Museum Educator: A Vital Role in the Museum-Community Partnership

July 23, 2020

While all museum roles within the building are important in their own functions to keep the museum running, museum educators are especially significant now as we figure out life and learning in this next normal. I have been reading for months through social media my museum field colleagues’ posts on layoffs, furloughs, and not being able to continue job hunting due to the pandemic; many of those posts were from museum educators who find themselves furloughed, laid off, or their job hunting became harder or completely stopped. Also, the Tenement Museum Union announced on Twitter that 76 employees were laid off, including all of their part-time educators. It is sad to see so many museum educators are being let go when they are needed especially during this time for more engaging programs. Museums should find ways to survive through the pandemic, but I do not believe that letting museum educators go is the solution.

I do not claim that there is one solution or method to keeping the museum afloat in this unprecedented time since all museums are facing varying circumstances that effect their ability to function onsite and/or virtually. A recent survey shared by the American Alliance of Museums revealed unsettling information about the state of museums:

One-third (33%) of respondents were not confident they would be able to survive 16 months without additional financial relief, and 16 percent felt their organization was at significant risk of permanent closure. The vast majority (87%) of museums have only 12 months or less of financial operating reserves remaining, with 56% having less than six months left to cover operations. Forty-four percent had furloughed or laid off some portion of their staff, and 41 percent anticipated reopening with reduced staff.

It is a reality that many museums are facing in the United States, and a huge loss for the communities that rely on the resources museums offer. Numerous considerations need to be addressed but we should not consider letting go staff members as the number one option on keeping museums financially supported. When we let go of the majority of our museum educators, we face a number of consequences.

Over the years I have been writing about museum education, I expressed the importance of the museum educators’ role in not only the museum but in the communities they serve as well. In the “Museum Education Challenges: Why We Need Museum Educators” post, for instance, I have discussed the demand for digital content for museum programming and how museums need to adapt to increasingly changing needs of the community:

Like schoolteachers in the classroom, museum educators were forced to learn to adapt quickly to teaching lessons that are normally taught in person now online in varying platforms including Zoom, Google, and YouTube. Even though most museum educators have already begun teaching on the online platform before the pandemic, not all museums had utilized teaching programs online. Providing education programs is a continuous process for museum educators and losing personnel in the education department would be a disservice to our museums, communities, and our nations.

If we do not have enough museum educators to meet the demands of the schools, camps, scouts, home schools, et. cetera looking for help with virtual lessons and resources, our museums would not be able to claim that they are part of the community they serve. Another example of a blog post I wrote to discuss the importance of museum education in the museum and community is the one called “How Education Theory is Used in Museums”. In this post, I wrote about how museums develop programs based on not only museum association standards but also on the state and national standards for education:

By developing an education policy in museums, it will help guide the education department in when drafting programs that will hopefully be accessible to its audiences, fulfill its mission, and appeal to teachers looking for outside the classroom opportunities.

If we lose the majority of our educators, we will create a disconnect between museums and educational institutions including but not limited to public schools, private schools, and home school groups. While it is possible that the majority of museums may not consider letting go of higher-level museum education professionals, we cannot make the assumption that all museums will not let go of their education managers or directors. As education standards change, and as school districts change how their school years will be executed, museums need to keep up with the changes and maintain contacts with other educators to prevent themselves from falling behind as well as being able to develop education programming relevant to the school groups that come to visit both in person and online.

In other words, each of the previous blog posts I mentioned both within this post and in the resource section below point out that letting go of museum educators is disconnecting ourselves from the communities we claim to be a part of and serve. I came across a post called “Caution: Laying Off Museum Educators May Burn Bridges to the Communities Museums Serve” in which an evaluator shares their perspective of the importance of museum educators especially within the K-12 community. Some of the points they made were:

The teachers highly value the respect and support they receive from museum educators.  The work of K-12 educators is hard and can go unnoticed.  But of all the museum educators I know, they consider K-12 educators essential to the well-being of our students and communities.  As such, museum educators’ frame their work as bolstering the self-regard and confidence of K-12 educators.

