Virtual Museum Impressions: Peabody Essex Museum

October 29, 2020

Since it has been a while, I decided to plan another virtual trip to a museum. In a previous visit to Salem, Massachusetts, I was not able to visit the Peabody Essex Museum and decided to write about my virtual experience. According to their website, the Peabody Essex Museum is a museum of international art and culture that is dedicated to connecting art to the world. Also, the staff and board strive to create experiences that transform people’s lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes, and knowledge of themselves and the world through exhibitions, programs, publications, media, and other related activities.

During my visit to the Peabody Essex Museum, I took virtual tours of their exhibits that were available on their website. Each tour has a 360-degree experience within their spaces powered by Matterport Lightshed Photography Studio; to move around in the space, I clicked on the rings and used the mouse to zoom in/out, and to look all around. The exhibits I explored were Jacob Lawrence: the American Struggle, Asian Export, Fashion & Design, Maritime, Where the Questions Live, Art & Nature Center, and Powerful Figures.

Jacob Lawrence was a leading modern American painter and the most prominent black American artist of the time. In the exhibit Jacob Lawrence: the American Struggle, his pieces were his responses to the fraught national political climate and according to the exhibit panel he wanted to visualize a more complete American history through word and image. The exhibit is a series of 30 paintings that interpret pivotal moments in from the American Revolution and the early decades of the republic between 1770 and 1817; his goal was to revive the struggles of the founding fathers and underrepresented historical figures in his art for his day and for future generations.

A couple of the paintings include ones that interpret the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s Ride. Each painting included a quote from historical figures or primary sources on the side panels next to them. For instance, his interpretation of the Boston Tea Party had a quote from a song of 1773 which stated:

Rally Mohawks!

            Bring out your axes,

            and tell King George

            we’ll pay no taxes

            on his foreign tea…

While exploring the exhibit, I thought that the interpretations were interesting and visually striking especially since I was used to seeing paintings like the Signing of The Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull as an example of historical interpretation in art. I believe Lawrence achieved his goal with his painting series and I enjoyed the virtual experience.

The Peabody Essex Museum not only provides virtual tours but there are also at-home programs inspired by the museum. For instance, there is a program called PEM Pals that is located on PEM’s YouTube channel. PEM Pals is a weekly program dedicated to art, stories and learning for children under the age of 5 and their caretakers; each new episode are streamed at 10:30am Eastern Standard Time on Wednesdays. There is also Drop-In Art Activities that provides video tutorials to create various projects including but not limited to: milk jug elephants, egg carton ladybugs, cotton swab tree painting, plastic bottle chandelier, map making, and bubble bottle. Another example of at-home programs is Explore Outside in which participants are encouraged to go outdoors to investigate the world with nature-based activity sheets for bird watching, neighborhood tree trek, and scavenger hunts.

One of the exhibits that are available in person with a sample of objects from the exhibit available online was The Salem Witch Trials 1692. It is on view from September 26, 2020 to April 4, 2021. The exhibit explored the hysteria that involved more than 400 people and led to the deaths of 25 innocent people (men, women, and children) between June 1692 and March 1693. There are many unfounded theories about the Salem Witch Trials about how the hysteria started, and interest in the Trials still persist to this day. If you are able to see it in person, I recommend visiting this exhibit.

I hope to visit the Peabody Essex Museum in person one day. To learn more about the Museum, check out the links below.

Happy Halloween!!

Links:

Peabody Essex Museum

The Salem Witch Trials 1692

Learning from 1692 by Dinah Cardin

Virtual Tours

Reaction: Museums Are Being Tasked With Radically Transforming the Way They Work.

