Cultural exchange: Federal funding ECHOs through Peabody Essex Museum

By Sarah Phelan, The Salem Gazette

Salem - The Peabody Essex Museum’s Education through Cultural and Historic Organizations (ECHO) Project received $1.5 million in federal funding this year from the Department of Education as part of legislation from 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy recently announced that the PEM would obtain the funding necessary to continue its cross-cultural outreach programs built into the ECHO Project partnership.

The ECHO Project began with a challenge from the U.S. Congress to create an exchange of cultural understanding through the development and implementation of educational programs.  The challenge was answered by a total of six cultural institutions from across the nation — the Peabody Essex Museum, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska, and the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.

The programs from the ECHO initiative focus on three distinct cultures that center around the whaling and trade industries basic to Massachusetts coast line, tying cities like Salem and New Bedford to the Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians and Native Americans.

Each aspect of the program, explains Dan Elias, ECHO project director, from the Museum Action Corps (MAC), to the performing arts tour, to web site, to the Atrium Alive here at the PEM ties into the fundamental “theme of ‘Culture & Change.’ In order to have a better understanding of the changes in our current cultures, we need to examine our strong historical connections.”

In a statement, Sen. Kerry stresses the importance of the program and how it ties Massachusetts’ history to other areas in the nation, “Whaling has been part of our state’s history even before Herman Melville sailed from New Bedford Harbor and wrote ‘Moby Dick’ … we have the opportunity to share our rich history with those across the country who had similar beginnings.”

One of the major components of the ECHO Project, the MAC program, creates paid internships for at least 70 high school and college students looking to gain experience in the inner workings of a museum. PEM’s program is offered to underserved students throughout Massachusetts to work in fields such as exhibition design, collections management, public relations, merchandising and even graphic design. The MAC program has won the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities Coming Up Taller Award that supports outstanding youth arts programs. At the PEM, MAC participants get onsite job training that includes Project Adventure, a leadership and team-building seminar and hands-on projects that supports their field-related work.

Through the ECHO Project, educational resources are available to educators in the form of where teachers can learn how to be a part of an ECHO Learning Center. Also, there are programs that support the instruction through visual media for student, educator and even parent, such as family workshops and drop-in art activities.

“The Performing Arts Festival travels throughout the country to schools and other cultural institutions, creating a celebration of song and dance for students to experience,” says Elias.” In addition, the ECHO Project also convenes symposia that focus on important issues that are facing native education, particularly culture and climate change.”

Locally, the PEM’s ECHO initiative benefits the population of Lynn and Salem, as well as other North Shore communities, in their efforts to target large student populations from low-income households, particularly students who may be speaking English as a second language. The celebration of ethnic diversity as well as history allows students to gain a greater understanding of current political and social events. Sen. Kennedy said in a statement, just about a month before his death, that “Establishing these connections and a sense of shared history with children and families in Hawaii and Alaska enables us to see the full impact of the past on the present.”

In addition to the cross-cultural exhibitions that the PEM hosts regularly, the Atrium Alive series, also funded by the ECHO Project, immerses its participants in a weekend-long experience of musical and dance performance, artist demonstrations, films, as well as hands-on activities that heightens the educational impact of its gallery presentations.

Salem residents, who can visit the museum free of charge, might also remember ECHO events at PEM like the annual Japanese and Chinese New Year celebrations.

Elias sees the Atrium Alive series as part of the ECHO ideal as an opportunity for the PEM and its patrons to “learn as a community.” Through these types of collective experiences  even the most diverse population may bond together more closely as they realize how each of their unique histories color the present lives of themselves and even their neighbors.


For more information about the ECHO Project, visit For more about PEM, visit

‹ Back To News