Sometimes the students point out something they see to the museum educator, but other times the conversation is completely un-museum related—they just seem to seek adult engagement and interest.  These individual museum educators are important to them.  This was underscored to me when I administered assessments to students in the program.  Students, knowing they were doing something related to the museum program, immediately asked me where are their museum educators (Adam, Ah-Young, Alicia, Barbara, Lindsey, Sarah, Suzannah)? They were notably disappointed to see me instead of their friends at the museum.

The kinds of relationships I have observed as an evaluator clearly demonstrates to me that museum educators are essential to a museum’s missions.  Museum educators are often the name and face of the museum to the community.  If these names and faces go away, I worry museum will have burned bridges into their communities.

As a museum educator myself, I especially agree with the observation that museum educators create connections with the students they teach within the programs. I remember a number of instances throughout my career in the museum education field when some kids are working on projects and decided to create another project so they can give me a present as a way to thank me, and I remember how the kids would be comfortable sharing stories with me (museum and non-museum related). When visiting museums, children especially have the opportunity to connect with the world they live in and with the real-world concepts, artifacts, and documents to fully grasp the lessons they learn in the classroom. Museum educators help children and other audiences bridge the gap between the classroom and the world around us.

 Like many museum professionals right now, I do not have the solution that would solve all problems museums are facing in the pandemic. The best we can do for now is to figure out the main priority to help museums survive, and getting rid of museum educators is not the priority we should have.

Resources:

https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/22/894049653/one-third-of-u-s-museums-may-not-survive-the-year-survey-finds

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/07/22/a-snapshot-of-us-museums-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/

https://www.aam-us.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/2020_National-Survey-of-COVID19-Impact-on-US-Museums.pdf

https://hyperallergic.com/578201/tenement-museum-education-staff-layoffs/

Caution: Laying Off Museum Educators May Burn Bridges to the Communities Museums Serve

Museum Education Challenges: Why We Need Museum Educators

How Education Theory is Used in Museums

Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs

The Importance of Education Management in Museums

Museums: What Will Happen When We All Re-Open?

June 25, 2020

While many museums are figuring out whether or not to re-open their doors, there are some museums that have decided to re-open their doors with limited capacity. Not all museums plan to re-open their physical sites due to varying reasons relating to but not limited to state regulations put in place. The most important consideration museums should keep in mind is the needs of the community, and find ways to continue to engage within the community especially through virtual programs. Museums work on figuring out how to implement Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regulations to keep its visitors and community members safe as we are still trying to flatten the curb in the United States. Many professional development programs I have participated in were focused on what should be done when considering re-opening the museum.

Plenty of resources have been released through the American Association for State and Local History on re-opening museums and historic sites. Last month I attended the webinar AASLH Conversations: Planning for Reopening in which speakers Martha Akins (Deputy Director for Facilities at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, Florida) and Trina Nelson Thomas (Director, Stark Art & History Venues for the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation in Orange, Texas) shared lessons learned during the reopening of their own sites after major natural disasters. By sharing these lessons, they believed that it could hopefully uncover solutions organizations can bring to the cautious reopening on the other side of the pandemic. I also attended AASLH Conversations: You Are Not Alone: Reopening Small to Mid-Sized Institutions which was similar to the previous one except it was focused more on small to mid-sized arts, culture, and history organizations contemplating questions about the eventual re-opening to the public. Then the next webinar I attended was AASLH Conversations: Guidelines and Procedures for Reopening Your Historic Site in which the speakers discussed questions that many historic sites have been considering when re-opening: Where do you turn for Federal and State laws and regulations? What do you need to do to protect your visitors, volunteers, and staff? Will you phase your opening, limit visitation etc.? All of the previously listed webinars pointed out that these are conversations that are ongoing since we are facing unprecedented times and are using what we do know to figure out the best course of action.

The American Alliance of Museums also released resources that would help museums figure out their plans for re-opening. An example of a resource they shared was the Considerations for Museum Reopenings document that encourages museums to create flexible plans that are regularly reviewed based on updated information on the coronavirus. Both AASLH and AAM release resources to make sure that museum professionals take every consideration into account when considering re-opening their organizations. Some museums have made announcements to re-open their doors over the summer months.

