Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few interesting posts from the museum blogging world recently.

Striking a Balance: Conference Planning and Environmental Responsibility from History@Work

I live in Vermont, green capital of the country, and environmental concerns are something I live and breathe every day, but I am grappling a bit with all the ideas presented here. I think asking attendees to purchase carbon credits to offset the conference is a bit much - and does it really eat up that much energy to hold a conference? How can you calculate or prove that? A better idea: asking attendees to implement one green idea at their museum and bring the evidence of that to the conference to talk about. That said, this is still an interesting post in a series of them, and at least brings the issue up for debate!

A Campaign to Make History Relevant to All Americans from Engaging Places

Love the campaign, love the people involved, love what's being discussed so far. A small quibble: history is already relevant to Americans. They just need to better understand that.

Our History Museums Will Include the Events of These Days from The Uncataloged Museum

This is amazing. Linda interviews staff at a Ukrainian museum who are actively participating in and supporting recent protests in Kyiv. I am not nearly that brave, and I find their work inspiring.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

I've missed a few weeks - apologies!

Where are you headed? Need a mentor? from The Uncataloged Museum

I just did a presentation on mentors and mentoring for the NEMA 2013 Conference, and Linda provided some excellent advice for that presentation. She is a consummate museum professional who does fascinating things and is incredibly thoughtful about her work. If you're seeking a mentor, and really want to commit to a quality, developing relationship, I can't recommend her enough.

Does your nonprofit believe this myth? from Know Your Own Bone

This is a really excellent overview of all the resources it takes to make a really successful social media policy tick along. Think Facebook and Twitter are great "free" marketing options? They are great, but they certainly aren't free.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Sorry to have missed last week's roundup - I was busy being inspired and networking at the New England Museum Association's 95th Annual Conference. What a wonderful week. I'll be posting about things I learned there for weeks to come.

But in the meantime: here are some interesting blog posts from the museum world.

A culinary school model for public history programs from History@Work

Linda Norris recommended this blog post to me when I had a conversation with her about my growing frustration with the proliferation of museum studies graduate programs. As co-chair of the NEMA Young & Emerging Professionals group, I'm always hearing about a new graduate program that someone has completed - and now they're having trouble finding a job. I'm frustrated for them, and I can't help but feel that the tipping point has to come soon.

Trevor Jones proposes in this post one possible solution/alternative to the academic public history program: making work in the field a requirement of entry. It's an interesting thought, and one that should be discussed further. may help your fundraising efforts from Engaging Places has a new program: when you sign in, you select a charity. 0.5% of each purchase you make is donated to that charity. There appears to be no cap. I'm looking forward to the postgame analysis: will it raise significant money, or just a few pennies here and there?

Museum Bashing and a Shift in Philanthropic Priorities from Museum Audience Insight

Did you see that Bill Gates recently called donating to a museum "morally reprehensible"? Reach Advisors examines this trend of declining interest in donating to museums from a data standpoint - and it's not good.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Creativity in Museum Practice

Last week, I attended the New England Museum Association's Annual Conference. It was a whirlwind three and a half days in Newport, RI. I attended some great panels, met some great people, and saw some great museums. (Opening night party at the Breakers = amaaaaazing.)

I'll have posts over the next few weeks about my impressions and thoughts, but this one I wanted to get out right away. Linda Norris (of The Uncatalogued Museum) and Rainey Tisdale (of Tufts University & CityStories) held a signing event for their co-authored book, Creativity in Museum Practice. I've been fortunate enough to be a fly on the wall for this book's development process and it has been an absolute privilege to watch it unfold.

Linda wrote about the collaborative process that resulted in the book and its final debut at the NEMA conference, and her thoughts on that process are well worth reading. Also a great read is the website they worked on while writing the book, here.

I got my copy at the conference, and can't wait to read it. If you're in need of inspiration, get your own copy too and then come back here and tell me what you think.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here's a roundup of blog posts from the museum world this week.

Skip the school bus: our trips for planning a virtual field trip from O Say Can You See (National Museum of American History)

As both the monetary and opportunity costs of field trips rise, virtual field trips are starting to become popular. I'm intrigued by the model but not yet convinced. This blog post is a good overview of the thinking behind a virtual field trip, and definitely shows some of its benefits as well as its challenges.

Participation, Contemplation, and the Complexity of "And" from Museum 2.0

You may have seen some of the recent "get off my lawn" editorials from various corners of the traditional museum world, several of them directed at the newly invigorated Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. Basically, the claim is that by increasing the diversity and number of particpatory programs, the museum is ruining its essential experience, that of a quiet contemplative hall for art (and history presumably though that always gets left out of these conversations). You can guess by my tone which side I tend to fall on, but here Nina Simon makes a compelling argument for why the truth is a bit more complex, and why the answers aren't as quite and trite as many of those editorial writers seem to believe.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

NEMA Preview: 5 Tips Before You Go

The New England Museum Association's 2013 Annual Conference is right around the corner. Yours truly will be hosting a panel ("Conference Preview," 8:15 - 9:00 am on Wednesday), a dinner ("Breaking into the Museum Field," 7:00 pm at the Brick Alley Pub on Thursday), and a hands on session on Friday ("Learn How to Find, Connect With, and Keep a Mentor," 9:00 - 9:30 am on Friday). Whew.

During the Conference Preview, my fellow YEPs co-chair Ashley and I will be helping to ease new conference-goers into the experience, make some friends, and overall to help to process the next few days. As I've been compiling notes for that panel, I've realized there are some tips that really should be handed out before the first morning of conference. (Don't worry, there's still plenty to talk about on Wednesday morning, so don't skip our panel!)

So here are a few of our gathered pre-conference tips, in time for you to take advantage of them.

1) Order business cards. They're easy and inexpensive, especially if you go through a site like Vista Print. Keep them basic: your name, email address, and phone number if you feel comfortable. Maybe a small design. If you'd like to include a title and you're job-seeking or a grad student, use "Museum Professional" or something similar. Plan to write a few details on the back when giving them out so people connect the conversation with the name.

2) Plan your clothes. Bring comfortable shoes, bring professional but comfortable clothes. Pack extras. Think about not just the conference atmosphere - mostly inside, in climate-controlled rooms - but also the evening events and the possible museum-going in Newport. Clothes should also include a bag to carry brochures, notes, and anything else you need to have on your person. It shouldn't be a small purse, but it shouldn't be a whole backpack, either.

3) Review the program book. This should be a no-brainer, but go over the program brook in minute detail. Have a first pick and a backup. Construct a schedule for yourself for the conference and really think about what you'll get out of each panel. I am always balancing wants with needs when I pick sessions: some I'll go to because I know they'll help inform my current work, and some I pick out because they look really interesting, if not directly applicable.

