Looking Back, Moving Forward: How to Create an Exhibit on Limited Resources

Originally posted on Medium, April 13, 2017. 

This week I am going to discuss something a little different than I usually do on this blog. I discuss on this blog many experiences I have had in the museum field and yet I have not discussed another aspect of my museum experiences. For more information about my previous experiences related to exhibit design and planning an exhibit, see this blog post: https://medium.com/@steward.lindsey/how-to-use-food-to-create-relevance-in-museums-810c7ad7c713 . To read about my other experiences in the museum field, look at my other previous blog posts here: https://medium.com/@steward.lindsey . While I have talked about one of the exhibits I created in the past, I have not discussed my work with my childhood church. For the past couple of years, I have volunteered at Trinity Church in Wrentham as Parish Historian.

As Parish Historian, I oversee maintaining the collections and updating the collections list of Trinity’s Historical Collections. I became the Parish Historian not only because my educational background made me qualified to handle the position and project but I have always been interested in learning more about Trinity Church’s history since I attended services as a child. My family went to Trinity for many years while I was growing up. Whenever I saw old pictures of the church and the rectors, I asked many questions about how old the church is and who the individuals in the photograph were. Many years later I developed a deeper appreciation for Trinity Church’s history, and have continued to learn more about Trinity Church’s history through the collections. I was asked this year to develop an exhibit displaying the church’s collections.

Since Easter was coming up I decided to create an exhibit that showed Easter traditions at Trinity. The first step was to go through the Trinity Historical Collections to find items related to the Easter season including objects, books, and photographs. I wrote down a list of items in the collections related to the exhibit theme. From that list, I narrowed it down to about ten items since the space available is limited. Some of the items I chose were Lent and Easter cards, 19th and 20th century Books of Common Prayer, a hymnal from 1940, and I also included photographs from Palm Saturday Children’s Event. I decided on these items because over Trinity’s 150 history there have been many Easter services, and by including recent photographs they show that current parishioners are a part of Trinity’s long history and they are significant in Trinity’s future. To bring these items in the collections together, an exhibit narrative and labels need to be typed and edited.

Some of the items selected for the exhibit.

Also, I typed the exhibit narrative and exhibit labels to honor the Easter exhibit theme. In the exhibit, I described the importance of this exhibit:

Since celebrating our 150th anniversary, our parishioners continue to carry on the tradition of worship. As we remember and celebrate Jesus’s resurrection, Trinity looks back at our long history of celebrating his return. This exhibit shares items from Trinity’s archives that reflect on where our Easter traditions came from. By looking at these items, everyone will understand the story of Trinity’s celebration of Easter. We learn about how Trinity Church continues the Parish Community traditions during holy week and Easter.

After I wrote and edited the exhibit narrative, I wrote the exhibit labels for each of the items on display. To write the exhibit labels, I examined each item to figure out how old the item is, what is made of, what is in the photographs, and how it is related to the Easter theme. I used the information I gathered through observations and information provided with the collections to create the exhibit labels to share information with the visitor and parishioner. Here is an example of one of the labels I wrote for the exhibit:

Easter Card, 1954
Easter card was given to parishioners during Reverend T. Frederick Marshall’s ministry in 1954. Reverend Marshall served as rector at Trinity Church between 1947 and 1956. Inside the card is the schedule for Easter Day services with the Holy Communion at seven and eight in the morning, Choral Eucharist with Sermon at 10:45 a.m., Public Baptism at three in the afternoon, and a Children’s Service at four in the afternoon. This card also has an Easter Greeting from Reverend Marshall stating, “Wishing you a Happy and Blessed Easter”. The card also has a quote from the Prayer Book,
“And note, that every Parishioner shall communicate at the least three times in the year, of which Easter to be one.”
Printed by Mowbrays in England. Found among the Trinity Historical Records in 2015. [slightly altered after pasting it in Medium post and here on this webpage]

Once I edited and printed out the labels and narrative, I discussed with the current rector where the display will be placed to make sure parishioners will be able to see it. I knew before the discussion that the most likely room the exhibit can be seen is in the Parish Hall, which is a room where parishioners gather after services to socialize and drink coffee. I shared my thoughts on where the exhibit should be displayed; I pointed out two places that may work. The first option is close to the seating area and right across from the entrance into the church; it is the best option because the exhibit will be the first thing parishioners will see when leaving after the service for coffee hour. The second option was next to the entrance to the Parish Hall from the parking lot; while it may seem to be a good option since it offers similar exposure, the exhibit would be displayed underneath a bulletin board with various announcements potentially distracting, and it is too exposed to where parishioners get their coffee and treats. We agreed that the first option is the best place for the exhibit. The rector also offered to let me borrow one of her table cloths to drape over the table for the display and to add color to the exhibit.

When creating the exhibit I used limited resources available from the church. For instance, I used an extra Elmer glue cardboard board that I borrowed from the church’s choir room and scrap paper to make crosses, eggs, and birds that were used as decorations; also, I borrowed push pins to attach the labels, decorations, and artifacts in plastic slip covers. To create the crosses, eggs, and birds, I took green, pink, and blue pieces of paper then I traced them into the various shapes and cut them out to pin them on the board. I also pinned a couple of the pieces from the collections on the board by placing them in plastic sleeves and pinning the sleeves onto the board. Also, I displayed the exhibit labels by figuring out how the viewer will most likely be able to read it and to make it visually appealing.

Picture of exhibit board designed using limited resources.

Once I have completed this board, I laid out the rest of the items and exhibit labels with similar standards I used for the Elmer glue cardboard board on visibility and visual appeal. So far, I have had positive reactions to this exhibit and more individuals will be able to see this exhibit before and after services this Easter weekend and afterwards to allow more opportunities for people to see the exhibit. I will post an update the more I learn about people’s reactions to this exhibit.

The exhibit as a whole. Trinity Traditions: Easter Celebrations Throughout the Century.

How have you designed an exhibit on limited resources and limited budget? What challenges did you face when creating your exhibits?

 

Book Review: Museum Administration 2.0 by Hugh H. Genoways, Lynne M. Ireland, and Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko

Originally posted on Medium, April 6, 2017.

After a while, I have completed Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland’s Museum Administration 2.0 with revisions made by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko. It took me a while to read this book because I wanted to make sure I comprehended each detail the authors provided. I wanted to read this book not only develop my skills as a museum professional but to learn more about how museum administration works. As a museum educator, in the past, I had limited experience in the administration aspect of the museum. I taught school and public programs and the experiences I gained did not include a lot of administration skills. The administration skills I gained before I went to the Long Island Museum was some time answering phone calls and preparing flyers and mailings.

While I was at the Long Island Museum, I gained more administration skills that helped me develop my skills as a museum professional. In addition to teaching school programs and implementing public programs, I learned how to book school and group programs including tours and In the Moment program (for Alzheimer’s/dementia patients); after answering phone calls and taking down information such as the name of school/organization and the number of individuals attending, I recorded the information on the facilities sheet, placed the program and organization (as well as the time) on the Master Calendar via Google Docs, and provide the program/school/organization/time information on the daily sheet to write down official numbers as well as observe the number of programs for that day.

Also, I was also in charge of scheduling volunteers who taught larger school programs that require various stations and geared towards larger school groups. Based on how many of these school programs were scheduled for that month, I used the sheet of the volunteers’ availability to schedule the number of volunteers needed to run the program(s) for the number of days scheduled. Once finalized I printed copies and sent them to all volunteers while keeping one to put on the board for them to refer to while at the museum.

In addition to the programming related administration work, I also worked on various projects in the Education department. For instance, I oversaw printing program flyers, after the everyone in the department approved of the details, and sending the flyers to the head of the Suffolk County and Nassau County libraries for them to distribute to all libraries in the counties to post on bulletin boards; I also made sure there was many copies printed to be sent to and distributed at the museum’s visitor center. Then I went over budgets with the Director of Education for purchasing food and drinks for the public programs; we collaborated on the paperwork once the items were purchased. Also, I made sure the mailing for school program brochures and bus trip flyers mailings went smoothly; I printed address labels, placed address labels on envelopes, placed brochures/flyers in the envelopes, borrowed mailing boxes from postal offices to place envelopes in, and send them to the post office to be mailed. Since the Long Island Museum, I answered and redirected phone calls at the front desk, assisted in gift shop inventory, and tallied volunteers’ sailing Priscilla records during last year’s sailing season at the Long Island Maritime Museum.

I decided to write a review of this book because not only will this book be useful for all museum professionals but it has also been a while since I wrote a book review. By reading this book, I gain a deeper understanding of the museum running process on all levels and I hope everyone who reads this blog entry will also have a better understanding of how museums are run.

Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017. ISBN: 978–1442255517

This book is a second edition to the Museum Administration book published in the early 2000s and revisions were made in this second edition to provide updates on changes in the field since the first edition was published. The authors pointed out that this book is not just for museum directors and department heads but this book is for all members of the museum staff who have administrative duties. The book also provided not only case studies and case reviews but it also shared activities that can be used to practice the skills introduced in that chapter. There are also diagrams to illustrate the concepts explained in the chapters. Also, the authors pointed out the main point of this book which is this book should be used as a quick reference, inspiration during challenging times, and a jumping off point to dig deeper into more complex topics. Each chapter is dedicated to different aspects of how museums are run from what a museum and administration is to interpretation, exhibits, and programming.

The first chapter not only defines what a museum is and what an administration is but it also discusses types of museums, museum associations, the museum profession, and academic programs related to the field. In this chapter, the academic programs discussed in the book are museum studies, public history, and archival education. The chapter also lists several museum associations that exist in the United States including the primary professional museum association American Alliance of Museums, American Association for State and Local History, Association for Living History, Farm, and Agricultural Museums, Association of Children’s Museums, International Museum Theatre Alliance, and Museum Education Roundtable. The first chapter also pointed out that ultimately when learning about administration in museums experience is the great teacher. Also, it is important to know that no matter what position one holds in the museum each staff member will be expected to perform some administrative duties and each day presents sets of opportunities to make something happen.

The second and third chapters discussed start up and strategic planning. According to the second chapter on start up, creating a new museum or improving an existing one is a complex process requiring a clear sense of purpose and compliance with state and federal regulations. A couple of things the chapter points out are a museum should form only when a community can specify the need for it and plan a solid business model for its sustainability; and all museums need a well-defined mission statement, written bylaws, articles of incorporation, and IRS tax-exempt status. Another important part of museum operations is strategic planning; a strategic plan is a map or chart an organization agrees to follow for three to five years to reach its goals, and the plans are strategic when the goals that respond to a museum’s environment, seek a competitive edge, effectively serve stakeholders, and identify the keys to long-term sustainability.

There are ten steps in the developing process of a strategic plan for a museum. The steps are initiate and agree on process, identify organizational mandates, identify and understand stakeholders and develop mission, external and internal assessments, identify strategic issues, review and adopt strategic issues, formulate strategies (action or work plans) to manage strategic issues, establish a vision for the future of the museum, evaluation and reassessment, and finalizing the plan. The fourth and fifth chapters discuss topics on finance and sustainability.

I appreciate that the finance chapter went into such detail since finance is important for the staff to have a handle on how money is spent as this helps them make effective decisions with significant financial impact. The chapter discusses how to develop a budget, manage a budget, and accounting. Budget management requires both a day to day approach and a long view so by learning all the steps of developing and maintaining the budget a museum will be able to function and fulfill its mission. On the chapter of sustainability, it discusses how a museum’s financial stability and future rely on effective fundraising and revenue-generating practices that provide for present operational needs and generate income for future capital and operational needs.

There are various parts of financing that help sustain museums to keep them running. For instance, development is about building relationships with people that would lead to the end result (money) for museums. Other parts of sustainability include making a (development) plan, raising funds, accumulate contributed income (i.e. memberships, annual giving, sponsorships, fundraising events, and campaigns), planned giving, government support, and grants. Museums are also sustained through earned income which includes admission fees, museum store, dining facilities, planetariums and theaters, educational programming, special exhibits, traveling exhibits, and blockbuster exhibits and other partnerships.

The sixth and seventh chapters discuss topics on the working museum and ethics and professional conduct. According to the working museum chapter, staff are the museum’s most valuable asset. I agree with this statement because each museum staff member has a role in keeping a museum running, and a museum like any organization is like a car (each part of a car helps keep the car running and performing its functions as well as fulfilling its purposes). The working museum describes how the staff, board members, and volunteers understand how their organization is laid out in chart form that would be especially helpful for new people joining the organization. It also discusses the museum employees which reveals general expectations of the employee based on their job descriptions, and the significance of leadership in museums with detailed descriptions of leadership types. This chapter also went into detail about how the museum board, director, and staff should interact with one another.

In the ethics and professional conduct chapter, it points out that there is a universal agreement that standards articulate a way to guide the thoughts and actions of museum professionals and provide some basis for judging the performance of institutions and individuals. The chapter discusses museum ethics by defining ethics and how important it is to develop a code of ethics for museums. Also, the chapter describes ethics statements and a good statement according to the authors will articulate the traditional values or morals and communal standards of the museum profession. Then the chapter discusses the codes of professional museum conduct through governance, collections, institutional codes of professional museum conduct, and enforcement.

The eighth and ninth chapters talk about legal issues and facilities management. I appreciate that in the beginning of the legal issues chapter the authors stated that nothing in the chapter should be considered legal advice because it reinforces the idea that this book should be used as a reference. The authors also recommended a couple of books to use as museum law references to start with and then seek legal counsel when necessary: Museum Law: A Guide for Officers, Director and Counsel by Marilyn E. Phelan (2014), and the 2012 update of A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections by Marie C. Malaro and Ildiko P. DeAngelis. This chapter provides brief detailed descriptions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), Unrelated Business Taxable Income (UBIT), legal liability, artists’ rights, copyright, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. To have a good facilities management plan, museum staff must consider the needs of the people who work within the organization, the preservation and exhibition of objects in the museum’s collection, and the people who visit the museum.

The facilities management chapter describes in detail museum facilities and the significance of maintaining the museum property. Museum facilities includes the physical structure and the utility services. This chapter also discusses facility operations which includes housekeeping, emergency preparedness, health and safety, fire prevention, safety data sheet, hazardous materials, biological waste materials, integrated pest management, and security. Visitor services is also part of facilities management since providing a range of services will make the museum a welcoming environment for visitors to feel comfortable in and a guaranteed return visit. The services provided are pre-visit information, parking, accessibility, orientation, museum stores, rest rooms, food service, and educational services. In the tenth and eleventh chapters, the authors provided details on marketing and public relations as well as collections stewardship.

Both marketing and public relations are married concepts since both concepts deal with communications and reaching to the public. Marketing is a process that helps people exchange something of value for something they need or want. This chapter discusses several aspects of marketing including motivations for marketing, history of marketing activities, the marketing plan, tactical marketing, and e-communications. Public relations, meanwhile, is built upon marketing and is charged with trying to develop a successful image for the organization. The chapter also discuss how public relations are incorporated in museum’s overall strategic plan; it also describes the PR tools museums use in museums’ public relations practices which are events, community relations, media relations, media releases, public service announcements, interviews and speeches, print materials, and buzz. This chapter also discusses the significance of museums and the community working together to maintain museums’ relevance within the community. The authors dedicated an entire chapter on collections stewardship.

In this chapter, the authors describe what a collections management policy is and addresses nine issues that the collections management policies must cover. The nine issues mentioned are collection mission and scope, acquisition and accessioning, cataloging, inventories, and records, loans, collection access, insurance, deaccession and disposal, care of the collection, and personal collecting. Each of these nine issues are fully described throughout the chapter. The twelfth chapter discussed interpretation, exhibition, and programming.

According to the book, interpretation is everything we do that helps visitors make sense of our collections include: exhibitions, education programs, and evaluation. The core of interpretation is communication and it is up to museum professionals to translate these communication pathways to a variety of audiences. In this chapter, it discusses exhibits as well as interpretive planning, exhibit policy, exhibit planning and development. The chapter also went into detail about programming as well as the policy and guidelines for the museums’ educational functions. All museums also need to provide evidence from outcome based evaluations that they are fulfilling the social contract of providing educational experiences for its visitors.

One of the things that we all should take away from this book is the longer one works in the field, the more one will know and the more one will give back to the field. The advice that I took away from this book is to keep your head up, your eyes forward, and your brain learning. This is important to me as a museum professional because I understood that we are always learning from our experiences and we continue to develop our skills as museum educators to better serve our institutions and our communities. While I read this book, I used a pencil to write down notes in the books to highlight the main points of the book for whenever I want to look back at the lessons this book presented. It is an important book I will continue to use throughout my career as a museum professional.

What are your experiences in museum administration? How have you applied your administrative skills in your daily role as a museum professional?

Gender Equity in Museums: An Important Issue that Should Be Addressed

Originally posted on Medium, March 30, 2017.

