Thursday, July 12, 2018

Pass The Flamingo: An Interview with Andrew Coletti


Andrew Coletti is an educator, writer and history / fantasy / food nerd who holds degrees in Classics and Museum Education. He is a full-time educator for the non-profit Salvadori Center. You can also find him teaching about ancient food (and sharing some) at the Brooklyn BraineryCaveat and other venues around New York City. His food writing has appeared in Eaten magazine and Atlas Obscura and his fantasy novella The Knife’s Daughter is now available from Pink Narcissus Press.  

Andrew was kind enough to answer some questions about his work and background in this interview for ExhibiTricks readers.


What’s your educational background?
I have a BA in Classics from Bard College and a Masters in Museum Education from Bank Street College of Education.


What got you interested in Museums?
During college, I got a summer job as an intern in the Education Department of the MFA in Boston. I had never really heard of museum education as a field, so I’m not sure how I found the job posting or what made me decide to apply, but I’m glad I did! That summer I got to develop teacher resources to supplement school programs, and I fell in love with museums and education from there.


What prompted you to start your “Pass the Flamingo” blog?
I’ve always loved the ancient world and over time, I realized that food was a great way of bringing ancient history to life for people. I had been giving lecture-based classes for adults on ancient history at the Brooklyn Brainery for a while when I decided to incorporate some food, using a cookbook of reconstructions I had sitting on my bookshelf but had never really used. I made Mesopotamian beer for people to sample at my Mesopotamia class and later hosted a Roman dinner party at home using recipes from the same book. 

I had been steadily gaining an interest in cooking around the same time, so I was really excited to have found a way to combine my interests. Soon I was giving classes at the Brainery specifically on ancient food, with a menu of samples. The blog developed out of those classes. Since then, I’ve gotten to present about ancient food at museums and educational venues outside the Brainery and publish my food writing outside of my blog.


Tell us a little bit about how your background informs your work?
One of my college professors used to joke that majoring in Classics is like majoring in everything. You get a little bit each of history, language, art history, philosophy, etc. and you learn to be a good writer, which is a skill you can apply anywhere. I try to take some of that well-roundedness that I was encouraged to cultivate in college into the work I do.

Because I didn’t study education until grad school, my approach to teaching and curriculum development is very influenced by Bank Street’s philosophy. I’m big into hands-on experiential learning with multiple sensory levels, and that has informed my approach to ancient history as well, such as the food blog and classes.


What are some of your favorite online (or offline!) resources for people interested in finding out more about the latest thinking on ancient history?

 
 All Mesopotamia (Find them at Facebook or allmesopotamia.wordpress.com): They post really cool and informative articles that take a deeper dive into Mesopotamian culture and history.

 Eidolon (eidolon.pub): Fun modern Classics scholarship, often slightly tongue-in-cheek or with a pop cultural bent

 Colleen Darnell (@vintage_egyptologist on Instagram): A professor of Egyptology at Yale who also happens to be obsessed with vintage fashion. She posts interesting snippets of Ancient Egyptian history and literature with images of herself in fabulous 1920s garb.


What advice would you have for fellow cultural workers and educators, especially those from smaller institutions, in bringing an appreciation of ancient history into their work?
Be flexible and embrace new interpretations of old material, and don’t be afraid to introduce a historical parallel or connection where it might not be expected. You’d be surprised the number of connections you can make between ancient and modern people’s lives, especially when you look at common human experiences (like food, love/sex, and death). 

When I teach my ancient food classes, the most important thing I want people to take away from the experience is that ancient people really weren’t that different from us. If you can believe that, it’s easier to see how it can be relevant to your own life, which is the biggest hurdle people have to overcome to get interested in or excited about the ancient world: what does it have to do with me?


What do you think is the “next frontier” for museums?
I feel like I am seeing museums increasingly reinvent themselves and restructure their way of presenting their collections, although some institutions are ahead of others in this regard. I think it will need to happen to a greater extent for museums to stay relevant and inspire new generations of people to care about their collections.


