Thursday, April 12, 2018

Museums Involving Communities: Authentic Connections


In Margaret Kadoyama’s vision, cultural organizations are vital members of their communities and are actively involved in community revitalization.  Margaret works collaboratively with museums and cultural organizations to create strategic community involvement and audience development plans, assess programs, and plan for sustainability. 

Margaret was kind enough to share some thoughts here on the ExhibiTricks blog about her new book, Museums Involving Communities: Authentic Connections.



Imagine this: You are on vacation, and you decide to check out a local museum. You have a professional and personal interest in visiting, and when you arrive, you notice that the people there – the staff and visitors – seem to be happy to be there, and there is a vitality and energy about the place. When you look around, the staff and visitors are all sorts of people – various ages, styles, races, ethnicities, groupings, and the place feels welcoming and inclusive. People are engaged with one another and with the exhibitions and programs. You think, “Wow – this is a great place to be! How did it come to be like this?”


That scenario is a guidepost for me, and writing this book has been a way to discover how to make that happen for more museums. I have been long committed to the quiet but tenacious goal of helping people learn how museums can be vital members of their communities.  Since the late 1980s this vision has driven my work, and when I was asked to teach at John F. Kennedy University Museum Studies in 1997, I hoped that this was a way to influence many students over many years to embrace and incorporate community involvement into their daily practice. It has been a great pleasure to see hundreds of JFKU students embracing community work and join with colleagues in moving this forward. To my delight, the museum field has grown and is increasingly embracing community-focused work.

At this time and place (the United States in 2018), colleagues in many museums and cultural organizations are articulating the importance of being inclusive. A current example is the April 2018 issue of National Geographic, in which Editor in Chief Susan Goldberg’s editor letter acknowledges National Geographic’s racist history, and notes, “Let’s examine why we continue to segregate along racial lines and how we can build inclusive communities.”

The purpose of Museums Involving Communities: Authentic Connections is to explore how museums can become vital members of their communities, actively involved in community revitalization, and how community members can become actively involved with their museums. This exploration examines the components of museum-community relationships, with the goal of creating more accessible, inclusive, and relevant museums and cultural organizations. 


This book provides insights and guidance into how museums can be more fully engaged with their communities.  We take you through the process, looking internally to learn about our museums and ourselves, and then externally to learn about our communities.  We’ve included key questions to help guide this process, such as:

• What is your intention for engaging in a museum-community involvement initiative?

• Why do you want to have stronger relationships with people and organizations in your community?

• What do you hope will happen as you become more fully involved in your community?


Also included are stories from the field to illustrate how organizations such as the Science Museum of Minnesota, Queens Museum, Arab American National Museum, Oakland Museum of California, and others are embracing community. The stories are not only about what the museum leadership and staff are doing, but also why they are doing it, the challenges they are facing, how they navigate through those challenges, and the short-term and longer-term impacts of their work for the museums and their communities. And, sample worksheets and charts are included as helpful tools for museum leadership and staff.

In the book, we ask questions about communities’ impacts on museum programs, exhibitions, collections, audience and internal culture, a museum’s impact on its community, and the role of leadership in fostering community engagement. The book guides the reader to a) understand how relationships between communities and museums can be forged, b) learn and weigh strategies for involving and advocating for communities in museums, and c) learn how to develop a community involvement action plan.


A question posed by my friend and colleague Leslie Bedford says it best:



Why are some museums comfortable and successful at embracing community and others not? How is that culture of inclusion created and sustained?


Museums Involving Communities hopes to help you find out.



AND NOW --- A CHANCE TO WIN A FREE COPY OF MARGARET'S NEW BOOK!

If you would like a chance to win a copy of Margaret's new book, Museums Involving Communities: Authentic Connections, just become an email subscriber to the ExhibiTricks blog by clicking on the link at the top right of the blog's homepage.  If you are already an ExhibiTricks subscriber you can simply send an email to info@orselli.net with the subject line "I want to win a book!" 

In either case, all entries must be received before April 30, 2018.  The randomly-selected winner will be notified after that time.


You can also order a copy of Margaret's book directly from the Routledge Publishing website.  If you enter the code FLR40, you can receive a 20% discount at checkout.  (The book is also available at Amazon and other online booksellers.)



