BY PETER DORFMAN
Jason Jackson likes to think of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures as a gateway between Indiana
University and the community. “We’re deliberately located on the edge of campus,” he says of the museum at 416 N. Indiana Ave. “If you stand in the lobby and look left, you’ll see the west door that looks out onto the city of Bloomington. The east door, to the right, looks toward campus. We invite folks to come through whichever door is closer to them.”
Jackson, 49, became museum director in 2013. “I worked at the Mathers as an IU graduate student in the 1990s,” he muses. “When I left that first time, I was the low man on the totem pole.”
Originally from West Palm Beach, Florida, Jackson earned an undergraduate degree in sociology from the University of Florida. After earning a Ph.D. in anthropology from IU in 1998, he joined the faculty at the University of Oklahoma. Later, he served as a curator at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History and at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Jackson returned to IU in 2004 as professor of folklore and anthropology, and he still regularly teaches at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. His wife, Amy, works at the Bloomington Project School, where their son is a student. Their daughter is a sophomore at Bloomington High School North.
Since he became director, Jackson has overseen improvements to the museum, including new lighting and the addition of wheelchair access ramps. There are outreach efforts, too. Besides offering its own diverse, rapidly changing exhibits, the Mathers Museum is home to Traditional Arts Indiana, a partnership between IU and the Indiana Arts Commission. The program sends exhibits to libraries all over the state.
“We also offer a large number of concerts and programs for a museum our size,” Jackson adds. “And all of it is free.”
In December, Jackson traveled to Guangxi Province in southern China, where he worked with the Anthropological Institute of Guangxi, a long-standing Mathers partner, to develop exhibits focusing on the Yao minority culture.
Looking ahead, the museum’s lead event for the spring is “Heads and Tales,” a cross-cultural exhibit of hats developed in partnership with the Sage Historic Costume Collection at IU. But Jackson believes the Mathers’ showstopper for 2018 will be its fall exhibit of giant, colorful, sculptural coffins from Ghana.
“Our goal is to give people a different experience each time they visit the museum,” he says.