Thursday, April 23, 2020

4 Resources for Building Stronger and More Resilient Museums

How Can We Build Stronger and More Resilient Museums?

I'm sure that's a question that many people who work in museums, and many people who love and visit museums, have been pondering.  Me too!  So I thought I would share four resources -- different positive jumping-off points to consider when thinking about the future of museums and other essential cultural institutions.

1) A Museum FAQ video conversation with Laura Huerta Migus

I was extremely fortunate to recently discuss the topic of building stronger and more resilient museums with Laura Huerta Migus, the Executive Director of the Association of Children's Museums, as part of the Museum FAQ video series.

Among the many powerful takeaways from our conversation were Laura's closing thoughts:

"I would ask people to not plan for what it looked like before but to take this as a real opportunity to reinvent yourself especially around being essential.  We’ve talked about museum experiences bringing joy and being restorative but we have a moment to really articulate and prove how we are of service and how we are healing environments and the places that we really occupy in society. 

And if we embrace that then we have an opportunity to come out of this so much stronger -- and not only as individual institutions but as a field. I think that's the challenge that I am holding to get myself through these weeks and that I see the leadership in our field really holding onto as well."

Please view our full video conversation embedded below or on the POW! YouTube channel or via

2) Good examples of "Museums Stepping Up" from The Museum Group's email newsletter

I really like the idea of holding up positive examples of museum decisions made during difficult times, rather than the constant "drumbeat of doom" regarding layoffs and furloughs.

In that spirit, The Museum Group's most recent email newsletter offers up a compendium of museums and museum workers responding in thoughtful and creative ways to the challenges presented by COVID-19.  Like this museum shop in the UK selling groceries for their neighborhood, or Empathetic Museum publishing "How to Be An Empathetic Museum in this Troubled Time."

Definitely click here for a look at all the great examples in the free newsletter, and consider subscribing for a Museums Step Up "Part Two" in just a couple of weeks.

3) The book "Upstream" by Dan Heath 

NY Times bestselling author Dan Heath has written (or co-authored with his brother Chip) a number of interesting business and strategy books.  His latest offering, entitled Upstream is predicated on the notion that there are proven ways, grounded in both research and practical application, to "solve problems before they happen."

If ever there was a book for its time, it is Upstream. (The title comes from a story about two men walking near a river.  Suddenly they see a young child struggling in the water calling out for help.  One of the men swims into the river and rescues the drowning child. A few minutes later they see and hear another child in the river, and the other man dives in to save that child.  The same man immediately starts running away upstream.  His companion shouts,  "Where are you going?" The other man yells over his back, "I'm going to stop the idiot who keeps throwing kids into the river!"

Heath divides his chapters into the barriers to upstream thinking, questions for upstream leaders, and practical ways to apply upstream thinking to your own life. I found the ideas in this book especially useful during the current crisis.  You can find a free set of resources related to Upstream here.

(You can also purchase Upstream on Amazon, or other online booksellers.)

4) Museum Archipelago Podcast on "The Future of Hands-On Museum Exhibits"

I was happy to be interviewed by Ian Elsner for his Museum Archipelago blog on the future of hands-on exhibits.

I'll let you enjoy the full podcast yourself, but among the topics we discussed were how to use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to lose lazy design tropes that promote empty interaction (like flip labels!) and to be mindful of the perceptions that visitors will rightly have about interactive experiences when museums begin to re-open.

I hope you find these resources thought-provoking AND hopeful as you make your way through the pandemic and its aftermath. In the spirit of positivity and collegiality, I've decided to give away two copies of Dan Heath's new book, Upstream, to two lucky ExhibiTricks readers!  Simply send me an email with the message, "I want to win Upstream!" before April 30th for a chance to win.  I'll randomly choose two winners during the beginning of May.  Good Luck!

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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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