During the past month, I have discussed what I have learned about equity and inclusion in the museum field. Equity and Inclusion are both issues that must be discussed in each industry of the United States not just in museums. The experiences I have has this month during professional development programs showed me more evidence of how we all need to find out what to do to have a more diverse museum community. During my experiences as a museum educator, I have met so many incredible people of various backgrounds in the field and I am thankful for the opportunity to work with and connect with them. Museums create opportunities for people to learn and identify with the human issues their exhibits and programs present. Last week I started a discussion on gender represented in the museum; I specifically talked about women in the historical narrative of museums and how each museum has their own narratives of how the women were represented in their communities. Women are not only represented as historical figures in museum exhibits but there are women including myself who are museum professionals. This week I attended one of the New England Museum Association’s webinars Lunch with NEMA.

The Lunch with NEMA program is called The Gender Equity in Museums Movement which is named for the GEMM movement founded by Anne Ackerson and Joan Baldwin. This program was led by Ackerson and Baldwin as well as GEMM committee members Scarlett Hoey (NEMA YEP PAG co-chair and Program Manager at ArtsWorcester) and Matthew Dickey (Director of Development at Gore Place). Each of the presenters addressed six myths about gender equity and debunked these myths.

The first myth, for instance, was feminism is all about women being in power; feminism is really all about equity and equality or equal opportunity for all. The second myth was the contributions of women in museums are recognized. Not many people realize that there were so many early generations of women pioneers in museums such as Florence Higginbotham who was the founder of the Museum of African American History in Boston and the first Director of Gore place was a woman named Mrs. Patterson.

The third myth is the salary disparity between male and female museum workers is a thing of the past; unfortunately, women make 10,000 less than their male counterparts annually. The fourth myth was there are so many in museum field that gender equity can happen on its own; while it is true that there are a lot of women in the field but there is still enough evidence that gender equity needs to be addressed by staff. The fifth myth is that it’s not about gender anymore. The sixth myth is that change only happens from the top down; the presenters argued that employees at all levels can inspire change and persist with other managers, and it is important to know that your voice matters.

Then the presenters shared statistics to show why the numbers matter when discussing equity. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that in 2016 there are 364,000 workers in the museum field and of that number, forty-one percent were women. Also, for every dollar a man makes, women now make 79.6 cents; women art museum directors earned 75 cents in 2016 in institutions with budgets greater than $15 million and earnings almost equal in institutions less than $15 million.

According to the presenters and the survey webinar participants took, more museums are responding to equity across the board and the presenters discuss how museums are working towards equity. To work towards equity, museums should incorporate equity in the organization’s culture. A museum should have self-awareness of the issues as well as institutional commitment at the CEO and board levels. Even though implementing equity can be challenging, it is important to have equity as part of the institutional values of museums. Another way museums can work towards equity is to raise visibility of women in museums.

They also pointed out that staff can lead toward change but the board must recognize and practice equity by putting it in the policies. The presenters provided resources on policies and practices; there are equity and diversity policies resources provided by the American Historical Association and the American Library Association. In addition, there is also an AAM LGBTQ guide museums could use on equity. It is stressed that museums should have an HR policy and staff should know what their HR policy is for their museum. Another resource they provide is ASTC Diversity tool kit: (http://www.astc.org/resource/equity/ASTC_DiversityEquityToolkit_Leadership.pdf )

Not only did they discuss resources but they also stress that the gender equity agenda should be enforced early. For instance, professional associations need to form programs that educate individuals about equity. Also, museum studies programs should also incorporate lessons in equity and educate students about salary negotiations before they enter the workforce. The lessons need to share what the Gender Equity Museums Movement is which raises awareness in gender equity and explains what they want to accomplish. To learn more about the organization, you can find information here: http://www.genderequitymuseums.com.

The most important lesson I learned, and what we all should take away from this program, is that gender equity is not a woman’s issue it is a human issue. We need to recognize that equity is for all of us, and we need to find out how we can bring more awareness to equity.

What is your organization doing to enforce equity in your workspace? There have been a lot of programs lately that discuss equity in museums, what do you think inspired these programs to discussed now?

Women Represented in Historical Narrative and Museums

Originally posted on Medium, March 23, 2017.

In honor of women’s history month, I thought I would discuss women’s roles in history and how women are represented in museums. I specifically will talk about the women in the historical narrative of the museums I worked for. Also, I will discuss a lesson plan that I wrote for my capstone project, Women of the Eighteenth Century at Stanley-Whitman House, as a requirement for my Master’s degree in Public History at Central Connecticut State University. The lesson plan I wrote focused on the women who lived in the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, and women’s role in 18th century America.

In addition to my experience writing this lesson plan, I also worked at Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House where strong independent women once lived in and heavily involved in the Hartford community. For instance, there was Frances McCook who was a substitute organist at her father’s (Reverend John James McCook) church at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in East Hartford and was an active member of the Antiquarian Landmarks Society (now called Connecticut Landmarks) who saved a historic building from being torn down by suggesting it is moved onto her family property. Women’s roles in history as we are reminded this month are significant in our society.

Women have an impact on our society in large and small ways. My experience on teaching Hartford history and the women’s role in preserving that history is an example of this. Stanley-Whitman House is a living history center and museum that teaches through the collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington. My lesson plan was written based on this mission and on my experience teaching programs there. The purpose of this lesson plan was to aid school-age children in becoming more aware of the study of Early American women’s history and its significance to the overall local and American eighteenth-century history. According to my capstone project, it is based on the requirements of a Teaching with Historic Places lesson plan which focuses on eighteenth century New England women and it takes a specific look at the lives of two women who lived in the Farmington, Connecticut, Mary Steele Smith and Susannah Cole Whitman.

Mary Steele Smith was born in 1709 to Ebenezer Steele and Sarah Hart. She inherited the house from her father who purchased it from Deacon John Stanley, whose father (John Stanley) built the house between 1709 and 1720 using wood and stone, and used post and beam construction for the frame. At the time of her father’s death, he did not have male heirs who would have inherited his property so therefore Mary inherited the property. In 1725 18-year-old Mary and her 25-year-old husband Thomas Smith moved in, becoming its first occupants. Smith was a professional weaver who also farmed along the banks of the Farmington River. Mary and Thomas Smith lived in the house for ten years before selling the property and moving to another house in Farmington.

The second family that lived in the Stanley-Whitman house was the Whitman family. Reverend Samuel Whitman, a minister of the First Church of Christ, Congregational in Farmington, purchased the property in 1735 for his son Solomon Whitman who was born in 1711. Solomon married Susannah Cole (Cowles), born on October 22, 1721, in 1736. Susannah was the daughter of Caleb Cowles (1682–1725) who was a deacon and Abigail Woodford (1685–1736). Cowles and Woodford were both descendants of the parties that followed Thomas Hooker to Connecticut in the 1630s; James Cowles, Caleb’s great grandfather, came over to New England with his family from Essex County in England and sometime in 1633 his family traveled to where they settled Hartford, and Woodford was the granddaughter of Thomas Woodford who was one of the parties led by Thomas Hooker to Hartford, of which he became one of the founders in 1633. Based on these connections, Susannah would have come into a lot of wealth, land, and prestige.

Both were economically comfortable, two white New England women who were members of the First Congregationalist Church. Also, both Mary Smith and Susannah Whitman were landowners, mothers, daughters, faithful Christians, and servants within their communities, one in the early eighteenth century, and the other before the Revolution. The lesson includes background information about the history of Farmington and about women of different social and economic status to inform students that not every individual who lived during the eighteenth century lived the same way Mary and Susannah lived.

The capstone also includes background information on the history of Farmington taken from research materials found in the Stanley-Whitman House library and collections as well as Central Connecticut State University’s Elihu Burritt Library for more background information about eighteenth century New England. Farmington was settled in 1640 when English settlers arrived in the Tunxis Native Americans territory. For the first 100 years in Farmington, the main occupation was farming. By 1700, the self-reliant community included carpenters, blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, tanners, weavers, and coopers. As the number of industries grew in Farmington in the late 1700s, the town became increasingly prosperous. After the Revolutionary War, the town became a trading center, selling Yankee wares in the South and importing goods from as far away as China. Townspeople began wearing silks and satins, buying luxuries such as pianos and phaetons — light horse-drawn carriages — and spending money on fine new homes. The lesson plan has an impact on the Stanley-Whitman House because it provides them another lesson plan for visiting students who come to the museum.