What are some of your favorite museums or exhibitions?
I recently got to visit the Museum of Childhood in London. It’s a really fun and different take on a children’s museum, with displays that trace the evolution of children’s toys and games over the centuries.

In the US, I love the Mesopotamian galleries at the Morgan Library & Museum and the Penn Museum museum in Philadelphia. NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World on the Upper East Side often has cool temporary exhibitions.


Can you talk a little about your book?
Sure! My novella The Knife’s Daughter will be available July 10th from Pink Narcissus Press. You could say it’s loosely related to my love of food and ancient history (food comes up quite a lot and it’s set in a world inspired by ancient Korea). It’s meant as a subversion of familiar fairytale tropes, including the prince who goes on a quest; in this case, the hero is a prince who was born female but raised to consider themselves male. It’s written in the second person so that the hero is just referred to as “you.”




If money were no object, what would your “dream” museum project be?
I would like to stage a production of my college senior project (a one-act comedy in which I performed in drag as the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna), in the Ancient Near Eastern galleries at the Met.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with ExhibiTricks readers, Andrew! Find out more about Andrew's work through his ancient food blog at www.passtheflamingo.com or @passtheflamingo on Instagram and Twitter


AND NOW THE FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY!  We will be giving away two FREE copies of Andrew's new book, The Knife's Daughter to two lucky ExhibiTricks readers!  Here's what you need to do to win --- if you are not yet a subscriber to the ExhibiTricks blog, just click on the link at the very top right of this page and subscribe via email or your favorite newsreader app.  If you are already a subscriber to the ExhibiTricks blog, just send me an email and put "I want to win a copy of Andrew's new book!" in the subject line.

In either case, you must enter by July 27, 2018 to be eligible to win. One new subscriber and one existing subscriber email will be chosen at random to receive one copy of The Knife's Daughter. GOOD LUCK!



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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Wow! and Aha!


The 4th of July (in the U.S. at least) usually means big, celebratory fireworks shows.

I love fireworks -- you can hear the crowds ooh and ahh as each new shell explodes and sends a splash of light across the sky.  As people leave the show, many of them will exclaim "Wow! that was great!"

Fireworks are usually a "one and done" type experience. A big WOW while they are happening, but not much afterthought given to the experience.  And that's fine.

Echo Activity 2018 by Olafur Eliasson
The work of one of my favorite contemporary artists, Olafur Eliasson, has been described as "first there is Wow! followed by Aha!"

There is a visual (and often visceral) thrill in encountering Eliasson's artwork (WOW!) but then a need to step back and think about (or often, figure out) what's going on (AHA!)

It's nice to find (or create) a rhythm of exhibits and experiences in a museum so that there are plenty of Wows, but also many Ahas.



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Monday, June 25, 2018

Museums and Museum Groups -- STOP COVERING YOUR A*S!


Why don't ALL museum job ads have salary ranges included?  Why don't ALL Museum Groups that host museum job ads require salary ranges be included in those ads?  The museum profession talks a good game concerning gender pay equity, fair pay, and diversifying the museum workforce. But talk, as they say, is cheap.  I expect more, and better, from the museum world than high-minded platitudes, so I want Museums and Museum Groups to:

STOP COVERING YOUR ADS!

Back in October last year, I wrote a blog post over my dismay in finding many (but not all!) museum groups still allowing ads for unpaid internships and job postings without salary ranges to be publicized through their websites and publications. I contacted the leaders of AAM, AAASLH, and NEMA to find out why they are still "covering their ads" and either got no definitive response or got a list of excuses ranging from "not wanting to upset museum members" to the concern that if salary range requirements were instituted, that museums would take their job postings "elsewhere."

I'll state again that I expect more, and better, from the museum world than such weak responses, especially when requiring salary ranges on job postings is such a tiny, tiny difficult step toward resolving pay and diversity inequities in museums, compared to the REALLY HARD steps the museum profession says it wants to take toward a fairer and more representative museum workplace.