The New York Historical Society announced on Twitter that they plan to re-open in stages beginning on August 14th with a free special exhibit located outside “Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” which documents the experiences of New Yorkers during the height of the pandemic. Access to the outside exhibit, according to a post from Gothamist, will be limited and face coverings will be required for entry, with social distancing enforced through timed-entry tickets and on-site safety measures. Also, the Met is planning to reopen on August 29th with new social distancing guidelines in place that will be revealed as it gets closer to the reopen date. In the Gothamist post, the writer stated that The Met plans to re-open with shorter hours and fewer days per week, and decided that all tours, talks, concerts, and events will be canceled through the rest of 2020.

One example of museums that have re-opened to the public was the Buffalo Bill Center of the West which is a massive AAM-accredited facility located in rural Wyoming in Cody, the Yellowstone National Park gateway community. As of May 7th, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West was officially reopened to its visitors. In pre-COVID times, there is usually an increase of visitors during the three months of summer season; approximately 80 percent of the 170,000 annual guests that typically visit the site. Peter Seibert, the Executive Director and CEO of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, wrote about the experience of re-opening the doors to the public on the American Alliance of Museums website in the post “Diary of a Museum Reopening”.

Seibert shared the timeline of closing its doors, deliberating on how to engage with its audience during this time, and ultimately making the decision to re-open their doors within the post. He shared the framework they worked with to help with their survival which were: focus on donors using bi-weekly emails to boards as well as advisors and phone calls to the rest,  focus on the virtual presence, get ready to reopen with what they were able to take care of now and what needs to be done overtime due to limited resources, and start the process of figuring out what to financially cut. According to Seibert’s post, he shared what he learned through the whole process:

For us, being back open to the public is central to our mission and existence. We don’t have the luxury of staying closed for protracted periods. Right now, our draft budget (July 1–June 30) has scenarios that all include lots of fundraising, and a few that contain staff reductions. I fear the latter more than anything. Having seen the effects of wanton cuts in a prior job, I know the destructive force of death by a thousand cuts. Being back open, I can at least fight to keep us intact.

Seibert’s conclusion illustrates a point that other museums are facing during this crisis: Museums are facing tough choices to figure out ways to survive past the pandemic.

Ultimately, it is up to each individual museum, historic site, and historical society to decide on when to re-open their physical spaces. They need to figure out what makes sense to them financially and how to serve the community’s needs where coronavirus cases vary in each state. It is important to communicate with other museums, pay attention to what actions they take, and see what fits best with their institutions.

If you are a museum professional, what are your thoughts on re-opening the museums? If you have previously visited museums before the lockdown, what would make you feel safe about returning to museums?

Links:

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/06/22/diary-of-a-museum-reopening/

https://learn.aaslh.org/covid19response

https://www.aam-us.org/programs/about-museums/preparing-to-reopen/

https://www.pem.org/blog/holding-down-the-fort?fbclid=IwAR0XM8rZ7B26-9MBj_m08fpL68EBgs_i-Kyn7Oyng-20Vn7jtr9Yfdxdw9I

http://midatlanticmuseums.org/resources/?mc_cid=929ec60e67&mc_eid=c18efcdabc

https://gothamist.com/arts-entertainment/met-new-york-historical-society-are-both-planning-reopen-august

Museum Education Challenges: Why We Need Museum Educators

May 21, 2020

While museums figure out plans to reopen their doors, museums should consider making sure our education missions remain intact by taking care of their museum educators. Museums have been moving towards becoming more accessible, inclusive, and diverse by focusing on engaging visitors and engaging with the community. Museum professionals are concerned about keeping out museums functioning financially, and we should not lay off or let go of educators and other front-line museum workers (museum professionals who directly interact with the public). In the past week, I shared previous blog posts I wrote on how important museum educators are to supporting museums’ education missions and engagement with their communities.

As a museum educator myself I sympathize with my colleagues in the museum education field while figuring out how to work and find work during this pandemic. Museum educators are the first ones to be let go when something goes wrong in the museum financially. In this day in age especially it does not make any sense to do so when museums are education sources for the community. Now that we are going through a pandemic, museum educators are needed to help visitors continue to use museum resources from a safe distance while the museums are closed, and we have the ability to be flexible when unexpected things happen. In the post “Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs”, I pointed out examples of flexibility they face while implementing school programs:

Each museum educator understands very well that timing is important to be sure to effectively give an educational and a memorable experience. It is important to figure out how to be flexible when challenges arise. School buses, for various reasons, arriving late to the museum. School groups needing to leave early from the program. Teachers not sharing pre-visit materials to help students understand the experience they would be participating in before the visit.

