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

Friday, May 17, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here's a roundup of interesting blog posts this week.

Do You Age-Stereotype? A Small Rant at The Uncataloged Museum

Linda Norris writes about something that's irked me for years: the ease of categorizing certain generations according to negative characteristics, and assuming then that those generations couldn't possibly interact productively. See also this article on, reviewing some of the nasty things said about Generation Y and its "narcissistic" tendencies. Are there very real differences in the work habits, attitudes, and goals of various generations? Yes. Should conversations start and stop with those generalizations, instead of considering the individuals of those generations, and seek no productive way to encourage cooperation? Heck no.

(Linda's post felt close to home, as I was at a workshop with her last week - recap coming soon! - in which some of these issues came up, and I've often felt like the youngest person in the room for most of my career - a dynamic that's almost certainly about to change in the next few years.)

19th Century Slave Cabin Donated to Smithsonian's African-American History Museum at The History Blog

Really interesting overview of the selection and acquisition process for a slave cabin to add to the collections at the new museum, and some insight into how they are building the overall collection. It sounds like it will be absolutely amazing. I love small museums, and I am happiest working in them, but I admit that sometimes I wonder what it would be like to work at an institution with this kind of budget and decision-making power. (The kind of institution that can send a staff photographer across the country on a travel assignment just to take a background photograph for one exhibition, for example.

Relentlessly Social at the Annual Meeting at the Center for the Future of Museums

This guest post by Guzel du Chateau, New Media Manager at the American Association Alliance of Museums, goes over the social media outreach AAM will be doing at the Annual Meeting next week. I applaud their efforts, and have already set up some Hootsuite streams to follow the action from afar - since I started using Twitter in January 2012, I've been most engaged and found it most useful while at conferences. Great way to connect to the overall rhythm of the conference while being deep in your own sessions.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here's the next installment of my roundup of interesting museum blog posts of the past week.

Death, Taxes, and Fundraising at The Nonprofit University

Laura Otten often blogs candidly about tricky personnel and management questions in the nonprofit world, and this particular post really struck a chord with me. She calls attention to the problem of boards who don't want to fundraise, and to a particular trend in which boards form "Friends of" groups to handle fundraising responsibilities. I know I've seen several boards in which members were more comfortable with governing and advising - and in some cases, garnering prestige - rather than donating and soliciting.

Digital Learning in Museums Snapshot at Moosha Moosha Mooshme

Barry Joseph was curious to see how many science and children's museums are actually using emerging digital technologies with the public - both in planning/constructing and in using. I was curious about this because I had the hunch that despite all the talk about apps, games, 3D printing, and other nifty digital technologies, not too many museums were implementing them throughout their education programs, and his survey results seem to bear that out. One way I'd love to see this broken down further is by budget size and attendance.

Tesla's Wardenclyffe laboratory purchased for museum at The History Blog

Many in the museum development sector sat up and took notice when a crowdfunded campaign raised over $1 million for the purchase and restoration of Tesla's laboratory, currently an overgrown abandoned building in Shoreham, NY. The campaign caught the imagination of popular webcomic Matthew Inman, whose appeal was, to say the least, non-traditional: Let's Build a Goddamned Tesla Museum. The museum organization has now purchased the property, but faces an uphill battle to raise funds to clean and restore the site and install planned science and history exhibits as well as laboratories for inventors.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Kindle Museum Book Sale

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History is on sale for the Kindle today for $3.99.

It's gotten good reviews, and I picked up a copy a few weeks ago and had planned to start reading it this week, so you'll see a review of it coming soon.

It has attracted enough attention that George Clooney has optioned the story for a movie - it certainly has a cinematic weight to it!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Weekly Blog Roundup

Spring is coming to Vermont, I've been busy at work, and I'm about to start riding my horse again. While I have many ideas for posts, there's always one more spring cleaning task to do before sitting down at a computer - in fact, I haven't turned on my home computer in nearly two weeks. Ah, the mobile age!

I have been watching and reading, however, and I'd like to start doing a weekly roundup of interesting museum blog posts. Each Friday, I'll post a handful of links and a few sentences about why that post stood out to me. If you have a museum blog and I'm not reading it, I'd love to be - please drop a comment and I'll add you to my RSS feed.

Here's this week.

Excellent overview of a controversial decision by the Barnes, which recently moved to downtown Philadelphia claiming it wasn't getting enough visitors in its previous location. Now? They're getting too many visitors and have increased their admission price to make sure everyone takes the audio tour, which includes instructions on museum etiquette. So much for accessibility. 

I'm thrilled to see this development: major museums offering courses on Coursera. There are some legitimate complaints about MOOCs - namely, they don't offer the same intimate, personalized classroom experience of traditional college courses - but overall I think the trend is a good one. Could this be the way museums finally crack into the world of informal digital education?

Rainey Tisdale was one of my professors at Tufts, and she's one of the most original and disciplined thinkers I have ever met, especially in the areas of material culture and urban public history. She made a call for cultural institutions to preserve items related to the Boston Marathon bombing soon after it happened, and her advocacy was picked up by WBUR, Boston's NPR station. In this post, she follows up with observations of the memorial site at Copley Square and comments on citizen curation at the memorial. It's a thoughtful, emotional piece and I'm glad Rainey is documenting events.