Visions of the People was a complex and influential exhibit focusing on American
Indians peoples. This study examines the role of museums as cultural interpreters,
explores the social nature of objects as markers of cultural ideas and values, analyzes the
ways in which particular representations achieve their authority, assesses object selection
processes with attention to patterns of inclusion as well as exclusion, and investigates the
cultural narratives employed by museum workers as they conceptualized and created the
exhibit. This work explores the understanding, meaning, and representation of American
Indian art, history, and culture that was fashioned by the museum (MIA).
The import of this case study rests on the assertion that images are powerful.
Museums display objects and images in an attempt to convey particular ideas and
interpretations to an audience. This study has the potential to serve as a primer for those
interested in museums as historically situated institutions that possess the cultural
authority to reproduce and interpret the stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves, as
well as the stories we tell about others (C.Geertz). Each section of this study addresses a
different topic, and brings together the perspectives of those people most concerned with
or most impacted by each topic. Contributors to each section include: scholars, museum professionals, artists, and members of the audience. Each of these roles included both
American Indian and non-Indian contributors.