Thursday, November 29, 2012

Good Career Advice

I recently co-hosted a dinner conversation at the NEMA fall conference. 15 or so young or emerging museum professionals, my PAG co-chair Kate McIntosh, and I went out to dinner at the Bluebird Tavern in downtown Burlington, VT.

We had a great and far-ranging conversation about job searching, putting your best foot forward, the tricky nature of mapping a museum career, and had a hilarious and slightly depressing sidetrack into the worst interview questions we'd ever been asked. (The winner: "If you could imagine yourself as any kind of fruit, what would it be?")

One piece of advice I offered that evening, that I believe helped me in my recent job search and has helped me as a professional in general, is to read Ask a Manager. I purchased and read her book on job-searching, and combed through her free ebook on preparing for interviews over a dozen times at least. Her advice is straightforward, practical, and interesting. I like her core emphasis on being the best candidate for a job by being a thorough, competent, accomplished professional, and letting that show through.

I would encourage any professional to read her blog, and if you have a question, to submit it. She's very timely about responding, and the handful of times I have written in I've received excellent advice.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Back on Track

As it turns out, re-arranging everything in your life and moving to another state in the course of three weeks is rather exhausting. I'm settling in to my new job at the Vermont Historical Society, learning the ropes, and figuring out my new life in Vermont. After my first week in my new apartment - in which I did not have heat and several rooms were still under construction - life has settled into a rhythm.

I was lucky enough to attend some parts of the NEMA fall conference, and I have notes from two panels there, and I have been doing some museum reading and thinking in my down time, so I should resume a normal posting schedule here shortly!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Arts Organizations and Community

Somewhat delayed by unexpected events including Sandy, I'll be publishing a series of blog posts inspired by the proceedings at the Salzburg Global Forum, an annual leadership seminar for 50 young nonprofit leaders in the arts organized by National Arts Strategies. Bloggers have been asked to address a series of questions facing the nonprofit arts world similar to those being considered in Salzburg.

Arts Organizations and Community

In a post-recession world, institutions which survive will be those grounded deeply in a sense of community. By community, I mean that linked group of people who establish connections with one another and with others based around an idea or a place.

Communities of ideas can exist the world over, and may never even meet physically. The internet has provided an easy way to replace the physical with the intellectual, and has provided virtual meeting spaces to encouraging the sharing of ideas. Communication has always been at the heart of communities of ideas, and that communication grows faster and more sophisticated every day. “Web 2.0” and “social media” are both buzzwords of this new, more sophisticated linking.

Communities of place are much more traditional, and foster connections by the simple virtue of familiarity breeding not contempt, but mutual reliance and affection. Small towns and neighborhoods are the ultimate example of this type, which fluctuates widely as demographics shift from urban centers to rural areas. “Third places,” such as coffeehouses, bars, and other physical institutions are also a small-scale example.

These communities can co-exist and co-create – those interested in fiber arts might congregate at a yarn store, or those in a neighborhood might form a jogging group. Communities of ideas might create brief, intense communities of place, such as a Renaissance fair or science fiction convention, and communities of place might band together to promote an idea, such as an inner-city neighborhood advocating for music education in its schools.

Museums can and should participate in both types of communities. First, all museums have subject matter expertise and collection items that can speak directly to one or more communities of ideas. Engaging with those communities can activate their passion on behalf of an institution, and they can serve as valuable advocates worldwide, no matter the location of the museum. The key to this type of engagement is consistency and transparency – regular new content accompanied by honest dialogue with those who may be more expert in a subject matter than the museum itself. This type of community engagement is much more familiar to museums, but many have yet to take full advantage of its new digital possibilities

Museums have struggled as members of a community of place. Some have succeeded brilliantly for a time, only to fall behind with a change in leadership or staff. Some have eschewed their physical communities entirely in favor of connecting only with those who have particular interest in their collections. Museums can no longer be the temple on the hill that preaches down to the masses; they must now be equal community members. This requires a great deal of flexibility and understanding, as a museum must participate equally, sometimes allowing its own identity to recede (not disappear!) to allow for another member of its community to take center stage.

Ultimately, when the time comes to prove necessity, a museum that has integrated its planning, programs, and exhibitions fully with both its virtual and physical communities will survive.