Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Building Your Museum's Internal Capacity Through Workshops


Over the past few years, a big part of my consulting practice has involved presenting workshops to help museums and museum-oriented companies build up their internal capacity to develop and design exhibitions and programs.

In just the past year or two, I've been fortunate to give workshops to colleagues around the world in Beijing at the ICOM International Training Center at The Palace Museum, in Tunisia on behalf of the U.S. State Department, in Germany with Huttinger, one of Europe's largest exhibit fabrication companies, and most recently in Detroit for an all-day exhibits workshop for the Michigan Museums Association.

Here are 4 positive outcomes toward building internal capacity (with links to related ExhibiTricks posts) that consistently come out of POW! workshops for participants:


1) Focus on BIG IDEAS  Focusing on your core ideas -- whether for a single exhibit component or for an entire museum program is essential.  The process of building an exhibit or program doesn't become clearer if you start with a bunch of fuzzy ideas.




2) An Appreciation for Iteration Try, try again!  Prototyping ideas quickly with simple materials then adjusting based on feedback is a great technique to bring into every project.




3) Stronger connections to clients and communities When you bring focused, tested messages outside your museum it is easier to find the places for strong, authentic connections between creative partners.



4) Adding to your professional toolbox  Every workshop includes simple techniques and tips that workshop participants can use right away in their museum or company.



The concentrated experience of the workshop setting really brings people together in a fun and focused way -- without the myriad distractions of their normal workplace.

Send me an email so we can talk about bringing a POW! workshop to your museum or company!




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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Which Books Would You Recommend to An Emerging Museum Professional?

A colleague recently emailed me to ask about book suggestions for a newcomer to the museum field.

After I sent off the list, it occurred to me that not only did I find all of the books on the list excellent references, but that I had also written blog posts about each one!

So please find below a list of books that I would recommend to any museum professional (emerging or veteran!) If you click the title of the book, it will bring you to the related ExhibiTricks post or interview, and there is a link to purchase each book after the accompanying short descriptive blurb. 

Happy reading!

RECOMMENDED BOOKS FOR MUSEUM PROFESSIONALS


"Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon 

Some books just leap out at you and make you read them. "Steal Like An Artist" by Austin Kleon has been one of those kinds of books for me --- packed with ideas, quotes, and anecdotes that really resonate with me and my creative practice.

[Purchase the book here.]




Inside this pithy volume, Weinschenk gives 100 examples of the psychology of design and why some design choices work better than others.

Dividing her 100 examples into thematic sections such as "How People See" and "How People Remember" the author not only provides illustrated examples of design approaches but provides links to research, websites, and online talks that let you explore specific design topics in more depth.

[Purchase the book here.]  




The "Creating Exhibitions" book is a "must buy" for any museum professional involved in designing or developing exhibits.

[Purchase the book here.]




"Of course, there's a more personal reason I started the Museum 2.0 blog. I'm a free choice learner. I didn't want to go to graduate school, but I did want to pursue my own education in museums and learn enough to have something to say to some of the really smart people I was meeting at conferences. The blog really started as a personal learning device. It continues to be that for me, but now there are more co-learners involved."

[Purchase the books here and here. You can also read the books online here and here.]




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.

[Purchase the book here.]




"The first edition of Exhibit Labels was a follow-up on my book published by the Association for State and Local History (AASLH) called “Making Exhibit Labels: A Step-by-Step Approach.” I wrote that in 1983, before I’d ever done much work on exhibition planning and design, although I had a background in museum education.

I had a master’s degree in science teaching in non-school settings, and I’d worked as the curator of education at the Shedd Aquarium for eight years. I was in charge of programs, not exhibits. I kept pushing for more interpretive stories in the labels of the Shedd’s galleries, but that wasn’t my job."

[Purchase the book here.]




"Fostering Active Prolonged Engagement" is a book about an NSF-funded project at the Exploratorium that digs deeply into how exhibit components can foster "APE behavior." (APE is the acronym for Active Prolonged Engagement.)  Namely, how can exhibits be developed (or in many cases, re-designed) to allow visitors to take active roles in creating their own experiences in ways that compel them to spend longer periods of time at the exhibits?

[Purchase the book here.]




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!)