September 3, 2020

I saw this op-ed on Artnet news via Twitter written by post-graduate Interpretive Fellow at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Aaron Ambroso, titled “Museums Are Being Tasked With Radically Transforming the Way They Work. Here Are 6 Practical Steps They Can Take to Do That”. This is an interesting piece because it is important that museums should transform the way they work, and it is important to hear multiple perspectives on what is going on in the museum field. What also drew my attention to this piece was the responses to this op-ed. A number of tweets argued that the misconception that “all museums are art museums” was present within the piece. It is a misconception that is spread both within and outside of the museum field in webinars, newspaper articles, et. cetera. The problem with implying that “all museums are art museums” is not every advice, suggestion, or guideline fits with all museums, and by talking about museums in general while only highlighting the art experience it alienates other history, science, natural history, children, and many more types of museums that are working on transforming the work they do. I decided to take a closer look to see for myself what Ambroso had to say about museums transforming the way they work and where the misconception came from.

Since the op-ed was released on Artnet news, which is an extension of Artnet (the leading online resource for the international art market, and the destination to buy, sell, and research art online), it seems that the intended audience for this piece is art museums. The title of the piece and the arguments made within the piece, however, suggests that it addresses all museums. As I read the piece, I noticed that Ambroso discussed museums while heavily using examples of art museums. For instance, he stated that

Museums around the country have done pathbreaking and important work addressing issues of political neutrality, and many have made explicit discussions of race, sex, and class a central part of exhibitions and programming. Yet still too often, museums display works of art with an exclusive focus on qualities that are supposed to speak in universal ways, or with blinders about the way art objects may be read in problematic ways by disadvantaged communities.

For example, is it best to emphasize a 16th-century British portrait’s technical and formal qualities? Or should we recontextualize 16th-century symbolic objects, which were closely tied to the upper nobility, to better understand the historic inequality of the present? Too often, issues of technique and formal composition can be seen as implicitly neutral—as if they do not evince a particular perspective with an implicit value system.

The previous statements might make sense for art museums, but it may not make sense for other types of museums such as history, science, natural history, and children’s museums.

In response to the steps presented in the op-ed piece, I have mixed reactions to what was being presented in the piece. I agree that it is important for museums to connect with the community museums are located in. Ambroso pointed out the importance of connecting with the community:

Museums must go beyond the expertise of curatorial and education staff and understand themselves as interacting with specific communities across often fraught social and geographic boundaries. Many museums have come a long way in co-creating with indigenous communities. But there are also communities only miles away from museums that may feel as far away socially as people from another continent.

My concern is with the section that Ambroso labeled as “Let’s Be Neutral, Please”. While he pointed out that museums need to continue to question the history of neutrality and acknowledge the active role they play in stage-crafting the art experience, I think the title of the neutrality section was misleading since it could be easily misinterpreted as his suggestion that museums should be neutral.

Ambroso’s op-ed expressed interesting points that are important for art museums to consider when working on transforming their interactions within the community and within their walls during these hard times. If opinions are shared on what museums in general should do when reforming their practices, they should reflect on how they can be applied to all museums and not one specific type of museum. When articles are written about museums and webinars are presented for museums, it is important to develop the information that apply for all types of museums not just art museums. Every museum has not only their focused subject matter their exhibits, programs, and collections support but they have their own budget sizes, communities they serve, locations, et cetera that any specific advice or guideline does not apply to their needs.

I recommend reading the piece to see more of what they wrote on reforming museums in the link below.

Links:

https://news.artnet.com/opinion/museum-ethics-op-ed-1904895

https://news.artnet.com/

Art and History Museum Perspectives on Storytelling

February 13, 2020

I decided to revisit storytelling in museum programming to continue discussing its importance from not only the history museum perspective but from the art museum perspective as well. In my previous blog post “Interpretation: The Importance of Storytelling in Museum Programs”, I discussed about the focus of storytelling in history museums, historic house museums, and historic sites to help visitors relate to or identify with the narrative they presented. This blog post also shared my experience in storytelling at the Connecticut historic house museums I worked for. These experiences are part of a small sample of examples of storytelling in museum programming, and it is important to address more perspectives on storytelling.