Museum educators now are either considering or planning education programs to be implemented on the internet. Like schoolteachers in the classroom, museum educators were forced to learn to adapt quickly to teaching lessons that are normally taught in person now online in varying platforms including Zoom, Google, and YouTube. Even though most museum educators have already begun teaching on the online platform before the pandemic, not all museums had utilized teaching programs online. Providing education programs is a continuous process for museum educators and losing personnel in the education department would be a disservice to our museums, communities, and our nations.

This past month I came across posts from Brian Hogarth and Jason Porter on museum education and the current crisis. Brian Hogarth, Director of the Leadership in Museum Education at Bank Street College in New York, wrote the post “Code Red for Museum Education Profession” which described concerns the museum education profession has faced before and during the coronavirus pandemic. Jason Porter, the Director of Education and Programs at MoPOP (the Museum of Pop Culture) in Seattle, wrote “Making the Case for Museum Education in the Midst of a Crisis” in which he discussed the importance of museum education and his experiences during the pandemic. Hogarth pointed out that while museums made some progress in terms of diversity and inclusivity, they have not made progress in retaining museum educators in the field:

Museums had been making serious efforts to diversify the field and make it more equitable and inclusive. But at the same time, there has been an inflation of degree requirements and required experience levels, even for entry level and junior positions. In addition, as a “caring” profession, like nursing and teaching, the museum education field is largely made up of women. Cuts to these jobs will exacerbate the feeling that what is perceived to be women’s work is undervalued and underpaid, especially in the nonprofit/cultural sector.

This was a small profession to begin with. An even tighter job market for museum educators will be filled by people with additional resources at their disposal, those in positions with higher salaries, or who have partners with more secure jobs that can cover gaps or drops in income.

Not everyone in the museum education field has additional resources to fall back on and increasing requirements for the positions will continue to alienate individuals from entering and contributing to the museum education field. Another excellent point that Hogarth made was: Without new measures to restore and sustain the field, the current situation will deter many talented and interested people from seriously considering the profession as a valid career choice now and in the foreseeable future. I will also add that it will and already has deterred current museum education professionals from staying in the profession if new measures are not introduced to maintain talented individuals in the museums. Jason Porter continued the museum education discussion in his post.

In my blog post “The Importance of Education Management in Museums”, I pointed out that Education management is a continuous task museum professionals are aware of, and when we are able to form a solid foundation for the museum education management system museums can successfully fulfill their educational missions. Porter shared his experience as the head of the education department of his own museum while describing the current problems managers are facing in museum education during the crisis. He stated in “Making the Case for Museum Education in the Midst of a Crisis” that:

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, managers and directors of interpretation or education and programming have been left with fewer staff members (or dwindling numbers), holding out hope that soon we will return to normal in time to execute the programs we planned for the fall, and facing a future in which digital engagement — long the “extra” component of our interpretive work —  is now the primary way in which we’ll connect with our visitors and communities.

It is harder to maintain a functioning education department when the number of museum educators in the department continuously fluctuates, and we need to figure out how we need to face this new reality. All museum education professionals faced the impact of cancelling, postponing, and rescheduling programs they anticipated in implementing for schools, scouts, adult groups, senior groups, homeschools, and many more members in the community. As a result of so many changes happening all at once, including but not limited to changing programs and working from home, museum educators have become even less secure about the roles they will be able to fulfill and leaders need to recognize the need to maintain a healthy work relationship while we are staying at home. Porter recognized the need for stronger connections between leadership and staff:

All around in the museum field, we’re witnessing the kind of leadership decisions that reflect hastily considered responses and panic instead of vision and progressive thinking, leaders following the prevailing winds instead of charting new courses. I believe that educators and interpreters will be key to the survival of our institutions (and current and future sources of revenue). Of course, I also acknowledge that my institution has found a way to afford to respond in this way and that not every organization is privileged to have the option of retaining all staff members. But if you have the forum (and the time) to make a compelling case for why educators, teaching artists, interpreters, and evaluators will be essential to your work whether visitors can walk into your galleries or only have access to you through Zoom and Youtube, I say you should do it. It may help to show your leadership the way forward.

