Society of American Archivists’ 2014 Annual Meeting

Hawai'i and former Hawai'i archivists outside the Library of Congress: Dainan Skeem, Archives and Manuscripts Department, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; Ashley Hartwell, Curator of the Armor Collection at the National Infantry Museum; me; Gina Vergara-Bautista, Archivist, Hawai'i State Archives.
Hawai’i and former Hawai’i archivists outside the Library of Congress: Dainan Skeem, Archives and Manuscripts Department, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; Ashley Hartwell, Curator of the Armor Collection at the National Infantry Museum; me; Gina Vergara-Bautista, Archivist, Hawai’i State Archives.

Earlier this month, I was very fortunate to have attended the Society of American Archivists’ annual meeting in Washington, DC. The sessions were great, the weather was atypically pleasant, and it “just happened” to be restaurant week (thanks, SAA organizers!)—all in all, a memorable combination.

Before the conference even began, I attended an Electronic Records and Museum Archives Symposium hosted by SAA’s Museum Archives Sections’ Standards and Best Practices Working Group, of which I am a member. Like archivists in other types of institutions, museum archivists are receiving more and more born-digital material—often times on obsolete media (remember zip disks?) and/or in obsolete formats (Kodak photo CD files—ugh!). Much of this material documents important museum functions, and, as such, merits long-term preservation. But once we figure out how to read the files, how do we provide access to them and ensure that they are not altered?

At the symposium, archivists from a variety of museums shared what they were doing to manage their born-digital records. Strategies ranged from implementing commercial digital repository systems to using in-house expertise to customize open-source implementations to outsourcing to using a variety of free utilities to begin managing e-records. Like these other institutions, Shangri La is also dealing with the challenges of born-digital materials, so it was especially helpful to see the wide range of tools and strategies available to us.

During the conference itself, I attended sessions relating to web archiving, records management, and born digital records. I was especially interested in the web archiving sessions because Shangri La has recently expanded its social media presence, and we want to find ways of preserving and providing access to these records, which document our outreach efforts and what is essentially our “public face.”

Though SAA is a national organization, some sessions addressed issues that were international in scope. Members of the collective Librarians and Archivists with Palestine, for example, reported on their 2013 trip to meet with Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel, and on their formation of a network of information professionals committed to speaking out against the destruction of Palestinian libraries, archives, and other cultural property.

All in all, I learned a ton and left feeling energized by the great work my colleagues are doing. (And the goat cheese cheesecake with blueberry sauce wasn’t too shabby either!)

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.

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!