Vermont’s Shelburne Museum on May 5 announced that it would build a new Indigenous art center to house works by members of more than eighty North American tribes and bands. The $12.6 million Perry Center for Native American art will be designed by award-winning architect David Adjaye; encompassing 9,750 square feet, the building will be “highly sustainable” and configured “from the ground up in partnership with Indigenous voices to support the culturally appropriate interpretation and care of Indigenous material culture,” according to a press release.
Among the institutions Adjaye has recently designed is Washington, DC’s National Museum of American History and Culture; he is behind the long-awaited expansion of the Studio Museum in Harlem and was chosen to design the new Princeton University Art Museum as well as Sharjah’s forthcoming Africa Institute and the net-zero International Financial Corporation headquarters in Dakar. The Ghanian-born architect in a statement said that he and his team were “inspired by the potential of the Perry Center to not only enhance Shelburne Museum as a destination for education, but also to empower the Indigenous communities represented by the collection and to reconceptualize the role of a museum facility in the twenty-first century.”
The new center is named for collector Tony Perry, who grew up in Vermont. His family donated his collection of Indigenous art—much of it embroidery, art centered around child rearing, and Southwestern pottery—to the Shelburne after he died. Shelburne director and CEO Tom Denenberg told the VT Digger that in naming the center for Perry, rather than for an Indigenous cultural figure, the museum hopes to honor the collector’s gift.
“The building has been designed to be extremely respectful of Indigenous perspectives, even having spaces where an Indigenous person can come and be with an item from the collection from their tribes,” he told the publication. “Those sorts of permeable spaces are going to be very important, and my sense is that is going to be more important than the name on the building.”
Longtime Vermont resident and women’s activist Beverly Little Thunder, a Lakota elder and a member of the Standing Rock Lakota Band from North Dakota, rejected this notion, saying, “If they truly wanted to honor the people whose art they were displaying, they would find a way to give it a different name.”
Denenberg noted that the works in the Perry collection had been “acquired ethically” and confirmed that the Shelburne’s collection of Indigenous art had been inventoried in compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
No timeline has yet been attached to the new institution.