It is important to take advantage during this unprecedented time, if possible, to use leadership roles to prove educators are essential for museums. If we recognize that museum educators are essential, then we will be able to figure out the next steps in improving the museum education field.

Links:

Code Red for Museum Education Profession

Making the Case for Museum Education in the Midst of a Crisis

Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs

The Importance of Education Management in Museums

Preserving COVID-19 History: An Important Museum-Community Partnership

April 23, 2020

We are already seeing how we are affected by this pandemic, and museums as well as historical societies are reaching out to the community to contribute photos, videos, stories, et cetera about their experience in quarantine. While it is not appropriate for museums to collect equipment that are needed now to help those with the virus, all of us are wondering what the future will be like once the pandemic is over and should understand that one day this will become a part of our global historical narrative. Museum professionals and historians especially know that the more we preserve from this time the more people in the future will understand the how and why the pandemic occurred. Historians researched and museum professionals developed exhibits on the epidemic that occurred in 1918 (also known as the Spanish flu) to help readers and visitors comprehend the impact it had on the world. This will most likely happen to help future generations understand the impact of the coronavirus and learn the lessons we are learning now to help move modern medicine forward. In the meantime, we will figure out how we will get through the pandemic, and how to express our emotions with and support one another.

Our healing as a community, state, country, and as a global community could begin by learning from what we experienced, talking with one another, and preserving our memories for future generations to learn about these experiences. One of the ways we can figure out how people in the world are affected by being in quarantine, limiting physical contact with others, and traveling for only essentials is to develop the relationship between museums and the community further so we would be able to preserve these memories.

It is hard to think about this pandemic in the historical context perspective while we all are still emotionally, mentally, and physically involved. The important thing in maintaining a museum-community partnership is to learn what the community needs during this time, and to provide resources and activities to help individuals cope with changes in our society caused by the pandemic. When we keep communication open between our community and our institutions, virtual visitors are able to continue to trust museums to be the safe space to express concerns they have on current events. The more visitors trust museums to help them through the tough times, the more likely they are to share with museums and historical societies that decided to preserve community memories of their pandemic experiences.

We are seeing historical societies contacting their communities to encourage them to share what they are doing in their quarantines. The Connecticut Historical Society, located in Hartford, Connecticut, released a message through their member contact lists and social media outlets asking them to reach out to their staff with photos to preserve this part of Connecticut history. Another example is the Rhode Island Historical Society which shared its call for stories on social media. On their Twitter page, the Rhode Island Historical Society stated

Help make history by contributing to the new online Rhode Island COVID-19 Archive. This is a collaboration of RIHS and Providence Public Library. Stay safe! As the song goes, Rhode Island is Famous for You.

http://ricovidarchive.org

1:40 PM · Apr 16, 2020

RIHS reach out to virtual visitors with a survey to make sure they produce content the audience would benefit from. Also, they created a website that offers a space to contribute to the online collections and to browse through the collections individuals already contributed. There is also a section on the website that provided individuals with a guide to personal archiving, and it gives advice for individuals on how to back up as well as share their records.

The next example is the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket, New York. In a Facebook post, they asked

Please consider sharing your thoughts and experiences, for the archives, as we learn how to get through each day in our new normal. Most importantly, stay paused and stay healthy.

April 17 at 10:48 AM

The post also stated that community members in the Three Village district should send an email to submit their story, video, or image. In addition to sharing on social media, they released a blog post describing the importance of preserving this history to remember the anniversary of the town’s founding 365 years ago. According to the Town of Brookhaven Historian Barbara Russell,

This worldwide pandemic becomes part of our local history as it affects our residents as well as those across the globe. Historians in New York State have been asked to record this event in their local municipalities, so I ask you all in the days, weeks and months ahead to share your experiences with me. You can write, video, create visual art, even clip your local newspaper articles. Let your neighbors and family and friends know they are welcome to contribute. Let us turn our town’s anniversary into an opportunity to record an unprecedented moment of time for future generations to know and understand.

