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March 03 - December 31, 2020

Love Letters to the Collection

Lynda M. Frost Contemporary American Indian Art Gallery // On view throughout 2020

Dear Reader,

We invite you to visit Love Letters to the Collection and take part in creating meaning around the works on view. But if you can’t attend or want to try on this participatory format first, this newsletter is our love letter to you. No matter where you are now, we cherish your unique insights. We want to spend more time with you, to have you join the museum’s story, to invite you to participate in the MAM Collection story. We trust your open heart and mind. We don’t think you need to be a curator, artist, or scholar to express ideas, emotions, and questions about an artwork.

Consider this image by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, the first artist whose work was represented in the Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, and who has donated dozens of her own and other Native artists’ works to MAM. Send a love letter to this artwork by emailing [email protected]. Your comments will help the museum and the public better understand the importance of this artwork. MAM will add your comments to the collection record, and we might share your message in the Love Letters exhibit, but we won’t share your name unless you tell us to or we ask you separately.

If you’re unsure, start simply with these questions:

What do you notice?

What do you wonder?

What does this piece mean to you?

We can’t wait to hear what you have to say!



MAM believes that if a single artwork can depict the ideas of an individual artist, then a collection of art can embody the character of a community. The MAM Collection has the power to tell us about our distinctive regional and indigenous communities. But in 1998, the collection was not that inclusive—it didn’t represent the work of indigenous artists in an accurate or vital way. In response, MAM created the Contemporary American Indian Art Collection. Over the next two decades, this collection grew to one of the largest of its kind in the region. MAM also expanded the presence of indigenous artists programmatically so that now Native voices and tribal partnerships are integral to exhibits and education.

CaptionJaune Quick-to-See Smith, (Salish-Kootenai, Métis-Cree, Shoshone- Bannock) Celebrate 40,000 Years of American Art, 1995, collagraph,
71½ x 47½ inches. MAM Contemporary American Indian Art Collection, gift of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, 2006.16, copyright the artist.

Love Letters to the Collection continues this commitment to amplify diverse voices and honor the richness of indigenous cultures. The exhibit is distinguished with an “active” approach (see Ahead of the Curve article on page 12). This bold philosophical commitment rouses acquisitions from long-term storage, and ensures they support museum-wide engagement goals. Love Letters is designed to use the MAM Collection to stimulate and share previously unheard stories that make up the living narrative of art history.

The exhibit opens with artworks from MAM’s Contemporary American Indian Art Collection selected by guest curators. The exhibit will grow each week for the next 10 months, as different curators—artists, writers, poets, community members, local and tribal leaders, activists, scholars, students, and others—select new works to add to the installation, share their thoughts about the artworks, and suggest other curators.

Every viewer is invited to write a ‘love letter’ to the artworks on view. Viewers can also send emails, share ideas through open inquiry at the Art Cart, or create social media hashtags. MAM anticipates these many responses will reveal a dynamic web of interpretations. MAM will include postcards in the exhibit and add stories, keywords, and other associations to collection records, allowing researchers and any curious user of MAM’s searchable online database to find unexpected connections and more significant meanings.

Love Letters takes a gentle but decidedly non-neutral position in MAM’s ongoing journey toward inclusiveness. MAM acknowledges that the very concept of museums and presumptions of authority are rooted in colonial traditions of conquest and capital. When MAM welcomes more diverse voices, it destabilizes long-unquestioned power structures, such as the academic hierarchy of descriptive museum language. Listening to audiences helps MAM remove some of the obstacles inherent in museum practices.

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