Friday, September 7, 2018

Why We Work; Messy and Collaborative Exhibition Development


Beth Maloney is the Director of Interpretation at the Baltimore Museum of Industry and an Instructor with the Program in Museums and Society at Johns Hopkins University. Beth is Past-President of the Museum Education Roundtable, Former guest editor for the Journal of Museum Education and a Mentor with AAM’s EdMEM programMore information about her work can be found at www.bethmaloney.com

Beth was kind enough to share her thoughts about the development of the recent Why We Work exhibition with ExhibiTricks readers.


Why We Work

In my job at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, I look for ways to build visitor interaction and engagement. As an instructor with the Johns Hopkins University Program in Museums and Society, I teach courses that bring students into museum work. During the fall of 2017, I embarked on what seemed like an ambitious but straightforward plan – to teach a class about interactive spaces and then, with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, create a temporary exhibition at the museum reflecting students’ vision and ideas. I had very few parameters to work with - an empty gallery space, a timeline, and faith that the semester would yield something compelling. This simple plan quickly got complicated but in the end, resulted in a project I could never have imagined.


Starting in the classroom

Because my students were not all familiar with museum work and none of them were historians, we started the semester with a series of readings and discussions about exhibition design, visitor studies, and museums. And we purposefully explored the question of what elements support engaging, relevant and successful interactive spaces.

Starting the design process in the classroom meant that we had the luxury to revisit our own experiences, explore case studies, blogs, research and advice from guest speakers - Gamynne Guillotte from the Baltimore Museum of Art, Andrea Jones of Peak Experience Lab and Mike Murawski from the Portland Art Museum. We actively defined our classroom as a lab space for thinking through possibilities, as well as different and new perspectives on process and approach. For my own part, as an instructor, maintaining this mindset cultivated transparency and heightened self-awareness about the work ahead.



Determining the focus

After considering examples from outside the museum, students dove into content in the museum’s galleries and archives. Their research and conversations inspired them to focus an abstract idea for this exhibition — What is the experience of work? What motivates us at work? What makes for satisfying work? How could we tie the museum’s larger focus on industry to visitors’ personal experience of industry (or work)? To do this, my students committed to centering visitor participation as the key element for the space — who better than visitors to share what contemporary work experience looks like?

While I expected students to lean into the personal stories of work and visitor participation, they pushed things in a deeper direction than I’d initially been imagining. Letting go and giving students the space to develop what they wanted to see meant I had to work consciously and consistently to listen and work along-side them rather than pushing them in one direction or another. I found myself describing the process as “soupy” – now I see that it was also collaborative, substantive, iterative, authentic and in a true sense educational not just for my students, but for me. 



Creating the Design

Once big ideas were solid enough, we brought them out of the classroom and shared them with visitors in the museum. Ideas and questions that led to the most discussion with visitors eventually made it into the exhibition text – What is your favorite time of the workday? If you could describe your work in one word, what would it be? What motivates you at work – compensation, community, acknowledgment? We knew we needed an excellent design to inspire these kinds of conversations in an exhibition space not staffed by students. What kind of interactive would do the best job?





Expanding our exhibition team even more, we invited Jeremy Hoffman and his Maryland Institute College of Art students to take my students’ content, ideas and goals for the space and develop exhibition designs. Nine different design lenses were shared – each one offering an interpretation of what might be possible for the space. Seeing their ideas reflected in so many different possibilities prompted my students to lean into and fine tune their curatorial vision.

They were particularly drawn to two ideas offered by the design students: One that centered the personal via a portrait wall of contemporary and historic photographs of people working in Baltimore. And another that centered visitor interaction by inviting them to respond to a prompt on the wall, “leaving their mark” and creating something collectively over time. Students ended the semester with a “blueprint” for Jeremy (Ashton Design) and myself to use as we made the exhibition space a reality.



Idea to reality

In order to make the portrait wall a reality, Jeremy contacted local photographer Christopher Myers who generously let us into his archive of contemporary portraits of Baltimoreans at work. Working with museum staff, volunteers and my students, we also sourced historic images of workers in Baltimore from the museum’s collection, the Library of Congress, personal connections and the images of A. Aubrey Bodine. Over the course of several weeks, and through much discussion and feedback from students, museum staff, and volunteers, we narrowed down our portrait wall to 32 images.

