Chico Getaway Artist Museums

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.”

Entertaining Education at the Valene L. Smith of Anthropology

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.”

Entertaining Education at the Valene L. Smith of Anthropology

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