Art museums, for instance, have the ability to incorporate storytelling within their museum programming. What I think is interesting about art is each piece has varying emotional interpretation with each visitor who views it. Also, there are varying kinds of art styles art museums hold within their collections visitors could view on display such as contemporary, modern, 19th century art, Renaissance art, and abstract. Rather than focusing on being vessels for collections, museums and museum programs have the ability to help people make deeper connections to them. I previously worked at the Long Island Museum and facilitated a program called In the Moment, which helped elders with Alzheimer’s and dementia connect with art pieces, music, and artifacts to spark their memories and encourage them to share their memories. As I observed the participants hold onto replications of pieces in the exhibit, I noticed how happy they become as they describe the memories of family members and places the objects remind them of. Storytelling has a powerful way of expressing emotions, and by making storytelling in museum programs more inclusive it will help visitors create a deeper connection with the collections.

Earlier this month, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) released a post called “The Transformative Power of Inclusive Storytelling in Museums” in which Makeba Clay (the Chief of Diversity at The Philips Collection) discussed how art can create a deeper connection to our own narratives and our well-being. Clay also described the powerful connections they had when visiting The Philips Collection exhibits. The post continued to make arguments for improving the quality of storytelling within art museums. One of the points Clay made in the post that I find important about all museums is that

At the heart of powerful storytelling, whether through art, science, history, or other focuses explored by museums, lies a strong command of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI). By exhibiting work related to my own cultural heritage, TPC facilitates access to memories, emotions, and inquiry intimately tied to my understanding of place, identity, and community. In order to continue catalyzing powerful moments of beauty, empathy, and connection—like the one I experienced that day—museums must find ways to incorporate comprehensive DEAI into who, how, when, where, and why they tell stories. As a field, it is therefore incumbent upon museums to continue expanding their capacity to steward these values in all aspects of institutional life, including but not limited to staff, board, and volunteer composition and development; organizational strategy and operations; facilities design and upkeep; collections and archiving practices; community engagement; and programming.

All museums should be working to incorporate diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion; recent professional development programs I participated in suggest that museums are working towards improving the quality of DEAI museum programs. When museum programs’ storytelling allows for more diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, museums can help visitors who have not been previously been affected foster deeper connections with the collections. Also, the more we include in inclusive storytelling the more people will be able to develop deeper empathy for and connection with other people’s stories than they had before. I also believe the values storytelling introduce in museum programs should be extended in museum operations since we would not be able to truly be an empathetic, equitable, diverse, and inclusive if our institutions do not set an example within our operations for our staff, boards, and volunteers.

We are still on our way to creating museum programs with more inclusive storytelling but there is always room to include more, and all museums have the capacity to incorporate storytelling within their programs.

What are some examples of inclusive storytelling have you witnessed or have been immersed into?

Links:

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/02/05/the-transformative-power-of-inclusive-storytelling-in-museums/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/10/03/interpretation-the-importance-of-storytelling-in-museum-programs/

To Capture or Not to Capture: The Long Debate About Photography in Museums

Added to Medium, May 17, 2018

For as long as I can remember, I have come across a number of signs in museums that express their values in taking pictures within the exhibits. Museums post various signs such as “no photography”, “no flash photography”, and “no selfie sticks”. As a museum professional, I have received numerous responses from visitors who asked why they cannot take pictures, and a lot of them also began lengthy discussions about whether or not photography should be allowed in museums.

When I gave tours at the Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, I have on occasion had to remind visitors of their no-flash photography policy. The reason why we told visitors about our policy is because almost everything in both of the houses, which were built in the 1780s and 1850s, are original to the house from the structure to the furniture, and from the silverware to the toys. Since the majority of the items in the houses are original to the families that lived in them, we want to protect and preserve the items for future visitors to enjoy. There are some visitors who respected the policy while others asked questions and expressed their thoughts on photography in museums.

It is tempting to take out a camera or phone to take pictures since one is able to capture the experience. At the same time, one can argue that it distracts from actually experiencing the visit to the museum.