The good news is that there are museum organizations that do require that salary ranges be included in museum job ads, and for that, they should be recognized and congratulated. The New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) has such a requirement and the website Museum Jobs (a project of Museum Hack) also requires that every posting includes salary ranges.  Laura Huerta Migus, the Executive Director of the Association of Children's Museums (ACM) is also in the vanguard of museum groups by requiring salary ranges for job ad postings.  Laura was kind enough to share her thoughts with me on this subject and has graciously allowed me to quote her words here:

This is also a best practice that we’ve been adhering to for ACM’s own job postings since 2014. We don’t publish any job announcements without the actual salary range.  This has been a very important strategy, not just from an equity perspective, but also as an employer. In particular, it helps us understand if the job description (including skill requirements) matches the salary and if we need to reconsider the job description and/or minimum required skills. This has happened more than once over the past four years that I have been at ACM. For example, for our communications manager listing, we worked from the existing job description and published the salary and the respondent pool was all over the map, from new college grads to seasoned communications professionals who were seeking to take this position as a contract for their personal business. This wide spectrum of responses told us two things: 1) the salary was not high enough to attract the mid-level professional we were looking for, and 2) the job description did not have the right balance of responsibilities to appeal to the kind of candidate that we needed. So, we took down the job description, rewrote it, adjusted the salary, and reposted. The result is that we got a great (and diverse) candidate pool with the level of experience that we were looking for, and ultimately made a great hire. That said, we do have work to do to sustain a strong staff and be a competitive employer, but it is work we are making progress on for sure!

So why make such a big deal about a (seemingly) small thing like salary ranges on museum job ads?  I'll stop here and refer you to the influential "Nonprofit AF" blog and a post by Vu Le about what he calls "Salary Cloaking." Le outlines many reasons why not posting salary ranges is just plain bad business for non-profits, but let me just pick out a few of his salient points:

• It wastes everyone’s time

• It perpetuates the gender wage gap

• It starts a relationship off on a lack of trust and transparency

I really believe the museum world can do better than this, so I am going to contact (again!) the leaders of the large national museum groups that are lagging behind in requiring that salary ranges be included on museum job ad postings.  I'm going to send them a link to this blog post and ask them (again!) to change their policies and procedures and STOP COVERING THEIR ADS! 

I hope you will take a minute to contact the folks below and the leaders of other museum organizations you are associated with to let them know what you think.


PLEASE EMAIL THESE MUSEUM LEADERS

American Alliance of Museums (AAM):  Laura Lott

American Association for State and Local History (AASLH): John Dichtl

New England Museum Association (NEMA): Dan Yaeger


Let's resolve this one small issue AND start tackling some of those bigger employment issues in the museum world!


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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Creative Collisions: Impressions of the 2018 Ecsite Conference


A record-breaking 1,182 professionals from 58 countries gathered in Geneva, Switzerland recently for the 29th edition of the Ecsite Conference. Well, that's your headline.  But the real nitty-gritty of this year's gathering of the European network of science centers and museums was exemplified by the conference theme of "Creative Collisions."

I encountered many creative collisions at my first Ecsite Conference, and here are some of my impressions of the three days I spent there:

Thursday started well with a "Newcomers Breakfast" event.  Small tables allowed for interaction between groups of "newbie" conference attendees. Each table also included members of the Conference Planning Committee or more "seasoned" attendees to provide tips to get the maximum benefit out of the Ecsite gathering.  

The "official" start of the day began with a (mostly boring!) Opening Ceremony. Honestly, all museum conferences would do well to trim the shopworn notion of an opening event by 1/3 or 1/2, since it usually consists of an endless stream of officials offering a canned welcome speech extolling the virtues of either the host city/region or the great impact museums have on society. We all know this -- please start the conference!  (Each day has a closing evening event as well, but, to be frank, most of this year's Ecsite evening events were fairly lackluster so I won't describe them here.)

