Thursday, July 28, 2011

IV Press Article - Front Page today

Children wind clay into pots for cultural learning

Staff Writer
12:34 a.m. PDTJuly 28, 2011
OCOTILLO — Ocotillo resident Dillon Austin took care to smooth the sides of the project he spent hours creating Wednesday morning.

After winding together a coil for a base, he began building up the sides, one string of reddish-brown clay at a time. When finished, the hour glass-shaped pot was left to dry and be fired. It was Dillon’s first project for a pilot program art class at the Desert Museum. 

“I want to come back next week,” he said.

The 12-year-old was one of about a dozen children from here who wound together pieces of clay into pots at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum. Though it was Dillon’s first class, others have been going to the center all summer to play with the clay.

The class is one portion of the pilot program the museum is putting together, said Executive DirectorNeal Hitch. The steps after the summer class finishes will be to bring the art classes to a high school in the fall, and then exhibit what the high schoolers create.

The program allows children and students to see what it takes to make some of the pots that are at the museum, Hitch said. Having the experience of creating a bad pot — and everyone’s first pot is bad — makes the ones that were made long ago by the Kumeyaay Indian Tribe in the area a lot more impressive.

The students could see how hard it is to make some of the two-feet-wide clay pieces when those students are constructing ones that are only a few inches wide, he said.

The pilot project began after the museum received a $2,000 grant from the Imperial Valley Community Foundation, he said. The Howard P. Meyer Foundation in El Centro also contributed funding and ASM Affiliates archeology company gave money for the clay.

The program has been a big success so far as the museum has seen more than double the expected number of kids each day, he said. The real test of how popular it is is the number of kids who return and recommend that others come out, Hitch said.

“This is just something that it’s fun to be here,” he said.

Children at the event agreed that it was worth coming back to.

Brittany Rausa, 12, has been coming for weeks, and said that she really enjoys making the pots. Her first one didn’t turn out well, but they’ve been improving.

Her favorite part is getting to mold clay while talking with friends, she said.

For 16-year-old Lucas Hitch, it’s about a little more competition than that. He wants to make pots that are better than his teacher’s, and his are getting there.

While he would like to make a pot as good as those by the Kumeyaay on display, he doesn’t think that’s going to happen with only a few classes left.

However, he said, he can hope.

Staff Writer Elizabeth Varin can be reached at or 760-337-3441.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

IV Press at Museum Today

Today, a reporter from the Imperial Valley Press came out to the museum to do a story about the coiled clay art pilot program.

The program has been going great. We have had 13 people show up at each of the last two sessions. Among our regulars it is still exciting to see new people almost every week.

I think kids are having fun. And they are getting better at coiling clay because the pots are getting bigger.

Keep your eyes peeled for a story in the paper...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Strategic Planning: Session Five

The fifth and final strategic planning session was held at the museum on June 21 at 5:30 in the evening. Planning session five specifically asked participants to create lists of things to “Do” at a park. The first activity was the completion of a mind map, a graphic representation of the idea of “park.” The next activity was the completion of three lists of potential park activities. At the end of the session, the group broke into two small groups to discuss “Safe parks” and “Sustainability.”
Large sheets of paper were prepared and participants were asked to say ideas out loud. Three sheet of ideas that you could “do” were recorded. At the end of the session, participants were each given four (4) orange sticky dots. Each person was asked to place dots on the words, or ideas, that they felt to be the most important on all three sheets.

There were lots and lots of ideas presented, at the end of the night, however, these ideas all received stickers:

10 Trails
          5 like a treasure hunt
          3 and hiking
          1 and read signage
          1 and geoglyph
8 Trails like a treasure hunt (on a different sheet than "treasure hunt" above)
7 Water Feature/Pool
6 Meteorological display
5 Native plant garden
5 Timeline Park – different sections represent different eras
3 Relief Map
2 Bike Trail
2 Climbing area/ with water mister
2 Hands on area
2 archaeology - physically do it
2 Living trails
1 Crucifix thorn
1 What was tool used for/archaeology display
1 Draw rock art  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Strategic Planning: Session Four

Planning session four was held at the museum on June 16 at 9:00am and it was our best attended session to date. The session followed planning session two in that participants were asked to make two lists. The first list were things that you could “SEE” in the Imperial Valley Desert Museum. The second list was things you could “DO” at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum. 

Large sheets of paper were prepared and participants were asked to say ideas out loud. All ideas of both what you could see and what you could do were written down. After we filled the first sheet with ideas that you could “see,” we moved on to ideas that you could “do.” Many of the ideas that were listed on the second sheet, however, were still ideas that you could see. 

