Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Graduate School Buyer's Guide for Museum Studies

Last week's New England Museum Association conference was amazing, and my head is still spinning from all the thinking, networking, and partying. (Okay, not really that much partying, but the hors d'oeuvres at the JFK Library were out of this world.)

I co-hosted two panels: the Conference Preview on Wednesday morning, and The Graduate School Conundrum on Wednesday afternoon. It's the latter that I'd like to take just a few minutes to talk about. I'll continue to follow up on this with additional thoughts over the coming weeks, because this is a topic that needs to be considered at length and with some really deep thinking.

Many, many ideas and tough questions came up during the session, but one cohesive subject that came to the top was whether museum studies graduate programs need a "buyer's guide," and what that would entail. I was taken aback not only by how little people knew about the graduate programs they were choosing but also by how little articulation there was about what people even wanted to know about their graduate programs. The overriding question so far seems to have been "will it get me a job?" That is a fine question. Answering it will not tell you much about the graduate program, however, and we don't even know all the moving parts that make up the answer to that question, though we have some good theories.

With that in mind, one of the excellent panelists, Linda Norris, has kicked off the conversation about a graduate school buyer's guide on her blog, The Uncataloged Museum. She poses some excellent questions and pokes at the bigger picture. We've also been having a good conversation on Twitter about some of her big questions, namely the positive and negative implications of a tight professional network.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Conservation Exhibit at the Shelburne Museum

I recently had the chance to visit the Shelburne Museum and explore a few exhibit spaces I'd never seen before. One of my favorites was the small area in the Horseshoe Barn devoted to the work of conservation.

There was a sitting area with books about conservation to read - some basic ones, and some of the more complex and scientific ones. I liked that this exhibit didn't speak down to the visitor. It recognized that conservation topics are complicated but important.

They also used a variety of practical examples to show various reasons for exhibition and conservation techniques.

These windows showed different types of glazing to use for UV protection, and explained why it's important.

There were also traditional-style panels with lots more information.

There were also interactive spaces that people were very much engaged with, showing different techniques conservators use to analyze and treat objects and artwork.

The exhibit wasn't large, but it was well-situated at the main entrance of the building that features the carousel horses that conservation interns have been painstakingly working on for decades. It's an excellent example of bringing behind the scenes work to the visiting public.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Circling the Sheldon" at the Henry Sheldon Museum

"Circling the Sheldon" was at the Henry Sheldon Museum in Middlebury, VT from March 1, 2014 - April 19, 2014, so I'm quite a bit behind in this review.

I did want to post about it, however, because I was so impressed with it when I visited in April 2014.

The Walter Cerf Gallery at the Sheldon is a marvelously flexible space, and I've seen a few other exhibits installed over the years. "Circling the Sheldon" has to be one of my favorites, for one major reason: it was one of the most creative exhibits I've seen in a long time.

Simply put, the theme was circles, and it afforded the museum the chance to really dig through their collections to explore that theme. There was an incredibly diversity and richness of objects throughout the exhibit. The broad theme allowed for the side-by-side display of objects that never would've been displayed together otherwise, and to display some objects in new contexts.

Here's how they describe the exhibit.
Visitors will find this distinguished geometric form in historic military and fashion buttons, a wooden peg leg worn by Jonathan Preston who lost his leg in action during the Revolution, Native American baskets, antique leather fire buckets, a colorful yo-yo quilt, and the historic clock face with Roman numerals salvaged from the Middlebury Congregational Church at the time of its 1989 building restoration.
In what museum universe would you ever see a peg leg alongside Native American baskets and a clock face? I love it.

Even the ubiquitous spinning wheel gets a new look when it's put alongside other circle objects.

Kudos to the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History for finding an intelligent, thoughtful, creative way to showcase their collection.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blog Roundup

Some interesting posts from the blogosphere.

Blame the Crowd,  Not the Camera from Museum 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

Slactivism from Seth Godin

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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Weekly Blog Roundup in Museums

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

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

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

Up All Night at the Museum from The New Yorker

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

Joyful Museums

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Joyful Museums Project: Boosting the Signal

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

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

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

You can also follow her on Twitter @joyfulmuseums.

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

NEMA 2014 Conference Panel: The Graduate School Conundrum

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

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

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

Thank you for your help!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Weekly Blog Roundup

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

Why Marketing Needs a Corporate Folklorist from the Harvard Business Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dear Ann Coulter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Graduate School Conundrum, Part 2

I mentioned earlier in the week that I had a proposal accepted for the New England Museum Association's 2014 Annual Conference. I talked about the first half of that proposal, the survey to gather information.

