Welcome, Alaka: Legado’s New Board Member

Tara PetersonNews

Alaka Wali, PhD, is the curator of North American Anthropology in the Science and Education Division of the Field Museum in Chicago. And in January 2022, she became the newest member of Legado’s Board of Directors.

Professionally, Alaka was the founding director of the Center for Cultural Understanding and Change from 1995-2010. During that time, she pioneered the development of participatory social science research and community engagement processes based in museum science. Today, she curates the North American collection, one of the Field Museum’s largest regional anthropology holdings.

Since 2000, Alaka has worked closely with ecologists and museum educators to develop innovative community engagement strategies for people living in and around biodiverse regions of the Western Amazon and urban Chicago. These efforts are now centered in the Keller Science Action Center at the Field Museum. Her research focuses on the relationship between art and the capacity for social resilience.

“I have always tried to pay attention to how people bring their accumulated knowledge and modes of organization to bear on solving their concerns and improving their livelihoods. I believe that Legado also focuses on how people’s accumulated wisdom (their “legacy”) is central to addressing the pressing issues of environmental conservation and securing livelihoods with dignity and autonomy. Strategies for improving quality of life and protecting biodiversity have to come from communities with deep ties to the places we are working in, but they need partners who can catalyze resources, bring people together and empower good decision making.”

“Thriving Futures is a ground-breaking strategy to integrate the concerns people have about their well-being with their concerns for the environments on which they depend. The Thriving Futures approach can lead to a more long-term and enduring protection for the environment in the most threatened places while honoring the efforts and knowledge of local people. I haven’t seen an NGO take this approach as fully as Legado does.”

Alaka has authored several books and monographs, published over 50 articles, has curated numerous exhibitions and is currently leading the curation of the renovation of the North American Anthropology Hall at the Field Museum — expected to open in May 2022.