The museum's collection includes nearly one million ethnographic objects, archeological specimens, and images documenting cultures and societies from around the world, much of it currently housed in Bristol, Rhode Island, in storage facilities that are nearly eighty years old. In support of the museum's goal of consolidating its operations and moving its holdings and staff to a more accessible location closer to the university's campus in Providence, the gift will be used to conduct an extensive inventory of the collection, create an updated cataloguing system, photograph more than a hundred and forty-thousand objects, and employ a community engagement specialist who will work with Native American and indigenous communities from the region to bring their voices and expertise into the museum's plans for the future.
Originally named the King Philip Museum in honor of the Wampanoag leader Metacom, also known as King Philip, the museum was established in 1928 by philanthropist Rudolf F. Haffenreffer, Jr., whose interest in local Native American history led him to amass a collection of indigenous artifacts and purchase an amusement park in the Mount Hope area of Bristol that, centuries earlier, was where Metacom held his tribal council and was later killed by English colonists. In recognition of the cultural significance of both the Mount Hope area and the items housed within the collection, the university has been working to transfer a portion of its Bristol property to the local Pokanoket tribe and repatriate relevant items to the Native communities from which they originated.
"A move to Providence would consolidate the research, teaching, and exhibition activities of the museum under one roof," said Robert Preucel, director of the Haffenreffer Museum and a Brown professor of anthropology. "This transformational award from the Mellon Foundation allows us to move one step closer toward that goal, which will facilitate further collaboration not only with Brown's teaching and research programs but also with the city's distinguished arts and cultural institutions."