The second half, after the presentation of the survey findings, will be an informed conversation between two brilliant thinkers in the museum world, both of whom have graduate degrees and are still intimately involved in professional development and learning. I'm beyond lucky that they agreed to work with me on this.

Our conversationalists are Linda Norris, of The Uncataloged Museum, and Cynthia Robinson, of the Tufts University Museum Studies Program.

I've known and admired them both for many years and our email conversations so far have been thoughtful and enlightening.

Some of the questions we'll consider:

- how graduate programs can be improved;

- how the level of commitment from the college or university affects the quality of the program;

- what graduate programs can provide that work experience in museums cannot (and vice versa);

- what the museum field needs of its newest employees ;

- whether graduate programs are flexible and innovative enough to produce the next generation of great thinkers;

- whether they encourage and increase diversity or homogeneity;

- what the future of professional education in the museum field should look like.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Graduate School Conundrum

I'm excited to announce that a panel I proposed for the New England Museum Association's 2014 Annual Conference has been accepted.

My idea for the panel has been growing over the last few years, as I meet young & emerging professionals from all over the country. It seems like every conversation I have leads me to discover a graduate program I've never heard of - and too often, students aren't prepared for the real world of museum work.

I'm designing a survey right now aimed at two audiences: first, museum graduate programs themselves, to see what kind of degrees & classes are offered, how the program is structured, and essentially attempt a snapshot of what's out there.

The second audience is museum professionals and will attempt to discover how many currently working professionals have graduate degrees; how useful they've found them; what skills have transferred; what skills have been useless; whether they hire graduate students.

The basic question is this: if graduate school is becoming the new gateway to the museum profession, what's it really teaching us? Is it really that important?

I'll share my reading and thinking here on the blog as I continue through the project, and will publicize the surveys when they go live.

In the meantime, I'd greatly appreciate any links to reading about museum studies programs, whether published, online, or unpublished, and would appreciate any feedback about what questions you think need to be asked or what issues should be addressed. Comment here or shoot me an email at amanda.gustin[at]gmail[dot]com.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Exhibit Workshops + Cultural Heritage Professional Gatherings in Vermont

Same old excuse for not blogging, though I have what feels like a dozen ideas a day. I can't remember the last time I sat down at my home computer to do my own writing/thinking!

But regardless, here is a very cool thing I've been working on at my job: exhibit workshops and cultural heritage professional gatherings around Vermont. I'll be teaching program planning & community outreach in preparation for Vermont History Expo at each of these workshops.
Thinking about an exhibit for the 2014 season? Whether you are planning an exhibit for Vermont History Expo, your historical society building, or to travel to schools or other venues, the Vermont Historical Society would like to invite you to attend a workshop that will provide some useful information for creating a successful exhibit.
These five workshops across the state will offer guidance from Curator Jackie Calder, Public Programs Coordinator Amanda Gustin, and Community Outreach Coordinator and Conservator Laura Brill, as well as provide time for organizations to work on their own exhibit planning. 
All workshops will take place from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm and are free of charge thanks to a grant from the Patrick Foundation. Most will be followed by a reception for Cultural Heritage Professionals in the evening.

Friday, March 28 -- Bennington Museum, Bennington
Friday, April 11 -- Middlebury, venue to be determined
Monday, April 14 -- Vermont History Center, Barre
Friday, April 18 -- Woodstock Historical Society, Woodstock
Monday, April 28 -- Old Stone House Museum, Brownington
If you would like to register or have any questions please contact Laura Brill at or (802) 479-8522.
Here's info on the Cutural Heritage Professionals Gatherings:
Cultural Heritage Professionals - archivists, educators, curators, librarians, conservators, preservationists, students, etc., are invited to join us this April for an early happy hour. We'll get a few appetizers, but other food and drink are up to you.

Friday, April 11 - 51 Main in Middlebury

Monday, April 14 - Mulligan's in Barre

Friday, April 18 - Richardson's Tavern at the Woodstock Inn in Woodstock

Monday, April 28 - Bailiwick's in St. Johnsbury

Curator Jackie Calder, Public Programs Coordinator Amanda Gustin and Community Outreach Coordinator Laura Brill will definitely be at the restaurants from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Please let Laura know if you are planning to attend, or (802)479-8522, and feel free to pass along this invitation to your colleagues!