The rest of the exhibition space is populated with large questions inspired directly from the visitor testing students did and readings about contemporary work experience. The interactive asks visitors to take a sticker sheet from a category they feel best describes their work. Then they use three dots on that color-coded sticker sheet to plot their answers on the wall. If you imagine each sticker dot as a data point, together all these dots become a picture of contemporary work on the walls of the exhibition.





Since we’ve opened this show, the space has become a favorite with visitors to the museum. They linger, engage in the activity, take in the portrait wall and even talk with each other about the data on the walls and their own experiences of work.




So what?

I truly believe that the success of this exhibition is in part due to its genesis. Born out of a semester of study, this exhibition involved successively wider circles of dynamic curatorial, audience, collegial and design engagement – first in the classroom at Johns Hopkins University, then with staff and visitors at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, then collaboration with students at Maryland Institute College of Art and finally, with visitors as their engagement literally changes what is on the walls in the exhibition.

Though it’s harder work, getting more people involved, ruminating and revisiting ideas, testing and refining, letting go, and centering multiple perspectives can only make the final product stronger. For me, this process was a reminder that opening up, being flexible and listening can yield creative and collaborative end results that we can’t even imagine at the start. And, for me, this process also helps answer the question of why we work.






It’s hard to describe an interactive exhibition in a written description. Check out this radio interview about the project or better yet come to the museum! Why We Work is up through April 2019.


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!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

NOMA+ is Museum Inspiration on the Move


Many museums bump up against the public perception that they are not places for "average" citizens or are downright elitist or exclusionary. One way to address these concerns is to bring museum programming into local communities, rather than expecting communities to always visit the museum.

The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) decided to take a part of their museum programming into their local communities in the form of a mobile museum contained inside of a cleverly-designed storage container.  NOMA+ is towed to different host locations around New Orleans where an initial set of programs on photography is presented.

David Thompson, a machinist who has been tinkering in metalworking shops since the age of 7, was tasked with transforming a 17 by 8-foot trailer into an engaging community art space. “The museum staff came to me with a picture of what they wanted this to look like,” he said. “We started by ripping out a steel storage container and adding all the extra parts with aluminum since it’s much lighter. The wings and ramp are raised and lowered with a cable-winch system.” 

Congratulations to  The New Orleans Museum of Art for launching NOMA+ !  You can find out more about the NOMA+ project on the NOMA website, through this blog post by NOMA community outreach coordinator Nic Aziz, or through this time-lapse video featured on Vimeo (or embedded at the bottom of this post.)




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 15, 2018

Is Your Museum Alive? A Guest Post by Lucimara Letelier


Lucimara Letelier is the founder of Museu Vivo (Live Museum), a collaborative platform fostering innovation and economic sustainability in the museum sector through initiatives and consultancy combining museums, sustainability, and new economies.

Lucimara has extensive experience in development, fundraising, marketing, as well as arts management and has worked and consulted with more than 30 museums and nonprofit organizations. She is a vibrant facilitator and teacher in MBA programs in Museums and Arts Management in Brazil and the ICOM Training Center in China with Museum Branding and Audience Engagement.

Previously, she was the Deputy Director Arts for the British Council and Head of Fundraising at ActionAid, both in Brazil. Lucimara graduated in Marketing and Communications, Master in Arts Administration at Boston University and Design in Sustainability at Gaia Education. She is also a Board member at ICOM Brasil and ICOM MPR.

Lucimara was kind enough to share the text and images from her recent presentation at MuseumNext London entitled "Is Your Museum Alive?" with ExhibiTricks readers. As the MuseumNext conference celebrated its 10 year anniversary, trends and ideas were discussed with new voices and perspectives regarding whether a museum is (or is not) contributing to a regenerative culture in a world in transition.

Lucimara Letelier was one of these voices at MuseumNext and was the only Latin American speaker there. She presented a more holistic and systemic perspective with her talk below.




IS YOUR MUSEUM ALIVE?

I see museums dying everyday and everywhere.

It is not necessarily due to financial crises or it does not mean they are closing their doors. It means a profound disconnection and lack of relevance.