4) Learn about Newport. The 2011 conference was in Hartford, CT, and unfortunately I came and went knowing nothing - and seeing nothing - of the city. I regret that. I had a great time at the conference, but I can't say that I really truly visited Hartford. So learn something ahead of time, and make a point of adding to that knowledge when you get there, even if it's as simple as checking out a restaurant that comes highly recommended.

5) Figure out who will be there. I'm totally guilty of this one myself, but: reach out to museum friends and colleagues and poke them. Will they be at NEMA? Would this be a great time to catch up with that grad school friend who moved three states away to take that amazing job? (Hint: it probably would.)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here's a quick selection of interesting blog posts from the museum world this week.

"Arts" Coverage Isn't Museum Coverage from Museum Commons

This post went straight to the core of one of my major contentions with coverage of museums. Gretchen continues to talk more about exhibition critique, but how about any major coverage of museums that aren't art museums? How about an acknowledgment that actually, the most common type of museum in America is the small history museum, and what they have to offer is just as unique and valuable as the community art museums?

For that matter - and yes, I'm going to say this out loud and publicly - local history is vitally important to a community in a way that Yet Another Monet simply isn't. I would rather spend money on developing a program or a museum exhibit that examined a local tradition or family than I would on more art. The problem isn't limited to small places, either. Boston is a world-class city that has an enormous encyclopedic art museum that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in just the last few years to continue expanding. Yet it has no cohesive overall history museum and its enormously important smaller history institutions struggle. That is utterly baffling to me.

Museums are rectangles. Art museums are squares. Not all museums are art museums, even if all art museums are museums.


Tricks and Treats of Collections Management from NMSC Archeology & Museum Blog

This is a fun and informative roundup from the NMSC Center about the quirky things that collections managers deal with every day.

Tilting at Windmills, Part One from Thinking about museums

I could really just link one of Ed's posts every week in this roundup, but I particularly liked this one, which really breaks down the ideas and concepts behind immersive museum exhibits.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Family Sketchbooks at the Peabody Essex Museum

I'm not a huge art museum person but the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, has always held a place in my heart. On a visit some months ago, I noticed these out at the front desk and thought they were just perfect - both the display and the sentiment behind it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Welcome to a weekly roundup of interesting blog posts from the museum world.

As Goes Kansas, So Goes the Nation? from the Center for the Future of Museums

It's not often that I read a blog post and experience an actual, physical chill running down my spine. For those of us in the heritage business, this news is Not Good. It's a good - if depressing - roundup of trends pointing toward the defunding of nonprofit groups in general and museums in particular. I found myself wondering two things: first, is this truly the wave of the future, or is this just a valley in the cycle? second, will we ever be able to say that cash is not tight again? I've worked nearly my entire professional career in the shadow of the financial meltdown, and it's exhausting. Many museum colleagues have memories of more flush times, but I don't.

The Sustainability Question: Why Is It So Annoying? from Blue Avocado

This article made me laugh and laugh, and it also nails some essential truths. It's frustrating to see big money grants go to programs that obviously won't continue after the 2-3 years of the grant, and it's equally frustrating to look for seed money to start a small program - or fill in a hole in the budget - and encounter that question. Nonprofits depend on varied funding, but there are only so many balls we can keep in the air at the same time.

How Office Control Freaks Can Learn to Let Go from the Harvard Business Review

Let's just say this one struck a little too close to home...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

And the prize for best museum shop tie-in goes to...

...the Saugus Ironworks National Historic Site. Apologies for the blurry picture, but isn't this GENIUS? Learn about casting iron...and eat chocolate!

Package reads "Make your own Saugus Fireback...and learn how it was cast in iron in 1655!" Inside the packaging is a chocolate mold in the style of a fireback cast at the ironworks.
The Saugus site also wins the award for the most unexpectedly terrific National Historic Site I've ever visited. I went as a completist - we were visiting other National Parks sites in the area - and loved it. The site itself, the interpretation, the unexpected delight of previously unknown history - all of it combined together.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few blog posts from the museum world that caught my eye.

Exploring Science Museums through Google Street View at the Tufts Museum Studies Blog

I can't say enough good things about how my successor as editor of the Tufts blog, Phillippa Pitts, has revitalized the blog and brought in some really terrific guest writers. This science museum column is one of my favorite, and I always learn something or take something away to think about when reading it.

Responses to Government Shutdown Vary at Historic Sites and Museums at Engaging Places

I have mostly been trying not to think about the government shutdown and self-medicating with The Daily Show and The West Wing. This post is a good roundup of reactions through the museum world to the government shutdown - which as of today appears to be over, though there is apparently already talk of gearing up for a January fight.

YES. Nina Simon nails it. What does attendance really mean, anyway? How do you count it? Is it a misleading statistic? What should we be counting?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

FDR Presidential Museum & Library

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Museum & Library is the first of its kind, established while FDR was still president. (Though to be fair, that was a wide-open window...)

It's an enormous complex, containing FDR's childhood home, a visitor center with exhibits, and the archives themselves, plus outdoor space for exploring. I couldn't possibly do justice to the whole place in a short blog post, but I did want to point out a few things.

First, a re-creation of FDR's Oval Office, which uses a timeless, simple, effective exhibit technique to share more information about the objects in the space. I never get tired of seeing this done, because I can't recall ever seeing it really flop. (I'm sure it's happened somewhere.)

Second, this inviting outdoor sculpture. I often find outdoor sculpture creepy, especially when the figures are sitting on benches, looking very obviously not-alive, but this works for me. I admit to a huge history crush on Eleanor Roosevelt, and the idea of sitting down to talk books and big ideas with her is enormously appealing - and that's just what this looks like.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Museum Blog Round-up

Here are a few interesting blog posts from the museum world this week.

Exhibition Inspriation: Moviehouse NOLA at ExhibiTricks

I love, love, love this idea on so many levels. I am a sucker for old movie theaters, and the format and energy behind this public history/crowdsourcing project is innovative and exciting.

Back to Blogging at Museum 2.0

Linking to a roundup of links in a blog roundup may be the clip show of the blogging world, but I'm glad Nina is back and blogging and these links are really great, so I hope you'll excuse the redundancy.

Shutdown does not mean shut up at Museum Minute

I am usually of the opinion that museum advocacy is a really important thing...for other people to do. It's not something that's held my interest or attention personally. This is a good clarion call for why and how advocacy matters, though. The shutdown right now has brought many of these issues into clarity.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fairbanks Museum

The Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, Vermont ("Gateway to the Northeast Kingdom"), is a wonderful little gem of an institution. In many ways, it's anachronistic beyond belief, as you'll see in the photos below: row after row after row of stuffed animals in clinical lineups or faked-up natural settings, hand-lettered labels, odd collections of odd items (an entire collection of art made out of dead insects; I swear I am not making that up), and many other old-fashioned museum pieces.