This project provided a way to teach eighteenth century New England women’s history to students. The capstone project began with a paper called “Eighteenth-Century Women’s Roles in the Stanley-Whitman House: Typical or Extraordinary?” which discusses the question of whether Mary Smith and Susannah Whitman were typical women of their time or were exceptional; based on the available evidence, I discovered that Mary Steele Smith and Susannah Cole Whitman were largely typical women of their respective eras within their socio-economic class. After the paper, the capstone project continued with the lesson plan. The lesson plan was divided into sections: an introduction to the history of Stanley-Whitman House, about the lesson which has a citation and where the curriculum fits into the national and state learning standards, objectives for students, and materials for students. Another section in the lesson plan was teaching activities which includes a map activity, a few reading comprehension activities that include narratives of Farmington and women’s history especially the women who lived in Stanley-Whitman House, and object-based activities inside the house that help students compare the women in the house as well as the 18th century. The experience of writing this lesson plan provided an opportunity for me to learn more about women’s roles in the local community.

I continued to learn more about women in the local community by learning more about three women who were dedicated to preserving their family history and Hartford’s history. Connecticut Landmarks, originally known as the Antiquarian Landmarks society, obtained two historic houses from members of the organization in Hartford.

The first property was the Butler-McCook House located on Main Street across the street from Capitol Street; it was originally owned by four generations of the same family from the 1780s until 1971, and the last living member who owned it was Frances McCook (1877–1971). In 1907 and 1908, she traveled around the world with her father stopping in places like Spain, Italy, Egypt, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong and then visited her sister Eliza in China; Eliza McCook was a teacher who moved to China to become a missionary. As a member of the Antiquarian Society, she offered to save Amos Bull House by having it moved onto her property.

The eighteenth-century building was originally a dry goods store and a residence and then it was used as a hardware store, an auto dealership, insurance offices and a restaurant; Amos Bull (1744–1825) was born in Enfield and grew up there and in Farmington. He completed his home in late 1789 and advertised that he was open for business in December 1789; his store sold linens, hardware and household items. In 1968, the building was threatened with urban renewal-related demolition but with the efforts of the community and Frances’ generosity the endangered building was moved to the rear of the Butler-McCook House.

Toward the end of her life, Frances decided to make the McCook house into a museum and spent years organizing family letters and diaries as well as taking care of the house. She wanted people to enjoy the house for its architectural significance as well as her family’s role in the Hartford community and the history of Hartford. What I have learned from these experiences and throughout my life is that women have contributed so much to our society, and they inspire me to be continue to achieve my goals as a person, historian, and museum educator.

Find out more about these women and places they lived in here:
http://www.ctlandmarks.org
http://www.stanleywhitman.org

What have you learned about women in history? If you had to choose a favorite female historical figure, who would it be? Do you have any women in your life you look up to for inspiration?

 

 

 

 

 

EdComversations and Journal of Museum Education: Race, Dialogue, and Inclusion

Originally posted on Medium, March 16, 2017.

I recently read Museum Education Roundtable’s publication Journal of Museum Education, and the topic is Race, Dialogue, and Inclusion. Today I participated in this week’s EdComversation on this edition of the Journal of Museum Education. The moderator was Sheri Levinsky-Raskin who is the Assistant Vice President, Education & Evaluation at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The panelists were Lanae Spruce who is the Manager of Social Media & Digital Engagement at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; Anna Forgerson Hindley who is the Supervisory Early Childhood Education Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; and Amanda Thompson Rundahl who is the Director of Learning and Engagement at the Saint Louis Art Museum and the vice president at the Museum Education Roundtable. I will discuss what I have read in the Journal and then I will discuss additional findings conversed in this month’s EdComversation.

Last week I started to talk about this month’s Journal and how each edition lays out each article and case study written for that month. I decided to continue the discussion about this month’s Journal this week since I am participating in this program that is a main about this month’s Journal.

In this edition, the editorial by Cynthia Robinson, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Museum Education, discussed how the new National African American Museum of History and Culture is a powerful and timely symbol of hope. Also, Robinson discussed how the large draw of visitors to the new museum testifies the need for such a museum. She pointed out also that talking about race, race relations, and racism has always been difficult for many people, and the education department’s ability to open and sustain conversations across races is a critically important contribution to our society. She introduces the articles by acknowledging the hard work that went into writing the articles, and by explaining how these authors experiences provide information for other museums to adapt the ideas and approaches in their own programming.

For instance, Anna Forgerson Hindley (Early Childhood Education Coordinator, National Museum of African American History and Culture) and Julie Olsen Edwards’(co-author of Anti-bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, NAEYC, 2010) article “Early Childhood Racial Identity-The Potential Powerful Role for Museum Programming” examined how the National African American museum of History and Culture approach conversations on race with young children and their families as well as teachers through a couple of programs. One was an Early Childhood Education Initiative program with young children and their families, and another was a series of Let’s Talk! Dialogue on Race workshops for teachers; both programs were developed based on research on the current understanding of the development of race identity and race between birth and age eight. The education specialists use the museum’s collection and content as concrete starting point to discuss abstract concepts (i.e. race and identity), and create staff development programs that also include focus on young children and the approaches to supporting self-care to enable long-term effectiveness in addressing the emotions charged and combative issues of race and racism.

Today’s American Alliance of Museums webinar, Race, Dialogue, and Inclusion, included discussions about two articles in the Journal. The two articles, given to participants before the program began, were “Race Isn’t Just a ‘Black Thing’-The Role that Museum Professionals Can Play in Inclusive Planning and Programming” and “Social Media for Social Justice”. “Race Isn’t Just a ‘Black Thing’” was written by guest editors Esther J. Washington (Director of Education, National Museum of African American History and Culture) and Anna Forgerson Hindley (Early Childhood Education Coordinator, National Museum of African American History and Culture and one of today’s panelists).

Washington and Hindley explained in their article that while the museum was planned for ten years the staff had sensed that this rich historical and cultural content, the educational programming developed around this content, and the museum structure itself, with its prominent placement on the National Mall, would quell a desire for a long-awaited inclusiveness. They gave details about what the ten-year process of creating the museum was like, and brief information about each article in this month’s Journal. Also, Washington and Hindley expressed their hopes the examples we provide inspire brave conversations across all museums and cultural institutions. They pointed out that the issues of race will be with us for a time to come and these are subtle and nuanced and often difficult to broach; but with some effort, museums can, do and should play an important role in inclusion and by doing so, the field will be made better.

“Social Media for Social Justice” was written by Lanae Spruce (Digital Engagement Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; another one of today’s panelists) and Kaitlyn Leaf (Digital Learning Specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture). Spruce and Leaf explained that the museum is tasked with stimulating a national dialogue on race and helping to foster a spirit of reconciliation and healing, and it directly impacts social media practice and how we engage with digital audiences since it helps them reach new audiences, highlight relevant museum collections, create participatory experiences, and confront issues of race and social justice. Also, they discuss a way that describes this museum’s use of collections, programming, and storytelling to uplift marginalized voices in the digital sphere.

In addition to discussing the articles, the panelists answered various questions posted by Sheri Levinsky-Raskin and participants in the program. For instance, the panelists shared their responses to how should museums be catalysts of social change. Hindley discussed that it is disturbing that part of the American culture is to forget what had happened in our past. She also pointed out that African American history is American history. I agree with this statement because we are a country filled of people with various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. We should celebrate this fact, and we should be able to include all aspects of our nation’s history.

Another question that was brought to the panelists attention was how do we define inclusion and social justice. Spruce defined inclusion as making people a part of the institution and making sure people are comfortable in the space created. Hindley also stressed the importance of creating a collaborative space for visitors and staff to feel safe in and express different viewpoints and be respected. These points are significant in our museum field because without that comfort we cannot effectively participate in our communities. The more we look at our museums’ historic narratives and missions the more we will be able to find ways to connect with our visitors and create opportunities that will be inclusive for all visitors.

To answer the question on the definition of social justice, the panelists pointed out that museums need to make sure there is equity as well as come up with ideas to train staff and engage with all visitors. One important tip that Hindley shared was to take time on yourself and recognize pieces of your life that brought you to this point in life. I think that is a significant point because we need to recognize that we all have bias, and we need to learn more about ourselves before we can be able to learn about everyone else in our communities. Spruce also stated that it is also important to use partnerships with outside organizations as resources.

The tips on how to tell inclusive stories in institutions include be open to criticism as well as listen to what criticisms there are to adapt programming to be more inclusive. Another tip was to change speaking orders in meetings and set up meetings with diverse members. The most important tip I took away from the program was to listen. For instance, museums should participate in Museums Respond to Ferguson, Museum Workers Speak, read and do research, and look at social media feeds from other organizations that discuss inclusion and equity. After reading these articles, participating in programs such as the NYCMER program last week and AAM’s webinar this week, I hope to find ways to create ways to help the museum community be more inclusive in our society.

