Inside the Guam Museum’s multipurpose room, Chamorro oral historian Toni “Malia” Ramirez sits on a carpet of autumn tones along with a small group of young children. On the floor beside him are a world globe, a sprouting coconut plant, and a tray of local foods as diverse as the multicultural children seated—lumpia from the Philippines, Japanese-style omusubi, Korean kimchee, and Chamorro titiyas. On the back wall, a wire grid is covered with an assortment of t-shirts hung with plastic hangers. The t-shirts have phrases in Chamorro, the indigenous language of the Mariana Islands. In the tradition of Chamorro storytellers, Ramirez converses with the children, sharing memories he had collected over the years from Guam’s war survivors and their stories of life during the Japanese Occupation and Liberation in July 1944. The t-shirts, he explains, express cultural values that helped the Chamorros survive the atrocities of the war, values that are important even today. The t-shirt he wears is decorated with “Tåutau latti’ yu’, Guåhan, Islas Marianas,” asserting his pride as a “person of the latte,” and a native of Guam. With a song, the tray of food soon represents the cultural diversity of Guam home. As the session ends, the children and their parents wave Guam flags and sing “Fanoghe Chamorro,” the island’s territorial anthem. Ramirez has shared with the event’s participants important historical memories of Guam’s people, Chamorro cultural values, and lessons for good citizenship in a little more than an hour.
Over the last three decades, more attention has been given to the educational roles of public and private museums and the effectiveness of their educational programs to enhance visitor experiences. While museums are generally popular sites for school field trips and family vacations, the focus of museum work has been mostly on the care and curation of their collections. However, with competition for funding and the need to expand visitor markets, museum administrators are compelled to find more innovative and creative ways to draw in and engage broader, diverse—and often, more sophisticated—audiences. Educational programming, which includes exhibitions, tours, group activities, and other interactive activities, allows museums to communicate directly with the public and provide individualized and meaningful experiences that visitors desire. For museums that specialize in history and culture, such as the Guam Museum, educational programming provides the context that helps visitors connect with their collections, and thus, opens opportunities for learning.
However, learning in museums is mainly informal in contrast to the more structured learning found inside a classroom. Ultimately, visitors choose to engage with a museum’s particular educational or entertainment offerings. Each visitor brings their expectations or desires of what they want from their time spent at the museum. Museum educators are then tasked with designing programs that pique interest and encourage visitors of various backgrounds and motivations to seek more information or more in-depth knowledge so they can feel a sense of enjoyment or gratification. The Guam Museum takes advantage of its uniqueness, location, and resources to develop place- and experience-based educational programming that highlights Chamorro culture for a multicultural community and mainly an Asian tourist market. This approach allows presentations, such as Ramirez’s stories, shared within the museum setting on land where part of the war in Guam took place, to become more real and meaningful.
Since its official opening in November 2017, the Senator Antonio M. Palomo Guam Museum and Chamorro Educational Facility has been among the most iconic buildings in the historic Hagåtña district. With its distinctive architecture and location in the heart of the island’s capital, the Guam Museum is mandated as the official repository of Guam’s historical and cultural artifacts. Initially established in 1932, the Guam Museum has always faced limitations related to its size, lack of a permanent dedicated facility and adequate staffing, and damage from war and natural disasters.
Master of Chamorro dance Francisco Rabon and his troupe pose for a photo after his presentation on the evolution of modern Chamorro cultural dance © Dominica Tolentino
In the mid-2000s, through the efforts of the nonprofit Guam Museum Foundation, Inc., initial funding was identified to construct a new facility to provide a permanent home for the museum’s collections. Now complete, the building has space for presenting and sharing Guam’s unique history and culture and is an inspiration for the entire community. Here, the island’s tangible cultural heritage is preserved and protected, and its intangible cultural heritage can be transmitted more effectively.
