Children Programming

Museum’s Connect in California: A Program Comes to an End

In April, the United States team visited Copan Honduras and spent some unique one on one timeDSC_1203 with our partner
s in the Common Ground, Connecting Communities through Gardening  program. The last week of May, the MCARLM team had the great pleasure of experiencing the Salinas Valley through another’s first time perspective when the team from Honduras flew out to spend a week in California. Living here all, or most of our lives, we tend to forget what an amazing area that Monterey County is. The visit turned out to be as much of a treat for all of us as it was for our guests.

The Honduras team, consisting of Liz Nutter-Valladares, Project Manager, Asociacion Copan, Paola Carias, Executive Director of the Copan Ruinas Chamber of Commerce, Jesus Guerra, Agricultural Consultant for the project, Donaldo Martinez, Educational Facilitator, and Karla Morales, Director of the Casa K’inich Children’s Museum, arrived in the early hours of the morning, but were up and raring to go for our packed first day.  Day one included a trip to Mission San Antonio de Padua and a personal tour by Dr. Robert Hoover. Dr. Hoover is recognized for his research in prehistory and historical archaeology and is considered one of the leading archaeologists in the state. His current passion includes the excavation and restoration and research at the Mission San Antonio. Dr. Hoover was gracious enough to provide the group with an in depth tour through the history and evolution of the mission from its early days to current times. From the mission ,the group traveled back to King City for a cattle dog demonstration orchestrated by local businessman and cattle rancher, Rich Casey.  Jesus, who is also a cattle rancher in Honduras, was able to see a side of cattle ranching that he had not experienced before and took every opportunity to ask questions and 20150525_210155learn from every experience the group had during the entire trip, but really felt a connection to this demonstration.

From Cattle ranching to south county hospitality at its best, the team was treated to a home BBQ’d meal over looking the Pine Canyon and King City area as we were warmly welcomed into the Casey home for dinner, drinks, and an impromptu birthday celebration for Jesus with a little musical entertainment, thanks to Rich and his mandolin.DSC_1240

With so much to see, on day two the teams were up and headed out to learn about farming in the Salinas Valley. Spending the morning with Will Taylor Farms, King City Nursery and Gill Onions learning about small farms and larger corporate farms. Lunch at Hahn Estate Winery provided a birds eye view of the Salinas Valley farm-scape. Heading back down the valley, the20150526_151859 visiting partners finally met the youth participants from the US for the first time at the Greenfield Science Workshop during a science demonstration.

The third day, the half-way mark of the whirlwind visit showed the group a lighter side of Monterey County with a tour of Matsui Orchid’s, a little light shopping and DSC_1272a chance to put their feet in the Pacific Ocean at Carmel’s beautiful white sanded beach.

Day four was spent with an in-depth touring of MCARLM’s 7 museum buildings and the Capstone BBQ, sharing of the community suitcase with the youth participants and presenting the teams and the program to the community.DSC_1308

After a week that was filled with so many sites, thoughts, comradery and friendship building, the Honduras team packed up and we headed back to Monterey. The last tour for the trip was a guided tour through the world class Monterey Bay Aquarium before saying an emotional goodbye at the Monterey airport. With the 20150529_162002visit, the capstone BBQ and one final garden work-day, the year long program came to and end. The next step for
MCARLM is to build an outdoor educational classroom, currently underway, and to make plans to re-focus and continue the educational program that was created through the opportunities provided by the Museums Connect grant. The goal of the educational garden will continue to be to teach community participants and area children about gardening, agriculture, science, nutrition and environmental stewardship.  For more information about programs and opportunities for involvement, contact the Monterey County Agricultural & Rural Life Museum.DSC_0001

 

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Categories: Children Programming, Common Ground Educational Garden, Community, MCARLM, Museums Connect | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

