The Imperial Valley is a place of extremes, from fields to sand dunes, from winter’s cools to the summer’s heat. With so much to see and do, and with such a naturally challenging landscape, the Imperial Valley is truly a testing ground for new ideas and experiences. It is in this setting that the Imperial Valley Desert Museum thrives in its mission to preserve, interpret, and celebrate our local desert. It is in this environment that we are always developing new ideas and programming — ones that will reshape what it means to be a museum in the 21st century.
Through the 2017-2018 school year, the IVDM field-trip program has engaged with more than 3,600 (and counting) students from across the Imperial Valley. Across this period, museum staff constantly develops and refine our educational content and hands-on activities, creating new ways for students to learn and engage with history and local culture. It is also a time of research, as our curation staff and volunteers also explore the winning formula to create a rewarding, educational, and productive program for processing our extensive archives collection of paper documents and photos.
This year, those two worlds collided as museum staff traveled to the annual AAM conference in Phoenix, presenting on the importance and newness of the work we have done through two different lecture sessions, sharing their content and lessons with other museum professionals from across the world.
The American Alliance of Museums has a tradition of excellence dating back to 1906. Its mission is to champion museums and nurture excellence in partnership with their members and allies. Its ranks of more than 35,000 members cover the professional spectrum: from archivists to educators, from art museums to science centers, and from zoos to archaeological institutions. This year, the alliance recognized two projects coming out of the Imperial Valley Desert Museum, identifying our museum as a leader and innovator in the management of museum archives and education-based programs.
Building a small museum archive
The IVDM maintains an archive of hundreds of thousands of documents which cover the history and culture of the Imperial Valley. Finding the time, funding and approach necessary to transform that collection of loose papers into an organized system for future use and research is a challenge — and is one faced by museums across the country. Under the IVDM’s former director, Dr. Neal Hitch, the museum piloted an intern program focused on the education and training of local students through first-hand research of original source materials. By working locally, the IVDM bettered its community while still accomplishing its primary task. Speaking on behalf of the Imperial Valley Desert Museum at AAM, Dr. Hitch shared the success stories and pitfalls of this program to a packed room of more than 60 attendees.
Focusing on the success stories of its two most recent interns — Edgar Bernal Sevilla and Dr. David Breeckner — Dr. Hitch presented on the role and responsibility of the modern museum: as a place to train and advance those in need, and to uplift and inspire beyond an individual’s current capacity. And from the sound of applause at the session’s end, it was obvious the IVDM had done the same with the day’s attendees.
Small museums/large classrooms
Presenting at an education-based session, IVDM Head Archivist/Curator Anne Moran used the museum’s field-trip program as a case study of how to make large-scale field trips work in small spaces. The lesson was simple, but effective: Don’t be afraid to try new things; engage with your students; talk to them; be flexible in your lessons, and adapt as needed!
By discussing the specifics of past and current education programs at the IVDM, Morgan set a model and standard for other institutions across the country to follow. The museum is a place of education, but it is also a place of doing, fun and active learning. Much like the desert around us, it is not a static location. It is instead vibrant, alive, and always changing.
As the school year winds down, Imperial Valley Desert Museum expects to see over 3,800 students participate in this year through its education programs by the year’s end. Staff are excited that they were able to bring nationally recognized programs to those students and look forward to continue working with Imperial Valley teachers and students to ensure its field trips remain cutting edge with more in the years to come.
The Imperial Valley Desert Museum in Ocotillo, California is open Wednesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.