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High Desert Museum scores $500,000 grant

The award from the National Endowment for the Humanites will help the Bend museum revitalize its permanent collection dedicated to Indigenous peoples of the region.

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"By Hand Through Memory," the High Desert Museum's permanent exhibition dedicated to the Indigenous cultures of the region, is getting an update with the help of a half-million-dollar award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Photo: Chris Murray
By Hand Through Memory,” the High Desert Museum’s permanent exhibition dedicated to the Indigenous cultures of the region, is getting an update with the help of a half-million-dollar award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Photo: Chris Murray

The High Desert Museum in Bend is getting a big boost in its plans to revitalize “By Hand Through Memory,” its permanent exhibition dedicated to Indigenous cultures of the region. On Tuesday morning, April 16, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced it has awarded $500,000 to the museum for the project.

The grant is one of 238 nationally, totaling $26.2 million, that the NEH announced on Tuesday, and is one of just 10 given in the endowment’s “Public Humanities Projects: Exhibitions” category. Today’s announced grant builds on the NEH’s support for the High Desert Museum and the Indigenous exhibition project: It follows a $45,000 grant in 2019 to support planning for the renovation, and a $500,000 grant in 2023 to support an associated expansion of the museum.

Three other grants for projects in Oregon were among those announced on Tuesday:

  • University of Portland, $149,312, for “a three-year initiative to develop new curricular pathways emphasizing the ‘engaged humanities,’ which will be open to all students at the University of Portland.”
  • University of Oregon, $74,880, for “ethnographic research culminating in several scholarly articles and a monograph investigating whether precision medicine helps prevent or reproduce health disparities.”
  • Gabriela Pérez Báez of the University of Oregon, $60,000, for “research and writing of a dictionary for Diidxaza, a language spoken in Oaxaca, Mexico, and translating the dictionary into Spanish and English.”

The High Desert Museum opened in 1982, and the “By Hand Through Memory” exhibit debuted in 1999. The museum has been working closely for several years with the tribes to upgrade and improve the exhibit. The museum is working on exhibition design with Ralph Appelbaum Associates, which has deep experience in such projects: It’s worked on the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C., the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, and others.

“For more than four decades, the High Desert Museum has set the gold standard for showing and telling both Oregonians and visitors our state’s history,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement released by the museum. “Indigenous history is essential to that mission, and I’m gratified this Central Oregon treasure has secured such a significant federal investment to enable it to update and expand the permanent exhibition devoted to Native perspectives and experiences.”

“We’re immensely grateful to NEH and Senators Wyden and [Jeff] Merkley for this transformational investment,” the museum’s Executive Director Dana Whitelaw said in the same release. “The revitalized exhibition will be centered in Native voices and knowledge, sharing the rich stories of Indigenous communities throughout the Plateau region. The NEH funding is vital for realizing our vision.”

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The exhibition renovation project, the musum’s release adds, “is part of the long-term vision for the future of the Museum, which includes more capacity for educational programming, immersive experiences to bring visitors into the forest canopy, a permanent art exhibition space and a gathering space for Museum events. The Sisters-based Roundhouse Foundation helped launch work on this vision with a $6 million gift in 2021.”

A complete list of this round of NEH grants is here.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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