Interpretive Guide Training for Shangri La Tours

Guide Training at the Honolulu Academy of Arts
Deborah Pope, Executive Director, presenting at the Honolulu Academy of Arts on Visitor Services and Security at Shangri La.

This is an exciting time at Shangri La! As many of you know, we have recently completed recruiting a dozen new Interpretive Guides for Shangri La tours and I couldn’t be happier!  All of the new guides have a diverse range of previous employment and personal experiences, but they all bring intelligence, enthusiasm and style to their tour that has already brought in a host of compliments from visitors.

A ten week training course for both new and seasoned guides commenced in August and explored the latest in Islamic art research, educational interpretation and museum visitor motivations. The highlights of the guide training included dynamic lectures by Shangri La staff, such as our Curator of Islamic Art, Keelan Overton, Executive Director, Deborah Pope and yours truly. The training took place at both the Honolulu Academy of Arts and Shangri La, with the last three sessions being full-day events held at Shangri La. During the Shangri La sessions, staff and guides collaborated to integrate key interpretive goals and themes into each space.

 This fall has also afforded the opportunity for Shangri La staff to critically evaluate the existing tour route, its contents, and the general visitor experience.   Through this self-reflective process I’m pleased to share that we’ve made some changes which make the visitor experience at Shangri La even better! These recent changes include rotations and adjustments to the display of objects in several of the rooms, such as the Living Room. Previously only viewed from behind stanchions, visitors can now enter the Living Room and walk through it. By entering the Living Room through the Diamond Head door visitors can now clearly see the importance of the East-West axis which Shangri La was architecturally designed along. In one sweeping panoramic view visitors can take in the sight of Diamond Head, the South Shore of Oahu, the Playhouse, pool and cascades, and Living Room; with the sight line terminating in the beautifully framed Mihrab. This carefully orchestrated view and significant architectural concept was previously minimized in the tour route. This and other enhancements allow for greater appreciation of the art, natural beauty and ambiance of Shangri La (if you haven’t been on site lately, you’ve simply got to come now!).

Living Room with runner
New Living Room Tour Route

The high point of guide training came at the end with a Recognition Ceremony and Pau Hana Party in Shangri La’s Moon Garden.  Stacy Pope, a new Interpretive Guide, summed up the guide training experience best, stating “the training really opened up a new world for me, a world filled with the beauty of Islamic art and the diversity of the Islamic world. This has been a great experience and continues to be — I feel so lucky to be a part of Shangri La and share it with the public!”

Recognition Reception in Moon Garden
Recognition Reception in Moon Garden

My sentiments exactly Stacy! We’re lucky to have you too and all of our excellent new and seasoned guides.

New Interpretive Guides at Shangri La
New Interpretive Guides at Shangri La, Front Row: Azadeh Nikou, Yoko Shimoyoshi, Kelli Meskin, Blyth Kozuki; Second Row: Jayne Hirata-Epstein, Stacy Pope, Sheri St. Germain, Farideh Farhi, Matthew Luttrell, Susan Killeen and Angela Ameling.

75th Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists

As Shangri La’s contract archivist, I flew to Chicago for the Society of American Archivists’ 75th annual meeting. It was a week of nonstop panels, meetings, networking, and workshops—with just enough time left over for hotdogs and cheesecake on a stick!

One thing we’ve been working on here at Shangri La is conceptualizing our institutional archives—an urgent need, especially considering all the documentation we generate every day about events, exhibitions, capital projects, conservation, and scholars and artists in residence. To that end, I gathered as much information as I could about preserving and providing access to “born-digital” materials such as email messages, PDFs, and digital video and image files. I was fortunate to attend April Norris’s one-day workshop, “Preserving Digital Archives: Concepts and Competencies,” which introduced participants to the model of an Open Archival Information System, and to some of the technical, policy, and theoretical issues related to digital archives.

As Shangri La enters the world of social media via our blog, facebook, and vimeo sites, we also need to consider how to capture, preserve, and provide access to this content—not just the content generated by us, but also the content generated by you, our users. Luckily, there were a number of sessions on rights analysis and social media archiving that offered advice on that very topic. Of course, trends, technology, and user agreements change constantly and quickly. This is both maddening and exciting, and it requires archivists to become that much more nimble.

Finally, I was excited to attend the meetings of the Museum Archives Section and Working Group. It was such a great opportunity to talk shop (and eavesdrop on others talking shop!) about issues specific to museum archives, such as accession files and curatorial files.

It was great to spend a week with colleagues, and I returned from Chicago feeling invigorated. We have a lot of work ahead of us here in the Shangri La/DDFIA archives, and I’m excited to be a part of it!

