The Currency of Consultation and Collaboration

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Ann McMullen


Since the 1980s, American museums have increasingly sought Native people’s assistance in exhibitions and other projects. While others often present their success stories, I draw on my museum experiences and examine how cultural misunderstandings about the issue of money and payments can undermine such consultations. Drawing on the literature of gifts, exchanges, and commodities, I suggest that better understanding of the dynamics of payments, reciprocity, and traditional knowledge, values, and exchanges can strengthen collaborative projects for both museums and communities. Simultaneously, I examine what is at stake for indigenous participants and museums, and what instrumental purposes their involvement serves.


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Author Biography

Ann McMullen, National Museum of the American Indian

Curator and head of Collections Research and Collections Information, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution