Museum Hack’s Relevance: Game of Thrones Mini-Tour

Added on Medium, July 10, 2017

Game of Thrones logo

German Medieval Shield

In my previous posts, I have discussed how museums use relevance to engage audiences with subject matter they present. I wondered what if you did not work for a specific museum but rather a tour company. What would a tour be like with someone outside of the museum? How will they create ways to engage audiences with the subject matter? On Friday, I participated in one of Museum Hack’s evening tours that took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to find out.

Friday’s tour was the Game of Thrones theme tour called Metropolitan Museum of Art: Game of Thrones Mini-Tour. For those who do not know, Game of Thrones is an HBO series which is an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, and Game of Thrones is the first book in the series. I chose the Game of Thrones Mini Tour because I thought it was not a tour that I would expect to find in other places I have visited. Plus, I was interested in seeing how they would tie the show with the pieces displayed at the Met. I also enjoy watching Game of Thrones so I thought it would be a great way to refresh my memory about the series before the new season airs.

There may be minor spoilers of the Game of Thrones series, so be forewarned.

Each of the Game of Thrones tours is adjusted based on the tour guide’s knowledge of a piece in the museum itself, and to connect it someway to the HBO series. The main point of the tour was to show both museum lovers and those who are not fans of attending museums how awesome museums are by sharing how individuals interested in the Game of Thrones series can identify and interact with the museum exhibits.

To get that point across, Museum Hack tour guide, Anna, led activities that the audience participated in throughout the tour. The first example of an activity was introduced during an ice breaker where we were broken up into pairs and came up with our house name, motto, and animal (for instance, my house was House Stragglers, our motto: Pizza is Coming, and our animal was a bear). Throughout the tour, we were encouraged to take pictures of anything in the museum that contains dragons or birds that will later be added for points and whoever has the most points wins a prize; there is an opportunity at the end to take away points from other houses.

Another example of an activity I participated in was verbal jousting. We were given sheets of paper with medieval insults listed in three columns. Then we were separated from our House partners, and were told to choose three insults (one from each column) to use at each other. After shouting these insults at each other, Anna decided the winner by determining whose is the silliest. Not only there were activities related to the HBO series we occasionally participated in during the tour, we were also guided through most of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and stopped at pre-selected artifacts to discuss similarities to Game of Thrones.

The ties made between the collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Game of Thrones were sometimes strong and other times they were reminders of what we have seen during the show.

During the tour, Anna discussed how George R.R. Martin had written the book series using historical events and figures as inspirations for the events and characters in the A Song of Ice and Fire books and were later portrayed in the Game of Thrones HBO series. For instance, she mentioned the civil war, which was the result of Robert Barathean’s death, to earn the right for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms, known as the Iron Throne, was inspired by the War of the Roses which was a civil war fought to claim the throne of England. She draws connections at each stopping point by talking about what had happen to the characters in the show and what similarities are found in individuals from the past.

For instance, she talked about Robert Barathean and Henry VIII of England by briefly talking about the Game of Thrones character then talked about the 16th century king of England. Both men were kings who enjoyed sports especially jousting. Robert Barathean was the king of the Seven Kingdoms who took over the throne after defeating the previous king of the Seven Kingdoms, Aerys II Targaryen, during a battle known as Robert’s Rebellion. Anna then talked about Henry VIII by talking about his two armors we stopped in front of; Henry VIII was an athletic young king, and during one of his jousting games a horse landed on top of him. He survived but because of the injuries he had as a result, he was no longer able to participate in jousting and began eating an over 5,000 calorie diet that led him to a being fitted for a larger armor with an adjustable chest plate.

Henry VIII’s armor, before jousting accident

Henry VIII’s armor, after jousting accident

Anna also mentioned during the tour that both Tyrion Lannister and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec could have been friends if they lived in the same world and time. Tyrion Lannister was a dwarf who was a member of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the Westeros kingdom; he used his family’s status alleviate the prejudice he received throughout his life from his family and others. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a French painter, known for his paining At the Moulin Rouge (1892–1895), who immersed himself in the colorful and theatrical life of Paris during the late 19th century. As a boy, he suffered from fractures that were later attributed to an unknown genetic disorder which prevented his legs from growing; Toulouse-Lautrec developed an adult-size torso and retained his child-sized legs. Both Tyrion and Henri soothed themselves with wine and prostitution.

The tour included items in the museum’s collections that did not fit into the equivalent of the Westeros culture but nevertheless reminded Anna of one of the character’s helmets worn during the show. Anna took us through the display of Japanese armors to show us decorative helmets that took on various shapes and animals including a rabbit. She introduced the helmets by talking about the Game of Thrones character known as The Mountain. Gregor Clegane, known as The Mountain because of his height at eight feet tall, is a knight who led Tywin Lannister’s (Tyrion’s father) army, and known for his brutality from his numerous war crimes as well as rape and murder of the Targaryen royal family at the end of Robert’s Rebellion.

During the show, he has been shown to be wearing variously shaped helmets which helped create the connection to the Japanese armor helmets. I also connected these helmets to the helmets and armor I talked about when I gave tours of the Butler-McCook House in Hartford; the McCook collected various artifacts during their world trips including Japanese Samurai armor and helmets displayed in the library. These helmets drew many different reminders that help audiences including myself make connections to.

Japanese armor helmets

Overall, I enjoyed the tour very much because it includes activities to help audiences think about the show and keep them actively participating in the tour. I also enjoyed the tour because the connections made to the Game of Thrones show not only captured my interest but made me think about the museum’s collections a little differently than I previously had when I visited the Metropolitan in the past. This tour did refresh my memory about what I have seen on the show so far, and not only did I leave the museum feeling I had an entertaining evening but I also wanted to learn more about the artifacts presented in the tour. If interested in learning more about Museum Hack tours or want to participate in similar tours, find out here: https://museumhack.com/tickets/.

Have you participated in a Museum Hack tour? If you have, what do you think about your experience participating in their tour? If you have not, have you had similar experiences of making connections like the ones I discussed during the Game of Thrones Mini-Tour?

 

Reactions to Blog: “Emotionally Charged Spaces”

I read another blog post from Museum Hack, which is one of their case studies, called Emotionally Charged Spaces: Why You Should Create Immersive Tours with Sensitive Subject Matter. While this was a case study of one of the services they performed for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, there is a lot to learn about the challenges of telling a story of a difficult past. According to the blog post, the Canadian Museum of Human Rights’ mission “to create lasting global change in the field of human rights, shining a spotlight on some of the most egregious violations of human rights around the world, and to inspire activism.” To help fulfill the mission, Museum Hack provided the staff training on how storytelling can help people connect with the subject matter the museum presents.

Museum Hack uses the case studies in their blog not only to share what they were able to do for the museums that asked for their services but Museum Hack shared case studies like this one to show what museums can learn from these organizations.

As we know as museum educators, it is important to know how to tell a narrative or story effectively to show audiences how significant these stories are to be able to understand our past or subject matter. Museum Hack pointed out that the goal for programming on difficult subjects is for visitors to be educated, informed, and inspired to make change instead of leaving the place depressed. Also, it stated creating programming and telling stories that both acknowledge the gravity and seriousness of issues while getting audiences engaged without overwhelming them is a challenging objective but worth the effort when received positively. As a public historian, I have both learned and practiced storytelling of difficult subjects, especially slavery.

My previous experience was more focused on doing research for Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington for their symposium program discussing slavery in 17th century Connecticut. In addition to the research presented at the symposium, there were other colleagues that did their own research and presented their findings to share with the community of professionals and individuals interested learning more about the subject.

This experience is one of the examples of the points the blog made that not many challenging subjects are told through engaging programming but mostly through lecture series. To create more engaging programs and storytelling on difficult subject matter, there must be human connection to the topic discussed.

In the case study, Museum Hack revealed that by having guides share their personal connections it will further humanize what the visitor is interacting with. I agree with this because to have relevance in museums, especially with museums discussing difficult subject matter, visitors have to recognize the human connection in these stories. Whether they have their own personal connections to difficult subject matter or not, visitors should at least be able to learn from and understand those who have a personal connection.

Museum Hack also briefly talked about one of their best practices called scaffolding. According to the blog post, scaffolding is a way to strategically maximize visitor engagement throughout a tour. This practice is vital to making sensitive environments less overwhelming for visitors. Scaffolding is a practice museum professionals continue to adapt the museums’ stories to the visitor tours.

What we should take away from the Museum Hack blog post is when presented with the challenge to create an engaging tour with difficult subject matter it is important to make sure there is human connection with the stories. This is also an example of how relevance can be used to encourage engaging visitors to the museums.

What did you think of Museum Hack’s blog post on engaging in emotionally charged spaces? Have you seen scaffolding in other emotionally charged spaces? Share your thoughts. Here is the link to the original post:
View at Medium.com

Reactions to Blog: “9 Ways To Supercharge Your Museum Volunteers”

Also posted on Medium, June 29, 2017.

I decided this week to talk about another one of the blog posts I have been reading this week. I found this blog on Medium, 9 Ways To Supercharge Your Museum Volunteers, written by Ashleigh Hibbins for Museum Hack. As I prepare to help with revamping the docent manual for the Three Village Historical Society, I review resources I have to use as guides for this project. Part of developing the volunteer program is working on the docent manual. When I read this post, it reinforced what I already learned from the webinar I attended in January and the book I have read, Recruiting and Managing Volunteers in Museums by Kristy Van Hoven and Loni Wellman. Museum Hack’s post provides additional resources that are very helpful for the readers, and there were many statements they made that reaffirmed not only the knowledge I have gained but the importance of maintaining a great relationship with volunteers.

In the past and currently, I have volunteered for various organizations that have different ways of running their volunteer programs. I have also run a volunteer program in the past where I was responsible for volunteers teaching larger school programs. By learning how they could be run through professional development and reading books, I gain knowledge on how I should be treated as a volunteer and learn how I can improve my skills when I run a volunteer program. There is always something to learn when revisiting a subject including volunteer management, and this post is no exception.

I liked that they included how important volunteers are to museums at the very beginning of the article. They stated “Who are the most excited and engaged people in your museum?… Your volunteers!” And this is very true because as a volunteer and a leader in the volunteer program I see so many passionate people who have been volunteering for many years. It is important therefore to make sure that passion is kindled and used to help complete projects for their museums. Also, the post pointed out the importance of keeping volunteers happy.

It is true that volunteers are our museums’ biggest fans and advocates since they are dedicating their time to help museums to continue to adapt and develop. What I have not thought about before that they pointed out was according to a U.S. survey two-thirds of volunteers also donate money to their place of volunteering (they used Fidelity® Charitable Gift Fund Volunteerism and Charitable Giving in 2009 Executive Summary as a source). It makes sense because they work hard to keep the museums running and they are willing to do whatever is possible to keep them running including donations of time and sometimes money. The rest of the post gave the ways to supercharge volunteers, and then gave detailed explanations for each way.

Some of the ways they shared in the post include treat volunteer interviews like job interviews, don’t just smile and nod-volunteers have great ideas, volunteers are your secret recruiting weapon, and remind your volunteers how awesome they are. While these tips should seem obvious when considering volunteers, there are various points that need to be brought to our attention. For instance, when it was stated that readers should treat volunteer interviews like job interviews they pointed out that “don’t set someone up for failure by giving them a position they are unable to perform.” It is not only important to keep this in mind because no projects will be accomplished if volunteers cannot perform tasks but it will also affect their self-esteem and passion for the organization. Without that passion, we will not be able to retain the hard-working volunteers we need.

The post also pointed out how important it is to learn about volunteer programming from other museums in the community. In the post, it talked about being a nosy volunteer manager, or be continuously involved in making sure volunteers’ and museums’ needs are met, and then they stated “Also, be nosy with volunteer managers at other museums so you can pick up tips and tricks from them too.” I believe that it is important for volunteer managers should learn from other museums on how they run their volunteer programs not only because the programs can inspire their own way of running volunteer programs but museum professionals can come together to learn how to keep their museums relevant in the community through their volunteer programs.

What we should take away from this post is to be sure to keep our volunteers needs and happiness in mind when developing volunteer programs. I have also provided the link to the original post from Museum Hack for you all to read, and links to the resources they used in their post especially for anyone running volunteer programs.

Do you run volunteer programs? What do you think of Museum Hack’s contribution to the subject of museum volunteers? Have you followed similar advice Museum Hack discussed? What challenges have you faced when developing your volunteer program(s)? Share your reactions.

Resources used in Museum Hack article:
https://aamv.wildapricot.org/Standards-and-Best-Practices

Click to access Technical_Bulletin_45_-_Creating_a_Successful_Volunteer_Program.pdf

Click to access Volunteerism-Charitable-Giving-2009-Executive-Summary.pdf

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Maker Space: Museums Can Benefit from Having a Creative Space

Also posted on Medium, June 22, 2017.

During my experience as a museum educator, I have taught history lessons at mainly historic sites. As I move forward in my career, I have started to learn more about STEM when I began working with the Maritime Explorium where they not only discuss maritime history but also include hands-on activities related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. These hands-on activities are part of the Maritime Explorium’s Maker Space for children and adults can participate in with their children. For those not already aware, Maker Space is an example of the maker movement that, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), puts the emphasis on learning by doing that is informal, self-directed, iterative, and collaborative. Museums can benefit from having a space dedicated to hands-on learning because it not only encourages children to be active and entertained but it also provides them learning opportunities. In the museums I have worked for, there have been spaces created as a temporary maker space and as a permanent maker space. Also, the museums I have worked for provide lessons that incorporate STEM techniques with the history lessons taught to school programs.

The Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut has two rooms that are part of the addition later added to the historic house when it opened as a museum. One of the rooms is a multi-use room that is converted for various purposes such as gallery space, meetings, lectures and symposiums, school programs, and most relevant to this entry is a space for family fun programming. Family programs include a Thanksgiving program where kids and their family members learn to create holiday related crafts while participating in activities that educated them about the holiday and the history of Farmington.

In the second room at the Stanley-Whitman House, there is a recreated colonial kitchen that is used for public programs and for kids participating in school programs. During the school programs, the kids would learn how to follow recipes such as apple pies and Irish-style mashed potatoes. The kids learned these recipes by going step by step with each ingredient and place the measured ingredients in the bowl to be stirred together. After combining the ingredients, the kids would learn how the mixed ingredients were cooked over the hearth. By showing the kids how food is cooked over a hearth, they understand how long it takes to cook over the fire. Also, teaching the kids about cooking over a hearth not only shows what it was like to cook in the eighteenth century but it shows the chemical reaction of how the mixed ingredients create something new.

Noah Webster House also has rooms added to the historic house when it became a museum. The museum includes two rooms that re-creates what life was like in 18th century West Hartford; the first room is a small room that re-creates the one-room school house that kids attended some of the time, and the second room is a re-created colonial kitchen. In the one-room school house, students can reenact school in the eighteenth century by giving them similar lessons of reading, writing, and arithmetic and explaining the rules of what the schoolmaster/mistress expected in their one-room schoolhouse.

Inside the re-created colonial kitchen, students visiting the museum can learn how to cook inside a colonial kitchen by following the recipes, or receipts as they were called back then. Some of the recipes they created include flatjacks, vegetable stew, and Sunday Night wafers. Students follow each recipe by reading the ingredients and following the directions. Also, they learned about measuring using cups and spoons since measuring cups and spoons did not exist in the eighteenth century; the kids learned how to measure the ingredients without referring to the guidelines found on measuring cups today. Like at the Stanley-Whitman House, the lessons taught in Noah Webster House’s re-created colonial kitchen showed examples of chemical reactions to create food consumed during the eighteenth century and recreated for kids to try the food people in eighteenth century West Hartford (or West Division as it was known then). Today, I teach programs and activities that emphasized on STEM and constructivism at the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson, New York.

Maritime Explorium has a space where children of various ages can interact with hands-on activities educating them on STEM lessons. For instance, there are a couple of stations where kids play and learn about balance. One example of an activity that taught balance was a small boat (strings are attached from the mast, located in the middle of the boat, to the boat) where kids can place different small items onto the boat. The second example of a balance activity is a small table with a large circle, and the object of the activity was to put blocks on the circle to make it balanced; this activity is also supposed to resemble a town since the circle had roads and grass painted on and the blocks represented town buildings. Other activities in Maritime Explorium focus on building, measuring, and sending messages with pullies; while some activities remained the same, there are activities that continually change to provide different experiences for children. These activities were conducted in the Maritime Explorium’s maker space which puts emphasis creating projects that encourages them to find multiple ways to make the same projects. The lessons were taught using constructivism, or constructivist theory.

Constructivism comes from the idea that people learning can construct knowledge for themselves. Maritime Explorium believes that by asking the kids questions about what they are working on, the kids can discover for themselves the importance of science and technology through the projects they worked on and understand there are several ways to get to the results they want to achieve the activities’ objectives. I look forward to learning more and more about different activities, and being able to translate what I have learned to the visitors.

I will continue to learn more about maker space by doing research on the subject. For instance, I began reading The Big Book of Maker Space Projects by Colleen Graves and Aaron Graves. Colleen Graves is a teacher librarian who earned many awards including the School Library Journal/Scholastic School Librarian of the Year Co-Finalist Award in 2014, and is an active speaker and presenter on makerspaces and the maker movement on a national level. Aaron Graves is a school librarian with 18 years of experience in education, and is also an active speaker on makerspaces, libraries, and research skills. This book was written as a handbook that not only gives guidelines for projects introduced in the book but it also encourages the reader to create their own projects. By using different resources and gaining more experience in the maker space, I will be able to continue to develop my skills as a museum educator.

Does your institution teach lessons using STEM? What are your experiences in teaching using STEM? Share your experiences teaching STEM.

Summertime: Keeping Audiences Coming to Museums

Originally posted on Medium, June 15, 2017.

As the summer approaches, museum professionals continue to develop exhibits, kids summer programs, and public programs that encourage visitors to keep coming back to these organizations. I have visited many museums throughout my life, and each one provides various and unique summer programming to keep visitors, new and regular, coming to their institutions. Summer programs must not only provide visitors options for summer entertainment but should also reflect the institutions’ missions in some way. During my experience as a museum education professional, I have figured out there are many ways to help visitors engage with museums I have worked with. As I begin my summer work as an educator at Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson and at Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket, I reflect on what has worked in the past.

My summer experience began with my summer internship at Connecticut’s Old State House, located in downtown Hartford, while I was earning my Master’s degree at Central Connecticut State University. In addition to giving tours to the public and researching answers to questions asked during tours, I create an animal scavenger hunt for young kids, called “Where Am I Hiding? Holcombe Center Animal Hunt”, to do while visiting the Old State House. The animals I used for the scavenger hunt came from Connecticut’s Old State House’ s Holcomb Center, where education programs are usually held for young kids. I walked around the Center and chose nine animals that were painted on the walls. I chose a variety of animals that can be found in different habitats; the animals I chose include a duck, cow, horse, starfish, turtle, and an alligator. To participate in the activity, the kids followed simple instructions so they will be able to find all the animals in the room.

Kids would use the clues provided to figure out what animals they will look for. For instance, one example of a clue I wrote was
“I love to swim and ruffle my feathers. I love to say ‘Quack’ and you can find me and my little ones underneath the bench in the water.”

When they look for the animals, the kids use the clue to figure out what animal it is, and where it is in the Center. Once they found where the animals are in the room, the kids use the reference picture on the sheet to match it with the clue. By doing so, it will show that the kids know what the animals are and keep the kids entertained. While this activity does not completely tie into the mission to reawaken citizen engagement and awareness, it helps young kids interact with their surroundings which would carry into getting more engaged and inspired to learn more as they grow up and learn how their voice matters as citizens of a democratic nation.

Another example of summer programming I worked on was at Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House also located in Hartford. During the summer, the Butler-McCook House has a summer concert series where various artists on certain dates in the summer months perform on the lawn between Connecticut Landmarks’ headquarters and Butler-McCook House; the headquarters was moved into the Amos Bull House which was relocated from Main Street to behind the Butler-McCook House on the McCook family property to save the Bull House from being torn down. The Butler-McCook House also had a few rooms open to concert attendees to learn a little bit of the history of the house and Hartford. Connecticut Landmarks’ mission is

“to inspire interest and encourage learning about the American past by preserving selected historic properties, collections and stories and presenting programs that meaningfully engage the public and our communities.”

The summer concert series are an example of how programs are relevant to the institutions’ missions because the summer concerts encourage many people in the community especially families to come together to not only enjoy the music but become more aware of what Connecticut Landmarks’ can offer to the community as historical resources of local and national history.

Some museums and historic sites also provide summer day camps for kids of various ages to participate in to both learn and have fun. I worked at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society’s summer day camp which had two sessions that kids between the ages of 8 and 12 could sign up for one or a later one; the program taught kids about 18th century life through cooking recipes, performing chores, making crafts based on toys that 18th century children would have made themselves, and creating their own skits based on what they learned for their families at the end of the session. Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society also partnered with Westmoor Park to include farm activities to learn what it is like to do chores on the farm as well as to learn about and pet the animals. At Westmoor Park, the kids also participated in other activities including crafts and nature walks. This summer camp helps kids gain a better understanding of history and culture while participating in fun activities.

The Long Island Museum also had a summer day camp that allows kids to work with artists hired for the summer to teach different art projects. I supervised check in to make sure everything ran smoothly and I was on call to make sure each session had enough supplies and everything else ran smoothly during the day. There are many different sessions scheduled during the summer. For instance, one of the sessions is called Fashion Illustration. Fashion Illustration teaches registered kids how to draw sketches to create different fashion designs. Another art session tied in with the exhibit Long Island in the Sixties by having kids create crafts based on things from the 1960s. These summer day camp sessions allowed kids to have a better understanding and enjoyment of art, especially through Long Island heritage.

In my current roles, I continue to provide educational and entertaining experiences for visitors of various ages. At the Maritime Explorium, I assist kids with hands-on activities related to science and maritime. For instance, I helped kids between kindergarten and second grade find a way to make a penny shine by providing materials such as dish soap, barbeque sauce, baking soda, salt, and sponges for them to figure out the solution, and have them write down methods that did not work. Also, I worked at the Eastern Long Island Mini Maker Faire where kids participated in hands-on games, activities, and crafts while participating in other Maker Faire activities such as interactive activities and listening to live music.

I also began working with Three Village Historical Society on education programs. Collaborating with the Director of Education and the Historian, I will work on school and kids summer programs. I look for inspiration from past programs Three Village Historical Society has taught, my own experiences, and the lessons I learned from professional development programs. Summer programs and the staff who develop them I have learned from my experiences provide opportunities for visitors to return for more programming. It is important to have it well advertised so more people will be able to know about these programs through outlets such as social media, newspaper ads, flyers, mailings, and/or a mixture of any of the previous methods. Also, it is important to develop a way to evaluate the programs to see what works and what needs to be improved on. Summer programs continue to evolve as the communities needs change while fulfilling their institutions’ missions.

Do you have a favorite experience, or experiences, with summer programs? What are your experiences in developing and/or implementing summer programs at your institutions?

How Creativity is Necessary in the Museum

Originally posted on Medium, June 8, 2017.

What is Creativity? Why is it so important to have creativity in our practice as museum professionals? Questions like these two are what we ponder every day to fulfill our museums’ missions and our career goals. Creativity allows us to be able to express ourselves and provides another outlook on the world around us. Museum professionals especially need to express their creative sides to help their organizations continue to grow and adapt to their changing communities. This is not a new topic but we can always learn something new when we express our creative side. I learn a lot when I allow to express my creative side whether it is drawing, writing, or making projects; and I use my experiences inside and outside of museums to inspire me to create something different and sometimes the same subject from a different perspective.

Since I was young, I made various drawings of many things including animals and landscapes. As I developed my interests in museums, I began drawing museums I have been to and museums I have worked with. For instance, I drew the Butler-McCook House in Hartford, the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, Noah Webster House in West Hartford, and Connecticut Historical Society. I drew many of these drawings from my own memory, and one was drawn using a photograph as reference. Also, I used either pens or pencils to make my drawings (depending on which utensil was available at the time). I learned to use my creativity to assist in my museum experience, and I continue to use references from books and professional development programs discussing creativity.

Connecticut Historical Society, pen, drawn 2015

  Noah Webster House, pen, drawn 2015

Stanley-Whitman House, pen, drawn 2014

Butler-McCook House, pencil, drawn 2014

One of the resources I used and continue to use is Linda Norris’ and Rainey Tisdale’s Creativity in Museum Practice to help me get inspired. Norris and Tisdale express the importance of allowing creativity to inspire work in the museum no matter which department they work from. In their book, they state that they believe “the daily life of museum workers behind the scenes both needs and deserves more attention in order for museums to reach their full potential.” Norris and Tisdale shared colleagues’ stories from across the museum field of what creative practices have worked for themselves and their museums. Also, they shared their own tips on how to jumpstart one’s creative practice using no-cost or low-cost activities. Throughout the book, Norris and Tisdale discuss many ways museum professionals can find creativity in their daily tasks, and use whatever inspiration they find in the environment they are surrounded by. The style of this book is written as both a textbook and a workbook to help museum professionals spark their own creativity.

Norris, Linda and Rainey Tisdale, Creativity in Museum Practice, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2014.

One of the professional development programs I participated in was a NYCMER workshop in October called “Exhibition Designs for Educators” at El Museo del Barrio. This program was an example of how educators can learn to express their creativity to design exhibits and programs simultaneously. There was a challenge in which we were not told what the object was, and we were expected to create an exhibit with an unknown artifact (what appeared to be a cement block). The group I worked with received the prompt to create this exhibit as a warm and friendly environment; we brainstormed various ways we could create the exhibit using the prompt. For more information about this activity, check out the post “Writing about Museum Education: Using Professional Development to Our Advantage.” By brainstorming together as a group, we were able to express our collective creative experience that led to the concept we designed.

“Exhibition Designs for Educators” Activity, October 2016

Creativity is especially used in museum education programs to not only entertain its audiences but to educate them on the subject matter of the museums’ expertise including but not limited to art, history, and science.

There are many examples of when I used creativity as a museum education professional. For instance, while I was working in historic house museums in Connecticut, I taught and assisted participants in making crafts and cooking recipes for school and camp programs. One of the crafts I helped kids make were cornhusk dolls during the summer camp program at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society which not only was a fun activity but they also learned about what kinds of dolls kids during the eighteenth century played with and created themselves to find ways to entertain themselves. I have also helped fifth grade students make apple pies and Irish-style mashed potatoes at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington. At Connecticut Landmarks Butler-McCook House, I helped kids create Samurai helmets out of gift wrap and yarn during the New Year’s Eve celebration, First Night Hartford. The Samurai helmet activity was inspired by the Samurai armor that the McCook family have in their old 18/19th century house; Reverend McCook and his daughter Frances traveled to many places on the way to and from China to visit another daughter Eliza, and one of the places they visited was Japan where he purchased the Samurai armor to bring back to Hartford.

One of the most recent examples include creating activities for kids to participate in during down time in school programs and during general tours at the Long Island Maritime Museum. I created activities such as cross word puzzles, word searches, matching games, and a scavenger hunt. To create these activities, I used information about the Long Island Maritime Museum and the maritime history it shares with its visitors. For instance, I created a crossword puzzle about one of the historic buildings on the museum’s property called the Rudolph Oyster House based on the information about the Oyster House and oyster business; the Rudolph Oyster House was built in 1908 by William Rudolph for his oyster company established in 1895, and it was used as an oyster culling and shucking house until 1947 and was acquired by the Long Island Maritime Museum in 1974.

Another example of activities I created was a breeches buoy search to teach participants the parts of the breeches buoy, an early contraption that pulled victims from shipwrecks, by writing down the names of the parts next to the corresponding letter (I included a word bank so they see the appropriate names). The next example of activities I created is a Name These Boats activity that challenges participants to use their memories of the boats stored in the museum’s Small Craft Building. I included a word bank to limit the possibilities, and participants would write down the name of the boat next to the photograph of a boat.

I also had the opportunity to observe a children’s program that the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson participated in. Children created sound-sandwiches for them to take home and play music on by blowing into them like harmonicas. The sound-sandwiches were made with tongue depressors, two pieces of straw, and rubber bands. To make them, one of the two tongue depressors needs a large rubber band wrapped around it from one tip to another; then the two tongue depressors and two small pieces of straw are tied together with smaller rubber bands at the ends. Sound-sandwiches can be adjusted until a humming or vibrating sound is heard. This was not only a fun activity for children to participate in but they also learned how to create sound by using the materials they were given.

Last weekend I created another exhibit for my childhood church to share the community’s summertime fun since the season would be around the corner soon and I wanted this exhibit to focus more on the parishioners as well as their interactions with the community around them. I included photographs from the Summer Festival the church participated in in 1975, and photographs from a Church picnic that took place by the beach in the 1960s. I also included bulletins that included announcements of activities planned for the summer, ways to get involved in the community, and current events to remind parishioners to be good Christians and learn more about the issues discussed as a result of events. I designed little suns to decorate the exhibit with to represent summer. This exhibit is an example of how creativity is especially useful during the exhibit design process.