How is your institution finding ways to reach out to visitors that may have felt excluded? Did you read this month’s Journal of Museum Education? What was your reactions to the articles?

Equity and Inclusion in Museums

Originally posted on Medium, March 10, 2017.

This week’s blog post is both a continuation of the previous blog post “How to use Food to Create Relevance in Museums” and a discussion on equity and inclusion in museums. The topic was inspired by a New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) event Lessons in Equity from Culturally-Specific Institutions: Beyond the “Target Program” that took place this week at the Museum of Chinese in America. This panel began with a gallery exploration of the exhibit “Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America” and snacks and refreshments were provided based on the exhibit.

The panel was moderated by Stephanie LaFroscia who is the Arts Program Specialist at New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Each of the panelists who spoke at the program represent culturally-specific institutions and discuss their experiences and challenges of inclusivity and equity. The panelists were Nancy Yao Maasbach (President of the Museum of Chinese in America), Shanta Lawson (Education Director at the Studio Museum in Harlem), Joy Liu (Education Specialist at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York), and Isra el-Bishar (Curator of Education and Public Programming at the Arab American National Museum). While I was listening to the panelists’ experiences, I also thought about how equity and inclusion is discussed in the general museum field. Last month’s Museum magazine issue was dedicated to the topic of equity and inclusion. Also, I recently received my issue of the Journal of Museum Education which includes articles based on the issue’s title “Race, Dialogue and Inclusion” (Volume 42.1, March 2017). By attending this program, I learned more about how to create an environment that is more inclusive as a museum professional.

The program took place at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) located on Centre Street in New York City. The Museum of Chinese in America is an organization that is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history, heritage, culture and diverse experiences of people of Chinese descent in the United States; the museum also promotes dialogue and understanding among people of all cultural backgrounds. The central part of this museum’s mission is the goal to make Chinese American history accessible to the general public. Also, the museum not only promotes the understanding and appreciation of Chinese American arts, culture, and history but it also informs, educates and engages visitors of Chinese American history in the making.

Museum of Chinese in America

After I walked from the subway to the Museum of Chinese in America, I had the opportunity to try the food related to the museum’s exhibit “Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America” before the program began. The snacks were provided by Nom Wah Tea Parlor which is a vintage dim sum parlor that dates back to 1920. There was a sample of various dim sum featured on their menu as well as sparkling water and lemonade for beverages.

I had the opportunity to try vegetarian dumplings, scallion pancake, chicken siu mai, and fried sesame ball with lotus paste. Vegetarian dumplings have mixed vegetables and mushrooms in homemade tapioca starch wrappers. Scallion pancakes are made with wheat flour batter mixed with scallions and then the batter is pan-fried. Chicken Siu Mai is minced chicken in wonton wrappers. The fried sesame ball with lotus paste is lotus paste (sweet and smooth filled paste made from dried lotus seeds) that is wrapped in rice flour dough and then wrapped in sesame seeds. Each of these were delicious, and it is different from other Chinese dishes I have had during my lifetime so far. By trying dim sum, I was able to see what authentic Chinese food tastes like and I had the opportunity to appreciate the culture even more than I had before this experience.

Once I finished eating dim sum, I explored the exhibit “Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America” which opened on October 6, 2016 and will now close on September 10, 2017 due to its popularity. The exhibit had a large table and chairs around it in the middle of the room which featured plates, utensils, place settings, and ceramic sculptures; this exhibit told stories of thirty-three Chinese and Asian-American chefs. Also, this exhibit weaves together various complex stories through video installations featuring pioneering chefs including Cecilia Chiang, Ken Hom, Anita Lo, Ming Tsai, and Martin Yan; new restaurateurs like Peter Chang, Vivian Ku, and Danny Bowien; and persevering home cooks like Biying Ni, Yvette Lee and Ho-chin Yang.

This video as well as the large table in the center of the room create a tapestry of various stories that tell their experiences with immigration as well as sharing food memories, favorite dishes and cooking inspirations that define the culinary and personal identities of these chefs. The name of this exhibit comes from an expression that not only refers to the balance of flavors that define Chinese cooking but it also refers to the ups and downs of life. As I read each personal story and explored the rest of the museum’s exhibits, I began to understand the Chinese American experience and I was able to see the relevance of how important it is to continue telling stories of and to appreciate various cultures in our nation.

The program began, after spending time in the exhibit, with each representative from culturally-specific institutions describing their institutions’ missions. For instance, Shanta Lawson of the Studio Museum in Harlem stated that the museum, founded in 1968/1969, was created in response to the lack of diversity in the community and fifty years later there is still a long way to go, and was created to support black artists and art education. Nancy Yao Maasbach of the Museum of Chinese in America discussed the Journey Wall which features Chinese immigrant families and talk about how each of the items in their collection (which is about 65,000 items) have value to the museum and the community. Also, Isra el-Bishar of the Arab American National Museum stated that the museum has been around for twelve years and continues to fulfill its mission by finding ways to represent individuals’ narratives from each Arab country. At the conclusion of the program, after answering various questions from the moderator and people in the audience, each panelist discussed how their respective organizations move forward towards inclusion and equity.

Lawson, for instance, stated that the Studio Museum in Harlem staff plan to continue challenging themselves on how to push forward and challenge norms to see what works and what doesn’t work. Joy Liu of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York discussed the opportunity to include other indigenous peoples’ stories (Latin American indigenous groups), integrate indigenous history, and answer the question what does it mean to be indigenous today? Liu also stated that it is important to emphasize that indigenous peoples’ stories continue to this day, and make sure the truth about indigenous people (indigenous people are the majority in North America for example) is told. Also, Maasbach stated that the museum will use technology more to help visitors understand stories in a way people of different cultures can understand what they did not experience (such as the chair to simulate interrogation of twelve-year-old that was separated from family on Angel Island, California). This program made me think more about equity and inclusion, especially how it is discussed by organizations such as the American Alliance of Museums and the Museum Education Roundtable.

The American Alliance of Museums publishes Museum a magazine that publishes articles written by museum professionals and by writers who write about topics that help museum professionals run their museums. As an AAM member, I have the opportunity to subscribe to this magazine. The previous issue, January/February 2017, main topic was “Equity in the Museum Workforce”, and each article was written with this topic in mind. For instance, there is an article written by Elizabeth Merritt (founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums [CFM]) called “Taking the Bias out of Hiring” which discusses identifying and eliminating unconscious bias in the recruitment process. Another article is “We’re Not That Hard to Find: Hiring Diverse Museum Staff” by Joy Bailey-Bryant (who is responsible for the U.S. operations of Lord Cultural Resources) which presents a set of guidelines to implement change in the museum and identify a pipeline of diverse employees.

Museum Education Roundtable’s publication Journal of Museum Education presents articles written by museum education professionals and museum professionals to discuss current trends and practices in museum education. This month’s journal is on the topic of “Race, Dialogue, and Inclusion: A Museum on the National Stage” and it is broken down into a few sections. The Journal starts with an editorial from Cynthia Robinson, editor-in-chief, and then moves on to an article from guest editors and additional articles from various museum professionals; the Journal also includes a section Tools, Frameworks, and Case Studies which provide exercised examples of how the topic can be addressed in the museum, and What the Research Says which is a research study. I will also be participating in AAM’s discussion on Race, Dialogue and Inclusion based on this month’s Journal of Museum Education so I will discuss this one in further detail. I leave you with these questions to ponder on:

What is your museum/organization doing to move forward on equity and inclusion? Have you read any of the above articles and journal I referred to? If so, what do you think?

Museums Advocacy Week: How to Promote Museums Significance in our Nation

Originally posted on Medium, March 2, 2017.

This past week the American Alliance of Museums presented Museums Advocacy Days, which museum professionals go to Washington, D.C. each year since 2009 to speak to legislators about museums significance in our society. Museums Advocacy Day 2017 took place on February 27th and February 28th in Washington, D.C. and throughout the United States. Museum professionals also participate from home by promoting through social media, and by contacting their state representatives to send letters stressing how important museums are to our nation and society to continually give financial support to these organizations.

I have participated in various Museums Advocacy Days promotion over the years, and this year’s Museums Advocacy Days were no exception. For instance, I promote the significance of museums by posting facts and reposting information on Facebook and Twitter. I have also used templates provided by the American Alliance of Museums to write to legislators to help them understand how important museums are to our nation. The American Alliance of Museums announced that this year about 400 museum professionals went to Washington to speak with legislators.

