HumanitiesDC has awarded the National Deaf Life Museum a Visions-Projects and Events grant to produce a two-year exhibition led by Indigenous deaf curators. The exhibition will become the focal point of the Museum in Chapel Hall, merging the stories of Indigenous cultures that were the original stewards of the land of Washington, D.C. with the stories of the Deaf community that has occupied Kendall Green since 1857. The exhibition will open in October 2024, coinciding with an Indigenous healing ceremony and Gallaudet’s Homecoming festivities. Through art and cultural heritage on loan from members of the Indigenous Deaf community, the exhibition will  inform and inspire deaf and hearing people in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and beyond.

This summer, all existing National Deaf Life Museum exhibitions and artwork – primarily featuring white people – will be moved out of the Museum. The museum space will be rededicated to exhibition stories shared by Indigenous Deaf community members, along with tangible cultural heritage and artworks. Featuring tactile elements and sign language, the exhibition will foster a sense of belonging and representation of the self, community, and culture for Indigenous Deaf people, while allowing non-Indigenous visitors to unlearn what they have been taught all their life about colonization.

An orange and dark orange medallion with "2024 HumanitiesDC GRANTEE" on it. Some stars are scattered on this.

A focal point in the exhibition will be a mural by the renowned Deaf artist Nancy Rourke, which will transform the plain west wall into a brightly colored storytelling feature. This mural will honor the District of Columbia’s Nacotchtank and Piscataway heritage by depicting members of that community providing a land acknowledgment in an Indigenous sign language.

The exhibition will also include a space for K-12 learning, located in an alcove that will feature reading and activity spaces, books on Indigenous culture, and other materials suitable for youth and their families.

Interactive elements are still in development. The Museum is working on a concept that will include free keepsake postcards for visitors that offer educational information (communicating with elders, land acknowledgment ethics, #WeAreStillHere, and more) and provide action items for visitors to work on at home. Other interactive ideas include a photo or video wall featuring Indigenous people of many different appearances, potentially including their own comments on their lived experiences.

In addition to the exhibition and educational lounge, the period of performance will include various programming. This is still in development, but may include gallery talks, panels, and academic lectures.

Three Indigenous Deaf community members are serving as community curators. They will decide on the stories to be told, select artwork and cultural belongings for display, and lead the larger project team. They will also advise the project team on culturally sensitive practices and facilitate communication with other Indigenous Deaf community members. Their leadership of this project communicates to the larger Indigenous Deaf community that Gallaudet is committed to working with marginalized groups directly.

The grant submission was supported by Richard Bailey, Assistant Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations in the Office of Institutional Advancement.

Founded in 1980, HumanitiesDC is one of 56 state councils supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities to ensure the humanities are available to all. HumanitiesDC believes that the humanities – history, literature, language arts, ethics, philosophy and arts appreciation – are a powerful tool to help all Washingtonians, and others connected to the District of Columbia, deepen their relationships with the city and each other through the sharing of unique and universal stories, the fostering of intellectual stimulation, and the promotion of cross-cultural understanding. By increasing understanding and appreciation, we help build more equitable, thriving and rich communities in Washington, D.C. Every year, HumanitiesDC does this work by using community-informed grantmaking to invest in local scholars, experts, and organizations, as well as engaging all residents through partnership-based public programming.

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