Maria Williams, 505-277-2286
Laurie Mellas-Ramirez, 277-5915

October 24, 2001


The United States Department of Commerce has awarded a grant of more than $800,000 to the University of New Mexico Arts of Americas Institute (AAI) and UNM Albuquerque High Performance Computing Center (AHPCC) to develop broadband Internet connections for New Mexico's tribal museums and cultural centers.

Local tribes, AHPCC and the Educational Foundation of America matched the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) grant boosting funds for the project to more than $1.5 million.

Titled, "Cyber Sovereignty: The Tribal Access Grid for Museums and Cultural Centers," the one-of-a-kind project paves the way for development and delivery of long-distance education, the exchange of virtual collections and other cultural information, e-commerce and web-based exhibitions and databases.

The museums and cultural centers are part of an AII consortium and include the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center of Albuquerque, representing the state's 19 pueblos; the Poeh Arts Center and Museum of Pojoaque Pueblo, representing the eight northern pueblos; Walatowa Visitors Center of Jemez Pueblo; A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center of Zuni Pueblo, and Jicarilla Apache Culture Center of Dulce, NM.

A program coordinator at UNM will oversee all aspects of the project.

"The funding will support development of a technological infrastructure necessary to meet the consortium's goals," says Dr. Maria Williams, AAI director and principal investigator for the TOP grant.

The initial aim is to create an Access Grid node, technology developed through the National Science Foundation's National Computational Science Alliance that streams audio, video and data over the Internet for large-scale collaborations. Other plans are to install servers and work stations, hire and train system administrators and provide technical support for each museum or center.

"This application of Access Grid technology will be unique," says Ernie Herrera, AHPCC associate director and co-principal investigator. "Although there are almost 75 nodes across the country, this will be the first grid specifically designed for a project that addresses other than science and engineering applications. The grid will be able to connect to more than 90 other sites across the country and around the world."

"Establishing the Access Grid will create cultural interchange through a vital, vibrant and currently inaccessible medium," Williams says.

"Delivering information over a broadband network will benefit all players in the consortium and provide a model for the nation. One of the main aspects of this model is that other tribes will develop their own programs according to their own culturally appropriate guidelines, a new phenomenon called cyber sovereignty," she adds.

UNM is currently developing a museum studies program with a strong Native American component. Program Coordinator Rebecca Hernandez is creating the curriculum, which includes exhibition design, curatorial practices, and conservation and preservation of collections incorporating Native American philosophy and pedagogy. The Access Grid will allow students in the far reaches of the state to take the courses.

The Access Grid could also be used for the exchange of cultural information. The Jicarilla Apache tribe and Zuni Pueblo have a number of collections in museums such as the Smithsonian. Virtual images of the artwork could be captured and stored in a database, which would include the traditional name of the piece and its cultural and historical context.

Each of the centers will develop its own interactive programs such as virtual tours, galleries, collections, exhibits and educational programs for local schools and tribal members. Topics will include history, language and tribal practices.

Databases of historic photos and artwork, a virtual collection of repatriated cultural objects and an archival depository are also planned at some of the centers.

The development of e-commerce could create economic empowerment zones in communities that have traditionally relied on the sale of goods in accessible local markets. At Zuni and Jemez Pueblos, 75 percent of households rely on at least some income from arts production.

"An e-commerce option would develop an internal structure of web savvy artists who would benefit from opportunities currently only available to those on the other side of the digital divide," Williams says.


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