Then the "Business Bistro" (what is normally called the exhibit hall or similar in the U.S.) opened to conference attendees.  At Ecsite the exhibition hall is a true "bistro" combined with coffee break stations and regularly scheduled opportunities to socialize and meet and network (Creative Collisions!) I was surprised at the good number of vendors from outside the European Union, including a booth from the Museum of Science in Boston advertising the "Science of Pixar" exhibition. There were also numerous coffee breaks and dessert breaks after lunch held at stations in different parts of the Business Bistro, which added to the sociable feeling evident throughout the entire Ecsite Conference. The Bistro was a natural spot for conversations and "creative collisions." Well done!


Bistro Beast!

The first session I attended was called "Challenging our brains to come up with new ideas." Each panelist shared a short presentation about their own creative process. It was interesting to see the different approaches each panelist used to inform their own creative practice.

On each day there was a communal lunch break that was included in the conference registration. Attendees sat at shared tables and ate and chatted together.  This is very different from other museum conferences I have attended, where participants usually scatter in a hundred different directions during meal breaks. I think more North American conferences should adopt this shared mealtime (and networking!) practice.

My last session on Thursday was an off-site tour of CERN, the massive scientific complex a short bus ride away from the center of Geneva.  We received a wonderful tour from a volunteer guide, Jose originally from Portugal, who is an engineer with the ATLAS project. Jose was enthusiastic and really knew his stuff! Our tour lasted for several hours, and we visited four different spots --- two areas more akin to museums/visitor centers, but also two areas with "real" stuff --- the control room for the ATLAS project, and the facility where they test the many, many superconducting magnet assemblies inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).  As one of my Facebook friends said, commenting on pictures of the tour, "It looks like nerd nirvana!"


CERN Visitor Center

Friday started out for me with a session called, "Small and big sins of science communication." This was a fun session filled with audience participation.  As we entered the session room we noticed a long yellow line (made of Post-It notes!) dividing the space in half.  The format allowed one person to "confess" something that they or their museum had done, and then session participants could stand on the "Yes, I have done that" or "No, not me" side of the room, responding to the original confession.  It was agreed that whatever was shared inside the workshop room would be kept in confidence, so attendees shared some difficult and emotional things. I liked the session very much, and the fun format really lets you see in a strong visual way the shared concerns that all museum professionals have.

Friday's keynote talk by James Beacham, a physicist at CERN, was AMAZING! And a truly creative collision -- perhaps one of the best conference keynotes I've ever seen.  In addition to sharing thoughts about his scientific work ("look where nobody else is looking") James also talked about the interaction of science and society ("what are our REAL priorities?")  Rather than trying to summarize the talk, let me point you to the YouTube recording that Ecsite has provided.  (I wish more museum conferences did this!)


James Beacham at Ecsite 2018

Everyone was energized and excited after James Beacham's presentation as we moved to the late morning sessions.  I participated in a two-part session on either side of the communal lunch break, "The exponential potential of narrative."  In Part One, speakers shared concrete examples of the power of narrative in their work.  One of my favorites was the unlikely use of a video production using Santa Claus, Princess Elsa (from Disney's Frozen) and Jon Snow (from Game of Thrones) to share concerns about climate change!  In Part Two, we divided into small groups (one of which I facilitated) to develop narratives on a specific topic.  It was great fun, and a great format.  My biggest takeaway was that narrative can be part of the content, design, and even the physical environment in museums.


Facilitating at the Narrative Workshop

Friday finished with a "Business Bistro Happy Hour" where each vendor's booth served drinks and snacks (usually from the exhibitor's home region or country --- so Franconian whiskey from Germany or Cheetos from the USA!) During an event like this, it is important to remember that many small drinks = several large drinks.  I left the event very happy, and I imagine the number of signed contracts increases during this particular event as well!