In other ways, the institution has a vibrancy and a life that's palpable as soon as you step in the door. In large part, I suspect that has to do with the museum's planetarium and its meteorologists' Eye on the Sky program, which gives detailed weather forecasts on Vermont Public Radio and means that the museum has attention throughout the state. When I visited, I took in a planetarium show and when the narrator for the day introduce himself as one of the people who voices Eye on the Sky, fully two-thirds of the planetarium audience broke into spontaneous applause. They're museum rockstars, those meteorologists.

The museum has also embraced some interesting, innovative programs such as the Balch Nature School and serves as a community center in a part of Vermont that badly needs it. The Northeast Kingdom is Vermont's most remote and least affluent corner, and even the name Fairbanks is a symbol of the industry that has since gone - the Fairbanks Scale Company employed thousands and the Fairbanks family loomed large over the entire state. (Several of them served as governor.)

And you know, at a certain point, all that 19th-century overcrowded natural history display swings right back around to cool again, especially when you come face to face with a grizzly bear.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few good blog posts from the museum world.

Review: Cleveland Museum of Art's Gallery One Part One
Part Two
from Thinking about museums

Ed Rodley's writings are always interesting and thought-provoking, and he's at his best when he's doing deep critique on exhibit components. This excellent overview of an interesting new exhibit gallery at the Cleveland Museum of Art is timely and offers quite a bit to ponder.

Reflections on a MOOC: One Museum Educator's Journey into the Unknown from the CFM Blog

I had actually signed up for MoMA's Coursera class but didn't have time to follow along when it went live. (A problem I understand is a fairly common one for MOOCs.) I'm thrilled to see this POV from the educators behind the class. MOOCs offer huge potential for museums if they can be done right.

In a perfect museum world... from Museum Planning

This is a nice little thought experiment. What would your perfect museum world look like?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Basketball Hoops at the Basketball Hall of Fame

I'll admit, I was not impressed, on the whole, with the Basketball Hall of Fame. Some of that is perhaps due to prejudice (it's not my sport), but the larger part of it was frustration with the way their exhibits seemed designed largely for show and not for substance. I'm a fairly thorough museum-goer, usually exploring every nook and cranny, and I was struck over and over again by the bizarre places in which important information was stashed. The crowning moment of that problem was when I nearly missed the jersey that Wilt Chamberlain wore in his 100-point game - we had walked by it several times and only realized it was there when alerted by a (very bored-looking) docent.

That said, there is one thing that they do spectacularly right there, and that is the center of the museum, which is a large parquet floor with basketball hoops all around and carts of basketballs to play with. One side has hoops at varying heights so all ages can practice dunking, and the other has hoops from various eras, an excellent object lesson in history.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Wind Wall at Northshire Museum of Science

I visited the Northshire Museum of Science a few months ago for the first time, and quite liked it. I didn't get to explore fully as I was helping to ride herd on a two year old, but a few things stood out. The first of them was this installation, which showed how wind currents can move. It was simple, ingeniously made, and visually engaging.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few interesting posts from the museum blog world this week.

Reflections on the African Burial Ground Project at NMSC Archeology & Museum Blog

This is a really wonderful, thoughtful post on a sensitive project. I always count on this blog for good explorations of topics I never would have thought about otherwise, and this particular discussion of the archaeology and history behind the African Burial Ground, tied in with the modern sensitivities toward the space - and the 2003 reburial of remains - hits it out of the park.

Collecting Trayvon Martin's Hoodie at Museum Commons

Collecting contemporary history - particularly contemporary history of tragedy - is always controversial and difficult. When a Smithsonian curator mentioned that the hoodie Trayvon Martin wore when he was shot might be a good addition to a museum collection, opinions exploded. This is a good summary post with some thoughtful conclusions about the role collecting objects plays in making history.

Help Your Intern Get a Full-Time Job at the Harvard Business Review

Internships are perhaps even more crucial in the museum world than they are in the corporate world. Most graduate schools require one to finish a degree. Many of us have made valuable contacts and even gotten jobs from our own internships. How do you facilitate that when you're on the other side of the table?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Re-Read of Excellence and Equity

The New England Museum Association's Young & Emerging Professionals group (of which I am a co-chair) is re-reading the classic AAM publication Excellence and Equity. I read it in a grad school class a few years ago, and remember nodding my head and agreeing with a lot of it.

It's 21 years old now, which begs the question: has it achieved its goals? Are we further along than we used to be?

The YEPs will be posing questions on Facebook, delving deeper on LinkedIn, and using the hashtag #yepsread.

Join the conversation!

I'll also be doing blog entries here for the next few weeks with my thoughts on a few things that come up.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few interesting posts from the museum blog world this week.

Don Wildman and a Mystery of a Museum Show from the Museumist

I'm really torn on Mysteries at the Museum; on the one hand, hooray public exposure for museums! On the other, the episodes I've seen seem to focus more on sensationalist stuff, not really neat overlooked history tidbits. Regardless, this is a neat guest post that gets behind the scenes on the show, which is obviously doing pretty well.

Every Word Counts

This isn't a specific post but rather a new blog that's come across my radar, highly recommended. It's great. Succinct, clear writing is so incredibly important in the museum world and I feel like it doesn't get nearly as much attention as it ought.

What is the most innovative type of museum? from Museum Planner

This is more in the neighborhood of downright depressing rather than inspirational. My preferred type of museum, history museums, gets second to last place, beating out only corporate museums. I've long felt that really good, quality innovation and participatory experiences are toughest to do at history sites, and I haven't yet been able to fully articulate why I feel that way, but this survey certainly seems to bear out that perception.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Like many a museum professional, I document brilliant ideas so I can steal borrow them at a later date.

This sign on a door at the Rokeby Museum, a historic house museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont, is sheer genius. It's right above the latch handle of a door leadin upstairs that must get opened all the time by over-curious visitors.

Text reads: "Not open to the public. But if you're really curious, ask about becoming a volunteer or tour guide."

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few interesting blog posts that appeared in the museum world this week.

The Art of Irresistible Email from the Harvard Business Review

Not a museum blog (obviously!) but this is a really great breakdown of email format. How do you send an email that gets results instead of gets ignored? List clear objectives, format the information well, and be clear about what you need. The case study is particularly good.

The Pop-Up Museum of Queer History from History@Work

Pop up museums are very trendy right now, and I don't always see the point or appeal of them, but this project is precisely right - it really gets at what I think the type can be.

Museum Professionals Make Terrible Visitors from Peabody's Lament

All true. Every single word.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

First time conference goers?