For those of you attending the 2018 AAM Conference in Phoenix, Margaret will be doing a book signing on Monday, May 7th from 3:00 to 4:00 PM at the Alliance Bookstore -- Booth #2448 in the Expo Hall.


Last, but not least, you can find out more about Margaret and her work by visiting her website.





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Friday, April 6, 2018

Back to Tunisia!


I'm off on another museum project  --- this time for my second trip to Tunisia!  I'll be reporting on my Tunisian travels in a future ExhibiTricks blog post, but for now I hope you'll enjoy this "encore" post about my first trip to Tunisia.  You can also check out my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds for live updates!


My work brings me to many unexpected places around the world, but I just returned from what may be my most interesting trip so far --- working with folks from Libya, but in Tunisia!

So how did I end up in Tunisia?  Earlier this year, I was contacted by Professor Susan Kane of Oberlin College.  Susan told me about her project through the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of State to work with Libyan educators, scout leaders, and museum folks.

The point of this particular project being to bring together Libyans from different parts of the country who work with young people to help foster national reconciliation, and to create a greater appreciation for the importance of Libyan cultural heritage --- both tangible (think historic structures and archaeological sites) as well as intangible (things like music, dance, and poetry.)

Now we need to stop the story to fill in a couple of important details.  First off, given shifting events and unrest in Libya over the past few years, our U.S. Embassy to Libya is currently located in neighboring Tunisia, not Libya (see map below.) So that's why a State Department workshop with participants from Libya was happening in Tunisia.  (Also U.S. citizens are currently advised not to travel to Libya.)



Secondly, why ask ME to give this workshop that, at least partially, concerned itself with cultural heritage and Libyan national reconciliation?  Several kind museum colleagues pointed Susan in my direction, and together we crafted a plan to share my ideas about open-ended activities for children, quick and cheap exhibit prototyping, and developing pop-up or temporary museums in schools and community centers with the workshop participants.

After the initial excitement of traveling to Tunisia wore off, I honestly began to worry --- would my information and activities with simple materials actually be useful to Libyans concerned with reconciliation and cultural heritage? I continued to think about this from the time I started planning activities and gathering materials in the U.S. all the way until I arrived at the hotel on the outskirts of Tunis where the workshops would be held.

Fortunately, the Libyan men and women in my workshop were very enthusiastic and welcoming.  It was clear (once we got into the groove with our helpful translators!) that everyone at the workshop was hungry for activities to share with the students, scouts, and children they worked with.  I deliberately chose topics and activities that I thought could be used in a wide range of situations.



For example, I introduced a number of activities that dealt with the topic of "Structures."  In dealing with open-ended design challenges involving structures we could easily discuss History, Architecture, and Engineering among other subjects.  We created bridges and buildings out of simple supplies like paper, tape, straws, and paper clips.  The workshop participants excitedly shared their own embellishments for activities with each other, and also remarked on the symbolic value of a topic like "bridges" when discussing with children how to work together to create a more united Libya.  (Given the current political climate, maybe I should introduce more bridge-building activities for my workshops in the United States!)



Together with the workshop participants we spent one day focused on how to develop open-ended design activities and another on testing and prototyping ideas. Along the way, I also introduced fun activities like "Laughing Cups" that could quickly engage children and then lead into a broader discussion of cultural heritage topics like Music. (My new Libyan friends in the workshop called these sorts of activities Mr. Paul's "tricks.")

Our last workshop day together dealt with the development of Pop-Up (or temporary) Museums. These sorts of temporary displays or exhibitions are great ways to engage with communities and lend themselves to being set up inside non-museum spaces like schools or community centers (or even under tents outside.)  So we ended our workshop by creating a Pop-Up Museum!



Several workshop participants brought objects from home to share for the Pop-Up Museum, while others put displays together from materials available on-site.  One of my favorite examples of "instant exhibitry" was from Intisar, the director of the Children's Museum in Tripoli, who created a display about the different types of historical tombs found in Libya (clay for lower class, glass for upper class) using leftover chicken bones from lunch and an ashtray from her hotel room!



As with every class or workshop I lead, I learned a lot from the participants and our work together. Perhaps foremost in Tunisia, I learned that the Libyans I met (like all people around the world) want a better life for their children, and a safe and secure place to live.

So can Laughing Cups help Libya? In the hands of the thoughtful and dedicated people I met in Tunisia, I'm sure, in a small way, they can.



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.

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!)