Russell stressed the importance of community through these difficult and unprecedented times, and to encourage the community to become involved in preserving their history.

Do you know a museum or a historical society that is asking about preserving pandemic experiences? Let me know in the comments.

As always, stay safe out there and be good to one another.

Links to Resources and Additional Examples:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/83093-public-libraries-after-the-pandemic.html

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/

https://aaslh.org/museums-and-victory-gardens/

http://ricovidarchive.org

https://www.tvhs.org/blog

www.chs.org

www.rihs.org

Special Blog Post: The 100th Blog Post

Added to Medium, October 11, 2018

Time has definitely flown by so quickly. I remember as if it was only yesterday when I first started writing my blog on the Medium website. Now I am writing the 100th blog post on my own website. In the two years I have been writing the blog, I have heard from so many of you who have been reading and leaving comments about the posts. I am very thankful for all of you for reading and following my blog whether you started following two years, two months, two weeks, or two days ago. I read all of the responses that were made in various places where I shared each blog post: on my website, LinkedIn groups, Twitter, my Medium page, and my Facebook page. The following are examples of comments shared on each of the previously listed sites.

On the blog post Reaction: The Value of Small Museums, one of the comments from my website shared their perspective in working in a small museum:

I work at a small museum and I understand the comment. Better as in better paying or better as in more hours or better as in more professional. Many museums don’t pay or pay very little. I wouldn’t be offended by that comment. I am learning new skills and helping inspire and teach people something about the past they didn’t know. My work is important, people are often amazed at how knowledgeable I am and what they learned so I see both sides of the issue.
-The Time Treasurer

On the blog post Planning a Summer Program: My Experience Creating a Summer Camp Program, one of the comments on the website asked for further information about the summer program:

What a wonderful idea! Surely the [participants] were thrilled. How much of an age difference was there and why do you think this was the case. Will you state age range in future efforts or go with the flow? Fantastic energy and idea. Great article! Thank you.
-Teresa

Some comments also shared relevant sources to add to the discussion introduced in the blog posts. For example, on the blog post Patron Request: People’s Experiences during the Great Depression they shared their presentation on Medium from the Proceedings of the National Conference of Undergraduate Research 2012:

I wrote a paper on this topic when I was an undergrad. I interviewed three of my grandparents about their memories of Franklin Roosevelt and used those to shape a review of FDR’s rhetoric:
http://www.ncurproceedings.org/ojs/index.php/NCUR2012/article/view/174 
-Daniel

Other comments on Medium have written about how relevant the topics the blog posts were to individuals in and out of the museum field. There was one who wrote their comment about the Significant Resources in the Museum Field:

Lindsey Steward many of your suggestions also apply to historians. I haven’t engaged in the particular museum partnerships you have described, but blogs and public media have been a great method for me to learn and grow.

In particular I have found podcasting and the audio documentary field as a wonderful set of media to teach historians new skills to engage with an audience and to help people learn. I have found several tools useful in that, with blogs, organizations.

Other resources that have helped me grow as a historian and develop new skills are programming and digital humanities work. For instance forums and online courses are great sets of resources with formal and informal sets of instruction. These have been the biggest ways to help.

One last thing I’d share is undertaking projects. While many resources have been useful to help me learn about new ways to engage and think about my profession, but they have also shown me that the best way to learn is to model and try. Ive tried to experiment with lots of different tools and such, which have taught me immensely through experience.

Just a few thoughts to reply

Thanks for the provoking post!

