Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Are Charettes Part of Your Creative Toolbox?

I'll be jetting off to San Diego and Miami soon for some exhibition charettes, so I thought now would an opportune time to post this "encore" post on the topic.

Working with other people can be tricky.  Group dynamics often degenerate into a pat way of thinking about other people (Oh, there's crazy George talking about visitor numbers again ...) or other departments (Those marketing folks don't have any idea of what it takes to put an exhibit together ...)

Unfortunately, in a constantly shifting marketplace that practically demands that museums are continually innovating and evolving, falling into boring operational patterns or getting locked into interpersonal cul-de-sacs is not great for business.  It also makes working with other people a lot less fun.

So how can you break the mold of past practice (or even get past the goofy term "best practice") and shake your museum working groups up in a fun and positive way?

I'd offer one suggestion:  The Charette.

A little history first from Wikipedia: The term "charette" was thought to originate from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 19th century, the word charrette is from the French for "cart" or "chariot." It was not unusual for student architects to continue working furiously in teams at the end of the allotted term, up until a deadline, when a charrette would be wheeled among the students to pick up their work for review while they, each working furiously to apply the finishing touches, were said to be working en charrette, in the cart. Émile Zola depicted such a scene of feverish activity in L'Œuvre (serialized 1885, published 1886), his fictionalized account of his friendship with Paul Cézanne. Hence, the term metamorphosed into the current design-related usage in conjunction with working right up to a deadline.)

Bringing together a small group of folks, including some from outside your organization, to bash around ideas for a fixed chunk of time, can bring incredible results.  The best charettes are not just  random brainstorming sessions, but rather concentrated bursts of activity surrounding a fixed topic (or topics) leading toward some conclusions about a particular aspect of a project by the time you're finished.

These past few months I've been whizzing around the country, helping to organize, or be part of, exhibit charettes.  I am always heartened and gratified by the large amount of high-quality thinking that can come out of a charette process that puts people into a room without the normal work-day distractions of phone calls, emails, and memos.  The charette process really compels people to bring their "A Game" to the table and contribute their best thoughts and ideas.

We so often complain about the lack of time in the museum business, so it's great to find a process that has a goal of producing tangible, actionable results in a short time.

So pick two or three specific thorny problems your organization has been struggling with, block out a day, and bring in some outsiders to shake things up a bit.  Who knows what sorts of ideas you can fill your "chariot" with?

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Friday, March 21, 2014

What's Your Museum Moment Story?

I'm dashing around airports today, but I wanted to put this quick question to ExhibiTricks readers and the Internet hive-mind:  What's your Museum Moment story?

What is a strong memory of an experience that shifted your thinking about museums, and their place in your life, forever?  I know one of my earliest museum moments definitely involves Diego Rivera's frescoes at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

It's something I've been thinking a lot about lately, inspired in part by the work of Susie Wilkening and Reach Advisors, but also from anecdotal evidence of individuals within the same families becoming either "museum advocates" or "museum avoiders."

What are the commonalities, and how can museum folks create more truly transformational and inspiring experiences from digging into these museum moments stories?

It's all still whizzing around my head, but I'd love to get YOUR thoughts about this in the "Comments" section below.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cool Museum Exhibit Design Tool: Spoonflower

Spoonflower is one of those cool Web-based service sites that lets you turn your ideas into real stuff!

It's also a great example of how the intersection of the Web and the Maker Movement can trickle down to serve museum folks and exhibit designers.

Spoonflower gives individuals the power to print their own designs (like the one above) on fabric, wallpaper or gift wrap. The idea is that you upload a digital image (or use the Spoonflower imaging tools) to the Spoonflower Web site and the company prints the design on a range of materials that they then ship directly to you.

You can see some real-life examples and read commentary on using different materials and techniques on the Spoonflower blog.  (Or vote in their weekly "Design of the Week" challenge!)

All in all, Spoonflower's services look like another interesting tool to add to the exhibit developer's repertoire. 

So why not give Spoonflower a try, and then email us a picture of what you made?

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Social Media Matters: An Interview with Jamie Glavic

Jamie Glavic is a museum professional and enthusiast. She serves on the board of the Ohio Museums Association, is a proud graduate of Developing History Leaders @SHA, Class of 2011, Chair of the SHA Alumni Committee, and a founding member, and current President, of the Emerging Museum Professionals Columbus Chapter. Jamie also blogs on current issues and trends affecting the museum field and history organizations at and tweets at @MuseumMinute. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in history and has a particular affinity for dinosaurs and strategic planning literature. 

What’s your educational background?
I have a BA in History from the University of Cincinnati (GO BEARCATS!). While I don’t have a graduate degree (gasp, I know, I know), it is on my list of things to do – after I finish paying off my “first round” of student loan debt (I’m trying to be fiscally responsible – and have a life where I can order pizza from time to time).

I also have a certificate in Museum Leadership & Management from Developing History Leaders @SHA. What’s SHA you ask? SHA, or the Seminar for Historical Administration, is a program that combines depth (three weeks of engagement in deep discussion about issues facing our field) with breadth (discussions led by nationally recognized leaders in the history/museum field). It brings together current and future leaders in the public history field to learn in an intimate, collegial atmosphere. In short, it is awesome and I think is one of the best professional development experiences offered in the field.

