Rethinking Home: Climate Change in New York and Samoa [Beginnings]

by Dr. Jennifer Newell, Curator of Pacific Ethnology on


The New York group that forms one half of the "Rethinking Home" partnership has now taken shape. We met at the American Museum of Natural History, 5th floor, overlooking 77th Street, coffee & cake, and 18 people keen to get talking.

It was the first workshop of this year-long project, one of the ten awarded by the "Museums Connect" program this year, funded by the American Alliance of Museums, within the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Museums Connect program is designed to bring foster cross-cultural learning between communities in the US and overseas. Our project brings together coastal communities in New York and in Samoa. We have all been subject to severe weather, a phenomenon that is becoming an increasingly prevalent part of life, and something that has all sorts of implications for how we live within our homes, how secure or insecure we feel, what we lose, what we can maintain, how we rebuild. We have already, all of us involved in the project so far, here and in Samoa, been learning significantly from each other.

Our first workshop was spread over two days - Sunday October 6th and the evening of Wednesday October 9th. As a starting point, we asked participants to bring in a photo of their own homes with which to introduce themselves, and consider how their home reflects who they are.

We have a group that includes five high school students from the Global Kids organization who are activists and speakers on the issue of climate change. We have with us adult New Yorkers from a range of backgrounds, with personal experiences of Hurricane Sandy. Many of the group are Pacific Islanders living in New York; their interest in the project is allowing us to explore the idea of ‘home’ in a broad way. Many of the discussion focused on the extent to which family equals home. We also explored issues of displacement from home and ways of managing in a new home, whether that be a whole country, a city, a neighborhood, or one’s own house.

The group includes several project leaders: on the host side, myself (Jenny Newell, Pacific curator, Anthropology Division, AMNH) and Jacklyn Lacey (Pacific and African curatorial assistant, AMNH) and project assistant Shelby Pykare. We were fortunate to have our Samoan project leader Ms Lumepa Apelu (Principal officer, Museum of Samoa) and Mr Mata'afa Autagavaia, a chief as well as a cultural specialist at the Ministry of Education, Culture and the Arts. Lumepa and Mata'afa were in New York to meet the participants and speak to them about Samoan culture, introducing some key concepts, and particularly introducing the Samoan fale - the traditional Samoan house.

Right now, in Samoa, Lumepa Apelu is bringing together the Samoan group that will complete the partnership. The first workshop there is being held 14-15 November. Jacki and I will be in Apia for the workshop, Shelby will mind the fort here in NYC and be the NYC host of a video conference between the two groups. That will be exciting - the group members meeting each other for the first time!

The things we expect to achieve over the next few months are a range of interviews that the groups will have recorded - their own stories, stories that others have, about their experiences of hurricanes and cyclones, and how that has affected their relationship to their home. These stories will be shared, eventually, through a web resource, along with a photo gallery, and by the end of the project - a video designed for school kids in New York and Samoa. More news soon.

The project is explained in more detail here:


"Rethinking Home: Climate Change in New York and Samoa" is a Museum Connect Project sponsored by The U.S Department of State and The American Alliance of Museum.