Thursday, October 9, 2014

Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House

Louisa May Alcott and her family moved to a house in Concord, MA in 1858. Her father, Bronson, named it "Orchard House" after the apple orchards that surrounded it. It was in that house that Louisa wrote the book that would make her famous: Little Women. She blazed through the draft in one month, sitting at a little desk overlooking the front yard.

Orchard House is a truly special place. If any house can be said to have a soul, Orchard House has one. I worked at Orchard House in college, mostly as a tour guide. When I was promoted to opening and closing, I would often get to the house 15 minutes early and sit on the floor in one of the rooms, soaking up the atmosphere. I love that house like I love few other places in the world.

It's a special place with a really special history, on both the emotional and the intellectual levels.

Right now, Orchard House is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary telling the story of the house itself, which dates back to the Revolutionary War and contains fascinating American history above and beyond the Alcott family, whose story is much more far-reaching than just Louisa's literary career. The house has been a museum for over a century, and has a remarkable portion of original family furnishings and artifacts. If for no other reason than to tell the story of one of the most remarkable historic house museums in the United States, this documentary will be an extraordinary thing.

If you're a fan of Little Women, please consider donating to the Kickstarter campaign.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blog Roundup

Some interesting posts from the blogosphere.

Blame the Crowd,  Not the Camera from Museum 2.0

Interesting take on a post by Grumpy Art Historian, in which he laments the National Gallery's new open camera policy. Simon argues the problem is not necessarily cameras, but the vast numbers of people crowding around star pieces of art. If you've ever visited the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, you know the feeling!

I find merit in both arguments. I tend to think that those taking photographs of objects are parsing their own experiences in their own way, and we shouldn't judge them for not having an "authentic" interaction with that object. At the same time, some people are clearly snapping photographs that they will never see again, that will not come out well, and are doing so out of a reflexive sense of imitation.

Ultimately, I would argue, the solution is more about mindfulness than anything else, but how do museums communicate that to their patrons? Only take a picture if you really think it through first? That feels elitist. Maybe provide more scaffolding by each painting or object to get people to think about the picture they're taking - like a hashtag for them to use, or a mention of the museum's Instagram account? Examples of fun ways for people to pose in front of the photographs?

So Many Job Openings, So Hard to Get Hired from Evil HR Lady

Okay, this one was mostly depressing, but I think points to some fundamental problems with museum employment as well. It's an employer's economy, and job profiles are in flux. There are also some actually helpful tips about matching yourself with a job that you may not be 100% ideal for.

Slactivism from Seth Godin

I may be a grinch, but I have become increasingly annoyed by the ALS ice bucket challenges. Part of that is admittedly jealousy - clever, viral, and raising a ton of money! But most of it is that it's become a gimmicky stunt that people use for attention - and then don't donate, or don't mention ALS. How many people dumping ice water over their heads really know what ALS is? Seth Godin offers a nicely different perspective here, one that made me think twice.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Weekly Blog Roundup in Museums

Here are a few interesting reads from the museum world & beyond.

How a Classic Business Matrix Can Help Museums and Historic Sites from Engaging Places

I've seen a few variations on the "apply business models to museums!" idea, but I really quite like this one. Definitely worth reading and considering.

Up All Night at the Museum from The New Yorker

Interesting, disturbing read from the New Yorker about the first ever adult sleepover at the American Museum of Natural History.

Joyful Museums

Yes, I'm plugging this again. It's a great project. If you haven't done the survey yet, please do!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Joyful Museums Project: Boosting the Signal

Marieke Van Damme is a Boston-based museum professional who is both smart and thoughtful. She's putting together a fascinating panel for NEMA 2014 about workplace culture in museums.

To that end, she's launched the Joyful Museums project, and she's collecting responses to a general survey about museum workplace culture.

Here's what she writes:
I believe that keeping its workers happy, despite grim economic and other circumstances, should be the top priority of every museum. 
Engaged museum workers will have a deeper commitment to the mission of a museum than a disengaged one, and they will strive for a higher quality product (exhibition, program, publication, etc.) for the public. Building off of the growing academic field of positive psychology, I intend to explore what being happy at work means, why it is important for the museum community, and how it can be accomplished.
So please, take a few minutes to fill out her survey. I'm hoping to attend her panel at NEMA, and I'll report back on the results here.

You can also follow her on Twitter @joyfulmuseums.

(ps - Marieke and I have emailed a bit about our respective NEMA 2014 surveys, as they have some thematic crossover. If you haven't taken my grad school survey yet, please do!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

NEMA 2014 Conference Panel: The Graduate School Conundrum

I've written here before about the panel I will be chairing at the New England Museum Association's annual conference this fall.

The survey that will lead off the panel is now open and seeking responses.

It can be found here, and I'd appreciate if you, gentle reader, could share this link as widely as possible. I'm hoping for a good cumulative mass of responses to start to get some good commonalities and statistical groupings. So far it's humming along nicely, and there's some fascinating (and depressing) information coming back.

Thank you for your help!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Weekly Blog Roundup

It's been a while. Massive work projects will do that to you. Here are some interesting reads I've found over the last few weeks.

Why Marketing Needs a Corporate Folklorist from the Harvard Business Review

On the one hand: I could not agree more that having a corporate historian is an absolutely necessary position to ensure continuity, culture, and plain old memory.

On the other hand, the argument here, which ultimately ends up as "history helps you sell stuff!" squicks me a little.

On the other other hand, isn't that what we often say to sponsors anyway?

The Nonprofit Director's Skill Set: One Group's Opinion from Leading by Design

I have a copy of Leadership Matters waiting for the right moment and amount of concentration to read it, but in the meantime I quite enjoy this blog. I also really enjoyed this blog post, which I thought was an interesting consideration of an actually really important topic. Hiring a leader is one of the most important things any nonprofit organization will ever do.

What My Favorite Meteorologist Has To Do With City Museums from CityStories

Rainey is a brilliant, original thinker and I really like the clear argument she makes here for the work a city museum should be doing to connect to its constituency. I like the way she's framed it as a balance between expertise and community integration, something so many museums struggle with.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dear Ann Coulter

I know, I know: when I led workshops this spring about social media and online presence for history organizations, one of my rules of thumb was "don't feed the trolls." There are people who exist in this world who will say ridiculous, outrageous, vicious things simply to garner attention. The internet is their playground.

However, given that I have talked about family history on this blog, and tracked the movements of my ancestor Richard Gustin in particular, I do have to carefully and precisely refute her recent argument that "I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer."

(I will not link to her full blog post, because it is filled with racism, nativism, and a whole boatload of particularly obnoxious privilege; Google "Ann Coulter" and "soccer" and you should hit it immediately.)

My grandfather was born in Pennsylvania, and he fought in World War II. My great-grandfather was born in Pennsylvania. His father was born in Pennsylvania. His father was born in New Jersey, and he fought in the Civil War. His father was born in Massachusetts. His father was born in Massachusetts, and he fought in the Revolutionary War.

You get the picture? That's one line of my family; the other goes back even further. I have an atypical American family tree for the lack of immigrants that show up after the 17th century. So I should be Ann Coulter's ideal American, at least for that narrow definition and example.

I love soccer. I watched a ton of the World Cup games. More to the point, both of my brothers are those fans. They play several days a week in competitive leagues. One went to college on a Division 2 soccer scholarship. They tailgate at New England Revolution games. They live and die by the fortunes of the US Team. They react in the white-knuckled, nauseated, deathly still way to a close game the way only a diehard sports fan can manage. Their heritage is the same as mine.

Again: not that it needed refuting. But I am living proof that she is flat out wrong.