On the Road to Copan

After seven months of planning, work days, skype sessions and a lot of anticipation, on April 11, 2015, the Museum’s Connect US team consisting of Sharon Turner, Museum Assistant; Meg Clovis, Monterey County Cultural Affairs Manager; Jessica Potts, MCARLM Executive Director; Dr. Maria de la Fuente, Director, University of California Cooperative Extension Monterey County and Jose Sanchez, Director, Greenfield Community Science Workshop, departed for Copan, Honduras. The Museums Connect project, Common Ground: Connecting Communities through Gardens purpose has been to give young people in both Honduras and the US opportunities to actively engage in environmental stewardship through gardening and share their experiences with each other and their local communities. By gardening on a local scale, students from both countries have come to understand how the pieces of the world’s ecological puzzle interconnect, that environmental challenges are complex and cannot be understood in isolation. A part of the project includes each team to traveling to the others home to see first-hand the project and to meet the children that have been instrumental in its success, as well as to learn more about each other’s culture and industry.

20150412_063129Flying from San Jose to Atlanta then to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, for us was an overnight flight, losing 3 hours and then regaining 2, leaving at 10:45 pm and arriving at 10:30 am. Disembarking the plane in San Pedro Sula, we were greeted with a blast of heat and proceeded to work our way slowly through the emigration process before finally descending down to the main airport to meet our host, Liz Nutter-Valladares, Project Manager, Asociacion Copan and her husband Mike who is a wonderful tour guide in Copan. Ready to drop after a night of
travel, we only had 3 ½ more hours before us as we drove up the mountain to our final destination, Copan Ruinas. Our first cultural lesson as a group was that there are few, if any traffic rules in Honduras. Passing and right of way 20150412_132117seem to be decided for the most part by a light beep of the horn, and while to the untrained eye, it seemed to be chaos, the drivers all seemed very in control and there were no wrecks that we saw during our entire trip. During our trip up the mountain the changing scenery showed our weary eyes glimpses of the local neighborhoods and meager homes mixed along rivers and streams and lush greenery.

Pulling into Copan Ruinas was a sudden change from what we had seen the previous three and a half hours. As we drove under the village’s welcoming arch and we passed onto cobblestone roads, relief flooded the van as we were finally arriving at our destination. Driving through the town, down narrow streets lined with white adobe buildings, 20150412_172156that secreted little shops, restaurants and hotels, many with surprisingly lavish and pretty private patios lined with potted plants, we passed the town center and arrived at our hotel which would be our cool escape for the next 4 days. After almost 12 hours of travel, the group was tired and ready to collapse. Heading to our separate rooms, we all took a couple of hours to rest, relax, shower and refresh enough to regroup for our first meal in Honduras. After dinner we mustered enough energy  to wander around for a brief tour of the small village and then  headed to bed to catch up on needed sleep in preparation for a busy schedule that was planned for the next couple of days.

Day one of our trip, after a traditional breakfast known as “typico”, we were greeted by Donaldo Martinez, Educat20150413_091557ional Facilitator, Asociation Copan who escorted the group to the Asociation Copan offices, where we were joined by Liz and met Ricardo Agurcia, Executive Director, Asociation Copan. Ricardo, a native Honduran archaeologist is well known for his discovery of Mayan temple, Temple 10L-16, better known as Rosalila. After a meeting that gave us the opportunity to learn more about Honduras, Ricardo and the Asociation, we climbed aboard an adventure on wheels called a tuk-tuk (also known20150413_103848 as an auto rickshaw or mototaxi). This cross between a motorcycle and a golf cart was something to experience as it bounced roughly yet swiftly along the cobblestone streets, darting around cars, other tuk-tuks and random pedestrians. Hanging on tightly and laughing from the excitement of it, we made our way up to the hilltop home of the Casa K’inich Children’s Museum. The museum is located in the renovated Fort Cabanas, a military fort built in 1940 in honor of General Jose Trinidad Cabanas. 20150413_104619The fort was built to station Honduran armies to safeguard the western borders and provided amazing views of the town and the valley of Copan Ruinas.