When the museum professionals attend Museums Advocacy Day on location in Washington, D.C., there are various sessions scheduled to discuss the importance of museums. Much of this year’s Museums Advocacy Day took place at the Washington Plaza Hotel. The day before Museums Advocacy Day was when registration and material pick up begin, and a couple of optional programs are offered to give museum professionals advice on how to prepare for meetings with legislators. Then there was a Welcome Reception at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

On the first day of Museums Advocacy Day, there is a networking breakfast before orientation. Then AAM’s President and CEO, Laura Lott, welcomed advocates by addressing why they were there and what is at stake in 2017 for museums. Dr. William (Bro) Adams, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Chairman, gave an overview of NEH while presenting its current priorities and explained how the agency partners with museums. The Director of National Public Engagement at the US Department of Education, Karen Stratman, provided an overview of the department’s priorities and gave details on how its programs can support museums’ work. Then Wendy Clark, Director of Museums, Visual Arts & Indemnity at the National Endowment for the Arts, discussed the NEA and how this organization supports museums. Paula Gangopadhyay, Deputy Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, then explained what IMLS is, its priorities, and the number of ways this organization supports and serves the entire museum field.

Then the first day continued with various sessions that help advocates successfully discuss with Congressmen and legislators about museums significance in our country. Also, they provide information about public policies and how to use them when discussing with legislators. Towards the end of the day, there is a way that advocates can practice with other advocates from their state and region as well as plan for their visits to the Hill.

On the second day of Museums Advocacy Day, it starts with a Congressional Kick-Off as well as a breakfast that will give advocates inspiration as they prepare to meet with legislators. The entire day is filled with meetings on Capitol Hill arranged by the American Alliance of Museums based on what information museum professionals give during registration. At the end of the day, there is a Congressional Reception located in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress to celebrate a long day of advocating for museums. If museum professionals like me did not go down to Washington, D.C., they still get involved by participating on social media and sending letters to local legislators.

All over social media, museum professionals post on social media to promote Museums Advocacy Day. Even museum professionals who were in Washington, D.C. used social media to quote presenters discussing museums and museums advocacy. Each quote is used to reinforce why museums are important in our country and why our government should provide sufficient funding for our museums and cultural organizations. For instance, the United States Department of Education, the American Alliance of Museums, and the American Alliance of Museums Education Committee was tagged with this quote on Twitter: “Nothing is more important than kids getting a broad education including museums”. I agree with that statement because museums provide lessons that will help supplement lessons taught inside the classroom, and help students develop skills that will be useful once they enter the working field.

Another tweet tagged the National Endowment for the Arts with this quote on arts and museums: “The arts are everywhere, they are all around us, belong to everyone & enrich our lives”. There is a quote that really resonated with me when I followed Museums Advocacy Day on Twitter: “We are from A-Z, Art Museums to Zoos & need to tell the truth, advance your mission. Always be advocating for museums!” This quote resonated with me because even when Museums Advocacy Day has come and gone I always stress the importance of museums in my daily practice as a museum professional; I also discuss museums impact on our society with my friends and family to help them understand what I do and how the museum field works. Additional resources are provided for museum professionals promoting Museums Advocacy Day.

The American Alliance of Museum provides resources to assist museum professionals successfully promote Museums Advocacy Day. For instance, on their website they present five ways to advocate today; the five ways are to speak up, engage your board members, visit legislators locally, raise awareness, and join the cause. AAM suggest to museum professionals can speak up by customize and send template letters to Congress on the issues you care about, including supporting NEA and NEH funding, supporting funding for IMLS Office of Museum Services, and demonstrating your museum’s economic impact. Also, AAM started a museum trustee initiative that gives museum professionals an opportunity to download a copy of Stand for Your Mission to inspire discussions with your board about how their role is significant in advocating for your museums and museums overall. The site also provides resources on how to make appointments with local legislators or invite elected officials to visit your museum. Also, the site includes a Publicity Toolkit that makes it easier to write an op-ed, craft a media pitch, write a press release, or be on talk radio to get viewers’ and listeners’ attentions. To join the cause, the AAM launched a campaign to recruit museum supporters and encourage supporters to enlist other people to support the campaign. Additional information is provided on AAM’s website under their Advocacy page.

What I have learned from each Museums Advocacy Day is that we can all participate whether we are in the area or located across the nation. Also, I learned that advocacy does not have to be practiced in one day but it can be continued throughout the year. Every now and then, no matter what happens within our nation, we still need to remind people of how museums are important resources for our society.

How has your organization participated in Museums Advocacy Day? What ways do you advocate for museums? What information from your organizations do you share to show how important your resources are to the public?

How to use Food to Create Relevance in Museums

Originally posted on Medium, February 24, 2017.

Food is an important necessity people need to survive, and by creating an exhibit or program based on the narrative of food history museums create examples of how people can understand relevance in museums. This week there was a webinar the American Association of State and Local History hosted called Interpreting Food at Museums and Historic Sites, which provided introduction to strategies for using food and food history to develop interpretation with depth and significance, and will make relevant connections to contemporary issues and visitor interests. This webinar inspired me to write about my own experiences when I collaborated with my classmates and Connecticut Historical Society on the exhibit Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart. Also, I will discuss how the study of food history is continued to be discussed since I first approached the subject during graduate school.

During my second semester of my first year of graduate school, I took a course on Museum Interpretation in which the major assignment was creating an exhibit at Connecticut Historical Society using food as the theme. My classmates and I were introduced to the project at the beginning of the semester, and my professor assigned books to provide background information on food history; one of the books was Warren Belasco’s Food: The Key Concepts (Bloomsbury Academic, 2008) which served as an introduction to the study of food studies and an essential overview to the increasingly critical field of enquiry. Other books assigned were about food and food preparation in different centuries in America.

In my records, I also found my notes on the justification of creating an exhibit based on food for Connecticut Historical Society. They argue that food is a part of history that individuals can identify with as being universally relevant. According to my notes, food is an essential part of life for everyone needs food to survive, and more than that food can unite families and larger communities; food can also conjure powerful memories for individuals whether it is a yearly holiday meal tradition or cooking in the kitchen with a relative. My justification notes also stated that the exhibit will provoke questions about the differences in food history as it relates to class and gender within Connecticut’s social structure as well as challenging visitors to think about their own personal experiences with food. This is what my teammates and I had in mind when we created the original proposal presented to the committee at Connecticut Historical Society.

To create the proposal, in addition to figuring out a way to present food history in Connecticut, we also picked out objects that represented food history and our idea for the exhibit. We originally came up with an idea that was like the Upstairs/Downstairs concept when creating the Connecticut food narrative. Then we included the idea of telling Connecticut food history throughout time from the 18th century to current period. We then looked through Connecticut Historical Society’s collections that we felt best represented the narrative we believed will be presented in the exhibit. For instance, I oversaw picking out items from the eighteenth century and one of the pieces I chose to include in our proposal was a ceramic bowl that was made and used between 1730 and 1770.

After selecting our items for the proposal, we also had to figure out how to include an interactive segment in our exhibit to allow visitors to engage with the historical narrative. A couple of ideas we had include a tea etiquette practice in which a table and chairs are set up with a container of all the necessary items for the tea setting (photocopies of the directions for a Victorian tea setting would be provided and visitors would then attempt to properly set the table for tea based on the directions). The second idea we came up with was we would provide reproductions of community cookbooks from the Connecticut Historical Society’s collections for the visitors to look through.

When our class had the opportunity to present our proposals, my teammates and I presented our idea to a committee of Connecticut Historical Society staff members to determine which group’s exhibit idea they will move forward with. Each member of my group presented two different sections of our exhibit idea, and I presented the very first section when visitors enter the exhibit space as well as the interactive elements section to the committee. The first section was called “Cooking for a New Nation” which would feature Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery (which was the first cookbook published in America). The book would have been used as a representation of how women cooked in eighteenth century America and the narrative would have described the women’s and servants’ roles in the kitchen during this period; when discussing these roles, the narrative would also discuss the separation between servants and household was emerging in the eighteenth century as well as the transition from colonies to a new nation. Then I described the objects that would be selected for display in this section. After the rest of the sections were presented, I introduced the interactive element for the exhibit we brainstormed for the proposal.

