Stephanie Littlebird Fogel

Five Oaks: What’s in a name?

The former Washington County Museum branches out under a new name, Five Oaks Museum, reflecting a broader cultural umbrella

Last summer the Washington County Museum picked a dynamic new team to lead it into the future, naming Community Engagement Coordinator Molly Alloy, 38, and Education Director Nathanael Andreini, 45 as co-directors. They immediately embarked on a re-thinking of the 63-year-old institution, overhauling its educational curriculum, diversifying its exhibit curation, and expanding its focus to further include the perspectives of the region’s Native American and immigrant communities, giving the arts a higher profile than ever. 

But as the pair accelerated their efforts, which they’d begun in their previous positions at the museum, they realized that something stood in the way of their new, broader vision for the museum: its name. 

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FOR ONE THING, AS THE MUSEUM EXPANDED its digital reach beyond its cozy campus at Portland Community College Rock Creek, the team realized that it risked confusion, because there are Washington Counties across the United States. Nor is the independent museum, whose history stretches back decades before its consolidation as Washington County Historical Society, actually owned by Oregon’s Washington County, though the county is one of its major supporters. 

The new brand.

But the name’s limitations ran deeper. “The ‘Washington County’ designation came to this area when Western settlers established American control of this place,” Alloy explained. “By starting there, we’re cutting off 10,000 years of history that preceded it. The county is only one person at the dinner party. The stories that can be told about this area go so far beyond that that’s it’s not accurate historically for the institution. To retain that name does privilege a certain kind of history that is already the dominant narrative.”

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Whose land is it, anyway?

The revised exhibition "This IS Kalapuyan Land" at the newly renamed Five Oaks Museum makes an emphatic case for a reclaimed history

In 1985, the performance artist James Luna lay down in a display case at the Museum of Modern Man in San Diego, California. By putting himself on display and labeling his own scars and body parts as a Luiseno Indian, Luna sought to call attention to museum practices that treat Native American cultures as though they are things of the past: dead and gone and now isolated in a case.  Luna wanted viewers to wrestle with his presence, very obviously in the present. 

The exhibition This IS Kalapuyan Land at the newly renamed Five Oaks Museum on the campus of Portland Community College Rock Creek – until today it had been known as the Washington County Museum – takes a similar point of departure to Luna’s work. I would love to say that the point of departure had moved significantly forward in the 34 years that elapsed between Luna’s groundbreaking performance and the current exhibition, but this sort of change is often slow. 

Curator Stephanie Littlebird Fogel altered components of the museum’s previous installation, This Kalapuya Land, and added work by seventeen contemporary Native artists. The installation deftly raises pressing questions about narrative bias in addition to featuring contemporary work by Indigenous artists. It is a promising start for the Five Oaks guest curator program and shows the care and thought that the co-directors, Molly Alloy and Nathanael Andreini, have put into the museum’s direction. It establishes Five Oaks Museum as a forward-thinking institution worthy of consideration. 

Installation view of This Is Kalapuyan Land. Photo : Mario Gallucci / courtesy Five Oaks Museum

Alloy and Andreini were announced as the museum’s co-directors in May of 2019 and This IS Kalapuyan Land is the first exhibition of their tenure. Our Vision 2020 interview with the pair, which will be published Friday, gives a good sense of the careful consideration they gave to the museum’s guest curator program and the future of the museum. For a detailed look at the museum’s changes, see Brett Campbell’s ArtsWatch story Five Oaks: What’s in a name? Here, the focus is the exhibition.

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Exquisite Gorge 6: The Guardian

Greg Archuleta, artist and cultural policy analyst for the Grand Ronde tribes, links past and future in Maryhill's Columbia Gorge print project


STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRIDERIKE HEUER


Last week I met a guardian of both the past and the future.

Greg Archuleta, Artist and Cultural Policy Analyst for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde

A conversation with Greg Archuleta, artist, educator, and now Cultural Policy Analyst for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, made his calling abundantly clear. On the one hand, as an artist and educator, he is focused on preserving the traditions and knowledge of the past. On the other hand, he is also intensely engaged, both as an educator and a community activist, in protecting conditions needed to extend that past into the future.

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