Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Adios Hoston! Museum Conference Re-Cap

Best description of Houston's weather: "It feels like you're living in someone's mouth ..."

Heat and humidity aside, I had a great time in Houston at the back-to-back Association of Children's Museums (ACM) InterActivity Conference, followed by the American Association of Museums (AAM) Annual Conference.

I've already posted about some of the early InterActivity news, so let's re-cap some of the transition time between conferences, the early AAM conference takeaways (Full Disclosure: I left a little early, so my family didn't forget who I was!) and some unique Houston sights, like the Art Cars and Art Car Parade, images of which are sprinkled throughout this posting:

Last Gasp for InterActivity 2011 
The final session I attended at IA2011, "Let’s Talk about Risk" was great for two reasons: 1) The topic of "Risk" was intrinsically interesting to me , and 2) The "Fishbowl" format.  Basically, the Fishbowl format is like reverse musical chairs with a starting circle of seated speakers and one empty chair.  Only those in the central circle can speak, but anyone from the audience can come into the empty chair.  Once all the chairs are filled, one person must vacate their chair.

It sounds complicated, but in practice worked great and really elicited surprisingly frank comments as well as a diversity of speakers.  Brava, Kathy Gustafson-Hilton from Hands On! for organizing this panel!  You can get more details about the session at the KidCity Museum blog.

The Menil Collection
After InterActivity finished, I joined several museum pals to visit hands-down my favorite "museum experience" in Houston.  I continue to love the main building (the current "Upside Down Arctic Realities" show was smashing! Unfortunately the on-line materials don't do it justice) and the Rothko Chapel was wonderful as well.  If your travels bring you to Houston, do not miss the Menil.

On to AAM!

The Art Car Parade
I didn't get to see the full-blown parade since I was involved in two sessions (see below) but fortunately I was able to see the Art Car pre-show on Saturday night outside the Convention Center.  BIG, BIG fun!  (Especially that Chicken Car!) The Art Car Parade is put on by the folks from the Orange Show (a local folk art monument) which was also the site of Sunday night's most excellent NAME Party!
"Future of Exhibiting: Voices from Non-Traditional Museums" 
First up, on Sunday afternoon, I was pleased to chair this session presented by he super-smart trio of Ashley Remer, Founder & Head Girl of GIRL MUSEUM,  Maria Mortati, Founder of the SF Mobile Museum, and Jon West-Bey, Director of American Poetry Museum.

Each of these dedicated folks explained why they felt compelled to start "alternative" museums (basic answer: existing museum models aren't flexible enough, or likely to change.)  Unfortunately Maria's show-and-tell props were in her "lost" luggage (that Continental Airlines somehow managed to lose on a direct flight from the Bay Area!) and Ashley was fighting raging flu that she picked up on the flight over from New Zealand. 

But despite these pre-session glitches, the presentations were all amazing, and Jon reminded us that, ultimately, bet on the Athenians over the Spartans every time!

You can get additional session details, and see Maria's presentation by checking out her S.F. Mobile Museum blog posting.

Career Café Idea Lounge: "Slow Exhibits"
On Sunday, from 4:15 pm to 5:30 pm I was the "Provocateur" for a great discussion concerning the notion of "Slow Exhibits."

Taking a page from the "Slow Food" movement and their central tenets of Good, Clean, and Fair; I've been thinking a lot about how we make exhibits, and how we hope people might engage with our exhibits.  Given the rapid-paced and hyper-connected world we live in, are museums responding by creating exhibit spaces and designed environments that do not lend themselves to contemplation and concentration?

As a group, we discussed exhibit environment and design approaches that actually rewarded visitors for slowing down to observe carefully, contemplate, and engage with others.

Along the way we discussed museum "Easter Eggs", the excellent new book "The Convivial Museum" the visualization of the Civil War at the Abraham Lincoln Museum, and much, much more.

It was sharp group, and I appreciated the change from the usual session of "three PowerPoints and a microphone."   (Besides, where else could you learn that the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque has the "largest collection of touchable nuclear weapons in the world"?)

Happy trails to everyone I met or reconnected with in Houston!  Do you have your own conference memories or takeaways to share?  Let us know in the "Comments" section below.

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