-Christopher

Another comment written about the blog post What Grants Mean for Museums, which I shared on LinkedIn, expressed gratitude for writing on this topic:

As a public historian trying to break into grant writing to help support museums and historic sites I found this very encouraging and helpful. Thank you.
-Meghan

On Twitter I noticed that there are individuals who retweet the posts I shared to followers and readers. Some have added their own comments to their retweets and shares. This is one of the tweets I saw after I shared my blog post “Leaving the Museum Field”: A Reaction to the Alliance Labs Blog:

“Leaving the Museum Field”: A Reaction to the Alliance Labs Blog - Museums will not change overnight, we have to keep having these conversations to evoke change. This is something that is really resonating with me atm #EvokeChange …https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/09/27/leaving-the-museum-field-a-reaction-to-the-alliance-labs-blog/ … via @Steward2Lindsey
-Karen

I have also had a couple of conversations on Twitter related to the blog posts I shared. One of them had asked me if they could use some of the information from my post Maker Space: Museums Can Benefit from Having a Creative Space to use in their proposal to their local museum to consider opening a space for something similar to a maker space. Another conversation I had was about a book and book review I wrote for Katie Stringer’s Programming for People with Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites; they wished that they found the review sooner so they could use it for their capstone research but thought that having a personal connection to the topic like I have is helpful in creating educational programs for all capabilities.

Each of the comments I read gave me so much insight on what individuals thought about the blog post and their insights on the topic. While I was not able to include every single comment I read from the past couple of years, I am thankful to all of you for sharing your thoughts, expertise, suggestions, and appreciations. I started writing this blog to not only record my own experiences but to start conversations among individuals who are in and out of the museum field. This blog will continue to write about history, the museum field, and other topics suggested by all of you.

Thank you all for these past two years, and I look forward to many more in the future!

If you are interested in contributing financially to the website, I have a Patreon page that allows artists, video makers, and writers like myself continue to work on projects. You can contribute starting at one dollar a month and there are tiers that reveal benefits you will receive for contributing; the link can be found here: https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward.

I also have an announcement: Next week I will be taking a break from writing a new blog posts because I will be preparing to visit family and celebrating my 30th birthday! I will continue to share previous blog posts so you will still have plenty to read.

Lunch with NEMA: How to Bring the Community into Exhibit Design Process

Originally posted on Medium, April 27, 2017. 

This week I participated in another Lunch with NEMA program, a monthly webinar on various subjects in museums during lunch hour, called Bringing the Public into Your Sandbox Without Getting Sand in Your Face — or Theirs. The Lunch with NEMA program was about what it is like to bring community members in the exhibit design process by discussing EcoTarium’s experience in bringing in the community to design an exhibit called City Science. EcoTarium is a family-friendly, indoor-outdoor museum located in Worcester, Massachusetts with various offers including interactive exhibits, shows in the digital planetarium, daily Science Discovery programs, and live animal habitats. To find out more about EcoTarium, check it out here http://www.ecotarium.org/. Discussion was led by Betsy Loring, the Director of Exhibits, and Alice Promisel who is the Exhibit Content Developer for EcoTarium.

Loring and Promisel, in the beginning of the program, talked about EcoTarium and their exhibit City Science. City Science: The Science You Live is an immersive exploration of the modern city that allows visitors to investigate the science we encounter every day but rarely stop to consider. The exhibit allows visitors to experience firsthand that the way we design and build our cities has many impacts on people, animals, civic life, and the larger environment. It uses a variety of activities, from custom-designed computer challenges, live animal observations, and hands-on design activities.

Once they explained what the exhibit was about, Loring and Promisel discussed the lessons that they learned the hard way when they invited members of the community to develop the exhibit. The first lesson they learned the hard way was to make sure they get the right minds to work on the exhibit. In other words, individuals who normally visit the museum. I agree that this is an important lesson since learning who your visitors are can help find out who will more likely be more invested in assisting in this collaboration.

The second lesson they learned the hard way is that before brainstorming it is important to get people in the right mindset. People outside of the museum do not understand the exhibit development process so it is important to include a visual of how the museum exhibit spaces are set up and how much time is dedicated to developing exhibits. Loring and Promisel described how they also found ways to have participants come up with relevant ideas for the exhibit.

They came up with a warm up activity to help participants get in the right mindset to come up with ideas for the exhibit. The question Loring and Promisel came up with to have participants come up with was: what’s the one thing you want to change about Worcester? After the warm up activity, a brainstorm session began in which they stressed that it is important to make a home for every idea no matter how broad or specific; then organize them in sections related to subjects related to developing an exhibit such as exhibit design, interactive activities, and content. Loring and Promisel also stressed that it is important to include content experts throughout the exhibit process. By including content experts, specific questions about specific content can be answered.