Thank you to the Sheldon Museum, the Woodstock History Center, and the Old Stone House Museum for hosting the Exhibit Workshops on those days as well, and to the Patrick Foundation for a grant supporting the workshops.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Weekly Blog Roundup

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

Pinterest as a Museum Tool from the Columbus EMPs

I've been playing with Pinterest for some months now, and I have to confess, it's not yet my thing. I'm not a terribly visual person. But I am really intrigued by the creative possibilities for museums, and this post is a great roundup of what's out there and how museums are using it well. Many of the ideas shared are good general-application thoughts about communicating with the public.

@HistoryinPics brings history to the public. So what’s the problem? (Part 1) from History@Work

I admit, I follow this Twitter account - but declined to RT something they posted when I saw it hadn't been credited at all. I had no idea about the commercial motivations behind the account. I'll think twice about whether I even follow them or not. (Also, two teenagers making $50,000 a month doing this? I am doing something wrong...)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here's a roundup of interesting blog posts in and about museums (and a few that are not directly about museums but are useful anyway).

Organizing your employment history at Unclutterer

One of the biggest favors I ever did myself was to organize all my files on previous employers, both digital and paper. I weeded, kept useful information, and re-labeled all my resumes, job descriptions, and contact information. I can't overstate how much of a relief and help it is to have all that information at the tip of my fingers if necessary. It's not just in a job search - I keep it up to date now because I'm always being asked for a copy of my resume for grant applications.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Managing the Email Monster

Communication is key to nearly any museum job, and even the jobs that used to be able to hide away without much talking to people (archivists, curators, registrars, conservators) are being asked to step to the forefront and interact more with the public - and more with their colleagues in the public sphere.

I have been in the background, and in the front lines. I prefer the front lines. When I'm not on the front lines in person, I am an email fiend. I'm that smartphone-addicted person who checks email every 20 minutes. I don't really play games and 90% of my apps are practical or utilitarian, but email alone is the main reason I love my smartphone.

Used and managed well, it is an unbelievably powerful tool - especially for those of us who think more clearly in text than verbally.

But after one particularly busy day last week, I counted: I had sent 55 emails and received well over 150. I felt exhausted and drawn out. Most of the emails I sent had been substantive, answering question or chasing down new things. My hands were actually sore from typing - and email was far from all I'd been doing that day.

I flashed back to a workshop I'd attended a few years ago, before I had such a busy and intense job; we'd had a group discussion about workflow and the topic of email came up. I volunteered that I often put email on a to-do list: I set aside a concentrated time of my day, perhaps 20-40 minutes, to answer what needed to be done, and then I moved on to other things. A few of the more seasoned museum professionals in the room scoffed at me, and no doubt secretly though I was more than a bit naive. (If memory serves, someone in the background even snorted derisively.)

Fast forward to today. There is zero chance that putting "email" on my to-do list and setting aside 20 minutes will take care of it. (I still use that tactic for voicemail, though.) It comes in too often; there are too many urgent and semi-urgent questions to answer; it requires too much thought and follow-up to answer the questions. (Even my personal email is frequently out of control, though not quite as busy as my work email.)

That said, I still maintain that the basic principle of my idea is sound. Here are a few tactics I use to manage even the hugely increased amount of email I go through on a daily basis.

Inbox Zero. This is my holy grail, as it is for many others. I believe the system has layers to it - and it's even marketed - but in essentials, for me, it means two things. First, any email still in my inbox is essentially a to-do list item. It represents a question unanswered, a task unfinished, or a person who needs to hear from me. Second, once that item is done, the email is taken care of. It's deleted or slotted into a folder. Period. Gone. I have hit it only a handful of times with my work email, but it's my preferred default for personal email, and I'm there on a semi-regular basis.

No Unread Emails. Nope. None. I have a coworker who marks items that she needs to respond to as unread, and lets them build in her inbox. That's fine! It would make my skin crawl. I may set them aside for brief, specific periods of time (usually while digging in to answer older emails) but I don't even just not read them. I always glance at them. Unread emails are information floating orphaned out in the void, and that means that I'm not processing everything I need to. Not ok.

Folders. I am obsessive about folders (in Outlook) and labels (in Gmail). I have tiers upon tiers of folders. I keep them closed up when I'm not actively working on that project, but they're an extensive filing system that I'm constantly tweaking. Once an email has been processed, I decide whether it contains useful information; if so, it gets filed. If not, it gets deleted. It does not sit in my inbox longer than strictly necessary. (For some categories of email that I may need to refer to - but not actively answer or read every day - that means I've set up automatic filters to label or file emails as they come in.)

Letting Go. Sometimes, a conversation could go on endlessly. That may mean it's a pleasant conversation - or it may be someone nagging you about a product or service to sell. I try hard to judge the point at which the necessities of polite conversation have been satisfied - and then move on. That may mean deleting, but most often it means filing or archiving. I don't want that line of thought cluttering up my inbox or my mind.

