Haskell Cultural Center and Museum to open to public for first time since 2019
photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World
It’s been more than four years since the Cultural Center and Museum on Haskell Indian Nations University’s campus has been fully open to the public, but that streak will soon come to an end.
The campus center has been open by appointment only through Haskell’s Office of the President since 2019, when the grant funding its operations expired. It’ll now be making a return to hosting regular weekday hours for public access from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting Monday, June 12, under the guidance of newly minted director Travis Campbell.
Campbell spoke with the Journal-World from the Cultural Center and Museum Friday morning, and he said that’s possible because the facility is no longer reliant upon grant funding to keep its doors open. That means, barring unforeseen circumstances, the doors won’t be closing again in the future except on federal holidays and in the event of building maintenance, exhibit installations or other conflicts. Campbell also said hours could expand in the future, depending on how soon he finds student workers to help run the facility.
“Everyone is thrilled,” Campbell told the Journal-World. “I could sit here and show you emails upon emails that I have received in the last week, just from across campus from our community partners. Everyone is thrilled to have it back open — me probably more so than anyone.”
Although Campbell is just a couple of weeks into his stint as director, he’s no stranger to the facility. A Haskell alum, he also worked with the Cultural Center and Museum from 2014 to when it closed in 2019, and during that time he helped co-curate the facility’s main floor exhibit.
That’s making for a smooth transition toward the doors being open a majority of the time once more — Campbell said he feels “absolute familiarity” with the museum and its collections. In fact, he said the new role essentially felt like “coming back home.”
Between 2019 and now, it isn’t as if everything just ground to a halt, though. Campbell said the intent has always been for the museum to open fully to the public again, but timing and the effect of the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench in those plans. Haskell’s campus was shut down right from the start, and resources like on-campus housing didn’t reopen fully until midway through last year.
But Campbell said there was at least one positive aspect of the pandemic: It provided a chance to work on updating facilities around campus like the museum. There haven’t been any large-scale renovations quite yet — just some improvements to the building’s exterior, but Campbell said he’s working on trying to get the ball rolling on even more updates.
Mainly, that includes modernizing the inside of the building with visual aids like televisions. The aluminum display panels that currently hang in the museum have been there since the building first opened in 2002, and they aren’t all that conducive to helping viewers navigate an exhibit in a natural way. That could be mitigated, he said, by possibly replacing those panels with elements like moveable walls that could help provide a guide through the exhibit space.
Campbell also said he’s interested in incorporating assistive technology for folks who are visually or hearing-impaired in the museum space. One way to do that could be by using QR codes.
“That’s a huge limitation,” Campbell said. “It’s very important, because that shouldn’t be a limitation to visitors.”
Campbell said the museum is also exploring some preliminary opportunities to bring in visiting displays. That could come through existing collaborations, such as with the Watkins Museum of History in downtown Lawrence or the Heard Museum of Phoenix, a nonprofit space dedicated to the advancement of Native American art that’s currently home to some items from Haskell’s museum on loan.
It could also be a good chance to work with some new partners. The First Americans Museum of Oklahoma City could be one potential partner, Campbell said, as could any number of Native American tribes that have museums of their own, like the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center.
“There’s unlimited potential, really,” Campbell said. “It’s just seeing how things pan out.”
Even further in the future, Campbell said it would be great to be able to expand the building and provide classroom space there for the university. The building hasn’t been expanded since it was built.
That’s not a process that’s started quite yet, though, and Campbell said it would be out of his hands whether it does in the first place. Because the university is overseen by the Bureau of Indian Education, a federal agency, all of those changes will need to go through a more detailed process to make it over the finish line.
More recently, Campbell said the work toward reopening to the public has been less about sweeping changes, anyway. It’s mostly been geared toward simply getting the space cleaned, reorganized and back to fully operational status.
“We should be in a perpetual state of readiness for visitors, no matter who the visitor is,” Campbell said.
More details about the Haskell Cultural Center and Museum’s hours and exhibits are available on the facility’s website.