What got you interested in Museums?
Dinosaurs. I’m convinced that dinosaurs are the gateway drug to all things awesome, especially science and history-based museum-ey things. The first time I saw a dinosaur, at the Anniston Museum of Natural History in Anniston, Alabama, it changed my life. I didn’t know what to do or how to do it exactly – but I knew I wanted to hang out in museums. I actually get goose bumps thinking about that moment. I did not study paleontology or attend a field school for a dig (because I’m just not that into dirt), but knowing I could always find dinosaurs in museums helped stoke an interest in both things, and my love of dinosaurs continues to this day; it’s exciting for me to see that same kind of appreciation from my nephews who are five, seven, and eight – they think dinosaurs are the coolest. That makes this history geek aunt, who drags them to museums every chance she gets, smile.

How does using social media inform your museum work?
Social media is a fabulous tool and has been a great catalyst in my museum career. I use social media to ask questions (and sometimes I find answers), make connections, join conversations, and share information that I find interesting or that is beneficial for the work that I do. Social media has allowed me to become a part of a much larger museum community and I look for ways to expand its use in my work every chance I get.

Tell us a little bit about how your “non-museum” skills/activities inform your museum work?
Before I entered the museum field I was a history student – and I will be one of the first people to tell you I am thankful for my humanities education. I do not regret my decision to study history (or pursue a career in humanities) because it has given me an edge when it comes to research and writing. I don’t write exhibit labels but I do enjoy writing pithy blog posts and using other creative outlets for connecting with our museum audiences. I do a lot of online reading – blogs, articles, twitter, Facebook – and at the end of the day I have to unplug with a good book. However, as a recovering history major –I don’t read nearly as much now as I did as an undergrad.

What are some of your favorite online (or offline!) resources for people interested in finding out more about the use of social media and museums?
As a social media enthusiast, I work hard to keep up with the latest information on its use in the museum field and am always finding new and interesting sources.  Some of my current favorite go-tos include:

Digital Engagement Framework
The NMC Horizon Report: Museum Edition
Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project
Museums and the Web
Museum Computer Network

What advice would you have for fellow museum professionals, especially those from smaller museums, in thinking about the best ways to leverage social media in their work?
The reality is that social media matters whether you want it to or not. It can no longer be a matter of “if” you do it – it’s become a matter of “how” you do it – and being sure that you make time for social media, because it has become necessary.  So, for the uninitiated, timid or overwhelmed, I would say start small. Pick one, maybe two  platforms to experiment with and inform this decision based on who your current audience is and who you would like for your audience to include/be in the (hopefully near) future (check out Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project if you need help defining audiences online). Give yourself at least six months. These tools take time. Your museum wasn’t built in a day. Be patient. Be genuine. Ask questions. And be flexible.

Also, and so important, play nice. Social media, and digital strategy, is a team sport. Content is generated from each department across any organization: education, programming, archives, etc. Their thoughts and feedback matter. Your colleagues are your champions/partners/allies. Don’t pretend to know everything, be a good listener, and be a team player.  

What do you think is the “next frontier” for museums?
The next frontier for museums is two-fold: one, I believe every museum will have a digital experience director on their exec team. This person will advocate that digital isn’t something additional that we do – rather, it’s embedded in our structure and has become a part of everything that we do. In the same vein, this person’s great responsibility will be to protect digital assets from become bastardized – i.e. using technology for technology sake, instead of integrating it strategically, so as to have the greatest impact possible for the organization  – strategy is key. We serve communities, and technology serves us.

The second big change will need to take place in the workplace structure itself. Cubicles will be a thing of the past. These silos everyone complains about between finance, marketing, programs, education and collections will become a faint memory when we all have to look at each other every day. We can’t have open and effective communication with the public without having open communication internally – building a team environment (a successful one) means tearing down walls, literally and physically, and getting your curators out of the collections facility.

What are some of your favorite museums or exhibitions?

Some of my favorite museums are:

Natural History Museum of Utah
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles
Philadelphia Museum of Art
The National WWII Museum

Some of my favorite exhibitions are:

Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland

I was lucky and saw the first showing of this exhibition in the U.S. at MFAH. It was so beautiful. I was completely engrossed in the paintings.

Wedded Perfection: Two Centuries of Wedding Gowns

My husband and I toured this exhibition a few days after we got married in Cincinnati. Wedded Perfection will always hold a special place in my heart.

Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940-1950

I love Rothko.

Your Body: The Inside Story

I toured this exhibition while in Baltimore for AAM. It was fun. I laughed. I played. And yes, I played a “symphony” of digestion noises.

The Star Spangled Banner

It’s so big! I saw this when my husband and I were last in D.C. I was a little overwhelmed when I walked into the space – I’ll never forget that moment of, “whoa…”

Can you talk a little about some of your current projects?
In my role as the Strategic Projects Coordinator I get thrown into a lot of projects – and gladly. I love the variety! My job requires me to constantly think outside of the box. I get to work with a phenomenal team of content specialists and general experts (library, archives, archaeology, civil war, photography, material culture, etc.). How they know what they know – and how MUCH they know – never ceases to astound me.

Also, I'm always adding to my "Meet a Museum Blogger" series on my Museum Minute blog !

If money were no object, what would your “dream” museum project be?
My dream museum project would be to host a museum-focused Travel Channel-type show, with my best friend and fellow museum professional, Dina Bailey. I imagine it being part Dirty Jobs, part How It’s Made, part Mysteries at the Museum. The show would highlight off the beaten path, interesting destinations/hidden gems around the world/the untold stories behind collections. The show could be titled, "It Belongs in a Museum!" It could also highlight the many museum jobs that exist outside the realm of curator, docent, and director. Hmmm...maybe "You Belong in a Museum" would be better. I'll let the execs at Travel Channel decide - they're reading this, right?

Thanks Jamie!   You can find out more about Jamie and her work at or by following her on Twitter at @MuseumMinute.

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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