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A Conversation with Hallie Winter

Category: Museum Magazine
Headshot of a woman standing in front of a dark grey backdrop with her long dark brown hair pulled over her right shoulder. She is wearing a veritcal black and white striped top and has long dangling earrings on.

Hallie Winter, curator at the Osage Nation Museum in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is the recipient of the 2018 Nancy Hanks Memorial Award for Professional Excellence, which honors a museum professional with less than 10 years’ experience in the field. What follows are Winter’s thoughts on her career so far and the museums’ role in society. This interview is a continuation from the Tributes and Transitions section of the September/October issue of Museum magazine (a benefit of membership with AAM. 

What attracted you to the museum field?

Throughout my life, museums have always brought me a sense of peace and wonder and have encouraged me to continue to learn. My college university has a museum on campus, and there were also two museums right across the street. I spent many hours in those museums reflecting, learning, and becoming engaged with my community. I wanted to be a part of that. I saw the impact that museums had made on my life, and I intended to pay that forward.

In your opinion, what opportunities and challenges do museums face today?

By working with communities and educational institutions, museums can provide exposure to the culture, art, science, and history from around the world. Many families in communities throughout the United States never get an opportunity to travel and see other cultures. Museums can be conduits for that exposure. In turn, that exposure can lead to blossoming creativity, a love of continued learning, and an understanding of cultures different from your own.

One of the greatest challenges museums face today goes hand-in-hand with one of our greatest opportunities: connecting with our communities. Museums need to work with their communities to provide relevant programming and exhibitions. Relevance should be the guiding principle in our work. Building connections so that people from different walks of life feel a connection with a museum is necessary for our institutions’ survival.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced in your work, and what did you learn from it?

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At the Osage Nation Museum (ONM), I came into an institution that had largely been run by community members with little to no museum education or experience. In fact, this hasn’t been a single challenge, but many challenges rolled into one. As an emerging museum professional, starting from the ground up and being the individual in charge of it all was something that I had not anticipated doing in the early years of my career. From writing our first-ever policy to building a collections storage room, the skills I have learned and the challenges I have overcome have made me a better museum professional. I have learned that I am adaptable and able to take on any situation presented to me. Throughout the past three years, I have realized how important our work is, not only for the objects themselves but for our communities and generations to come.

What accomplishment is the most meaningful to you?

Witnessing the renewed interest, appeal, and love the Osage community has for the OSM has been my greatest accomplishment. Seeing our visitor numbers rise due to repeat visitation, having the permanent collection grow from new donations, and seeing our youth become involved with our institution has been extremely rewarding. When you can genuinely see your community take pride in your institution, tell their friends and family about your work, find relevance in your offerings, and return to support you, that is the greatest accomplishment of all.

What do you think your generation of museum professional will bring to the field?

My generation craves social change and seeks greater inclusivity and accountability from our institutions. We will fight for these values and bring change to the museum field. I believe we will begin to see change in what museums collect, how they exhibit and present their collections, and how they interact with communities.

In your opinion, what pressing societal issue should museums address?

Museums need to address decolonization in their institutions. Too often the history of the Native peoples has been untold and misrepresented. I believe it is the duty of our institutions to provide the real American story, to give Native peoples their voices back, and to educate the greater public on the cultures the US government strove to silence. Understanding, compassion, and education cannot exist without the complete truth.

What do you imagine the museum of the future will look like?

I hope that museums of the future work hand-in-hand with the cultures whose objects they care for, that they become more inclusive, meet the needs of their underrepresented and poverty-stricken communities, continue to express the human experience, retain their relevance with the government and funding resources, and maintain their status as beacons of education.

It is also my hope that museums of the future realize the worth of their employees and begin to offer and fight for fair salaries and benefits, commit to professional development, and further recognize those who are the stewards of our past, present, and future.

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