MMS Friends

East of the Sun, West of the Moon

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Dreams, Careers, Bones of the Museum

I was originally enticed to Guam by suggestions that I could work at the Guam Museum. I'd worked in several museums during college and graduate school, and my degrees in anthropology, art history and museum studies were enough for a number of small museums in the midwest to offer me a position. Instead I came out to this island, looking for adventure and the possibility I could make a difference where it would really matter.

Once I got here however, I realized how pathetic the situation was. At the time, the museum was under the aegis of the public library and housed in a small, decrepit building at the Plaza de Espa�a. The library was pathetically underfunded, and the museum was the red-headed stepchild of the library. The situation at the museum was deplorable. Rainwater leaked through the roof, saturating objects and documents. The staff was non-existent, part of that curious shadow world of GovGuam positions that never report to work yet continue to draw a paycheck. The Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC) at UOG took a number of documents into their storage for protection and the television news would occassionally run brief segments on the detioration of the museum.

My contacts on the island were unable to secure me anything permanent at the museum. I met with the historic preservation people, same thing. I met with Hiro Kurashina, director of MARC only to be told the same things - no positions existed. As things fell apart with the promises I took other work to tide me over until the museum position opened. What happens to a dream deferred? You got to work for an HMO instead...

About a year after my arrival, the museum was spun off into it's own agency and a new director appointed. I wrote her a series of letters and suddenly one day I got a phone call from the director about my ideas for the museum and the collection! We met a couple times and she was enthusiastic about me and my ideas for turning the museum around. She said she was securing funds for a curator position, and she hoped I would apply. Cool. I went back to my day job with a smile on my face and hoped for the best.

A couple months later, I saw a position announcement in the newspaper. The museum was hiring for the curator position. I hurried to submit my resume with an application and fired off another letter to the director, telling her I was interested. Weeks passed. Nothing happened. Then I got a phone call from the director. My application was scored by the civil service and it was too low to qualify me for the curator position. Thanks for applying though. I found out later that she hired a guy with a high school education to be the curator. Fabulous absolutely fabulous. And so ended my attempt at a museum career on Guam. I shifted focus and moved wholeheartedly into the private sector.

I mentioned this because today's newspaper has an article about the deplorable state of the collections the museum is storing. The museum is without a building to display the object, has no curator, and the collections are stored in a crumbling warehouse. Insects, mold, typhoon damage. Over ten years have passed and nothing has changed at the museum. They have a staff now, but no trained curator, registrar or conservator. What is especially galling is the fact that we demanded the Bishop Museum in Hawaii repatriate a collection of bones and other ancient Chamorro remains several years ago. Guam received the remains and the governor promised a new museum and internment for these ancestors.

The bones are sitting in moldy boxes in a warehouse, slowly turning to dust.