Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Changing History Museums: Thoughts on the AASLH Conference


"The Spirit of Rebirth", the theme of the recently completed AASLH (American Association for State and Local History) Annual Meeting, seemed to aptly capture perceptions of the host city of Detroit, as well as the state of the History Museum field itself.

This was my first time attending an AASLH Conference as a fully-registered participant, and I couldn't have been more impressed by how well the events and sessions were put together, and the warm welcome I received from History Museum colleagues.  Even though I don't think of myself as a History Museum person, my first museum job (as you can see in the photo below) right out of college was working as a living history interpreter portraying a Civil War soldier --- for the Detroit Historical Society!



But what really struck me in Detroit about the session topics as well as the hallway conversations (where the REAL information exchanges take place at conferences!) was the emphasis on change --- in relationship to both content and audiences for history-centered institutions.

There were a number of sessions on topics ranging from food interpretation to early learners to VR approaches toward historical architecture where it was clear that History Museums were drawing from approaches that might normally be found in Children's or Science Museums, or even mass media (one food-related session was titled "Don't Get Chopped!" after a popular TV show.)

VR historical architecture in the Exhibit Hall!


Before attending the Detroit conference, I honestly had the perception that history organizations were lagging behind in terms of incorporating many innovative, interactive, and immersive approaches toward their content, but I feel that History Museums really have the opportunity to be in the forefront of the museum field in their interpretive approaches.  (In that regard, I was happy to co-present a workshop called making/history with Lisa Brahms and Kristin Fontichiaro that explored how history folks can leverage the Maker Movement at their museums.)

making/history in Detroit!
The other evidence of true change I felt in Detroit were the conversations and sessions focused on ways for History Museums to become more welcoming and inclusive to the wide range of communities they serve (and want to serve!)  Perhaps with the city of Detroit as a backdrop (a place filled with social and racial upheaval for much of its history) it should have not been surprising that folks at the conference were having strong conversations about topics such as reinterpreting slavery, sharing stories of race and diversity, and using oral history as a tool for social action.

I took a picture of a slide from one of the last sessions I attended in Detroit, which really seemed to capture my feelings about the conference.  I look forward to seeing (and hopefully participating in!) the many positive changes in content and community that are happening in the History Museum field.




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Monday, September 12, 2016

600 Posts!


Woohoo! ExhibiTricks just passed 600 posts!

I can honestly say that when I started this blog back in 2007, I had no idea where it would lead.

But now having settled into a comfortable once-a-week (or thereabouts) publishing schedule, ExhibiTricks has become a positive habit for me --- one blog post at a time!

And as I reflect back on 600 posts, I think the two things that keep me developing weekly blog posts are the same two things that drive all my work:

1) The enjoyment of learning and exploring new things.

To that end, here are links to some of the all-time most popular ExhibiTricks posts over the past 9 years:

Many Ways To Say Thanks:  A collection of ideas and images for thanking donors or other contributors to cultural institutions.

Hayao Miyazaki's Museum Manifesto:  The world-renowned animator's thoughts during the planning of the Studio Ghibli Museum in Japan.

What's The Big Idea?  Getting to the crux of museum and exhibition design.


2) The pleasure in sharing those ideas with other folks.

I will be at both the AASLH (in my hometown of Detroit) and ASTC (in sunny Tampa) Conferences happening this month.  I'd love any ExhibiTricks readers to say hello, either at one of my sessions or just in the hallways between sessions!  It's great for me to connect real people to the anonymous numbers of ExhibiTricks subscribers in my analytics windows.

I really, really appreciate the now thousands and thousands(!) of readers and subscribers who check out ExhibiTricks every week, so I'd like to ask:

What motivates you to continue your own work?

Let us know in the "Comments" section below.


(And as always, feel free to email me to let me know if you have ideas for new posts or topics to include on ExhibiTricks.)


Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

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Sunday, September 4, 2016

On My Radar Screen


These articles crossed my "radar screen" recently, and each writer made me consider how I might incorporate their ideas into my own museum work.

I hope the ideas in the articles give you food for thought as well!

Our Kids Don’t Need F@*#ing Pedal Desks, They Need Recess The crazy trend in schools to minimize physical activity and "unstructured" time like recess.


The Most Relevant Art Today Is Taking Place Outside the Art World To challenge our museums and cultural institutions, we need to look outside of them.


A Lesson on Teamwork — From a ‘Saturday Night Live’ Comedy Writer We talk a lot about teams in the non-profit world, but what are we actually doing to foster teamwork?


A wild Wyeth appears! PMA launches its own spin on Pokemon Go The Portland Museum of Art turns the PokemonGo craze toward Art (and museum!) appreciation.

Have some interesting or inspiring articles of your own to share? Post the links in the Comments Section below!


Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

New Readings and Resources on Cultural Equity and Inclusion In Museums



How can we ensure that everyone in our communities has access to the opportunities and benefits provided by museums and other cultural organizations?

That's a question that the museum field continues to struggle with, but I just became aware of two sets of resources that might help foster new ways to provide opportunities for increased communication and creative partnerships.