In the New York Times article “At Galleries, Cameras Find a Mixed Welcome” by Fred A. Bernstein, he discussed the mixed reactions to photography policies. Bernstein revealed that some like Nina Simon support having cameras in the museum. According to the article, Bernstein revealed Nina Simon, executive director of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, California, believed people rely on their cameras as extensions of their senses and that

In Ms. Simon’s view, “Museums should prioritize providing opportunities for visitors to engage in ways that are familiar and comfortable to them” — and that means using cameras.

Simon does bring up a good point in giving visitors opportunities to engage in ways that are familiar and comfortable to them; as we move forward into the future, technology has open up ways people can interact with artifacts including but not limited to interacting with them on the museum website and sharing their pictures on social media outlets.

Bernstein also pointed out that there are individuals who shed light on why not allowing flash photography in museums is not an adequate policy. His article shared a statement made by Mervin Richard, who is the chief of conservation at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Richard stated he had personally examined studies of the effects of light exposure on art and he concluded that there was little risk, and said the fear of the flashes damaging the art came from when people used flashbulbs (which could explode).

While the previous article’s discussion focused more about art, it did not include discussion about history museums and historic sites. The article “Why is taking photographs banned in many museums and historic places?”, written by Jay L. Zagorsky, focuses the discussion on historic places and museums.

Zagorsky shared five reasons that were used to answer the question posed in the article’s title. The first reason is camera flashes, which emit intense light, are believed to hurt paintings and the patina of delicate objects but research conducted by the University of Cambridge suggested that the use of flash poses little danger to most museum exhibits. The second reason is eliminating cameras improves the visitor experience since visitors, according to the article, are more likely to enjoy their experience when less visitors are stopping to use selfie sticks and causing traffic jams.

The third reason shared in Zagorsky’s article is by preventing photography ensures the gift shop maintains a monopoly on selling images. In other words, when photography is not allowed inside the museum or historic place the gift shop’s books, posters and postcards are the only legitimate source for high-quality images of a famous painting, statue or room. The fourth reason is it is believed by banning photographs this boosts security to prevent thieves from visually capturing and pinpointing weaknesses in alarm systems and surveillance cameras; it can be argued that uploading digital photographs to the internet is not more likely to boost museum security than compromising it.

Finally, the last reason shared in Zagorsky’s article is taking photographs often violates copyright protections. One of the arguments presented in the article was,

Copyright is more of an issue for modern artwork, especially when the piece is loaned to a museum. Museums don’t own the copyright of loaned paintings or sculptures since it resides with the owner or the original artist. However, today it is relatively easy to check if an image is being sold on the internet or used for unauthorized commercial purposes to ensure the copyright holder is paid their due.

A lot of the reasons presented in the article had counter arguments that makes it hard for museums to continue photography bans. Another thought I believe was a good point I think museums should consider is what Zagorsky shared; he stated

How can some museums generate more revenue and still satisfy our desire to take photographs? One simple model I first saw in the Natural History Museum in Rwanda is to charge a photography fee. Patrons can take as many pictures as they want as long as they pay upfront for the privilege.

I think museums should at least consider this idea since museums could not only protect copyrights and generate revenue but it would also allow visitors to capture their experience with the museums especially images that may not be included in gift shops.

Each museum has their own views about photography in its exhibits, and this debate would probably not be settled anytime soon.

What are your opinions about cameras and photographs taken by visitors in museums?

Resources:
https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/arts/artsspecial/art-museums-photography-policies-vary-widely.html
http://theconversation.com/why-is-taking-photographs-banned-in-many-museums-and-historic-places-66356

 

What is the Benefit of Museum Partnerships?

Added to Medium, February 9, 2018

In previous blog posts, I have talked about how important it is for museum professionals to collaborate. Museums can also benefit in forming partnerships to work on projects to bring in more visitors and awareness to our organizations. We can learn a lot from each other on how to draw visitors’ attentions. I was inspired to write about museum partnerships based on my recent experience in meeting with another museum professional and planning visits between two museums. Also, I saw various articles written about partnerships formed for greater purposes for the community.