Waiting to provide us with an in-depth tour of the museum alongside Donaldo, we met Karla Morales, Director of the Casa K’inich Children’s Museum. The museum is designed to teach visitors of all ages about the Maya culture and is done so through interesting hands-on interactive 20150413_110707exhibits that are inventive and draw you in to participate and learn more. The museum was created with the intention to produce a future of Hondurans that care about the World Heritage site. While the museum is small, it is full of great information. Exhibits teach visitors about Mayan history including topics like reading, writing, counting and math in Ch’orti, a Mayan language, as well as learning about the 16 different Mayan rulers and even a section about native plants and animals from the area.

As a part of our trip, we expected to see amazing sites, drink world renowned coffee and be moved by memorable people but we never expected to sample wonderful cheeses. Our lunch stop was a pleasant surprise though as we dined with the entire Museum’s Connect group (finally meeting the final members of the Honduras team, Paola Carias, Executive Director of the Copan Ruinas Chamber of Commerce; and Jesus Guerra, Owner of El Mirador Finca and Agricultural Consultant for the project), at Café San Rafael. Café San Rafael is a Coffee Farm/Roaster, Bistro and Cheese shop. What a wonderful surprise we got as we were taken on a tour of the small, on-site cheese making operation. As it turned out, the small operation makes some really amazing cheeses, something none of us had expected to find in Honduras. The bistro menu consisted mainly of cheese sandwiches and cheese plates and lunch ended with a homemade piece of rich tart cheese cake and of course, coffee.

20150413_155947Our afternoon meeting was with Copan Chamber of Commerce president, Don Raul Welchez who is also the owner of the beautiful Hotel Marina and the Finca Santa Isabel which produces the Welchez brand coffee. Talking with Don Raul, we discussed farming practices and issues both in Honduras and in California and learned more about business in Copan. That evening, Jose and Jessica were taken to a small public television station called CTV20 and interviewed about the garden20150413_193853 program. Jose, being the fluent Spanish speaker did the majority of the interview and talked about the benefit of the program to the children involved and what it was teaching them on a local and global level. The response from the watchers was instantaneous as e-mails and texts began to flood in, many wondering if the program would continue and grow to include more Honduran children. All good questions and food for thought.

The morning of day two, we set out early to try and beat the sweltering heat, which we found to be a real force to contend with. This day of our trip was much anticipated, as we were all excited to visit the Copan Ruins. During DSC_0813DSC_0828what is considered the Classic Maya Period, Copan was one of the greatest cities in the Mayan world and was able to sustain their power for over 400 years. During this period 16 rulers oversaw the city’s growth. Today the ruins are considered to be one of the best archeological sites and are a popular tourist attraction. The valley is about 10 square miles and displays the remains of Maya pyramids, stone structures, monuments and Stelae’s. A Stelae is a carved stone slab erected as a monument. Our tour of the area by tour guide Mike Valladares took us into the Great Plaza which had many examples of Stelae. Walking into this valley with the Scarlett Macaw flying in pairs over-head was surreal. From the DSC_0834Plaza through the Altar and celebrated Ball Court, we headed to the Petroglyph stairway of ‘Structure 26’ with stairs to the gods and a sacrificial alter at its base.

From there we ventured up and around to the West Court to stand before Structure 16, the Rosalila Temple that was discovered by Ricardo, and then around to look over what was once a town of ‘upper class’ Mayans and is now referred to as the Cemetery. Tradition of filling and DSC_0858destroying a dwelling after the occupant passed led to this name, as when the area was discovered and uncovered many of the structures housed bodies of Mayans. Passing through the East court to the top of the Temple, we had a perfect view of the entire area. Looking at the work that was put into the renovation of these great temples makes a real impression to the dedication of the people that put in so many hours to save this piece of world heritage.

After visiting the Mayan ruins, we were treated to a personal tour by
Ricardo of the Sculpture Museum. This museum is the protective home to many pieces of Maya works of art.
DSC_0875Walking down the entrance tunnel into the museum, we came face to face with a full-size replica of Rosalila. The temple was found completely preserved inside of pyramid Structure 16, and was completely reconstructed to scale and color in the middle of the Sculpture Museum. The works of art that the museum houses show the amazing amount of skill and craftsmanship that the Mayan people possessed and the in-depth tour by Ricardo capped off the visit to the world heritage site to beDSC_0877an experience that will not be forgotten.