Summertime Fun with Trinity exhibit, opened June 4, 2017

Tomorrow I am also participating in another professional development program about creativity, Creativity Incubator. It is a New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA)/ Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN) Partnership Program which encourages museum staff to test out experimental interpretive approaches through hands-on activities. I will travel to the Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay, New York where it is being hosted. Creativity will continue to be a significant part of our work as museum professionals, and we need to find ways to inspire creativity in our work and inspire creativity with our visitors.

What ways have you found to inspire creativity work for you? Do you have a favorite moment where you accomplished a creative project, museum-related or not? Have you been inspired by something outside of the museum field that helped you complete a project?

 

Reflections on the NYCMER 2017 Conference

Originally posted on Medium, May 25, 2017.

On Monday, I went to New York City to participate in the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable Conference located this year at the School of Visual Arts. This is my second NYCMER conference I have attended since coming to New York, and both times I enjoyed the learning experience each one offered. Last year I attended with a team and this year I attended on my own. This year’s theme was “Inclusivity: From Within and Beyond” which discusses inclusion and diversity in the museum education field in New York. As with each conference I have previously attended, it was very hard to pick which sessions to attend and I wish I would be able to multiple myself to attend each session offered. The total amount of sessions presented at NYCMER was about 27 sessions, and that does not include the poster session and peer group meet & greet over treats sessions. In this post, I will go into some depth of my experience the second time around providing the highlights of the day, and my experience participating in networking events.

In the morning, I traveled to the train station to take the train into New York City for the conference. Once I arrived at the School of Visual Arts, I checked in, received the schedule, wrote out my name tag, and attended the Keynote Session. The Keynote Session is a session that announces NYCMER business and introduces the conference’s theme. Also, the Keynote also included a discussion about this year’s conference theme with speakers Amy Bartow-Melia (the MacMillan Associate Director for Audience Engagement at the National Museum of American History), Laura Huerta Migus (the Executive Director at the Association of Children’s Museums), and moderator Esther Jeong (Global Tech Diversity Business Partner at Google). The discussion and speeches talked about building a diverse museum workforce where the realities of museology were discussed and the case study of the American History Museum on how the museum developed exhibits and programs that defined what it means to be an American. After the Keynote Session, I attended the first session in one of the School of Visual Arts buildings.

Rainy Train Ride into the City

My name tag from the NYCMER conference

The session I attended was called “Designing Professional Development Experiences which Increase Inclusive, Visitor-centered Teaching”. I enjoyed this session especially because it started with a brainstorming game for how we learn as learners; those include but not limited to retention, visual guides, experiential learning, auditory reflection, and team building. The presenters from the Guggenheim Museum presented examples of ways to create opportunities for educators to learn from their audience or community, and presenters from the Children’s Museum of the Arts based their professional developments on grant goals and the museum’s goals to identify internal best practices with consultants, design sustainable peer to peer learning structure, change practices and institutional approaches, identify tools that benefit all children and empower all staff. After that conference, I met with peers to go have lunch and we traveled the area to find out where to have lunch; we also stopped to admire puppies as we looked at places to eat.

Puppies I saw while looking for a place to eat for lunch

Once we had lunch, I went to the Poster Session which is where professionals give informal presentations on aspects in the museum education field. For instance, one of the posters I saw was for the Guerilla Haiku Movement which presents the argument that poetry can be used to engage new audiences. There is also an activity which challenges participants to create a haiku with 17 syllables about what we learned at the conference so far and our perspectives on museums. I had created one that had one less syllable which states: “Museums provide a learning environment for all learners.” All learners are, by definition, inclusive and it is important that every person who visits museums can learn what they have to offer.

Guerilla Haiku Movement Poster, Poster Session

Haiku I created during Poster Session

The third session I attended after seeing the posters and networking with colleagues was Resource Workshop: Designing Accessible Materials. This workshop was divided into a few sections where each presenter shared their experiences and handed out resources for participants’ references. Then the fourth and last session I attended was The Challenges of Confronting Difficult Content. In this session, the presenters from the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum discussed the school programs they developed and explained how their lessons approached difficult content. This session was interesting since these programs provided a way for students from third grade to seniors to express their thoughts on the events through art and discussion. The takeaways from the session are to address the common question: How to translate difficult content in ways that allow all visitors to correct with sensitive subject matter? And the second takeaway was as a differentiated and inclusive practice, strategy transcends content by incorporating storytelling and historical contents and current resonances/present day connections. Once the session ended, I attended the concluding reception at the Revel Restaurant.

The Revel Restaurant provided a place for NYCMER participants to network and unwind after a long day of attending sessions. The closing reception was a cocktail hour and hors d’oeuvres event where I could meet more museum professionals. I enjoyed meeting everyone who I made valuable connections with both during the sessions and the concluding reception. The conference experience I have had in the past has always made me feel inspired and fulfilled in gaining knowledge and making meaningful connections, and this conference is no exception. I have enjoyed the NYCMER conference, both last year’s and this year’s, and I look forward to the next one.

What are your favorite parts of a conference or conferences you have attended? Is there a session that made you reflect on your own experiences as a museum professional (or professional of your chosen field)?

Reaction to Article: Museums transition from institutions of elite to places that “promote humanity”

Originally posted on Medium, May 18, 2017.

Especially in honor of International Museums Day, I wrote this blog post about museums progress towards inclusion and diversity. I came across an article posted on the St. Louis Public Radio website called “How are museums changing from institutions of the elite to places that ‘promote humanity?’” written by Kelly Moffitt, who is an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio’s talk shows St. Louis on the Air. Moffitt discusses about the radio show host Don Marsh’s interview with Sarah Sims, the Director of K-12 Education Programs at the Missouri History Museum, and Nicole Ivy, the Director of Inclusion for the American Alliance of Museums on the topic about promoting humanity and last week’s Annual Conference and Meeting in St. Louis.

In the beginning of the article, Moffitt stated a memory Sims had about visitors in museums. Sims stated that she remembers a trip she took her students to a local museum; one of the students came up to her during the visit and said to her how special the trip was, and when Sims asked why the student said, “this is a mansion and this is the only time I get to come here.” Sims mentioned how much this broke her heart since the museum they went to and many museums are free, and that museums should be places for everyone.