At the end of the session, participants were each given six (6) orange sticky dots. Each person was asked to place dots on the words, or ideas, that they felt to be the most important. If an idea was exceptionally important, it could receive more than one dot. The dots were a way to weight the ideas we had talked about. In this way, we hoped to get at the most important ideas that were discussed. A common comment at this point was that people did not have enough dots for all the good ideas we discussed.

The top ideas that had the most dots at the end of the session were as follows: 

1.  Creation of cultural things/traditional craft production (tie for first)
1.  History Off Roading (tie for first)
2.  Work in Lab
3.  Pots and Puzzles (Hands-on Lab activity of reconstructing pots from shards)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Strategic Planning: Session Three

Planning session three specifically asked participants to think about the design of landscaping beds and volunteer opportunities in developing gardens and landscapes.

The first project was to draw a map of the museum on a large tablet and begin to think about how the planting beds could be developed. John Estevane provided information on the what would grow well given the sun conditions around the museum. 

There are five planting beds around the museum. Planting bed number one is very large and is visible from the parking lot but not accessible by a path. This bed would be a good place to plant large cactus. Planting beds 2 and 3 are next to the entrance and will be the most accessible. These beds should be planted with varieties of cactus that bloom or are colorful. Planting beds 4 and 5 receive morning sun and afternoon shade. These beds would be good for varieties of bushes and small trees that need shade.

The second activity was to list all the volunteer activities that would be possible in setting up planting beds and landscape features. There is a long list of things for volunteers to do, that is for sure:

  1. Planting the cactus and other plants
                    a. Have organizations bid on these beds; the highest bidder gets to volunteer
                    b. Have college classes plant beds
                    c. Boy Scouts troops could plant beds
                    d. Optimist Club could organize individual volunteers
                    e. Service hours for High School students
  1. A single volunteer or team could organize equipment
  2. All rocks in the planting beds need to be moved before planting
  3. Collect rocks and organize by size
  4. Reline trails and beds with rocks
  5. Collect plants from Energy Projects and replant them
  6. Propagate cactus

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Strategic Planning: Session Two

Strategic planning session number two included three exercises; first, participants were asked to create a “mind map” of the “idea” of a museum; second, participants listed things that one could “see” in the Desert Museum; thirdly, participants were asked to list the best thing they had ever seen in a museum.  

Two ideas from this planning session really got me thinking. One is that the overarching idea of a museum can be a gathering place that can create social change. This is an idea that is currently driving new museums and is one of the key principles at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. The second idea is that experiential, hands-on programs make connections. I think that physical participation in a program leads directly to learning for many people, and by tailoring programs to make connections to your artifacts people can think of the museum as more than just a place to "see" things.  No longer is it OK for a museum to just be a collection of artifacts. You must “do” something with your artifacts. 

Out of the ideas that were written down during the session, these three got the most votes for what you could see at the Desert Museum:

1.  Creation of cultural things/traditional craft production
2.  Someone who experienced it
3.  Life on Lake Cahuilla  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Strategic Planning: Session One

We have just completed our strategic planning public sessions. We had a total of five sessions with a total of 44 people participating. Notes developed during the sessions will be used to create a Strategic plan for the Desert Museum.

Session 1: Session one was on May 12. We completed a SWOT,  Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats and discussed our "core competencies."    

During session one, participants also began to work on the mission statement. 

One of the key elements of any strategic plan is thinking about long-term goals and where an institution sees itself in the future. During the first session we came up with these key ideas of how we want to be seen:

1. Professional presentation
2. Want to meet expectations
3. That we know/we have knowledge
4. Have all the property around the museum in our possession
5. We are exciting

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mission Statement

"The Imperial Valley Desert Museum preserves, interprets, and celebrates the desert through outstanding collections, research, and educational programs."

At the Board Meeting on July 7, the Board of Directors approved a mission statement for the Desert Museum. We have been working on the mission statement for some time, beginning with a presentation on the mission statements of benchmark institutions at the May 5 board meeting. It was decided early on that the mission statement should be inclusive of all the potential of the new museum. It was also clear that the idea that we are a "desert" museum and not just an "archaeology" museum was a primary focus.

The mission statement went through a series of options, mostly focusing on a couple specific words. "Outstanding" becoming a preferred focus of our operation.

In completing our Strategic Plan over the next few weeks, "outstanding" will be what we are trying to live up to.  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Full House

We had 18 people show up today for the coiled clay art session. We thought we were overwhelmed a couple weeks ago when 8 people showed up.

The good thing is that all of the prep work has been done and Martin has gotten good at getting people set up and going. So there were no problems. We squeezed around the tables and everybody started rolling clay.

We have been experimenting this week with paddling the coils after the pot is made. We are also experimenting with putting the clay into plastic bags to slow down the drying process. The pots have gotten bigger this week. Now we will see if we can fire some bigger pots.