From the history and awe-inspiring sites of the Copan Ruins, we moved on to visit Casita Copan. Casita Copan is a community-based organization in Copan, and home to many of the children that are participants in the Common Ground Garden Project. The Casitas homes are designed to be loving homes with a family environment for abandoned or orphaned children. They also provide free day care for at risk families. For more information about this amazing program visit their web page at www.casitacopan.org. Our visit to the center was moving and eye opening. We were able to tour the facility, talk with the children that were there and met a few of the children that are a part of the program. Some of the best moments of our trip took place during this visit. Maria joined a group of students and helped them with their homework. The entire group received hugs from numerous children who were so happy to see us and have our attention, even if for just a few moments. The facility provides the children with homework assistance, nutritious meals and a safe clean place to spend their days. This sparse house provides little in the way of furniture or toys but is obviously staffed by a group of volunteers that provide attention and affection to the children it helps. Down the street from the CDSC_0889asitas is the local public school, one of two in the area, and where the students that are a part of the Common Ground program attend school.

On our final day in Copan, we were picked up outside of our hotel by a small bus filled with the majority of the children from the project. As we walked up to the bus, we could hear the kids welcoming us with so much excitement that we could feel it. We were warmly embraced as we DSC_0903entered the bus, each of us grabbed by a child eager to have us sit with them. The children talked the entire way to Macaw Mountain, where their garden is located. We could tell that we were getting close, as the enthusiasm from each of the kids vibrated the entire bus. When we pulled up to the garden, located along a river and surrounded by forest, the kids flooded from the bus, dragging DSC_0893us along to see the work that they have done. They showed us radishes, cilantro, the compost bins and talked to us about the plants that they planted and were then stolen out of the ground. We then split to take separate tours of the Macaw Sanctuary, a place to learn about and interact with the intelligent and colorful birds of Central America. The birds at this sanctuary are rescued or donated by people that find themselves unableDSC_0922 to care for them or are concerned about their well-being. Currently, the sanctuary houses over 20 different types of birds in various aviaries. The facility is spread out over acres of forest so the tour travels along winding paths and picturesque views.

Mid-way through our tour, we met back up with the children from the Common Ground Project to gather for a BBQ lunch prepared Lloyd Davidson, one of the owners of the bird park and nature reserve. After lunch, it was time to gather the children so that they could unpack the community suitcase. The suitcase was packed in Greenfield by the youth participants from the US team to show examples of what was important to the kids in American and give the Honduras kids a taste of American culture. Jose unpacked the case with the kids, explaining to them why each item was chosen, by whom and what it represented. To end our precious time with these lively, wonderful children, we presented to them a California t-shirt, a gift from our team. The day with the children was by far what made the trip so special. Filled with emotions, we all left Macaw Mountain deeply touched, with memories that will be lasting and spirit changing and with a deep desire to see this DSC_0960project continue to touch lives and do good. Back at the hotel, we gathered for a project meeting with Ricardo and Liz, during which we discussed possibilities for continuation, shared notes of success’s, problem areas and general thoughts on the program.

Our trip came to an end with an emotional day, meeting and learning more about the incredible children that we had only meet via skype to that point. The trip was fascinating, amazing, eye-opening, inspirational and definitely once in a lifetime. The sites we saw and people that we met made a lasting impression on all of us and is one that we will not soon forget. It was an honor to represent the US by visiting Honduras and meeting the other half of the team that has been working on this worthwhile project. Thank you to Liz, Ricardo, Donaldo, Karla, Paula and Jesus for hosting us and showing us an amazing time and sharing your community with us. We look forward to returning the favor when you visit us at the end of May.

Common Ground: Connecting Communities through Gardens, a Museums Connect project, is made possible by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs and is administered by the American Alliance of Museums.

 

 

 

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Finding Common Ground in Washington D.C.