I'm working with Ashley Martin, my fellow co-chair for the New England Museum Association's Young & Emerging Professionals PAG, (so many acronyms!) to develop a "Welcome to Conference" panel/breakfast at NEMA's annual fall conference, coming up this November in Newport, RI.

We're planning to talk about choosing sessions, networking, setting aside downtime, capitalizing on your new contacts, and we'll set up a few icebreakers for those who attend to make contacts right away.

To that end, I am seeking feedback: what advice would you give to a first time conference goer, or a young professional looking to network at a regional conference?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few interesting and useful blog posts for the museum world.

Job Search Red Flags & Due Diligence from Captain Awkward

So this isn't a museum blog, or even a museum post, but it is crucial advice. Jobs in museums are so tight, especially the last few years, that it's easy to forget that the job search process has two sides. When you interview at an organization, it's also an opportunity to make sure that the culture and job description are the right fit for you. This is a great overview of things to look for, things to ask about, and validation for making decisions that are right for you.

Hack the Museum Camp Part 2 from Museum 2.0

I was curious to see/hear the results of the Hack the Museum weekend at the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, and here is Nina Simon's wrap up post. Sounds like it turned out to be a blast - I am particularly struck by the consideration of risk in museums here, and as experienced by the campers. Are things really as risky as we think they are? I'd be curious to see how these exhibition pieces are received by visitors to the museum. (I also wonder if successful visitor engagement is one of the benchmarks of success for this weekend, or whether it was more professional development-focused?)

Science Museums and History of Science Museums from Tufts Museum Studies Blog

The Science in Museums series at the Tufts blog has been consistently interesting and thoughtful, but this one really struck a chord with me as an historian. How do you balance the science and the history context to produce a thoughtful exhibition? Are there times when the science is less important than the history, or vice versa? Should the two considerations be kept separate, or should they always be discussed together?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Loneliness of the Military Historian

My training is as a military historian - medieval in undergrad, early American in graduate school. I love the way this poem plays not just with gender roles but also with the concepts of historical truth and how to present uncomfortable research.

Copied over from the Poetry Foundation's website.

The Loneliness of the Military Historian
by Margaret Atwood

Confess: it’s my profession
that alarms you.
This is why few people ask me to dinner,
though Lord knows I don’t go out of my way to be scary.
I wear dresses of sensible cut
and unalarming shades of beige,
I smell of lavender and go to the hairdresser’s:
no prophetess mane of mine,
complete with snakes, will frighten the youngsters.
If I roll my eyes and mutter,
if I clutch at my heart and scream in horror
like a third-rate actress chewing up a mad scene,
I do it in private and nobody sees
but the bathroom mirror.

In general I might agree with you:
women should not contemplate war,
should not weigh tactics impartially,
or evade the word enemy,
or view both sides and denounce nothing.
Women should march for peace,
or hand out white feathers to arouse bravery,
spit themselves on bayonets
to protect their babies,
whose skulls will be split anyway,
or, having been raped repeatedly,
hang themselves with their own hair.
These are the functions that inspire general comfort.
That, and the knitting of socks for the troops
and a sort of moral cheerleading.
Also: mourning the dead.
Sons, lovers, and so forth.
All the killed children.

Instead of this, I tell
what I hope will pass as truth.
A blunt thing, not lovely.
The truth is seldom welcome,
especially at dinner,
though I am good at what I do.
My trade is courage and atrocities.
I look at them and do not condemn.
I write things down the way they happened,
as near as can be remembered.
I don’t ask why, because it is mostly the same.
Wars happen because the ones who start them
think they can win.

In my dreams there is glamour.
The Vikings leave their fields
each year for a few months of killing and plunder,
much as the boys go hunting.
In real life they were farmers.
They come back loaded with splendour.
The Arabs ride against Crusaders
with scimitars that could sever
silk in the air.
A swift cut to the horse’s neck
and a hunk of armour crashes down
like a tower. Fire against metal.
A poet might say: romance against banality.
When awake, I know better.

Despite the propaganda, there are no monsters,
or none that can be finally buried.
Finish one off, and circumstances
and the radio create another.
Believe me: whole armies have prayed fervently
to God all night and meant it,
and been slaughtered anyway.
Brutality wins frequently,
and large outcomes have turned on the invention
of a mechanical device, viz. radar.
True, valour sometimes counts for something,
as at Thermopylae. Sometimes being right—
though ultimate virtue, by agreed tradition,
is decided by the winner.
Sometimes men throw themselves on grenades
and burst like paper bags of guts
to save their comrades.
I can admire that.
But rats and cholera have won many wars.
Those, and potatoes,
or the absence of them.
It’s no use pinning all those medals
across the chests of the dead.
Impressive, but I know too much.
Grand exploits merely depress me.

In the interests of research
I have walked on many battlefields
that once were liquid with pulped
men’s bodies and spangled with exploded
shells and splayed bone.
All of them have been green again
by the time I got there.
Each has inspired a few good quotes in its day.
Sad marble angels brood like hens
over the grassy nests where nothing hatches.
(The angels could just as well be described as vulgar
or pitiless, depending on camera angle.)
The word glory figures a lot on gateways.
Of course I pick a flower or two
from each, and press it in the hotel Bible
for a souvenir.
I’m just as human as you.

But it’s no use asking me for a final statement.
As I say, I deal in tactics.
Also statistics:
for every year of peace there have been four hundred
years of war.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few interesting posts from the museum blogosphere this week.

(Does anyone say blogosphere anymore, or am I hopelessly behind the times?)

What MOOCs and Webinars Can Teach Us About Digital Engagement - The Museum of the Future

I am as yet unsold on MOOCs - I have tried, and failed, to participate in four Coursera classes so far due to a combination of lack of engagement and lack of time - but I still see the glimmers of possibility in them. If museums are really going to put their mark on the lifelong learning environment, this is the way to go, if only to make sure they are staying relevant in the conversation. Jasper Visser has some good pointers and insights about using digital technology to foster mass learning experiences.

Insta-Memory: Dismantling the Boston Marathon bombing memorial - History @ Work

The question of handling the Boston Marathon bombing memorial that sprung up in Copley Square in the days after April 15 has been an ongoing and fascinating one. Rainey Tisdale has blogged eloquently about the memorial in progress here and here, and the New England Museum Association is working with the city of Boston and other cultural organizations to collect and preserve the items at the memorial. Northeastern University is spearheading a fascinating online project documenting the Marathon bombing as well. This is likely to be a difficult question for Boston's museum and public history professionals to consider for some time to come. In this post, John Matthew Barlow does a nice job of pondering the intrinsic nature of a memorial, and expanding those ideas outward to the healing process of the entire city of Boston.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

10 Networking Tips for Young Professionals

I've been collecting some networking tips over the last few weeks, and thinking about what advice I would give to a young museum professional who's still in grad school or in a first entry level job or internship, and here's my list of ten. They're not all obvious or earth shattering, but I think they all go a long way toward addressing the nuts and bolts of how to make and keep professional contacts.

