Entertaining Education at the Valene L. Smith of Anthropology
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Entertaining Education at the Valene L. Smith of Anthropology

Since 1970, the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology has been an enriching center for both the local community and the California State University, Chico campus. With three new engaging exhibits each year, the non-profit museum’s mission is to serve as an accessible community hub of education and entertainment, completely free of charge.

The museum was founded by anthropology professor Keith Johnson, whose vision was to create a hands-on teaching lab. From this vision grew a community space that met the needs of academic education and lifelong learning.

“We try to emulate a big-city museum while still connecting different members of the community,” explained Curator Adrienne Scott.

Located on Chico State’s campus in the Meriam Library’s breezeway directly across from the main entrance of the library, the museum has etched itself into Butte County as a proud landmark.

Museum as Classroom

The Valene—named after the renowned Chico State professor emeritus best-known for her pioneering in tourism social sciences—mirrors the Chico State anthropology department’s four-subfield approach to anthropological studies: cultural, physical (evolution and forensics), linguistic, and archeological. Though all four of these disciplines appear in the museum’s exhibitions, some may have a stronger focus on one subfield than others.

Reflecting these anthropological lenses, the museum serves as a unique resource for undergraduate and graduate students studying anthropology. Each year, the museum produces three new exhibits that focus on various topics through one or more of the four anthropological lenses. These exhibits are researched, designed, and built by anthropology students under the guidance of class professors and the museum staff, specifically curators Scott and Heather McCafferty.

“Chico State students do these exhibits as part of a graded class,” Scott said, “but at the same time it’s very hands-on and practical, transforming into this gem for the community to come enjoy.”

Education for Everyone

The museum values the importance of exhibiting meaningful topics, even though many may be difficult narratives in history. Previous exhibits have told the story of the local Hmong community, looked back on Japanese internment camps, and examined the Arctic’s native people and environment. The broad subjects that the museum takes on reflect its pursuit of learning, enrichment, and representing the important—and possibly difficult—subjects and knowledge in communities.

But you don’t need to be studying anthropology to visit the Valene—or even a Chico State student, for that matter. From ages 3-99, the Valene is a place that inspires wonder and fascination for all members of the community.

“We want people to know that you don’t need to be an anthropology major to visit,” Scott said. “The museum is as much educational as it is entertaining.”

Community Accessibility

As part of the Valene’s pledge for community accessibility, a K-12 field trip program is available throughout the year, from September to May. Schools can reserve the museum for an interactive guided tour for one hour, which can be customized to fit the subject, grade level, individual teacher’s curriculum, and any special needs the students have—including students with physical disabilities, English language learners, and bilingual classrooms.

During the summer, the museum also holds an annual four-week summer camp program for students aged 5 to 11. The program features hands-on activities centered around the goal to learn about other people, cultures, and time periods. The program uses the museum as a gateway to the world through theatre, dance, cooking, science, music and art.

Along with its student offerings, family programs and lecture series are available on the weekends, and each fall, community members convene at the museum for the annual film festival.

“Many that come here are visiting a museum for the first time,” said Scott. “We feel a responsibility to deliver something that is high quality, because it is really opening up a new world for them.”

Keep an eye out for future events, such as ice cream socials and yoga sessions, held among this museum’s fearlessly crafted exhibitions from throughout the world.

Interested in More?

To learn more about current and upcoming events, programs, and exhibits, visit the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology. To schedule a tour, call Scott at 530-898-5397.

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