This story also broke my heart since it is not right that there are people who do not feel they are able to go to museums. Museums should be accessible to people who want to learn and make people feel welcome to attend. Museum professionals are working on making their organizations more accessible and inclusive, as evidenced especially in my previous blog posts on this subject.

The interview continued when Ivy described a brief history of how museums were viewed and run. According to the article, Ivy stated the history of the American museum is linked to elitism; museums started with the cabinet of curiosity and a real focus on exclusion. Her reference to the cabinet of curiosity reminded me of my own experience with a version of a cabinet of curiosity. While I was at Connecticut’s Old State House completing my internship, I was fortunate enough to see its own version of a cabinet of curiosities.

Inside one of the rooms of Connecticut’s Old State House, there was a small museum called Steward’s Museum of Curiosities. The Connecticut General Assembly allowed Reverend Joseph Steward to occupy space in the Old State House in 1796 to use it as a portrait studio. A year after opening the portrait studio, Reverend Steward established a curiosity room on the third floor featuring all sorts of wonders and treasures, including animals such as a two-headed calf, from around the world. The Museum of Curiosities was reproduced and moved to the second floor where other items are also displayed including Steward’s portraits. The purpose of this museum was to educate individuals of nature and animals they were not normally exposed to.

When I took both school groups and visitors through this Museum of Curiosities, there was a mixed reaction to the items in the room. As I described the history behind this museum, some individuals were impressed with the items in the room. Some were not impressed with the animals but were interested in the portraits Steward painted. This experience taught me that many people will have different reactions to curiosities. Also, the experience showed how individuals’ educational experiences have changed since the cabinet of curiosities were set up.

Museums have over time changed to become more responsive and more inclusive. This fact has been reiterated by Ivy during the interview and other museum professionals have worked to have their organizations create programs and exhibits more responsive and more inclusive. Ivy pointed out that a key to increasing diversity and inclusion would mean opening the doors of the museum to people who are really hurting; I agree that it is a key to increasing diversity and inclusion because everyone should be able to have a space to express their thoughts and museums can create relationships with the community to be able to serve society better.

To read the original article, see the post here: http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/how-are-museums-changing-institutions-elite-places-promote-humanity#stream/0

What do you think of this article? Do you think we are making good progress so far in diversity and inclusion?

Visitor-Centered Museums: How We Can Appeal to Our Audiences

Originally posted on Medium, May 11, 2017. 

This week I finished reading this book Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum by Peter Samis and Mimi Michaelson. Peter Samis is the Associate Curator of Interpretation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Mimi Michaelson is an education and museum consultant who received her doctorate in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University. It is one of the books I had on my list of books I wanted to read on museum education, and the rest of the books I have on the list can be found here: https://medium.com/@steward.lindsey/books-i-want-to-read-on-museum-education-in-2017-14ed52facb11.

My book review of Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum will touch on the layout of the book while pointing out the main takeaways from the book. In addition to reviewing Samis and Michaelson’s book, I will also discuss my own experiences in creating visitor-centered museums. By describing Samis and Michaelson’s examples of visitor-centered museums and my experiences in creating programs that make museums I worked for more visitor-centered, I reiterate the importance of keeping museum offerings relevant to returning and new visitors.

Samis, Peter and Mimi Michaelson, Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum, New York and London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

Samis and Michaelson’s Creating the Visitor-Centered Museum is an interesting book that while it does not present a new concept it describes different examples of how museums can create programs and exhibits that are focused on the visitor. The important take away from this book, as museum professionals learn in recent years, is there is not just one way to create a visitor-centered museum. To introduce the concept of the visitor-centered museum, the book was divided into three parts: the introduction, or setting the stage; the case studies; and the conclusion to introduce varieties of visitor-centeredness and change.

One of the most important points Samis and Michaelson introduced in the beginning of the book is if museums do not make changes the museums are not going to survive. Also, both authors pointed out that many transitions in museums have to do with museums reaching out to the community to both visitors and potential visitors in new and authentic ways. Samis and Michaelson described in detail why it is important to consider the visitors. They also described that to be able to consider the visitors change takes leadership, and that change begins with a recognition that something is not working. Then the authors described the contours of change; one of the ways they discussed contours of change was pointing out that prioritizing visitors as essential to the museum’s mission may also lead to empowering the voices of those who have traditionally had most direct contact with them.

The authors provide ten different case studies of museums that had approached creating visitor-centered museums through various programs and exhibits. Each case study presented museums that opened their doors to a wider range of visitors and how this decision to change their approach in reaching their audiences presented internal struggles to reorganize their institutions. A few of the museums working towards being more visitor-centered presented in the book include the Denver Art Museum, Ruhr Museum, Minnesota History Center, Oakland Museum of California, and the Van Abbe Museum. To describe each of the museums’ case studies, the authors used a continuum of approaches that begin and end with institutions not strictly speaking collection based; in between these museums, there are museums of various art and multidisciplinary institutions that are intent on finding ways of making their collections relevant to the public and the final museums on the continuum apply contemporary theory and performance to connect with visitors.

Samis and Michaelson’s goal for the book is to share what we have witnessed and join or provoke ongoing conversation related to how (or even why) museum professionals should prioritize visitors in our institutions. Inside the book, there are pictures and charts printed in color to aid in achieving the book’s goal in describing how museums can be more visitor-centered. Also, each chapter was broken down to key takeaways that summarized what the reader learned to make sure museum professionals can understand what they might be able to do with their own institutions.

Each institution is different from one another, and what we can take away from this book is we can find ways to adapt our programs and events that will bring more visitors in by considering the visitors. The museums I have worked for are, of course, different from one another and present their own experiences with creating visitor-centered museum experiences. For example, when I was completing my required internship hours, while working towards my Master’s degree, at Connecticut’s Old State House I participated in distributing and collecting surveys for a lunch program called Conversations at Noon in which people who work in Hartford can attend monthly discussions on various topics related to Hartford history. Participants also can see inside the Old State House while they are sitting in one of the original rooms former state representatives used especially during the eighteenth century.