The articles I came across pointed out that partnerships come in different sizes and ways for their community. Seema Rao has talked about different types of museums and how there is potential for museums to create partnerships that will benefit all parties. Also, museums can also come together to promote their programs, lectures, exhibits, and other events to discuss the importance of art and technology. Another article I came across was an article in an early childhood educators’ journal that discussed why museums are beneficial for young children and how early childhood educators can utilize museums’ services.

In her article, called “What Can Museums Learn from Each Other”, Seema Rao pointed out that in order to maintain and increase audience members “museums of all kinds should be looking to others to see what is working.” Rao discussed what art and science museums have to offer, and the benefits of having art and science museums work together. She stated that “Art museums have already seen the power of interactives, and environmental installations. Science museums could learn from art museums on ways to draw adults.” While there is potential for art and science museums to collaborate, there is also potential for history museums can also learn from art and science museums on drawing more visitors into our organizations.

History and historic house museums assimilate art and science topics in their programs especially school programs. When I worked in history and historic house museums, I have taught school programs that talked about what paintings can tell us about what life was like in the 19th century. Also, in historic house museums specifically I have taught students how to cook 18th century recipes by using mugs since there were no measuring cups to accurately measure ingredients for a chemical reaction. Museums can form partnerships to learn from each other about bringing visitors in and sharing knowledge about topics.

As an Education Committee member at the Three Village Historical Society, I joined the rest of the committee to visit a museum in Connecticut to see what they had about volunteering and the exhibits they have in their spaces including a small section about the Culper Spy Ring. We met with the Director of Education who showed us around as well as answered questions we had about volunteers and developing volunteer programs. We continue to make connections with the museum to share with them our resources about the Culper Spy Ring.

Museums can also come together for educational purposes such as the relationship between art and technology.

There are fourteen Boston-area arts and culture institutions are teaming together to show how technology has affected our relationship to art. Each of these organizations planned a series of exhibits and panels between now and July. For instance, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum has an exhibit called ‘Cool Medium: Art, Television & Psychedelia, 1960 – 1980’ through March 11th; the exhibit explores color television’s relationship to art of the era and its connection to mind-altering substances and spirituality. In Tufts University’s Art Galleries, artist Jillian Mayer creates furniture specifically designed to support human bodies as they interact with cellphones, tablets and computers.

Museums can be appealing to all ages especially young children, and partnerships between museums and early learning institutions recognize they can help children reach their full potential. The NAEYC, an organization that promotes high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy, and research, publishes a journal series called Young Children and one of their editions talked about the importance of creating partnerships with museums.

In the March 2016 edition of Young Children, an article called “Creating Meaningful Partnerships with Museums” discusses why museums are beneficial for both young children and early childhood educators. They argued that museums have much to offer young children, and described in detail how children at various age levels including but not limited to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers benefit from what museums offer.

According to Sarah Erdman, who wrote the article, teachers working with infants have seen firsthand how babies respond to stimulus such as high-contrast objects and bold images. By bringing infants to museums, they would be exposed to museum collections which have a wide variety of sizes, colors, textures, and movement. Also, museum exhibits can help advance language development and teachers are encouraged to talk to babies using rich and varied vocabulary. Finally, museums can be flexible in giving time for infants and their adults to interact with exhibits and because of this they may be explored at a time and pace suitable for infants and often have spaces set aside for baby care.

The article also discussed how toddlers can benefit from interacting with museums exhibits and programs. Museums can speak directly to a toddler’s ability to connect with concrete objects, and the variety of objects can also help toddlers understand that familiar objects such as houses can come in many shapes and sizes. Like infants, toddlers need flexibility and museums are able to accommodate for teachers to create experiences that work for their classes.

As a museum professional who is working in a children’s science museum, Erdman’s arguments are to my knowledge accurate since kids at the Maritime Explorium learn STEM lessons through hands-on activities and events. The Maritime Explorium’s preschool program, Little Sparks, shows children how fun learning can be while they develop the skills they need to reach their full potential.

We should continue to reach out to other museums and organizations to keep our institutions going strong.