Staying Connected. This is not a gospel for everyone, but for me - checking email first thing in the morning, before I'm even up and out of bed, is a crucial part of my system. I'll often skim important things and start processing and thinking about my answers to them as I get ready for my day. Checking email quickly while waiting in line somewhere lets me get three or four more deleted or archived. It's rare for me to actually reply to an email using my phone, but taking advantage of the otherwise empty moments lets me get ready to tackle the bigger stuff when I'm sitting down at a desk.

What about you? Any tactics you use, or have you given up?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

You Know You Work in a Small Museum When...

I recently saw this great blog post linked on the AASLH website: You Know You Work in a Small Museum When...

Nearly every single one of them rang true. My institution is large for its area, but small for just about anywhere else. It's the second-largest institution I've ever worked for.

Small museums have some great perks - the flexibility, creativity, and efficiency is second to none - but they definitely have many drawbacks.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Weekly Blog Roundup

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

First up: this is not a blog post, I know, but it has potential to be really excellent. A group of public historians are putting together an "unconference" in Boston that they're calling History Camp. I'm loving watching this develop; the interactive nature of planning, the open sourced presentations, the transparent fun of it all. I'm trying to get some time off to go down and talk but even if I can't, I wish them well!

How much interpretation is too much? from Every Word Counts

I have a grad school friend who swore that she'd never write another exhibit label after we graduated. I'm the opposite: I love them. I love the wordsmithing and the thinking and the tweaking. I love it until I violently hate it, but I always swing back around to wanting more by the time a new project comes up.

This is a great post about the times when you can do too much explaining. I've found myself falling more and more into the minimalist camp for labels; I want people to say what they mean and then get out and leave the rest to me. (That doesn't mean I want a basic tombstone label - but I don't want to read 500 words, either.)

News Roundup from Museum, Politics, and Power

I know: I'm rounding up a roundup. Consider this my way of saying that this blog makes me think and react and consider in ways that I don't usually. It's a fascinating multinational project that's tackling big issues that we don't often get to address.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Weekly Blog Roundup

Here's a collection of interesting blogs from around the museum world.

Getting a job as an interpreter at an historic site: what to include and why from The History List

This is a well-compiled list of essential skills for frontline interpreters. Some of them aren't exactly emphasized in the more intellectual circles of museum studies programs. Using a register and handling cash is a big one - I'm always amazed at people who have never held a single cashier job and are baffled by registers. Handling money is a core job skill, and it will help you out in life above and beyond your professional career.

Financial Management at America's Billion Dollar Museums from Engaging Places

This is a really terrific overview of revenue, assets, and deficits at some of the biggest museums in America. Max lays things out in straightforward charts, delves into the reasons why some museums are out further ahead than others, and - my favorite - looks at the funding mix for these museums to see whether there's any one good model. (Spoiler alert: there isn't, but it's still fascinating to see the data.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Mentoring Questions

I mentioned Linda Norris's offer of mentoring in my blog roundup a few weeks ago, and I wanted to delve a bit into the questions she asks prospective mentees. I won't be applying for her generous offer - it's not right for me now - but I still loved her questions. They're good, probing, thoughtful ideas to consider. I'm going to take a crack at them.

One thing you're particularly curious about 

I want to dig further into financial models for museums. I'm endlessly fascinated by the way they work the world over. In some countries, they're state supported; does that really create a more secure environment, and does it really benefit the society at large? In the US, they're typically privately funded nonprofits, and they compete with the hundreds of thousands of other nonprofits out there doing good work. I am always fascinated to follow the money.

One thing you're passionate about 

Let me split this into two parts. 

The first, professionally, is history. I love finding those moments of gestalt: those small, hidden, human stories that you share with a visitor (or reader, or friend, or really anyone) that you can practically feel sizzle as they leave you. The moment when you're explaining something to a group and you can start to feel them click in to what you're saying. It's like a drug.

The second, personally, is horses; my own, in particular, and the sport of three day eventing in general. It's an enormous ongoing challenge at which I have absolutely zero natural ability. I work my fingers to the bone to keep my horse and to keep training and I still hunger for more. (I blog about our journey here.)