Another example is while I was at Connecticut Landmarks Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House there were programs created that encouraged visitors to not only participate in program but to also see the historic house museums’ collections.

At the Butler-McCook House, one of the programs it held was the Cultural Cocktail Hour, a monthly program which encouraged adult visitors to see and possibly purchase local artists’ works, listen to live music, and socialize. During the program, the first couple of rooms are opened to participants and they can view the rooms and learn a little bit about the family that lived in the Main Street Hartford house. At the Isham-Terry House, there are a few programs hosted at the house including a Hartford Holiday house tour which is one of the Hartford homes to participate in a mostly self-guided tour of the house while participating in holiday festivities. Currently Connecticut Landmarks is moving forward with improving their tours and programs to make it even more visitor-centered based on the interpretive framework and make sure visitors can make connections to their own interests and understand the people who lived in the houses.

As museum professionals, we make sure our work can help identify who our visitors are and how we can continue to be relevant to visitors and understand the overall needs of our society to bring in new visitors.

Do you think museums are becoming more visitor-centered? How have museums changed over the years? What are your organizations doing to make them more visitor-centered?

Response to Blog: “Museums are places to forget”

Originally posted on Medium, May 4, 2017. 

I chose to do something a little different this week for my blog post. While I have done something similar in the past by responding to what museum professionals discuss in professional development programs. This time I decided to write about what other people discuss about in the museum field in their own blogs. I came across the blog post “Museums are places to forget” written by Steven Lubar. Lubar is a professor of American Studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and a museum consultant. Before that, Lubar was the Curator at the National Museum of American History, Director at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, and Director at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage. He has written a book called Inside the Lost Museum: Curating, Past and Present which will be released in August.

When I came across this blog and finished reading this blog, I thought it was an interesting piece since it reminds me of lessons I have learned while in both college and graduate school. At least one of my previous classes had a deep discussion about what it means to be a professional historian, and one of the topics discussed was about history and memory. The relationship between history and memory is an ongoing discussion that takes place outside of the classroom especially during my experiences as a museum professional. This blog post Lubar wrote is a discussion about how museums are examples of how history and memory are dealt with within our community.

One of the things that caught my attention as I read the blog was this subtitle for the blog. Lubar stated that “sometimes, museums are places of forgetting, not remembering” which I find interesting since in general people believe that they are supposed to attend museums to be reminded of our past and learn about a part of the past that help them understand a community’s culture. While this is true that people come to museums to be reminded of the past, museums can represent what we have forgotten and chose to forget. Museums can also sometimes choose to forget the past and/or unintentionally forget the past.

Museums have the purpose to tell a narrative that supports the institution’s mission, and sometimes when museum professionals decide on a narrative not every item in its collections can be displayed to explain their narrative. For instance, when I worked at the Butler-McCook House & Garden in Hartford, the historic house is set up to tell the story of the third and fourth generations of the family who lived in the house during the 19th century even though the history of the house and family can be traced back to the 18th century.

The staff created an exhibit in the History Center that gives an overall history of Hartford and of the family during the 18th and 19th century; the exhibit included not only narratives but also objects and photographs from the house’s collections. While I was there, the staff and myself worked on projects based on the interpretive framework that will help start including more information from the Butler-McCook House’s history; to this day, the Butler-McCook House continues to create interpretive programs that covers more history that can be shared with visitors of all ages and backgrounds interested in learning more about this family.

The example of the Butler-McCook House showed how a historic house museum while still maintaining its display in the house as a 19th century house it also works on incorporating other significant parts of the house’s history. There are more objects that are found in both the collections storage room and on the third floor of the house not open to the public which are not seen by the public.

This brings up a point Lubar brought up in his blog that there are times that not everything in a museum, especially at the Butler-McCook House, can be viewed by the public for various reasons. Some items in museums’ collections are those that are in poor condition, and even have stopped serving purposes for the museum and are forgotten with the passage of time.

Of course, there are more than a couple of reasons museums forget. Lubar pointed out that sometimes “society decides that it’s not longer ethical for museums to hold certain kinds of artifacts.” And this can be true especially for museums that have Native American artifacts in its collections. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990) was created to require museums receiving federal funding to return Native American human remains and other artifacts to appropriate tribes. Between museums and the government, they work together to find out what is no longer ethical to hold onto for educational purposes and it is important for all museums to acknowledge ethical issues and find ways to make sure artifacts are given respect. It is also important for museums to serve and work with society to remain relevant, and to stay relevant museums need to pay attention to how society views its own practices in ethics.

Another statement that stood out to me was this statement about religion and religious artifacts. Lubar stated in the blog “When something’s put in a museum, it loses part of its meaning. Religious artifacts become art.” That can be true for museums that include religious artifacts in the collections. As Parish Historian at my childhood church, I have seen a unique situation where the meaning behind the artifacts in Trinity Church that have both its own original identity and an identity as a historic collection item. When I last talked about my experience as a Parish Historian, I talked about the exhibit I designed to celebrate the Easter season using items that were viewed as items used in church services in addition to photographs.

At the same time, Trinity Church also has items in the collections that are not stored with the rest of the items but are still used in church ceremonies (such as the chalice and prayer books); these items are listed in a book of donated items to the church which is one of the items in the collections. In my experience, the collections are constantly crossing the line between being part of a collection that is, until recent years, has been forgotten about by the Trinity community and being part of Trinity’s practices today. The Trinity community continues to rediscover its collections from the past as future projects are getting underway.

Museums today continue to practice its practice of helping the public remember and forgetting its history, and will always constantly cross the line between remembering and forgetting to meet expectations of society and its surrounding communities.

The link to the original blog post can be found here: https://medium.com/@lubar/museums-are-places-to-forget-ba76a92c5701
Do you agree that museums are places to forget? What are some examples you have seen and experienced with remembering to forget and forgetting to remember?