What examples of museum partnerships have you experienced or read about? What benefits and challenges have you faced when maintaining partnerships?

Resources:
https://brilliantideastudio.com/art-museums/what-can-museums-learn-from-each-other/
www.wbur.org/artery/2018/02/07/art-tech-collaboration-exhibitions
https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/mar2016/creating-meaningful-partnerships-museums

How Education Supplies Are Significant in Museum Programming

Added to Medium, September 14, 2017.

Supplies for programming in museums are endless and are selected based on the needs of each program. There are various ideas for museums to create school and public programs from, and they are based on each institution’s missions and educational goals. Since there are different ways educators can plan their school and public programs within their missions, we have to plan what supplies and how much supplies are needed as they plan the programs.

For instance, if a historic house museum focuses not only on its history and the family that lived there but also focus on serving the community, programs are planned to support the study of history and connect with members in the community to be relevant in its community.

School program supplies include but are not limited to paper, pencils, markers, crayons, paint, scissors, color pencils, and ink. Public program supplies include but are not limited to supplies used in school programs (depending on what program is planned for what audience), food, drinks, cups, and plates. The previous examples are supplies I have personally used, and have been in charge of the supply inventory in my career as a museum educator.

Depending on what an education department needs, many stores provide the typical supplies needed. If the programs require specific items not found in stores, there are places that museums partner with to provide materials needed. At the Long Island Museum, for instance, they had school and other children’s programming that allow them to pretend to turn over hay outside the barn on the Museum’s campus; the education staff travel to a farm stand that sells hay, and makes a purchase that should last throughout the school year.

An important issue in education programming museums have to address each year is funding for these programs. It is also an issue that educators faces in the school system.

I came across an article from Education Week called “Teachers Spend Hundreds of Dollars a Year on School Supplies. That’s a Problem.” Written by Ann Ness (executive director of the Minneapolis-based nonprofit AdoptAClassroom.org), the article discussed how teachers have spent a lot of their own money to provide the supplies needed for their classrooms. According to Ness’ article, a survey of more than 1,800 public and private school teachers conducted in the 2015-16 school year stated that the average American educator spends $600 of their own money every year on basic supplies and they not only cover typical staples such as copier paper or colored pencils, but also go toward clothing and personal hygiene necessities for students who need them. Ness argued that educators need to have a better way to be able to have plenty of supplies for their students, and the students and parents need to urge their local school districts and state legislatures to adequately fund education that is able to provide supplies for students in need.

This article made me think about how this fact also applies to museum educators who need to purchase items for their programs. For each year, education departments in each museum have to figure out funding for education supplies.

Like educators in public and private schools, many museum educators use the money out of their own pockets to support the programs. At Connecticut Landmarks, for instance, one of my former co-workers would purchase food such as cookies and vegetables for the Cultural Cocktail Hour program that promotes local artists’ works. It is also possible for museum educators could be reimbursed for their purchases especially when there is room in the budget to reimburse them.

Whenever a museum educator purchases items for the program or programs, a receipt is saved so the director of the education department or executive director would sign off on the purchase and provide a check to give to the museum educator. To provide the funds to reimburse the education staff, the education budget includes an amount that has to be spent on supplies and should be enough to provide a part in the budget to give money to educators that purchase items for the museum.

The majority of the funds that support museum programming, and on a larger scale to keep museums running, come from grants that museums have to apply for each year. In each grant application, museums have to address what they hope to accomplish when they receive the funds. When they applied for grants they have previously received funds from, museums must address how much they have accomplished with the grant in the previous year(s) and how the grant would be essential for the upcoming year. This is an understanding that was reaffirmed while I was assisting the executive director at the Maritime Explorium on part of a grant application to keep the museum running programs for visiting children.

To be able to successfully run programs that make an impact on our audiences, we need to be able to get access to supplies.
What supplies do your institutions use for your programming? Are there other ways your organization or institution find funding for programs?

Here is the link to the article I referenced in this post:
http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2017/08/02/teachers-spend-hundreds-of-dollars-a-year.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news2