Life After Ripon – Madeline Poullette ’15

Chapter 4: Upcoming Master’s Thesis Work in Mexico

[Editor’s Note: Raymond Allen ’15, Karena Schroeder ’15, and Madeline Poullette ’15 are writing rotating monthly entries for the Ripon College Newsletter chronicling their post-graduation experiences. We hope you enjoy their perspectives on Life After Ripon!]

Hello Ripon Alumni and Friends!

Summer is finally here, and I couldn’t be happier for a break from classes. Since my last blog post a few months ago, I applied for two research grants through the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at UW-Milwaukee to work with my advisor on the Southern coast of Mexico. I ended up receiving the award money that I will need to travel to La Ventanilla in Oaxaca, Mexico three times over the next year to start my Master’s thesis work. The two separate grants were made possible through the Tinker Foundation and the J.M. Kohler Foundation, and I feel very lucky to have been chosen for this opportunity.

The community of La Ventanilla is a small village located on the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, Mexico in an ecotourism center that includes a mangrove and beach. Much of the ecotourism was developed here in the 1990s when several groups worked in this area after the ban on the sea turtle and crocodile trade eliminated a significant number of jobs in the area. La Ventanilla formed a cooperative in an effort to protect the mangrove ecosystem and educate tourists on the natural reserve as well as their conservation efforts. The coop does not receive much financial support outside of the money collected from boat and walking tours, making their operational budget fairly minimal. My advisor has been working with this community over the past three years to replace the small educational displays with a new museum in order to attract more tourists to the region and increase their revenue to improve their conservation and education efforts. With my help, by next summer, the professionally designed, permanent exhibits will be open to the community and visiting tourists.

I will be collaborating with the community members in La Ventanilla using a methodology called Photo-Voice, which will help us understand the community’s perception of the world and integrate their stories into the museum’s narrative. Community members will be given cameras and will record life around them. I am responsible for training community members on how to use the cameras for the project and facilitating workshops to help people develop interpretations of their photos that will be integrated into the eco-museum. Based on the photos that community members take and the discussions held in workshops, I will be able to understand collective identity and important community issues, as well as what they would like to integrate into a community-based museum. The types of photos people take in La Ventanilla will reflect the humanistic aspect of this community, and their interpretations in the eco-museum will give the community members an important voice in the creation of the exhibitions.

Museums have been slowly shifting away from a focus on collections, preservation, and conservation and towards a visitor-centered approach that values audience engagement and improving the condition of life of community members. Museums are continuing to transform and adjust their services to meet the needs of their visitors and wider community by actively allowing them to be directly involved with the museum, public programming, and the exhibition process. As of now, my thesis will be centered on the museum as a participatory space and community center and how museum professionals can continue to incorporate more underrepresented voices into their exhibitions. I am very excited to begin this project!

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read about my “Life After Ripon.”

Take care,

Madeline Poullette ’15

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