By: Meg Clovis

What do Morocco, Cambodia, Mongolia, Romania, Honduras, Jamaica, India, Brazil and the US have in common? Museums from all these countries were this year’s Museums Connect grant recipients. The Museums Connect program is made possible by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and is administered by the American Alliance of Museums. The program strengthens connections and cultural understanding between people in the United States and abroad through innovative projects facilitated by museums and executed by their communities.

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Meg Clovis in the Lobby of the State Department, Washington D.C.

At the end of September I had the honor of representing MCARLM at the Museums Connect Colloquium which convened in Washington D.C. for three days. This was an opportunity for each Museum to meet their partner museum for the first time, to meet other grant recipients from the US and around the world and to learn about the finer points of administering our projects, which will run through summer, 2015.

The Colloquium started with a full day at the State Department where each museum presented their project and then wrapped up with a Congressional Briefing and Reception on Capitol Hill. Meetings on day two and three were spent at the American Alliance of Museums headquarters where topics covered included Program Promotion, Project Sustainability, Reporting Requirements and much more.

Liz Nutter-Valladares represented MCARLM’s partner museum, the Casa K’inich Children’s Museum (CKCM) in Copan Ruinas, Honduras. Liz and I had an opportunity to put our heads together and fine tune our project plans. The CKCM has a beautiful garden site at Macaw Mountain, a bird reserve in Copan. Our organizations are using the University of California Extension’s TWIGS gardening curriculum which our student participants will follow concurrently.

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Museums Connect Grant Recipients

MCARLM is privileged to be included in this important opportunity to build global communities through cross-cultural exchange. Check back in to follow our Common Ground Project and watch our garden grow!

Categories: Children Programming, Common Ground Educational Garden, MCARLM, Museum, Museums Connect, Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doe, a Deer an Invasive Deer!

In preparation for our museum exchange program with the Casa K’inich Childrens Museum in Copan Honduras, MCARLM planted it’s first crops in the Common Ground Educational Garden.  Not wanting to jump into this important exchange program without having some gardening experience, we planted our basic tomatoes, peppers, beans squash and pumpkins.  Boy are we glad that we have had this time to work out some kinks.  Being located in a 250+ acre county park we figured there would be some deer issues, but since there are visitors in and out of the park as well as a neighborhood along the outer fence of the area, we figured that it might not be so bad.  First month of planting, once the transplant shock passed, went pretty smooth, especially after we were lucky enough to have irrigation supplies and initial installation of drip hose donated to us by a very generous local landscaper.  (Thank you Frank Lopez Landscaping and Gonzales Irrigation!)

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Soon we had a garden of lovely green, producing plants with big green zuccinini, vibrant yellow squash, ruby red cherry tomatoes, spicy and sweet peppers and one beautiful growing pumpkin.  Out of three pumpkin plants, we had plenty of male blossoms, but only a few females.  As is typical for temperamental female flowers, they opened and closed before the stamens could do their work.  With the help of one of our Common Ground team members, we were able to manually pollinate a female flower and tenderly nurtured it until it was about the size of a basketball.  Then came the inevitable day when we saw the first sign of ravenous deer.  They started slowly, testing the waters to see what wonders we had created.  After a few successful midnight snacks, the invitation was sent out to the deer world and a party was thrown over the weekend (yes, deer party on the weekends too!).  What a shock we had come Monday when we went to check in on our little garden.

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Our beautiful pumpkin, was demolished.  All around what remained of the pumpkin plants were deep prancing hoof prints gleefully dancing and scatting as they feasted on our labor of love.  Knowing that a fence is weeks if not months away, we rushed to the nearest Home Depot and purchased a motion sensor light, set that up and put together a super scary (well maybe not that scary) tyvek suit scarecrow.  We went home that night almost sure we had won this battle with our 4 hooved foe.  The next morning we arrived ready to declare our victory, but alas, all signs (hoof prints, scat, completely eaten pumpkin plants and now squash plants) proved that we had lost this battle as well.  Seeing our lovely garden being the main course at Bambi and his friends all you can eat buffet, we knew that if we didn’t do something fast it would all be gone in a matter of days.  Thanks to the help of a MCARLM ‘friend’ who happened to be jogging by the garden, the 3 of us quickly pounded some pickets and made a make shift plastic snow fence garden fence.