Saturday provided a strong finish to Ecsite 2018, with my first session called "Designing tinkering activities" that happened in the Conference's Maker Space.  It was fun to tinker, tape, and solder in a session of course, but my real takeaway was that the Ecsite 2018 Conference had both a dedicated Maker Space (filled with materials and volunteer staff for both drop-in and scheduled sessions) as well as a "GameLab" (a volunteer-staffed space filled with both digital and analogue gaming/game materials, also for drop-in or scheduled sessions.)  I saw several folks from ASTC in Geneva, so I hope they were taking notes about the possibility of having similar spaces at the ASTC Conference.

The Saturday keynote speakers had a difficult task, given the success of James Beacham's Friday talk, but the endlessly charming Enders sisters (Giulia, the author, and Jill, the illustrator) creators of the worldwide bestselling book "Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ" were completely up to the task!  Appropriate for the "Creative Collisions" conference theme, Jill and Giulia gave their talk on stage together and spoke about their shared creative process -- both good and bad.  At all times, their love for each other as siblings as well as creative partners shone through.  Plus they were funny!  A definite A+ for this talk, which Ecsite has also kindly provided on YouTube.


Giulia and Jill Enders at Ecsite 2018

Saturday finished in a blur with a trip to the "Grand Bazaar" session, a series of hands-on opportunities at different tables with different presenters in a large room where conference attendees could wander at will.  The session and activities were great, and what a pleasure (and small world!) to see Peeranut Kanhadilok from the National Science Museum in Thailand again, after meeting her a few years ago at an ASTC Conference.


Peeranut demonstration traditional Thai sound toys

The session I attended in the very last slot of the conference was called "Delicious Science"!  Each presenter discussed food-related programming at their museums, and then each presenter made some food or presented a food experiment that workshop participants could sample. The session was well-attended, perhaps because of the tasty topic, but also because the last day of the Ecsite was a FULL day, not a HALF day, as in most North American conferences. I'm sure this cut down on people leaving early on the day before -- definitely something North American museum conference planners should consider.

I enjoyed all the "creative collisions" during my first Ecsite Conference very much.  I'm sure it won't be my last!




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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Design Inspiration: Origami Organelles!


"Origami Organelles" seems like an oxymoron, but company founders Dominic and Melanie Delaney thought otherwise.

The two former research scientists combined their love of science with the ancient paper art of origami to create a fun way to help people better understand science concepts. 

After clicking over to the Origami Organelles website, you can purchase and download printable files which you can then cut out and assemble to better understand the structure and functions of everything from teeth to eyeballs to alcohol molecules (images of some of the finished models are pictured in this post.)




There's something nice about this tactile, making aspect of learning science that I'm sure helps Origami Organelle users really internalize the science concepts featured in the paper models.

Once you pay for a model (or a discounted bundle of models) you can print out as many as you want, so even a cash-strapped classroom teacher or museum educator can find some great inexpensive additions to a science (or maker!) program.

Check out the Origami Organelle website or Facebook page for more info.


Water Cycle Paper Model from Origami Organelles


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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Ask the Exhibit Doctor: Cool Museum Timelines?


I've been receiving lots of questions, and doing lots of thinking recently, about the "best" ways to create interesting timelines inside museum exhibitions.

Personally, I'd really like to get past the flat horizontal timeline examples that look like sliced-up encyclopedia pages.

Here are a couple examples (below and at the top of this post) that struck me recently:

Knoll Corporate Headquarters  < http://bit.ly/KnollHQ >
Nice use of dimensionality and graphical text in the Knoll Corporate Headquarters.




Multiple viewing angles for FitNation project  < http://bit.ly/Abruzzo-FitNation >
A multi-dimensional piece for the FitNation project by ABRUZZO BODZIAK Architects in collaboration with Pentagram.





A strong geometric/photographic way to break down the history of the Earth at California Academy of Sciences.


So with the help of you, dear ExhibiTricks readers, I'd like to assemble a compendium of your most interesting and innovative ways of creating timelines inside exhibitions, akin to the Donor Recognition posts and documents I crowdsourced previously.

Please email me images and descriptions of projects you've been involved in and I'll create a (fully credited!) compendium post and a free downloadable PDF of (timely? timeless?) timeline designs!



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