Chamorro oral historian Toni “Malia” Ramirez leads families in singing Guam’s territorial anthem, “Fanoghe Chamorro (the Guam Hymn)” © Dominica Tolentino
The Guam Museum is a division of the Government of Guam Department of Chamorro Affairs. Currently, it is managed through a private-public partnership with Galaide Group, LLC, a locally owned business specializing in marketing, communications, and public relations. The management team put together by Galaide Group handles all aspects of operations, such as security, curation, collections management, retail, events, exhibitions, and programming. In addition, the museum team works in close collaboration with other private and public entities, including other museums, cultural practitioners and artists, educators, nonprofits, and corporations. These collaborative partnerships have helped the museum put together changing exhibitions and to carry out two of its regular educational programs: Ha’anen Familia and HITA.
Ha’anen Familia is held every second Saturday of the month for younger audiences, usually ages 5 to 12 years old. Activities such as storytelling, arts-and-crafts, and live demonstrations align with the museum’s changing exhibitions, holiday seasons, or public commemorations. Ha’anen Familia is free and open to the public, but because space is limited to twenty-five to thirty children plus accompanying adults, reservations usually are required. Sessions generally last for two hours, and art supplies and light snacks are provided. Over the last three years, Ha’anen Familia has welcomed children to learn about archeology, public safety, Chamorro legends, Chamorro dance, coral reef ecosystems, and traditional weaving batik art techniques.
Held every third Saturday of the month, HITA Talks is the museum’s community forum. Like Ha’anen Familia, HITA is free and open to the public. “HITA” is an acronym for heritage, ideas, traditions, and arts. It is also the Chamorro word for the inclusive “We” or “Us.” Modeled after the popular TED Talks, HITA showcases scholarly lectures, performances, film showings and discussions on a variety of topics of community interest or concern. Presenters come from all walks of life and educational backgrounds. We have featured scholars in the sciences and humanities, athletes, cultural practitioners, artists, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, sling stone-throwers, and religious clergy. The audiences are most interested in hearing about specific topics, but some individuals have become regulars, attending almost every session.
The young and the young at heart enjoying a lesson in Chamorro cultural dance © Dominica Tolentino
Both HITA and Ha’anen Familia were new programs that began with the opening of the new facility. They were developed to help the museum expand its offerings to the public, and, more importantly, to help cultivate a community of museum-goers. The museum’s management team also helped complete the permanent exhibition, I Hinanao-ta Nu I Manaotao Tåno I Chamoru Siha: The Journey of the Chamorro People designed almost a dozen changing exhibitions in the last three years. Funding for HITA and Ha’anen Familia comes from the Guam Museum Foundation to cover honoraria, refreshments, and some supplies. At the same time, another programming at the museum is funded through corporate sponsors and grants.
The Guam Museum’s educational reach extends beyond the facility’s walls. The museum director and staff often take opportunities to visit schools to speak to students and teachers, especially March, during Chamorro Month activities. Presentations at conferences, community meetings, and even shopping centers are also occasions to share the museum resources with the broader community. The museum also maintains an online presence and is accessible through its website (www.guammuseum.org), Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Although the collections are not online, videos of HITA presentations can be viewed on the museum’s YouTube channel. All these efforts are validated when the museum receives positive or constructive evaluations and reviews. However and more importantly, when children’s eyes light up at learning something new when visitors feel comfortable sharing their stories, objects, and experiences in the spirit of mutual respect when tourists and residents enjoy themselves and their expectations are exceeded, and when people ask, “What’s next?” and keep coming back for more.
Today’s cultural and historical museums are no longer simply repositories of ancient artifacts, labyrinths of exhibition halls, and cases of curiosities. Likewise, today’s museum visitor is no longer limited to merely being a viewer of artifacts or dioramas in stagnant spaces. Indeed, they can—and do—expect more from their experience, whether for entertainment or acquiring more in-depth knowledge. The competition for audiences who have a plethora of options for their time and money has compelled many museums to focus on bringing new life to their collections through programming. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing museums to rethink what kinds of educational programming they can offer and how to remain relevant. Tradition is kept alive by bringing change. The museum must be dynamic as well, embrace change, and continually reassess its work so that it can engage with audiences no matter what local or global challenges lay ahead.