1. Keep your business cards in opposite pockets. That is to say, keep your business cards in your dominant hand pocket so that you can reach in quickly, and keep the business cards you receive in the opposite pocket. That way you'll be able to pull your own out quickly and you won't get it mixed up with the ones people have given you. Keep a pen handy, too, in case you need to write down more details for the person you're giving the card to. I spent about 2 years writing the Tufts Museum Studies blog url on the back of my own business cards when I was editor of that site, so people would visit it and connect it with me.

2. For that matter, have a business card. If you're currently employed at a museum, you're all set. However, if you are networking and in search of a job, it would be quite awkward to hand over your employer's card while you drop the hint that you'd like to talk about job opportunities. So either way, I recommend having a personal card. It doesn't have to be anything fancy - name, phone, email. Some people put a line like "museum professional" or "museum student" in the title line. Some people put a Twitter handle or a blog URL. If you blog or tweet regularly, and plan on keeping it up, go ahead. Just make sure the whole card isn't cluttered overall and that the essential information is there - name and email at the very least.

3. Pregame before business meals. Not the kind of pregaming you do before you go to a bar, but you get the idea. It's not uncommon to network or talk business over a meal. Maybe you're at a conference, maybe you're at a lunchtime informational interview, maybe you're sitting down at a coffee shop. Humans socialize around food. Here's the thing, though: if you're starving and all you can think of is eating, you're not going to be an effective communicator. Eat something beforehand so that you don't have to eat the meal, especially if you're susceptible to blood sugar issues. I'm not saying don't eat your meal - that would also be weird - but instead of staring longingly at your pasta while you try to answer questions about how awesome you are, take a bite here and there and keep up a lively conversation.

3b. Don't drink to excess. Ideally, don't drink at all. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's astonishing how many professional situations involve easy access to alcohol. If you're already nervous, a drink is not going to help - it's not a freshman mixer, it's a career opportunity. If you want to sip something or hold something in your hand, bars almost always carry ginger ale or juice. (True story: I once ordered a selzer and cranberry mix at a bar at a conference, and the next day the person who had been in line behind me sought me out to thank me for doing that - she was always nervous about the peer pressure of alcohol in social situations and she literally hadn't realized until that moment that she could just order something else to drink.)

4. Hold EITHER a drink OR an hors d'oeuvre in your non-dominant hand. This was given to me as a tip at a long ago etiquette dinner sponsored by my undergraduate college and it has stuck with me ever since. Imagine an evening cocktail party. You're mingling, you're chatting, and all of a sudden there's that curator you've been dying to meet since forever. If you have food in one hand and a glass in the other, how do you shake her hand? How do you reach for a business card? You don't. So when mingling, hold one or the other, and do it in your non-handshake hand. No one wants to shake a hand that's clammy from holding a soda.

5. After an event, write down where and when you met a person on the back of their card, along with any pertinent conversation details. I didn't do this after my last AAM conference. Wow, big mistake. I have a pile of business cards and a dozen memories of great conversations, and while I'm pretty sure I can connect the dots, how embarrassing would it be to be wrong? So if you're in a large networking situation like a conference or a workshop, take a few minutes within 24 hours to write a few notes on the back of each card you receive - whatever will help you remember context. I usually do conference, date, panel (if applicable) and a few words about the conversation we had, especially if I want to follow up.

6. Use those contacts after the fact. People don't usually hand out their business cards just to be polite. They're a tool for communication. Use them. Pick a few people with whom you connected, or who you think would be especially helpful to know, and reach out to them in the week or two after you've met them. If they offered to meet for a drink, follow up on that. If you mentioned an article you read recently and they seemed interested, send it to them. Then keep up with it. Don't be obnoxious - if they don't reply, let it go - but don't be afraid to take the first step, either.

7. Plan your clothes like a military campaign, taking into account all the activities of the day. This is really a conference tip. Really think about what you'll be doing in a day: are you sitting in panels? taking tours? getting on and off buses? walking the exhibit hall? are you planning on approaching any of your museum idols? Right up there with picking your panels for the day is making sure you have appropriate shoes and clothes. You really do not want to have a wardrobe malfunction in the middle of a panel you've been dying to attend. That may mean leaving the more stylish clothes at home, but that's ok.

8. Have a story about yourself. Think about what you most want to convey about where you are in your career, what you are seeking at the moment, and where you'd like to go next (do you need a job? an introduction to an organization? more experience in a certain area? advice about your career path?). Put that together into a narrative. Trim it down. Rehearse it a bit, in front of a mirror if you want. As a young professional, you're going to be asked a lot about yourself, and you'll want to have an answer in your toolkit that both conveys who you are and what you're looking for.

9. Informational interviews. These are pretty much the greatest thing since sliced bread. Museum professionals are the best people in the world. They want to help you. They are also human beings who are happy to talk about where they've had successes and failures in life. Make connections, follow up on those connections, and suggest a meeting to talk. Think through what you want to ask and what you want to know. DO NOT go into the interview thinking that if you just show how great you are, they'll hire you. Go in with a pure quest for knowledge and professional friendship. I once met someone who offered to talk to me more about grantwriting at a conference; I followed up; she invited me down for lunch; we had a terrific lunch, I toured her organization's historic houses; I kept in contact and used the resources she'd suggested to learn even more; thus, when it came time for my graduate internship, I chose to spend half my time in development, knew what I was getting into, and had a basic understanding of the job, which was a huge leg up. All because of one great lunchtime conversation.

10. Self-edit. This seems stupid and self-evident, I know. But we all have that one thing we talk too much about, and sometimes a networking situation is warm and friendly, and we're tempted to tell the person we've just met that hilarious story about that one time... Just say no. Be careful and precise about what you say. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Do you have any other networking tips you'd give to young museum professionals? Anything you wish you'd known when starting out?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Happy Independence Day! Here's a few interesting blog posts from the museum world this week.

The Empathetic Museum - Museum Commons

There have been a few posts floating around about the idea of an "empathetic" museum lately, and I like this one the best. It's a good, thoughtful consideration of how museums can be more responsive emotionally, and not just intellectually.

Swaps, Residencies, and Sabbaticals, Part Two - Thinking About Museums

Ed Rodley has been considering some interesting possibilities for professional development recently, and in this post (and the post previous) considers the logistics and possibilities of swapping staff between museums as a form of professional development. I'm intrigued, though the thought of leaving my work undone for 6 weeks is enough to give me the shivers. I'd love to see some examples of small institutions, where only one person does a job, or multiple jobs, where this works.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Review: Monuments Men

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History

I wanted so badly to like this book. I've had it on my to do read for months, if not years, so it was with eager anticipation that I began reading it several weeks ago. I'm a fast reader; I didn't read this slowly because it was dense, or technical, or long; I read it slowly because it was enormously frustrating.