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While this has slowed down the onslaught of hungry deer, the war is far from over.  Where there is a hungry deer, there is a way.  Plans for a deer fence are currently in the works and short of deer jerky (it is hunting season right?), we are hoping that a tall enough fence will turn our deer fans into outside the fence spectators.  Make sure to  follow us on our garden saga as we develop our garden program.  It is sure to be an adventure for everyone involved.

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MCARLM to Collaborate with Honduras Museum

The Monterey County Agricultural & Rural Life Museum (MCARLM), based in San Lorenzo County Park, announced today that it is the recipient of a 2014 Museums Connect grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the American Alliance of Museums to establish a children’s garden program in collaboration with the Casa K’inich Children’s Museum (CKCM) in Honduras.

Now in its seventh year, Museums Connect links U.S. communities with communities around the world through innovative, museum-based exchanges that foster mutual understanding while focusing on important topics like climate change, women’s empowerment, disability awareness, and civic engagement, among others.

Here in the Salinas Valley, MCARLM will partner with the Greenfield Community Science Workshop (GCSW), a program of the City of Greenfield, and Monterey County’s Cooperative Extension to establish the Common Ground: Connecting Communities through Gardens program. Program activities will be centered at the GCSW and the garden will be built at San Lorenzo Park. The garden will give local elementary school students an opportunity to be actively engaged in environmental stewardship. During the garden project, students will establish relationships with children in Honduras who will be engaged in a similar project at the CKCM. The young participants will connect via the internet, through video exchange and as pen pals. Through their local gardening projects, students from both countries, will see first-hand how the pieces of the world’s ecological puzzle interconnect.

The $65,000 grant is awarded by the American Alliance of Museums’ Museums Connect program. The program is funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State and administered by the American Alliance of Museums. Grants are awarded for innovative, museum-based exchanges that strengthen connections between museums and communities.
“I applaud MCARLM’s commitment to reach beyond their local community to connect with an international audience while exploring ways in which the communities can engage with, and benefit from, the museums in your respective countries,” said Ford W. Bell, President of the American Alliance of Museums. “This is a fine example of the kind of project that the Museums Connect program hopes will engender lasting ties between communities in the United States and their counterparts all over the world.”

About the Monterey County Agricultural & Rural Life Museum
For over 30 years, the Monterey County Agricultural & Rural Life Museum has served Salinas Valley communities by offering programs and services that celebrate Monterey County’s agricultural legacy. Located in San Lorenzo Park in King City, the museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving and interpreting artifacts that tell the story of the Salinas Valley. Our collections are showcased in exhibits throughout the park and in our seven museum buildings. Researchers and our Junior Historians are welcome to use the museum’s archive of historic photographs and documents. We engage community members in fun, hands-on family programs and events and offer standards-based school programs for elementary school students and teachers. For more information, contact Jessica Potts, Executive Director, jessica@mcarlm.org, 831-385-8020 or visit http://www.mcarlm.org.

About AAM
The American Alliance of Museums is the largest museum service organization in the world, serving all types of museums, including art, history, science, botanic gardens, zoos and aquariums. AAM helps museums serve their communities by developing standards and best practices, offering professional training and resources and serving as the national voice of museums for the public, media, and elected officials. Working on behalf of 35,144 museums, 400,000 museum employees, thousands of volunteers and the visitors who come to museums 850 million times each year, AAM is dedicated to bolstering museums in promoting lifelong learning, celebrating cultural heritage, and inspiring the creative skills to compete in a global economy. For more information, visit http://www.aam-us.org.

