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Creating living history for a new museum
Creating living history for a new museum

Without Teresa Neva Tate '94, MA '97, the art and facts behind the Our Peoples exhibit at the new National Museum of the American Indian would be lost on most visitors. For almost six years, Tate helped collect and organize the exhibit's artifacts for the museum's opening in September.

Our Peoples is one of three permanent exhibits at the Washington, D.C., museum, and gives Indians from North and South America a forum to convey-in their own words-their tribal histories. The exhibit mainly encompasses the last 500 years and uses many videotaped interviews with present-day tribe members to tell the history of Indian culture, government, industry, and war.

A self-proclaimed people person, Tate loved traveling to villages in Mexico, Oklahoma, and Arizona to interview tribe members for the museum.

"So many people think that history is about the past," she says. "But what I worked on was living history."

Tate, 36, left Portland for Washington, D.C., in 1999 with fond memories of managing the Portland State's Littman and White Galleries and volunteering at the Portland Art Museum, Oregon Historical Society, and the Children's Cultural Museum. She had to head east, she said, to advance her career.

Being the exhibit's lead researcher was sometimes daunting, but Tate says her PSU education in art and history gave her the intellectual tools to succeed.

"It really did prepare me for doing research and for synthesizing my findings into reports," she says. "My experience at PSU was definitely helpful."

Tate now helps verify, correct, and update database information on the museum's vast 800,000-piece collection. In the fall, she plans to enroll in an art history doctoral program in the Washington, D.C., area. Her goal is to teach Native American and Latin American art history at a university and also work as a museum curator. She would love to return to Portland and plans to apply for jobs at both PSU and the Portland Art Museum.

"There's no other place like Portland," says Tate. "Portland has a certain charm to it that D.C. does not." –Chris Ehrlich