East-West Center Senior Journalists Seminar at Shangri La: Bridging Gaps Between the United States and the Muslim World

East-West Center Senior Journalists Seminar participants onsite at Shangri La.

On August 25 and 26, 2011, 12 senior writers, reporters, editors and television producers from the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the United States gathered in the Playhouse at Shangri La to discuss U.S. Muslim relations, Islam in Asia, religious diversity, and the problems journalists covering these issues face.  Bridging Gaps Between the United States and the Muslim World was the theme of the East-West Center’s 2011 Senior Journalists Seminar, a travel and exchange program for journalists from the United States and Asian countries organized by the East-West Center and co-sponsored by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.  

 This year’s Asia participants traveled to Washington, D.C., New York, Colorado Springs and Honolulu to meet with government officials, community leaders, religious authorities and others active in the dialogue on Asian–U.S. relations; their American counterparts traveled to Manila and Mindanao, the Philippines, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, to do the same. The journalists were pleased to comment on the hospitality and openness on the part of the Muslim religious leaders who welcomed them during their travels. “[I was surprised by] the many varieties of and differences between countries in the way they practice Islam. It makes it clear that no one political size will fit all in terms of U.S. relations with Muslim majority countries” reported Jason Scanlon, FOX News Channel.

The theme of the seminar was "Bridging Gaps Between the United States and the Muslim World."

The two-day program’s wrap-up sessions at Shangri La were characterized by lively discussions touching on religion, politics and economics in Asia and the United States. “By bringing together participants from diverse religious backgrounds and allowing them to debate various issues relevant to the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world, we were better able to understand the religious diversity of the places we visited and to analyze the real causes of conflict,” said Md. Zahir Shah Sherazi, DawnNews, Pakistan.

For more information about this program, please visit:

Shangri La’s Curator of Islamic Art

Keelan Overton, Curator of Islamic Art at Shangri La

Following an international search, The Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art welcomed Keelan Overton into the position of curator of Islamic art at Shangri La on June 27. I am so pleased to have Keelan join our staff. She is a very thoughtful and well-regarded young scholar who is passionate about the educational role museums play in today’s society—especially at a time when we all need to have a better understanding of the Muslim world.

Keelan will be responsible for the research, interpretation, and display of Shangri La’s collection, which includes more than 3,500 pieces of Islamic art. She will also develop programs to enhance Shangri La’s role as a center for education, scholarly research, and exchange. We’re looking forward to helping her plan exhibitions, residencies for scholars and artists, educational outreach programs, and occasional symposia and publications.

Even though Keelan has only been here for a little over two months, she has adjusted quickly and really hit the ground running! She says she’s “very pleased to be back at Shangri La and grateful to once again be surrounded by the Aloha spirit. This is a very exciting moment for the institution, and I am currently focusing my efforts on exhibitions planning, guide training, and increasing Shangri La’s exposure within the international community of Islamic art history.”

Keelan holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles (2011) and a master’s degree in Art History from Williams College in Massachusetts (2004). She is also no stranger to Shangri La. She first came here as an intern in 2003 and returned as assistant curator from 2004 to 2005. Keelan has since worked as a research assistant in the Art of the Middle East Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and as an instructor and teaching assistant at UCLA. She is the recipient of a University of California President’s Fellowship and a Theodore Rousseau Fellowship from the Department of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which supported extensive travel and research in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and India.

Welcome, Keelan. We’re thrilled to have you here!

From the Director

We are delighted to open The Door to Shangri La and welcome you inside. Like many museums and arts centers, we do so much of our work out of the public eye- in part because of our location in the middle of the Pacific, in a residential neighborhood with limited access; and in part because research, collections care, and conservation by their very nature take place “behind the scenes.” We welcome the opportunity the internet provides for us to open our doors to wider audiences, to share our work, and to broaden our horizons. Frequent blog posts will focus on new research, visiting artists and scholars, events onsite and in the community, and the latest surprises revealed by ongoing conservation work.

When Doris Duke first wrote the codicil to her will calling for Shangri La to become a place for the study and understanding of Islamic art, she clearly envisioned the preservation and opening of her home and collections for educational programs. She may not have foreseen the power of the internet to bring Shangri La and its cultural assets to homes, schools, and workplaces around the world, but it is in the spirit of her vision that we launch The Door to Shangri La, expand our website and broaden our partnerships. I hope you enjoy this encounter with Islamic art, visit our blog often, and share this site with friends who may be interested in learning more about our research, conservation, and programs.