My "Pandemic Project”
When the restrictions and precautions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic took hold on Long Island, where my family and I live, it immediately became apparent that we were entering strange new territory. The notion of “working from home” and having meetings and conferences remotely, was not that different from much of my usual consulting workflow, but two other things soon became apparent.
First, as every museum conference I was scheduled to speak at or attend was canceled or postponed, the notion of “social distancing” on a professional level became very real, very quickly. I missed the opportunity of seeing museum friends and colleagues in-person!
Secondly, and related to professional social (and physical!) distancing, I missed the back-and-forth of sharing and learning from each other – which strikes me as one of the underlying strengths of the museum field that sets it apart from many other professions.
So, what to do? Well, what I did was to take up with new vigor the idea of “Museum FAQ” videos (FAQ is tech-speak for “Frequently Asked Questions”) that, quite honestly, I had started a while ago but had left aside. Now I started contacting museum colleagues to find out if they would be willing to have a conversation with me via Zoom (of course!) about a museum topic that would draw upon their personal experience and expertise.
To my delight (and relief!) folks readily agreed, and now I have started to build up a freely available library of videos on my POW! YouTube channel that covers a wide range of topics from Museum Management to Exhibit Design to Science Communication. Even though the videos are being recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic, the topics covered, and tips and techniques shared, are truly “evergreen” in the sense that they will still provide interesting and useful information for, hopefully, years to come.
While I continue to record Museum FAQ videos, three videos, in particular, stand out for me.
Christian Greer, President & CEO of the Michigan Science Center, brought forward a thoughtful (and timely!) discussion about managing in times of transition. I was struck by how eloquently Christian shared tactics for balancing the foundation of Mission with the flexibility and creativity needed for turbulent times.
On a completely different topic, Amparo Leyman Pino shared successful ways she has used language as an interpretive tool in museums. Amparo moved beyond the more familiar multilingual labels to the ideas of blended language and language-neutral environments.
Lastly, exhibit designer Margaret Middleton shared a fun and informative way to think about creating more inclusive museums by walking us through how to plan for better infant care and feeding areas as a model for the process.
I hope you’ll click on over to the POW! YouTube channel to view some Museum FAQ videos for yourself – and, better yet, please let me know if there are new topics that we could have a Museum FAQ conversation about together to share with our museum colleagues on YouTube! (Don't forget to hit the big red "Subscribe" button when you get to YouTube!)
(This post was adapted, with permission, from a piece I submitted for the online version of Informal Learning Review, Special Issue #2 June 2020 p.26)
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Paul Orselli writes the posts on ExhibiTricks. Paul likes to combine interesting people, ideas, and materials to make exhibits (and entire museums!) with his company POW! (Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc.) Let's work on a project together!
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