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Museum Life: Virtual Day of the Dead

muertos159 As Halloween revelers nurse their multi-sourced sugar hangovers and (if they don’t live in AZ) relish  the extra hour of sleep, attention turns to Dias de Los Muertos,  All Souls Day,  Samhain, or whatever you choose to call the time for remembering, honoring and placating those who have died. In Museum Life, Death is a constant companion. We are keepers of history through artifacts, stories or even human remains themselves. We make connections between the present and the past through every exhibition and program. For many of us in the profession, we hope those connections stir the emotions as much as the mind. In my experience no topic has more potential to elicit deep-seated feelings than death and how humans choose to handle it.

 The Oakland Museum in CA has a long tradition of commemorating the Day of the Dead. This year however, the museum is under renovation and is closed. So the staff found new ways to keep the dialog going.  This week I attended an off site program with Lisa Lemus of the museum’s Los Dias de los Muertos Committee. Part of a seven week series on death at Grace North Church in Berkeley, this talk had Lisa  explain how she uses traditions of her Mexican American heritage to create an annual gathering for friends and family to honor people who have died.  She creates an ofrenda or altar in her home with photos, candles, representative objects and favorite foods of the departed.  ofrenda

Guests are asked to bring their own contributions for the altar while they spend an evening enjoying food, music and memories. After hearing her story and viewing an altar she made for that night, all of us were invited to stand in a circle, light a votive, and offer words of remembrance for someone.  We heard about parents, siblings, friends, lovers and even a mean uncle whose niece hoped he was now happy. Here was a group of strangers, potentially embarrassed to share the complexity of loss, instead instantly aware of our commonality. To end the exchange, we went around the circle once more and said just one word to express whatever we felt. The list included community, gratitude, regret, hope, memory and my word–peace.

Lisa closed by telling us about the virtual Day of the Dead celebration online created in this year’s absence of a physical museum space. We all can visit the site, add to a virtual ofrenda, and publicly participate in emotions that are oftentimes kept private via our personal or cultural constraints.  The museum utilizes Ning, an open source platform anyone can use to create a social network. It provides a public destination, a structure, historical background, project ideas and archival capabilities. We as visitors provide content, creativity debate and emotion.  The outcome is ever-changing, building and growing through the unique contributions we make.

As Museums experiment with ways to use technology to create meaningful exchanges, this model  provocatively combines all of the elements of learning and social networking. This is truly a paradigm shift for museum programming and uncharted territory that will change Museum Life forever.

What souls will you honor on this Day of the Dead? What museum and what technology might help you do it?

Learn More!

Oakland Museum’s virtual Day of the Dead http://diasdelosmuertos.ning.com/

Join Museum Life Ning Network and share your thoughts on Museums & Death  http://museumlife.ning.com/

Attend the last lecture of Fond Farewell Series 11/4 and a Green Funeral Fair 11/7 in Berkeley, CA: http://www.gracenorthchurch.org/farewell.html

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Categories: Uncategorized
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