Collaboration for a Cause

How museum exhibits and multimedia can lead to healing and discovery

Collaborative creation is a powerful experience. It’s a natural fit for learning through collective problem solving, building partnerships and trust and empowering positive impacts in all sorts of unforeseen ways. A recent example of this is a newly developed immersive-learning touchscreen developed by Ocean Conservancy’s Arctic program in collaboration with the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island Ecosystem Conservation Office (ACSPI) and the Juneau-Douglas City Museum (JDCM).

The goal of our mutual project seemed simple enough: We would work side-by-side (both virtually and in-person) to create a touchscreen for the Pribilof Islands that would include information, pictures, stories and history related to the people and ecosystems surrounding the remote Pribilof Islands, St. Paul and St. George. Eventually, the interactive kiosk would live on St. Paul and serve as a learning outreach tool for and by the community and could be updated over time.

Early on in the design process, Ocean Conservancy’s Senior Arctic Fellow Mike LeVine got wind of an upcoming year-long exhibit in his hometown of Juneau, Alaska, that would spotlight the internment of Pribilovian Unangan (Aleut) at Funter Bay during World War II. To our delight, a new collaborator joined the team: the Juneau-Douglas City Museum! We agreed to loan the kiosk to the museum as part of their exhibit and worked together to incorporate Unangax̂ internment experiences into the touchscreen.

By early 2021, the touchscreen was completed and arrived on the museum’s doorstep to become an official part of their exhibit, Echoes of War: Unangax̂ Internment during WWII.

After the museum exhibit ends in October 2021, the touchscreen will move on from Juneau to St. Paul Island. The touchscreen houses over two and a half hours of interactive experiences—videos, photo galleries, maps, audio interviews, language word games, music and articles about both St. Paul and St. George.

The exhibit offers visitors a chance to explore the ecology, culture and biological wonders of the Pribilof Islands. It also highlights the unique and critical importance of the islands and their people in the Bering Sea ecosystem.

Now that the touchscreen is in full operation, I asked our museum partner how their visitors were enjoying the kiosk and if they could look back and share their reflections on the project.

Niko Sanguinetti, Curator of Collections and Exhibits
Juneau-Douglas City Museum

Question: How do you think the touchscreen adds to the exhibit?

Answer: This touchscreen completes the story that we were trying to tell in a way that we never would have been able to do with the resources that were previously available to us, for which I am incredibly grateful.

As we were working through the development of the museum exhibit, I was constantly running this very difficult line of trying to create an “immersive” exhibit in a relatively small space and with very little money. An immersive exhibit also generally equates to having few words, which was becoming a problem for my partners. The history and memory of the Funter Bay internment is rich with experiences and stories with each one having special meaning to each individual person. I was struggling with the task of telling a fully developed story in as few words as possible. Inevitably, I was always leaving something, or someone, out. And that “something” varied from person to person. However, what was often getting left out was more information about the people who were interned and the islands and culture that shaped them.

In this regard, the touchscreen was a game changer. It allowed us to include much more information, tell a richer story and engage visitors in a different way than the rest of the exhibit. And it did all of this without contributing to museum fatigue or bogging down the exhibit with more words that visitors most likely wouldn’t read.

Visitors interacting with museum touchscreen

Q: What do you think makes this project noteworthy?

A: I think what makes this project noteworthy is the true collaborative nature of the project between different agencies (and people) to produce something interactive and engaging for various audiences (not just museum goers but eventually on St. Paul for both locals and different types of visitors). In addition, the project changed and evolved to incorporate and enhance the museum exhibit—an exhibit that was not part of the original project plan or scope. It is a shining example of collaboration at its best. All the work was directed at creating a better product with as wide a reach as possible. Ego and expectations were left at the door.

The fact that the touchscreen was almost commandeered by the Funter Bay Project to enhance the exhibit as a whole speaks to the idea of collaborating for a cause. Allowing me to join the conversation—with ACSPI allowing the touchscreen to come to the museum before heading home—is a fantastic example of that. I might be slightly incorrect in my thinking, but I saw the whole touchscreen project as being its own separate entity that was then augmented to feed into this larger project in a meaningful way. The entire team was extremely accommodating and flexible to create an incredible addition to the JDCM exhibit that could also achieve its original purpose of being a stand-alone display.

Q: Any last thoughts to share?

A: The touchscreen and its content also came at a critical time. With many institutions shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, digital access became the name of the game. While we stopped just short of making all the content available online, the idea of the project to centralize a large amount of resources into an accessible place is moving in the direction all museums are shifting towards. In its physical form, the touchscreen also helped bring a new aspect of the exhibit to life in a digital format. Museums are shifting the way they approach exhibit design and are often struggling with how to engage with younger audiences of museum visitors. This touchscreen helps the JDCM be that much more accessible—a trait we hope to nurture in the future.

A woman uses the museum touchscreen

Museum Exhibits as Tools for Learning and Healing

In early June 2021, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy travelled to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum to sign a bill into law protecting the Unangax̂ cemetery in Funter Bay. The bill adds the cemetery to the Funter Bay Marine Park making the land safe from being sold or developed, and ensures protection for the grave sites.

The bill signing at the museum helps bring to light that exhibits and outreach tools can provide an important and necessary function in helping to heal, educate and share cultural stories—a keystone of keeping any community healthy and vibrant.

A mother stands carrying her daughter on the deck of a ship

Ocean Conservancy wishes to express our gratitude to the residents of St. Paul and St. George for sharing their stories, experiences, pictures and other information with us to make the touchscreen possible, and to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. Funding for this project was provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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