About the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) promotes international mutual understanding through a wide range of academic, cultural, private-sector, professional and sports exchange programs. The Bureau’s exchanges engage youth, students, educators, artists, athletes and emerging leaders in many fields in the United States and in more than 160 countries. Alumni of ECA exchanges comprise over one million people around the world, including more than 50 Nobel Laureates and more than 320 current or former heads of state and government. For more information, visit http://exchanges.state.gov/.

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Halloween fun at the Museum

MCARLM Toxic Cemetery in the San Lorenzo Haunted Forest

MCARLM Toxic Cemetery in the San Lorenzo Haunted Forest

When the weather turns cold and days get short, what better way to enjoy a nice Halloween season evening than by gathering around a blazing bon-fire and sharing spine tingling camp fire stories.  Add to the thrill and ambiance of the evening by turning the surrounding area into your favorite haunted scene to make the entire experience that much more frightening.  The annual MCARLM Ghost Stories and Local Lore evening provides this experience to attendees.  With a minimal budget, staff has to find ways to make this event spooky and fun through creative steps, outside of spending much needed funds.

Entrance down to the Youth Camp Area

Entrance down to the Youth Camp Area

So to create this amazing event, it certainly helps to start with a spectacularly perfect location.  The Monterey County Agricultural & Rural Life Museum is lucky enough to be set in beautiful San Lorenzo County Park.  This 200+ acre park includes acres of lawn to play on, 2 playgrounds, hiking trails, RV campground and a youth camp area that is located down in a bowl surrounded in trees and bushes that are ideal for creating a dark, haunted scene.  So using this perfect canvas was definitely a great starting point.

Besides the bon-fire pit and wooded area, another great aspect of this location is the secluded alcoves that it has, providing opportunity for individual scenes.  Right after coming down the steps, such an alcove was perfect for creating an old ‘abandoned’ toxic cemetery.  We were lucky that one of our board members has the makings for a cemetery, complete with life size coffin that we were able to borrow.  This look was created with some basic wooden planks, similar to the kind used for building fences.  Toxic BarrelWeathered wood looks best, but any wood plank will work.  Simply screw 3 wooden planks to 2 smaller cross planks to make a rickety looking headstone.  We used rebar stakes to keep them upright and secure.  To give the scene a sense of danger, we added a toxic spill using old barrels that we had in the park.  The toxic ooze was added to the barrels using an amazing product called Great Stuff, a spray insulation foam.  This super cool product truly is great stuff and is so easy to use and dries quickly.

Using an old barrel, trash can or other large container, spray the foam along the top and then carefully work your way down the side, making sure that the foam is adhering to the sides as you go.  Let it dry and add to it as necessary to create the effect you are looking for, then create a trail along the bottom of the container to demonstrate a flow of sludge into the now ‘affected’ area.  Once the foam dried, we used fluorescent green paint and topped it with glow in the dark paint to give it an eerie glow in black light and after dark.  If using a plastic barrel, like the one we used in the background, add some large glow sticks or a light to give the scene an eerie glowing effect.  Now your cemetery is ready to produce hoards of the un-dead!

I liked working with the Great Stuff so much, I set out to experiment to see what other gruesome creations I could make with it.  This next decoration that we made turned out better than I had imagined it and happens to be my new personal favorite!

Great Stuff trunk before paint

Great Stuff trunk after adding red paint

Great Stuff trunk after adding red paint

Using a pair of pants we got at the local thrift store, crumpled up paper to stuff the legs, two feet we found at the local dollar store, red spray paint and a can of Great Stuff (I know, this is starting to sound like an advertisement for this product, but this is really GREAT STUFF!), we made a gruesome bloody disembodied trunk to complement our saw murder scene.  Fill the top of the stuffed pants with the foam and then run it over the waist band to look like the guts are spilling out.  The foam expands so don’t worry when it starts off looking like you don’t have enough.  Let the foam dry to a solid and paint with red spray paint.  Use the remainder of the foam in the can to make extra guts to accent the scene.

Complete severed trunk scene

Complete severed trunk scene

Roaring bon-fire, spooky decorations, ooey gooey s’mores and now everything is ready for some scary stories.  Tell some that you remember scaring you as a kid (Bloody Mary anyone?), or go on-line to find an endless supply of frightening tales of horror and despair.  Remember, it’s all in the telling.  Take your time, and lower your voice for effect, causing the listeners to lean in prepping them for the big scare!  Happy Halloween!