The first resource comes via the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, which has just released a new literature review on Public Engagement in the Arts

The review explores: 
  • different ways in which “public engagement” can be defined and practiced,
  • the purposes public engagement has been used for in the arts, and
  • how the terms “audience” and “participant” have evolved and blurred over time.
The review also places public engagement in the context of one of the most important conversations taking place in arts and culture today, that of cultural equity and inclusion. (If you'd like to dig a little deeper, the Commission also published a literature review on cultural equity and inclusion earlier this year.)




I learned of the next set of resources through Nina Simon's Museum 2.0 blog:

A few years ago, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation wanted to help museums and galleries across the UK make changes in the ways that cultural organizations engage community partners and visitors as participants in their work. The result, Our Museum, is an extraordinary program with a focus on community participation.

The Our Museum program also produced a suite of online resources and reports that are tremendous resources to anyone engaged with communities and cultural organizations.



As all of these resources emphasize, public engagement is a powerful tool available to museums to help them work toward the goal of greater cultural equity and inclusion. 



Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Who's Pitching Who?


A Cheetos Museum?  Yes, Cheetos, and a number of other popular products and companies, are creating elaborate "museums" to promote their brands.

But are these really museums, or just cleverly-packaged pitches? As this article in Adweek makes clear, marketers see the immersive appeal of museum exhibits as a way to get consumers to pay more attention to their marketing messages for sustained periods of time.

From the article:  "If you can make consumers walk through a museum, that's more time than these brands have ever been able to engage their customers over the course of time," said Nicole Ferry, partner and executive director of strategy at brand engagement firm Sullivan. "All of a sudden, they're able to tell their story in a way that isn't so transactional, and it builds a perception of that brand in a more specific way beyond product attributes."

Of course, before we, as museum professionals, say "how dare they?!?!" let's remember the many opportunities that a wide range of Art Museums haven taken to shill for fashion or automotive brands in exhibitions that many viewed as elaborate advertisements.  

Of course a number of Children's Museums have appropriated nearly every available PBS or Nickolodeon cartoon character for traveling exhibitions (isn't it funny how book characters like Curious George or Clifford the Big Red Dog have been around for decades, but didn't become valuable exhibit commodities until they had their own TV shows?)

And many Science Museums (as highlighted by the folks at The Natural History Museum project) have even bigger issues with crossing the advertising/scholarship line when creating exhibitions on topics like climate change that are sponsored by energy companies or influenced by board members with ties to energy industries.

I'd like to think that there are firewalls and clear boundaries between the marketing messages and content messages inside museum exhibitions and programs, but sometimes I really wonder:  Who's Pitching Who?



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Monday, August 8, 2016

What Do You Mean By "The World's Best Museum" ?


Dear ExhibiTricks readers, I SWEAR to you that I had three calls last week that reminded me so much of this blog post from several years ago, that I felt compelled to bring it out for an encore to remind us (or me, at least) of why museum projects should (and shouldn't!) get started.



"We want to build the world's best science museum."

That's what the leader of a group of board members from an emerging museum said to me several months ago during our first lunch meeting.

My immediate reaction was to start laughing. But because: a) I wasn't raised by wolves, and b) my consulting business supports my wife, and our four kids, I instead nodded, and asked, "Well, what do you mean by best?"

Silence.

Silence and blank stares. It was like being in a meeting with an oil painting.

Finally, one of the board members cautiously said, "We'd like to have all the newest high-tech exhibits, but we want ours to be unique." Another said, "We think we should have an IMAX theater. But we'd like ours to be the biggest, so we could have a good PR angle to drum up more funding support."

I tried to redirect the conversation to get the board members to discuss WHY they wanted to start a science museum in the first place, to try to uncover and understand their passions about their soon-to-be (hopefully!) museum, but we just kept circling back to making the "world's best" museum --- and worse, the terms "best" and "biggest" now started getting used interchangeably.

What about starting a small demonstration site to get things started? No, not "sexy" enough. They "needed" to start BIG.

What about learning to build up internal capacity, so that staff and resources could be allocated to be able to create things locally, both internally, and collaboratively, with folks from local communities?

A new round of blank stares.

I could see this was going to end in tears, so I gently suggested that their project might not yet be at the stage where I could help them. This group seemed destined to be spinning this project around for years without it going anywhere.

I thanked them for the (soggy) sandwich, and drove off into the sunset.

Even though as a consultant, my brain is usually for rent, here are a few lessons I took away from this experience that I'm happy to share:

• You can't claim the title of "world's best" for yourself before you even start something (or even after you start something, for that matter.) It makes you seem arrogant and/or clueless.

When your visitors start telling all their friends to go to your museum, and better yet, start referring to the place as "their" museum, you will have started down the road to success.

• Start small, and build thoughtfully from there. It's o.k. to stay small in order to maintain quality.

• Focus on building internal capacity by investing in staff, training, and tools appropriate for your situation. Paradoxically, I like to teach museums and their staff how to "fish" (metaphorically speaking) rather than having them always feeling like they need to buy "fish" from folks outside of their organization.


Starting a museum is tough, but making sure your museum continues to improve and evolve after it opens, is even tougher. Good Luck! (and if you need help with a museum project that you would like to grow into being one of the "best" let me know.)



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P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)