Questions you'd like to discuss with me during the year 

Related to that first answer, I am growing increasingly troubled by the way in which museums are competing for funding with other nonprofit organizations. How do you look a funder in the eye and say, "Instead of feeding kids a warm breakfast before school, we'd rather you put that $5,000 toward conserving our lace collection"? I really think there's no way you can do that. There are so many huge social problems. I mean, I know the academic answer - the humanities are the crucial inspiration that take you beyond those basic needs, that fulfill our craving for a bigger world of ideas. I feel that deeply. But when the rubber meets the road, and kids are starving and does that square up?

Corollary to that: many museums are responding to that by venturing into the social services world, offering their own after school programs and teaching troubled kids and so on and so forth and is that something we really should be doing? I know I am not qualified professionally or personally to take on social work and I am sure the same is true for many others! But that's where the money is, and some museums have been successful in chasing that. (Is it chasing? Or is it where they need to go?)

Corollary to the corollary: #@$#@ STEM subjects. Also known as, whyfor is Conner Prairie doing a Spacelab program?

A description of your first creative act

I'll admit, I was really stumped on this one. I can call up a dozen memories of imaginative play as a child - once, when a cousin of mine and I were grounded and stuck up in my bedroom for an afternoon, we snuck into my father's closet, dressed up in his suits, tied together bedsheets, shimmied out the second-story window, and circled back around to the front door, where we rang the doorbell and pretended to be government agents investigating cruelty toward the children living in the house. (I believe my mother laughed in our faces and sent us back up to my room.)

As I've been thinking, I've realized that my creativity is best expressed as variations on a theme. I'm not wildly creative; I have never been artistic by any stretch of the imagination, was bored in art class, was a middling-to-poor (though committed) cellist, and am hard-pressed to even add touches of color to my wardrobe.

But I thrive when I'm given a problem and told to fix it and in doing so make it better. To make changes in order to get better flow, or make it more interesting. To take someone else's wild idea and ground it and make it interesting and unique. Right now in my life this is most clearly expressed in my cooking and baking; I love finding recipes but I almost never follow them. I am working on developing my instincts for what makes the basic dish into something better.
A time your reach exceeded your grasp 

Oh gosh. So many times. I tend to operate at about 125% of capacity and as a result am always faced with times when my grand plans for a particular project fall short of what I would like them.

Let me take a story from my horse life. Through the winter of 2011-2012, I was finishing grad school - writing a thesis, studying for comps - while working full time and taking on several new professional opportunities as I started to serve on museum committees. I knew I was going to get my master's in the spring, and that I would start a job search in the fall, so the upcoming summer was probably the last time I would have to spend with my eventing trainer, and my last chance for some time to really make a run at competing my horse.

I've had my horse for eight years now. He is a mustang, and I started him myself, which is another story entirely filled with sleepless nights, pulled muscles, many tears, and a lot of work. We worked our joint assess off through that winter, on top of everything else. We worked even harder that spring, and come summer I was focused and intent, and we were doing it. He was going as well as he ever has, we were finishing in the ribbons at shows.

The season was building toward our first recognized show together in the first week of September 2012. Three weeks before that show, he went lame, and we were done. That was it. We went from working as hard as I ever have in my life to doing absolutely nothing. For some time he couldn't even leave his stall. I had made detailed plans, spent massive amounts of money, gone without sleep, and it all vanished in minutes. I was heartbroken, but strangely calm. That's one of the things horses teach you: that sometimes no matter how hard you work, things outside your control can yank everything away from you in one moment.

(We would find out some months later that he had broken a bone in his foot, and he had surgery and just now, in winter 2013, is beginning to get back to where we had been that summer.)

When you work, do you love the process or the result? Why?

Oh, the process. Definitely. I love making all the pieces line up together, and getting the right feel to the whole thing, and teasing out the best way to accomplish something, and putting it together as well as I possibly can. I somehow never quite feel as if the result is what I had hoped for so often after I've launched something I'm usually planning something else and I'm always surprised and maybe even borderline offended when people praise me for something I've done, because I can see its flaws so clearly.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year!

Happy New Year!

Like so many before me, I am making a New Year's resolution to blog more frequently.

I've been blogging up a storm on my horse blog, but this blog needs love too.

To that end, I'll be writing a series of Vermont history essays for Geek Mountain State on a regular basis.

I'll also be committing more fully to writing reviews, reflections, and other pieces here at this blog.

Are there any topics of interest to readers?

On my short list: open authority v. collaboration, whether museum educators should also be social workers, admission fees & financial models, grant funding in a time of crisis, what are "basic needs" in a post-recession world, what grad schools really teach us, and why you probably shouldn't work in museums.

On my short list of books to read and review:

Creativity in Museum Practice
Civilizing the Museum
A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career
A Primer for Local Historical Societies
Adult Museum Programs

Any other suggestions?