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.