As much as this can sound sad, I see it as a great chance of a rebirth. In all living systems, something has to die, in order for a new life to be born.


Have you seen this Oscar-winning animation called “Coco”? In this story happening on the Day of the Dead in Mexico, you are dead only when people stop remembering you. Until then, you are still alive, but in the “world of the dead”….


It makes me think…. What does it take for a museum to be alive?


Looking into the evolution of museums, what made a museum alive in the past evolved from collections preservation to Audience Growth and Experience, Diversity and Inclusion…  And Now, community engagement is the hot spot! Great! But, for what?



I see we spend a lot of energy discussing what we do and how we do it, but now the crucial question for museums is WHY we do it.

That question is not disconnected from you.

Why you do what you do, in your museum? How do you feel alive as a museum professional?

Social innovators start with why, and this is what inspires others to join them ..

In the museums sector, I feel there is a new “why” emerging.

A new purpose, a new role, which makes a museum truly alive!

Now, more than ever, museums are required to collaborate with a larger movement to earth regeneration. A new vision, a new set of values, a new culture of living is required, which is part of the core business of museums, anyway...

Listening to museums managers, many feel like in the “Coco” movie, living in the world of the dead, but somehow feeling something bigger and more relevant their museums could embrace to be back to life.

Have you felt like that before?

Museums in the Global South and in the Global North have responded to that call in different ways.

Museums professionals awakening and turning their museums into change makers! Museums as key players to reframe cultural paradigms that will change the world for the better and for everyone.



Where to start?


If you are seeking an inspiration, I am bringing here a case from Brazil. Alemberg Quindins, the Director of the "Kariri Museum" 
(Memorial do Homem Kariri) says: “The beginning of everything is the absence” …And perhaps this is where many museums are today. Think about what topics, contemporary issues, and territories, the museums you work with are currently absent of…

Working with museums in the Global South, I see many stories of resilience we can share. Urgency is clear to us, due to the challenging environment we face there. And community engagement is central to our identity. 

Thus, let me tell you more about the Kariri Museum. It is located in a region with one of the worst Human Development Indexes in Brazil.


The Museum is managed by children. Its co-director, Yasmin Pereira, is 13 years old and became part of the museum 3 hours after she was born. The museum started with a budget of 50 Dollars per month and became a remarkable case of creative economy. It catalyzes social business by training local families to start up bed and breakfast accommodations for tourists and local coffee shops, it created a methodology of “organic museums”, in which they musealize people’s houses and empower the community to be the curators, reconnecting with their local indigenous memories. Many different houses became museums in the town and yet they continue to be families’ houses.
 


This museum helps to solve complex issues in education, social and economic development.

When I talked to the director, why he does it, he said: “Our museum is a living body with its heart beating with the hearts of its place and people.” The lessons we learn with the daily practices of the Kariri museum are a lifelong methodology that many museums around the globe are searching for in order to air their community engagement programs and bringing more authenticity, spontaneity, and affection to their museums.


When I look at the museums sector in the Global North, I see this urgent call been heard as well with the creation of collective networks for change! Awakened Museum Professionals like you catalyzing a vision of social impact and decolonization! Well, the work of a change maker can feel exhausting and lonely sometimes. It is the notion that we are not alone that keeps us walking and makes the real change as we move together!


Museum Detox in the UK, MASS Action, and Museums Are Not Neutral in the US, Decolonize This Place, We Are Museums, OFBYFORALL, Museums Change Lives and many other movements and networks are our collective response to a scream from the earth asking for a major reshape of museums.


If we look at this from a systemic view, it is basically:

YOU at the center, working together with US all responding to the urgency of NOW for a major CHANGE!



To sum it up…

To me, museums are alive if they connect with the people, its territory, and its urgencies, to drive deep change. People like you as museums professionals, as well as the visitors and the people whose stories we tell. We, as the “museums people” together, we are the living body of a museums ecosystem. We are responsible to make this system alive.

What about you? What makes your museum alive? What makes you alive in your museum?

The world is changing; we are in the transition team. Are you?



You can see a video of Lucimara's MuseumNext presentation on Vimeo.
You can connect with Lucimara and find out more about her work through Twitter, Instagram, or the Museu Vivo website or Facebook page.


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!)