Some time passes, and our professor announced that the committee decided to choose our group’s idea for the exhibit with some suggested changes. The exhibit was changed to focus more on the time line of cookbooks published in the United States and discuss food history in America (especially Connecticut) in each century beginning with Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery and ending with Martha Stewart’s cookbooks. It was named Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart and we proceeded with selecting the objects and collaborating with the University of Hartford art design students to design the exhibit labels and space. My group oversaw the interactive element of the exhibit; the interactive element was changed to providing copies of various recipes that came from the cookbooks displayed in the exhibit, and presented the opportunity for visitors to write their own recipes and place them in a box. We each took a cookbook and selected the recipes we would be interested in using then narrowed down the options to a few of them. Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart eventually opened in January 2013, and it ran from January 18, 2013 to April 13, 2013.

Since then I did not see much of the history of food presented in a museum setting until I came across Michelle Moon’s Interpreting Food in Museums and Historic Sites which was published by the American Association of State and Local History in 2015, and the basis of this past week’s American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) webinar. Moon’s book argued that museums and historic sites have an opportunity to draw new audiences and infuse new meaning into their food presentations, and food deserves a central place in historic interpretation. Her book provides the framework for understanding big ideas in food history, suggesting best practices for linking objects, exhibits and demonstrations with the larger story of change in food production as well as consumption over the past two centuries. She also argues that food tells a story in which visitors can see themselves, and explore their own relationships to food.

I also came across Linda Norris’ blog post “Building a Learning Culture: Food Included” on her blog The Uncatalogued Museum which discussed her experience working with the board and staff at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota on creative practice in context of interpretive planning. The American Swedish Institute decided to include stories of all immigrants not only Swedish immigrant stories. To assist with creative practice including in interpretive planning, there are lessons that each institution needs to learn to connect with each other and with their communities. Norris introduced lessons from this experience including good ideas come from everywhere so it is important to cast a wide net to gain knowledge, and making time to think together is especially important.

Also, it is important be open to collaborate with people in the community to develop new collaborations and deepen other partnerships. If the American Swedish Institute did not learn that lesson, then they would not have learned about a restaurant in their community that shows appreciation for Bollywood dance and shows customers how to perform them. She also talked about the experience influencing the staff to schedule regular fika, or Swedish coffee break, with baked goods to spend some time from a busy day and connect with each other. For more information about her experience, the link to her blog can be found here: http://uncatalogedmuseum.blogspot.com/2017/02/building-learning-culture-food-included.html.

These previous examples show how food presentations in the museum field has evolved in the past few years. By sharing my previous experience on food presentation and the most current experiences on food and culture, I provide some examples of how visitors can make connections to their own memories related to food. I will soon be attending a New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) program called Lessons in Equity from Culturally-Specific Institutions: Beyond the “Target Program” at the Museum of Chinese in America on creating a diverse environment in the museum. The program will also include a closer look at the special exhibition Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America. When I heard about this program the first time, it reminded me of the many family meals I have had during my childhood and in my adulthood trying various Chinese food dishes. I will continue the discussion on food history and how individuals can to share my experiences after I attend this program.
Do you think your museum or institution would be able to include food history in its exhibits or programs? What is your most powerful memory that comes to mind when you think of food? Have you attended a program or exhibit that discusses food history or a subject related to food?

 

Professional Development: Shared Authority and Relevance of Education

Originally posted on Medium, February 16, 2017. 

This week I attended a couple of professional development programs on shared authority through the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) called Peb Yog Hmoob Minnesota: Sharing Authority and Building Relationships with Your Communities and on education called The Relevance of Education through the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). The AASLH program was a case study of the Minnesota History Center and the Hmong community members’ relationship, and how they worked together to create an exhibit in 2013 on the Hmong culture anchored on the 40th anniversary of the first Hmong refugees’ arrival in Minnesota. The Relevance of Education program was a discussion based on the Committee on Education’s Excellence in Practice: Museum Education Principles and Standards that was released in 2002 and revised in 2005, and the program tackled questions including What has changed in the 15 years since its publication? How has the document impacted the field? How do the principles and standards hold up over time? In what way would the document be different if it was written today? These programs are significant to the practice of museum education since both topics discuss how to adapt the field to a changing society.
The concept of shared authority is certainly not a new one in the museum field but is continually discussed to be relevant in our evolving communities. While I was in graduate school earning my Master’s degree in Public History, I did some research in 2012 on shared authority between museum officials and the public by presenting the challenges in interpreting history with articles and case studies found in my research. Shared authority is a partnership between museum professionals and outside parties to work on projects for the public. I discussed in my presentation the positive impacts and the challenges shared authority has on museum staff.

 

 
Positive impacts shared authority presents includes encouraging experts to engage with the world around them; encouraging museums to stretch out beyond their communication channels and include others to interact more with the projects; visitors can engage deeply with the exhibits and museum experts are still able to share expertise in the collaborations. Partnerships also bring as many challenges into developing projects as they bring positive impacts. For instance, it is hard to please each visitor, and therefore it is important to have as balanced input from both museum professionals and visitors or outside parties as possible to have a successful program or exhibit. As we continue to work with others within our communities, our involvement in the community is increasingly becoming more significant as it is demonstrated in AASLH’s shared authority professional development program.

 

 
The presenters in the Peb Yog Hmoob Minnesota: Sharing Authority and Building Relationships with Your Communities program were Dan Spock (the Director of the History Center Museum and Exhibitions & Diversity Initiatives at the Minnesota Historical Society), Wameng Moua (the publisher of “Hmong Today,” a community newspaper and the voice behind HMONG-FM, a radio variety show focused on the Hmong), Sieng Lee (exhibit designer for the Peb Yog Hmoob/We Are Hmong Minnesota exhibit/visual artist), and Nicholas J. Hoffman (Managing Director of Education and Visitor Experience at the Missouri History Museum in Saint Louis, Missouri). The program discussed how the idea for the exhibit began and went through the entire process of creating this exhibit. It also revealed how museums can overcome the lack of diversity and diverse viewpoints within historical interpretation.

 

 
Before the exhibit was added to the Minnesota History Center, there was a lack of diversity that was in the exhibits as well as a lack of items that reflected what the community was really like in St. Paul. One day a committee from their local Hmong community, led by Wameng Moua and Sieng Lee, approached the History Center with a huge binder of photographs and materials of Hmong history. The committee asked this museum for full collaboration on this project, since they were concerned about having their impact on the state lessened in the eyes of MNHS’ visitors, by sharing curatorial control with Hmong community representatives from a list put together of a good mix of people that would form an advisory committee to discuss ideas. A few examples of what the advisory committee discussed include figuring out what do the people want to see (and it was decided they will tell the whole story of the culture), put together what the narrative would be, and the layout of the exhibit throughout the galleries.

 

 
The challenges that they faced while creating this exhibit was figuring out what objects to include and exclude in the exhibit, and where these objects would be placed in the exhibit. These challenges are always going to be present in every institutions’ exhibit planning, and it especially includes project collaborations with individuals outside the institution; the best way to approach these challenges is to stick with the narrative chosen for the exhibit then base decisions on that narrative. The presenters stated something similar in their discussion amongst other things they took away from this experience.

 

 
Some of the advice they present include the whole staff must be on board with doing things a little differently than what they normally do, and maintain authenticity for projects especially when presenting someone else’s culture within an exhibit. Also, they say to hit the streets and be open to learning all aspects of the community. It is also important to keep up with the evolving history of the community; exhibits like this one must be reflective of what the community is today. If an institution ignores the community surrounding it and does not acknowledge the evolution of a community, then the institution will not be supported by the community. The exhibit should also be created to attract each member of the community; for instance, an interactive element of a farmer’s market was added for children to learn about the food in the culture in English and Hmong by scanning the food to visually see the names associated with them. Each of the presenters also discussed what happened after the exhibit opened to the public, and how the History Center was affected by the exhibit.

 

 
During the exhibit opening, the staff noticed that there was a positive reaction to the exhibit. The exhibit also lasted longer than they were expecting; it ended up running for six months after the exhibit opening. After the opening, the staff conducted visitor research to find out how this exhibit affected the museum. According to the visitor research, the number of Asian visitors had quadrupled and a lot of them were under thirty years of age which means these individuals wanted to learn more about their history and their community. The exhibit also inspired to continue to develop new relationships with more people in the community. For instance, the exhibit led to the creation of Asian Pacific Heritage Day which celebrated various Asian cultures represented in the St. Paul community and currently they are working with Native American communities. Shared authority is a part of maintaining relevance in education, and the American Alliance of Museums’ The Relevance of Education program continues the discussion of learning to continue adapting the museum education practice.

