorials and memory initiatives in 66 countries, the Coalition has collaborated with sites around the world on initiatives based on dialogue, exhibition design, community commemoration and interpretative planning and strategic. They have trained over 15,000 museum and historic site professionals at their member sites and other public and private entities in dialogue, public engagement, equity and inclusion. More information is available at https://www.sitesofconscience.org/en/home/

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