The Monuments Men tells an utterly fascinating story: the efforts of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Architecture division of the American military during the Second World War, tasked with preserving cultural heritage in the wake of the most devastating fighting the world had ever seen.

The men who served in the MFAA division were fascinating, talented individuals who came from all walks of life, and many of them went on to serve in prominent, influential roles in the postwar museum world - most notably, James Rorimer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and George Stout of the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. Monuments Men identified cultural treasures - buildings, archives, and works of art - in wartorn cities and either worked with soldiers to protect and preserve them before assault on a city or coordinated preservation and conservation efforts after a city had been attacked. After the end of fighting, the division embarked on its most difficult and intensive mission: to find and recover Nazi-pillaged works of art.

The authors are correct in stating that this is a fascinating, previously untold story of the war, and that the world could learn a great deal from the work of the MFAA division - there has been nothing like it since, and cultural patrimony the world over has suffered for it. Imagine if there were a modern version of the MFAA, and how the story of Iraq's museums might be different today.

The trouble is, this book is not that definitive history that the MFAA deserves. It's a cursory, mediocre survey that puts greater weight on movie-style invented dialogue, stereotyped and repetitive biographical development, and the shock and awe value of piles of gold and Rembrandts rather than taking the time to tell a sensitive, thoughtful story.

Inside this book, that story is begging to be told. Instead of an incisive look at the brilliant, tough Rose Valland, the curator at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris who collaborated with the Nazis in order to track French patrimony as it left the country in the hopes of recovering it someday, the authors reduced her to a two-bit noir character, full of mystery and coy glances and possible weird (and probably invented!) flirtations with James Rorimer.

The trouble is, the book is popular enough that George Clooney optioned it for a movie, which will be coming out this fall. He'll play George Stout, and Matt Damon will play James Rorimer, while Cate Blanchett will hopefully lend some actual substance to Rose Valland, who deserved better. Until I read the book, I was incredibly excited about the idea of Matt Damon as James Rorimer, on whom I've had a museum geek crush for a while now. Hopefully the movie can gloss over the book's flaws and condense its sprawling, incoherent narrative into a driving quest to retrieve masterpieces from their German repositories.

In conclusion: pick this up only if you want the lightest of beach reads and a very cursory introduction to the work of the MFAA division. Do not expect a quality history or you will be disappointed.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few interesting posts from the museum blog world.

Tote that Barge from The Nonprofit University Blog

With the recent Tampa Bay Times article about "the worst charities in America," nonprofit accountability has taken a beating. Evaluation and outcome measurement are crucial to any nonprofit's success, but we are all stymied for a way to measure the impact of what we do in easily quantifiable ways - probably because it's impossible to boil quality experiences down to numbers. Nevertheless the overhead percentage number has been a terrible way to evaluate effectiveness for a long time now. When I see a nonprofit telling me that $0.95 of every dollar goes right to the children, I think of the underpaid, overworked, and subsequently ineffective staff members that are surviving on that $0.05. I work directly in programming, but what about all the other people at my museum who help make the work I do possible - our PR person, our membership coordinator, our development director? For that matter, how do you count that percentage? Would my salary count, or only the money I spend doing programming?

That's a long way of saying the overhead percentage is a terrible way to evaluate, and in this blog post Laura talks about why, and how some major indices such as GuideStar are pulling away from it. Hallelujah!

Rethinking the Do Not Touch Sign from Engaging Places

This is short and sweet but I LOVE the gallery of photographs that invert what people think of when they see a no photography or a do not touch sign. Fantastic.

The Perfect Game...or Not from Museumist

I will admit to being something of a skeptic when it comes to mobile games in museums. I like the idea, but so often what I see in execution is...a little too high concept? Not relational enough? I can't quite put my finger on it but they seem to be great ideas that won't always translate. In this guest post, Kellian Adams outlines brilliantly what a good mobile game should accomplish: in short, a lot of what we already, which is emphasizing connections between people and objects. She also raises the interesting question of how closely a game should be tied to its community: will the same concept work in different cities, at different institutions?
In fact, I think what we want to dream about isn’t really the perfect game at all. We want to dream about the perfect experience. The perfect response to a game.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

#hockeysaurus and Other Sports/Museum Mashups

As I write this, I'm also watching Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, in which my Boston Bruins are facing up against the Chicago Blackhawks. I'm not a huge major sports fan, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be hockey.

eta: Figures this is posted the morning after a fairly heartbreaking loss last night. Ugh.

One of the best things about this Stanley Cup run has been the rivalry between Boston and Chicago's museums. Inter-city rivalries are particularly intense at playoff time, and it's always fun when museums join in.    Art museums have placed Superbowl bets for a few years running now, with the losing city's institution loaning a painting to the winning city.

This sort of showmanship is new to the Stanley Cup, though the Cup is the oldest of the professional sports trophies (this year it celebrates its 120th birthday).

The Chicago Institute of Art started it, posting a picture of Grant Wood's American Gothic farmers wearing Blackhawk helmets, and the Boston Museum of Fine Art responded with a neat bit of marketing, giving its samurai mascot from its current exhibition a Bruins mask.

Game 2 saw Chicago decorating a Monet and Boston responding with a postcard from its collection: "Mr. Bruin anticipates an easy victory" a hilariously appropriate image and sentiment. Game 3 saw the MFA knocking it absolutely out of the park - to mix a sports metaphor - with this tweak of The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, one of their most famous paintings. The updated painting received thousands of likes and hundreds of comments, some of which were negative. Complaints ranged from charges that the MFA had "ruined" the painting and others questioned their donations to the MFA. One particularly cranky commenter wrote "This is ridiculous. This is my favorite painting, way to insult a genius artist. Is this what my donations and membership goes too? I think Boston has enough sports outlets, leave my art alone..... Bad idea MFA." The MFA clearly wasn't deterred, as it posted a tribute to Tuuka Rask, the Bruins goalie, in this manipulation of Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington.

Meanwhile, across town and on another social media outlet, the Boston Museum of Science and Chicago's Field Museum, two of the great science museums in America, have their own rivalry: #hockeysaurus. The Field's Sue the T-Rex and the MOS's Cliff the Triceratops are bantering, bragging...and possibly flirting?

Sue started it:
Cliff took up the challenge immediately, and the two have been tweeting nearly nonstop for several days now. There are too many to list all together, but here are a few of the best.