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Reaching out to the Local Community

Programming for a small museum in a small community has its challenges. The Monterey County Agricultural and Rural Life Museum is located in a county park in King City, California. King City has a population of 13,100 people. For almost 200 years agriculture has been the economic backbone of Monterey County and our museum focuses on this heritage through exhibitions, a successful school fieldtrip program, and special events. As much as we publicize these events, we have found that the museum is just not necessarily on the community’s radar. Our continuing challenge has been how to get people in the door, engaged and then hooked on our programs.

Our museum recently participated in a Community Engagement/Public Dimension assessment as part of the American Alliance of Museum’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP) which we found to be tremendously beneficial. Through this program we not only had a peer reviewer evaluate what we are doing and offer great suggestions, but we also benefited from the self-study process that brought the board, staff, and community members together. By putting our heads together we were able to really focus on our community’s needs. The majority of residents in King City are farm workers and their families. Most are low income; many do not speak English and this language barrier makes literacy a major issue. Through interviews we found that many local people visit the park every weekend but few felt comfortable visiting the museum. Our challenge was two-fold: 1) Getting people past the threshold and 2) Helping with the local literacy issue.

A program suggestion that we received from our MAP evaluation was to investigate the possibility of offering a weekend reading program. As the Program Director, this struck me as a wonderful way to engage the community. Like most small museums we have a very limited staff—but what we don’t have in numbers we make up with enthusiasm and commitment. We have one young woman on staff, Angelica Martinez, who works as a part-time tour guide. Recently she graduated from college with a minor in Child Development and will eventually pursue graduate school. She has always been very quiet and unassuming, however, due to her background, we gave her the opportunity to develop and implement this program.

The museum held our first Storytelling and Crafts program on the first weekend of September. It was a rousing  success! We anticipated attendance would be low and expected eight children at most. Were we pleasantly surprised when twenty children, four toddlers, and eleven parents showed up! We first read a farm story then transitioned into a craft activity. Finally the children visited the museum where we have plenty of hands-on activities for children. Because the story featured chickens, the children were able to hold a baby chick—a first for many of them! The outcome far exceeded our expectations, showing us that the community will respond to this type of program and it’s worth pursuing.

Another benefit was the personal growth of our tour guide (and now storytelling program coordinator). Given the opportunity, Angelica took our suggestions and ran with them. She personally blanketed the community with flyers and talked it up with King City residents. She showed an amazing amount of resourcefulness and enthusiasm and made the program her own. It was exciting to see her grow and exciting to see the community response.

While the museum has many more programming plans for the future, it is gratifying to provide an activity for local children and perhaps instill an interest in reading as well as an interest in the museum. This is but a great start. Participating in the MAP program helped to reenergize our focus and opened our eyes to future possibilities. We look forward to where this and other programs will go to help our community and our museum strengthen their bonds.

Here are some tips that might help you develop your own programs:

  • Look      at your untapped resources. Often staff members or volunteers have talents      or interests that aren’t being utilized for various reasons. Sometimes all      it takes is opening a door for someone to allow them the opportunity to      find or use their passions to aid in an idea.
  • Research      what your area needs. Do a survey or simply ask your community about how      you can fill a need. Whether it’s providing a program targeting a problem      area like literacy or providing a service that isn’t being offered in your      area, thinking outside the box about how you can endear yourself to the      community will help you become invaluable.

Participate in a program like AASLH‘s StEPs or AAM’s MAP. Doing self surveys should be routine in most organizations. Taking a look at what is being done and how to improve is a way to keep your focus moving in the right direction and having someone review and provide a fresh perspective about your organization can open your eyes to areas that you might not have noticed before.

By Jessica Potts, Published in American Association for State and local History’s Big Ideas for Small Museums

Categories: Children Programming, Community, MCARLM, Museum | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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