The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (PMPM) is thrilled to continue its series “Behind Our TRUTH,” which focuses on telling the captivating stories of the people who have contributed to ensuring our mission of TRUTH: Tolerance I Respect I Unity I Trust I Her-His-Their-Story stands tall.
We’d like to share our latest conversation with PMPM trustee, Steven Peters. His curation of our permanent exhibit Our Story: The Complicated Relationship of the Indigenous Wampanoag and the Mayflower Pilgrims and knowledge of the rich history of Indigenous cultures has not only proven to be a valuable educational resource for PMPM but for the entire world.
Growing Up As Part of The Mashpee Wampanoag
Steven Peters is a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. He was born in California and moved to Mashpee, Massachusetts when he was just a few months old. Steven considers himself very fortunate for his upbringing in Mashpee, as he grew up with people who shared similar cultural values.
“Growing up, there was never a point where I looked at large family gatherings and that we had like ‘pow wows’ as out of place or different than anybody else. But I guess that’s the beauty of growing up in Mashpee. You’re not the only Native American in your class. I’m sure it was different, but I never saw it that way.” ~ Steven Peters
As a child, Steven wanted to be a professional sports player, but it wasn’t until college that he realized that he had a niche for creative writing and design. He attained a Bachelor of Science in communications from Bridgewater State University and while there, completed internships with various organizations including the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District and the Special Olympics.
“Those were the most valuable experiences that I got while in school.”
Career Background and Life as an Exhibit Curator
His career background has consisted of marketing and branding for educational institutions. He worked at the famed Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in their office of public affairs before working in the communications department at a small private college in Newton. Steven moved back to the Cape to start a family and began working in marketing and branding for financial institutions. He found these jobs unfulfilling, commenting “you can only advertise the need for checking accounts and loans so many times.”
In 2013, he made the decision to start working full-time for SmokeSygnals, a business he shares with his mother, Paula Peters. Paula started the business in 2007 and has a background in journalism and public relations. Prior to starting SmokeSygnals, she worked for a Smithsonian affiliate.
“We started SmokeSygnals with a mission of building a creative agency that was run by Indigenous people for small to mid-sized organizations that historically have been marginalized or haven’t had the resources to bring on a full creative agency.”
By 2014, the company had taken its creative capabilities (writing, design, photography, video production and website development) and applied them to curating museum exhibits because of the overwhelming requests for Indigenous content coming from the voice of Indigenous people.
“This is really a need to dive into our own history and cultures in other Indigenous communities’ histories to see what’s different and celebrate them. It’s nice to celebrate the connections that reverberate through our communities from what happened in the past to where we are today.”
In addition to the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, his works can be seen on Newbury Street in Boston, the Box Museum in Plymouth, England, the Museum De Lakenhal in Lieden and the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Massachusetts. Steven also provided the creative direction for the traveling exhibit “Our” Story: 400 Years of Wampanoag History, an exhibit that has been featured in Time Magazine, the New York Times, BBC Radio and many international publications for its ability to correct historical inaccuracies.
Steven joined the PMPM board after curating the Our Story exhibit through SmokeSygnals.
“It was a risk that the board didn’t have to take at the time that I have never forgotten. It’s also something we owe to this museum to allow it to continue to grow and thrive.”
His hope for his position on the board is to strengthen the institution and make it more relevant to reflect the demographics of people visiting Provincetown.
“We want to reach as many people as possible with the unique art, stories, history, culture and diversity that all reside within the museum. In order to do that, though, from time to time we have to re-evaluate and make sure that we remain relevant given the changing shifts in history and technology.”