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Mathers to collaborate with Chinese museums

The Mathers Museum of World Cultures was selected as one of three American museums to collaborate with three Chinese museums, organized by the American Folklore Society and China Folklore Society, as well as develop resources to share information about both countries’ folklore studies scholarship.

Through the collaboration, the two societies hope to create a display of both China’s and America’s “intangible heritage,” said Judy Kirk, assistant director at Mathers.

The initiative is being funded through a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Kirk said the Luce Foundation gave the grant to the American Folklore Society, which then selected the six institutions to participate in the collaboration. Kirk said she hopes the collaboration will promote conversation about “how museums and other arts and cultural agencies can work together across boarders to promote the preservation of intangible cultural heritage like stories, crafts and cultural beliefs.”

As a first step toward collaboration, which will be finalized in 2016, Mathers’ Director Jason Jackson traveled to China  to meet with directors from partnering museums.

Jackson and the other museum directors engaged in a series of conferences to discuss necessary steps toward completing the initiative.

Jackson also visited museums around the Yunnan Province in China to learn about different Chinese groups and traditions.

“Those will be the first face-to-face meetings, and then there will be other exchanges of staff over the next three years,” Kirk said.

Chinese institutions selected for collaboration include the Yunnan Nationalities Museum, where Jackson and his fellow directors will be staying, the Guizhou Cultural Palace of Nationalities Museum and the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities.

Aside from Mathers, American institutions include Michigan State University Museum and the Museum of International Folk Art in Sante Fe, N.M.

The first exhibit the museums hope to organize will be a display of American and Chinese quilts.

Kirk said the exhibit would travel amongst the various institutions with a focus on American quilts in the Chinese museums and on Chinese quilts in the U.S. museums.

“I believe someone mentioned that the Chinese partners had inquired about quilts,” Kirk said. “They’re very interested in American quilts.”

Kirk said she and the other museum directors believe the quilts will capture the sense of “intangible heritage” that the collaboration seeks to achieve through their ability to tell historical narratives.

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