What does this all mean? Are the MFA's commenters right, and this sort of ribbing is a frivolous use of museum resources? Or does the wild popularity of these efforts prove that they're worthwhile? Are people learning anything by following the banter between the museums? Should museums be above inter-city rivalry - by making themselves more a part of their local community, are these museums making themselves less national?

In my opinion, jokes like these are exactly what will keep museums relevant and vibrant. Boston and Chicago fans will feel like their museums are on their side; they will each feel that the other city's museums have a sense of humor and understand something they love - sports.

What do you think?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here's a small collection of some interesting blog entries from the museum world.

Diner en blanc at the Louvre at Out and About in Paris

So I cheated - this is not a museum blog at all, but a lifestyle blog about Paris, written by an American expat. I've followed it for some time as I once lived in France myself and it makes me nostalgic, and Mary Kay has a real knack for finding interesting experiences in a wonderful city.

This particular post caught my eye professionally because of the terrific public program possibilities. The White Dinner flashmob meets at various locations around Paris once a year and serves dinner to 8,000 invited guests, who all show up wearing white. Can you imagine a catered dinner party for 8,000 - as a flashmob? This year's was in the Louvre courtyard and I wondered if they got permission ahead of time. Either way, I would argue that the Louvre benefited; part of the goal of the dinner is:
All of the guests are familiar with the rules governing the event and know exactly what must be done before the celebration can begin. For example, invitees must arrive and depart by bus or organized public transportation, allocate seats in a very specific manner, with men on one side and women on the other, and take all of their trash away with them when they leave. The diners must enhance the value of the public space by charming passersby with the unexpected rather than detracting from it. And, most incredibly, it works.
There have been several viral examples of flashmobs recently, music, dancing, etc., and I would argue that most do "enhance the value of the public space." So how can museums cultivate what is essentially an unplanned phenomenon?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few interesting blog posts from the museum world.

Guerrilla Interpretation, Mall Edition at The Uncataloged Museum

I had never heard of these hurricane booths the author writes about - partly because I can't remember the last time I was in a mall - but I love, love, LOVE this approach. It's smart and well thought-out and I love even the little bit of evaluation that went on to confirm that people really were absorbing and learning.

8 Things I'd Like You to Know from The Nonprofit University Blog

This is a bit pessimistic, and aimed more toward boards, but I've seen examples of most of these things in my own career. Nonprofits can and should do better.

Memo from the Revolution: Six Things I've Learned from Our Institutional Transformation from Museum 2.0

I love this. As usual, Nina has insightful, daring, and interesting things to say about nonprofit cultural institutions. In this one in particular I like her concentric circles metaphor. It's a reminder that revolution sometimes leaves things behind - and that's not necessarily the end of the world. I also wish more small institutions would implement the "no money, no bullshit" policy.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are some interesting posts from the museum blog world this past week.

I have a disaster plan. Now what? from the Small Museums Online Community

I have a secret obsession with disaster plans, both institutional and personal. I like to be prepared for everything. My programs have backup plans for their backup plans. This is a good post that takes that next step: once you've made the plan, how can you seek out the expertise to put things into action? It's especially timely as the post author is from Oklahoma; though no cultural institutions were badly damaged in the recent tornado hits, it's a very real possibility going forward in what promises to be a terrible season.

The Power of Story (via Data, Collections & Social Media) from Museum Minute

Another great AAM roundup, this time organized around the theme of the conference itself. Jamie's takeaway is about sharing - data, collections, and time (via social media and other connections to visitors). It's a message I wholeheartedly believe in, and it's the wave of the future for museums. Unless we open our doors and invite active participation, we're done for.

Your Summer Intern Is Here. Now What? from the Harvard Business Review Blog Network

These are all common sense suggestions, but they're so often overlooked. I LOVE them. I've been an intern and I've supervised interns, and if these suggestions were followed the experience would be exponentially better for everyone involved. I particularly like the emphasis on mentoring.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few interesting blog posts from the museum/nonprofit world.

Piece by Piece at the NMSC Archaeology Blog

NMSC stands for Northeastern Museum Services Center - the home base for collections care for the northeast region of the National Park Service. They have a seriously cool archaeology lab/center in the shipyard in Charlestown, MA, just a few short steps from the Constitution. I had the opportunity to do a behind-the-scenes tour there about a year ago and it was one of the highlights of my professional development experiences so far.

I love this blog both for its actual informational content and for how it shows some of the nuts and bolts of museum work, in this case piecing together china and pottery shards, for the public. It's well-written and engaging without talking down, and I think more museum-sponsored blogs could emulate this style.

On "Drinking About Museums" at Thinking About Museums

The Boston "Drinking About Museum" events were some of the quirkiest, most engaging professional development/networking events I've ever been to, and I wish in retrospect I'd gone to more. I met great people, learned interesting things, and having regular professional conversations such as were fostered at these events was a blessing. Ed Rodley (formerly of the Museum of Science, now of the Peabody Essex Museum) organizes them, and in this post, does a great job of laying out how to set them up. This is a good primer for any professional networking event.

Ottawa Labor History Walking Tour at History@Work

This is a good review of a public history event in Ottawa, which recently hosted the National Conference on Public History's Annual Meeting. Labor history is so often overlooked, and so tricky to really explore in a traditional exhibition or museum space. I really like the idea of doing it as a walking tour, and this is a good, thoughtful review of a walking tour.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Visiting the Shelburne Museum

Though I lived in Vermont for five years during college and afterwards, I never managed to make it to the Shelburne Museum, which I've heard referred to as the "Smithsonian of New England." It wasn't for lack of trying, but while I was in college my busiest times - the beginning and end of the school year - coincided with the only times the Shelburne was open when I was in Vermont; I always returned to Boston for the summer. In the years afterwards, life never quite lined up.

I'm very happy to have finally rectified that gross oversight with a special trip made two weeks ago for my birthday. On May 12, the Shelburne Museum opened "for the last time" - it's opening a new year-round education & gallery space in August, and while many of the buildings will be closed per usual in the winter, they will continue operations in their new building no matter the season. We visited the following day, May 13.

The new building was designed by Ann Beha & Associates, and it's strikingly modern. Most of the buildings & grounds at the Shelburne are rustic, Old New England style; this building takes elements from its landscape and surroundings (the abundance of natural wood and the beautiful copper roof) but its angles and facade are very clearly here and now.

The new building; view looking to the right immediately on exiting the visitors' center.
The building - "The Center for Art and Education at the Shelburne Museum" - will contain 5,000 feet of flexible gallery space, a 130 seat lecture and performance space, and  2,000 feet of classroom space. It will be LEED-certified and have all the bells and whistles one would expect of a brand-new gallery space.