 

 
The Relevance of Education program was hosted by Greg Stevens and moderated by Timothy Rhue II (Senior Informal Education Specialist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD and Communications Chair in EdCom). The panelists for this discussion were Jim Hakala (Senior Educator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History in Boulder, CO), Sage Morgan-Hubbard (Ford. W. Bell Fellow for Museums and P-12 education at AAM), and Mary Ellen Munley (Principal at MEM & Associates in Bennington, VT). After providing links to the original 1990 Statement on Professional Standards for Museum Education and the 2002 (revised in 2005) Excellence in Practice: Museum Education Principles and Standards for our reference, the discussion began with this question: How do these principles apply today? It was agreed that the principles in museum education need to be updated on a regular basis instead of addressing the need 15 years later.

 

 
Another point that was mentioned in the discussion was our institutions are constantly evaluating our communities and because of this we cannot stay static. Also, our institutions make efforts to make connections within our communities as well as include community members in collaborated projects to create a shared space for multicultural groups to get together in. The discussion also pointed out that our roles as museum professionals transitioned from about education being about what we want the public to know to serving the public by having the responsibility to earn the recognition of how important our institutions are.

 

 
Then we also need to acknowledge how we now define museum educators in the museum community. The term “museum educator” has a different definition at each institution. Based on my experience, I have noticed that museum educators can describe individuals who specifically teach school programs as well as museum staff in general that are dedicated to their institution’s mission in education. As a museum professional, I have had different titles at each museum I work for. For instance, at Stanley-Whitman House my title was “Museum Teacher”; at Connecticut Landmarks, when I started there it was simply “Tour Guide” but as I and my previous co-workers became more involved with interpretation and creating our own ways of presenting the material the title changed to “Museum Interpreter”; at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, my title was “Museum Teacher”; and at the Long Island Museum my title was “Museum Educator” and yet my role included not only teaching school programs but also I was responsible for administrative tasks including mailing flyers and booking school programs as well as assisting running family and public programs. Since we include outside parties collaborate with museum staff, we allow their contributions to define their relationships as being co-curators, co-authors, and co-educators within our museum community. As a result, we need to keep in mind that the terminology for museum educators will change based on what the institutions and communities value in our society.

 

 
Another question that was addressed in the discussion was: How do the principles and standards hold up over time? The panelists discussed that the principles had a theoretical base work but it does not provide an example of applied best practices. Also, they stated that the basic principles were there all along but the interpretation changes over time. I agree with that statement because the principles do address ways to engage audience members of various backgrounds that would theoretically work in the museum setting, and yet our institutions learn to adapt and change with our society and because of these changes we view these education principles differently. Since our policies continue to change we need to be able to understand that we will not be able to get our programs right the very first time and that we need to be able to leave room for adjusting our programs based on audience members’ reactions and interactions with the programs. The next question on our minds would then be: What are the next steps?
Do we need to write another document to reflect what is going on now in museum education practice? The panelists concluded that the principles do need to be readdressed to reflect the changes that have been made since it was written in 2002 and revised in 2005.

 

 
Then we need to also address how the museum education field as its own community will support each member as we allow it to evolve with the changing society. Mary Ellen Munley had stated that she noticed there is what she calls an “isolation in practice” or in other words we do not have the time to catch our breath let alone get together to figure out what we need to do collectively as our own community. I see where she is coming from since as museum professionals we continue to create and implement programs, maintain and protect our collections, and run our administrations there is little time to stop and figure out our communities in practice.

 

 
However, I also see that there are moments where we can stop and develop our skills as professionals as well as connect with our community. For instance, there are opportunities for museum educators to develop their skills with state museum educator roundtables (like Connecticut Museum Educators Roundtable and New York City Museum Educators Roundtable), and the national group Museum Education Roundtable that offer resources and programs to allow them to be involved in the practice. Also, there are other ways that museum professionals can connect with the community and develop our skills including writing blogs about our experiences and joining various organizations that will help both parties grow and develop. The challenge is to finding the right balance so we would be able to both run our institutions and continue to grow with our community.

 

 
What is your opinion on how museum education is changing? Have you read Excellence in Practice? What are your answers to the questions I posted from the program? Do you have an example of shared authority that has occurred involving your institutions? What worked and what did not work?

Book Review: The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon

Originally posted on Medium, February 10, 2017

This week I am writing a review of Nina Simon’s The Art of Relevance which I completed reading. Simon’s book provides examples, case studies, and practical advice on how museums or organizations can be relevant to many people and how museums’ work can be more vital to the community. I enjoyed this book because it breaks down the various case studies to show many ways any type of organization can show their communities how they can be relevant and why they remain relevant. I also enjoyed her comparison of relevance to being a key to a locked room where meaning lives.

 

It is a true comparison since keys can open many doors that can lead to opportunities on the other side especially programs that introduce new meaningful connections with people in the community. Also, I found Simon’s book interesting because her layout of the book is not broken up into chapters, like many books I have read in the past, but rather broken into five parts with five or twelve examples, case studies, and advices for the reader. Each of these examples, case studies, and advices are related to the specific parts in the book. She told a story in the introduction which inspired the this book, and I agree with her when she stated that relevance can unlock new ways to develop deep connections with people.

 

The Art of Relevance is also an important book in the museum education field since our museums can practice this art of relevance through the educational programs offered including public programming, school programs, and summer programs. After reading the book, I felt that I could adapt these advices to my own practices as a museum educator.

Nina Simon, The Art of Relevance, Nina Simon CC Attribution-NonCommercial, Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. 2016
The first section answers the question: What is Relevance? Simon had five different examples of relevance in the field. One of the parts called “A Walk on the Beach”, she discussed the 130-year anniversary party for the first surfers in the Americas her museum the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History planned; three teenage Hawaiian princes put on the first surfing demonstration ever documented on the mainland of North America in Santa Cruz. What she learned from the experience was “…relevance is just a start. It is a key. You’ve got to get people in the door. But what matters most is the glorious experience they’re moving towards, on the other side” (31). Another part in the first section was called “Meaning, Effort, Bacon” which talked about Deidre Wilson and Dan Sperber, the leading theorists in the study of relevance, who argued that the there are two that make information relevant: 1. How likely that new information is to stimulate a positive cognitive effect to yield new conclusions that matter to you; 2. How much effort is required to obtain and absorb that new information (the lower the effort, the higher the relevance). The section also discussed a study she saw in 2015 from the World Health Organization showing that processed meats (such as bacon, ham, and sausages) are among the top five most cancerous products alongside established killers like cigarettes and asbestos; the study is an example of the two criteria for relevance since it creates a new connection to things people care about and it adds information to our knowledge of these topics.
The second section is called Outside In, in which Simon pointed out there are two kinds of people, the outsiders and insiders. She stated that insiders are in the room who know about it, love it, and protect it while outsiders don’t know about those doors exist so they are not interested, unsure, and unwelcome. Therefore, if we want new people to come inside our organizations we need to open doors that speak to outsiders and welcome them in. The third section is called Relevance and Community which expressed the importance of being relevant to one’s community. According to Simon, communities are made of people with shared dreams, interests, and backgrounds, and the more we understand them the more easily we can unlock relevant experiences with them.

 

The fourth section is called Relevance and Mission which discusses how adapting your organizations’ missions to make it relevant to new people. She viewed organizations as structures stating that every institution has a mission that forms the structure of the room; it is important to not obscure it with tidbits but instead strip back the paint, recommit to its frame, then use it to open new doors to new people. The fifth section is called the Heart of Relevance which explains how it is important to maintain that relevance in your institution. Simon stated that the more someone uses the key the more it becomes a part of them; and therefore, the room changes them and they change the room. In other words, we need to inspire newly introduced visitors in our institutions to keep returning to the institutions. After reading this book I remembered my own experiences with relevance in programs.
When I started at the Butler-McCook House, I gave tours based on the script I received and I used my script to help me remember details of each item in the room and the history of each room and family members. As I continued working in the house museum, I noticed that not many people expressed interest in the narrative I told. This traditional way of providing tours did not help me make connections with most of the visitors. However, as the executive director recognized the need to change the way we run the museum and when I became a part of the team that did research on the house to improve visitor experiences, a shift was made towards creating a better connection with visitors. Visitors are beginning to understand not only the McCook family history and the contents of the house but they also learned about the family’s role in making a difference in Hartford’s community. While I used the script as background information, I had a more inquiry-based approach to ask visitors about how they grew up in their childhood homes to connect people with what growing up in the 19th century house was like for the family who lived there. By incorporating relevance in the tour, more visitors can connect with the history of the house and recognize its significance in Hartford’s history.

 

If you have read The Art of Relevance, what example in the book did you enjoy? How does your museum or institution use relevance to maintain its significance in the community?