Landlocked lighthouse, looking north.
Here's a more typical shot of the rest of the grounds. We got lucky; the grounds were stunningly beautiful with spring blossoms and growth, though the day was chilly.

One of the centerpieces of the entire museum is the ship Ticonderoga, used for passenger travel up and down and around Lake Champlain through the twentieth century. The museum itself is within just a few miles of the lake, and moving the enormous ship was an engineering triumph. Wandering the decks made me want to take a long steamship cruise - what a way to travel!

Still flying all her flags.
Another highlight of the Shelburne's collections is their textile space. In particular, I loved this way of displaying quilts: it is undoubtedly a bit tough on the fabric, but it really allows visitors to get up close and personal with the designs and the fabric. There were two banks of these panels, and quilts cycled through every two years: year 1 on the right, year 2 on the left.

The panels were enormous - queen bed sized - but moved easily, though I worried about their momentum once I had started moving them and cringed every time they banged even slightly.
A real highlight for me was their unbelievably extensive collection of carriages and wagons. From the jaw-droppingly luxurious to the everyday milk cart, from a Conestoga wagon to a racing sulky, they had it all. I could have spent hours and hours examining each and every piece of equipment - the Webbs' custom tack was incredible - but we only had so much time and the carriage barns were among the coldest buildings on site.
Just one angle of one floor of one barn. There can't have been fewer than 150 carriages and carts on display.
Later this summer, the Shelburne will be opening their summer blockbuster exhibition, "Wyeth Vertigo." I'm a big Wyeth fan - Andrew in particular - and I can't wait to go back to see this. It's got the very clever trope of focusing on the interesting points of view often found in Wyeth paintings, and it brings together three generations of the Wyeth family into one exhibition. The new director of the Shelburne, Tom Denenberg, comes from the Portland Museum of Art, so I'm sure bringing the Maine-based Wyeths to Vermont was right in his wheelhouse.

They're getting ready for the exhibition with this neat little garden, though, which will be planted (or has already been planted? I'm not much of a gardener, so I couldn't tell) with a floral design inspired by the use of color in one of Jamie Wyeth's paintings. The garden plot is right outside the gallery where the Wyeth exhibition will be housed. Great way to link the Shelburne's extensive outdoor space and the beauty of its surroundings with its inside art.

There's not much on the panel but it's titled: "The Shores of Monhegan: A Wyeth Inspired Garden at Webb Gallery." On the left is the planned garden layout; on the right is the inspiration painting, Jamie Wyeth's Asleep and Awake, Monhegan.
I'm glad I finally made it to the Shelburne; I loved many things that I haven't even mentioned here - the elaborately restored train cars, the folk art exhibit, the absolutely wonderful Alphabet of Sheep exhibit, the hat box collection (!), the equestrian bronzes in the Electra Web Memorial Building. There's still a lot left to see, too. It really lives up to the nickname "Smithsonian of New England."

Friday, May 24, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here are a few blog posts that caught my eye this week. There were a lot of reactions to AAM, which sounded like a really wonderful conference. I was sad not to be able to go - I had such a wonderful time in Minneapolis last year - but I'm already budgeting and planning for NEMA's fall conference in Newport.

MW2013 Reflections: MOOCs, Museums, and Mistakes at edgital

I've said before that I am fascinated by MOOCs as one aspect of the future of education. This is a thoughtful post that really considers the MOOC experience in the context of museums and how they might use the model.

The Artist's Role in the Future of Historic Sites at Revitalizing Historic Sites Through Contemporary Art

I am admittedly not much of an art person (especially contemporary art), and I don't always agree that art makes everything, even history, better, but this is a great statement by Kate on her method of bringing historic sites into the here and now. There's a ton of potential here.

Unpacking the Objects and Their Stories: Takeaways from the 2013 AAM Conference at ExhibiTricks

This is one of the first really good, thoughtful posts about AAM that I've seen so far. Paul takes the themes of two different panels and ties them together in an exploration of how and why we prioritize authenticity at the price of visitor experience, and whether it all matters as much as we think it does.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lunch with NEMA: Social Media Metrics

I've now attended - or tried to attend - each of the New England Museum Association's Lunch with NEMA series. On the last Wednesday of each month at noon, NEMA presents a webinar on a relevant professional topic. Some of them have been good; some of them have been boring; all of them have been a welcome addition to the online professional development world.

The overall concept is good, if a bit tricky to manage sometimes - I rarely have an uninterrupted hour in the middle of the day, and even if I take lunch for 30 minutes or so and listen in, I'm guaranteed to have to mute and step away for a few minutes.

That being said, I will continue to try! Last month's webinar on Social Media Metrics with Caitlin Thayer of Barefoot Media was the best yet. Here are a few notes from Caitlin's presentation.

Collecting Social Media Metrics

Caitlin's overall thesis was well-illustrated by her opening quote: "Don't be driven by data, be informed by data." (Beth Kanter)

- pull data from Facebook once a month, on the fourth or fifth of the month: it takes some time for the website to catch up all its statistics
- look for overall trends, not individual posts
- Caitlin has found that three posts per day on Facebook is the sweet spot for many institutions she works with, but emphasized testing out your own institution's frequency and monitoring your audience's response
- people can tell if you're auto-posting - don't do that! Take a few minutes and post directly to Facebook rather than scheduling and exporting your status updates from another service

- Hootsuite is an excellent tool to monitor Twitter activity
- Caitlin's rule of thumb for Twitter is to post anywhere from 3-25 times per day
- use a maximum of two hashtags per tweet, and keep enough space so that people can retweet (ie, don't use up all 160 characters)
- go ahead and auto-schedule Tweets through Hootsuite
- keep track of your clicks and your "Klout" score via Hootsuite's profile page
- as you tweet, keep track of people who regularly engage with you and reach out to them individually to ask them to promote your events, attend special events, etc.

- YouTube is now the second largest search platform on the internet after Google
- One video per month is a good rule of thumb

- websites are static - regularly updated blogs can help people find reasons to keep visiting your site
- once a week is a good blogging rule of thumb

- keep in mind that the majority - as much as 60% - of people are reading e-newsletters on their phones or mobile devices, so design your text and visuals with that in mind
- photos and videos in newsletters are crucial and encourage clickthrough
- don't be shy about your newsletters subject lines - personal and casual can sometimes be better; the Obama campaign had the most success with subject lines such as "Hi!" and "What's up?"

General Advice
- use social media to monitor your relationships and inform your content - what are people saying about you? what are they looking for?
- give a well-rounded view of yourself (your museum) and your community - people like seeing institutions go outside themselves
- shooting out information without engagement is an easy trap to fall into - ie, don't just post random clever facts endlessly, seek opinions and input and thoughtful discourse
- with a strategic plan and clearly identified goals, social media can be done well in one hour a day