In addition to coming up with ways to inspire participants to brainstorm ideas and include content experts, it is important to explain to them what their role is and what their role is not in the exhibit design process. They suggest that institutions write a role document, or job description, to explain their roles; the document should explain why expertise is needed and how they will be helping, where their input is needed and when, the time commitment needed from the participants, and when they will see and hear about the results. It is also important to discuss what the museum is and does by giving them information about the vocabulary and definitions used in the museum to help them understand what the institution is looking for in an exhibit.

I enjoyed this Lunch with NEMA because it provides another example of how collaborations with people and organizations outside the museums’ walls can present its own benefits and challenges. Not all institutions are the same but we can learn from their experiences and adapt them to our own institutions. At the same time, not all collaborations are the same, and we can all learn from our own experiences and from other institutions to work on making better collaboration projects and be effective members in the community.

What are your collaboration projects? Did you come across challenges when collaborating with others, and how did you handle them?

Reactions to MuseumHive: Discussion with Kimberly Drew

Originally posted on Medium, April 20, 2017. 

This week I thought I would discuss the video I watched of the discussion with Kimberly Drew, Social Media Manager at the Metropolitan Museum, through the MuseumHive broadcast that aired last week. MuseumHive is an informal hangout of people, created by museum media developer Brad Lawson, connected with museums to explore new community-centered visions for museums. It uses Google Hangouts to both create content and encourage people to socialize on the Internet and in person (museum professionals gather at the Roxbury Innovation Center in Boston). To learn more about MuseumHive and its programming, visit http://www.museumhive.org . According to MuseumHive, Kimberly Drew is a leading thinker in the museum world focusing on black culture and art, and has a wide range of articles written about her work including “4 Black Women Making the Art World More Inclusive” in New York Magazine. Her practice is at a cross between contemporary art, race, and technology. Drew’s practice can be described as a place for those who would be negated access and space, and is an inverted version of what already exists rather than oppositional.

Before reviewing the video, I read a blog post on the MuseumHive website about this discussion. One of the quotes from Drew used in the blog caught my attention:
“I think about the things I’m sending out in the world because there are so many silences within the web and in the truth of our particular moment. I try to think about the things that I send out, can create, or can share, and how I could share positive images and also real images and also be able to articulate history in a way that feels inclusive…When you’re adding to this noise, in what ways are you improving upon silence?”
— Kimberly Drew, The Creative Independent

This quote resonated with me because as a museum professional who uses social media to share her experiences on and to express her thoughts about the field I also try to both share positive messages and share real information that is inclusive for readers out there both in the museum professional field and in other fields respectively. In the discussion video, Drew talks about her work in social media and about technology in the museum field.

The style of the video was a Question and Answer session between hosts, members in the audience, and Drew. One of the first questions Drew answered was how she got her start in social media career. Drew explained that she was bouncing around various smaller art organizations before she started working at the Met where she has been working for the past two years. She began her career with an internship in the Director’s Office at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Her experience at the Studio Museum in Harlem inspired her work on social media with a blog she started writing in 2011 called “Black Contemporary Art”, a Tumblr blog where she posts art by and about people of African descent to share with online viewers. She also featured many posts from other contributors on artwork made by and about people of African descent. I visited her Tumblr blog, and it has an interesting mix of artwork in various mediums including photography and paintings depicting people of African descent. One of the pieces that caught my attention was Charles McGee’s Noah’s Ark: Genesis (1984), posted on April 5th and was made with enamel and mixed media on masonic; it caught my attention because it has numerous prints mixed together, limited colors that stick out from the rest of the piece, and these features provide an interesting interpretation of the story of Noah’s Ark. Her blog was what inspired her interest in social media.

After beginning her blog, Drew has worked for Hyperallergic, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and Lehmann Maupin. Then she gave lectures and participated in panel discussions at places such as the New Museum, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Brooklyn Museum. Drew was honored by AIR Gallery as the recipient of their inaugural Feminist Curator Award, was selected as one of the YBCA100 by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and selected as one of Brooklyn Magazine’s Brooklyn 100. Another question that was asked was what were the challenges in working in the digital platform.

Drew explained that in her role as Social Media Manager at the Met the strategy for digital access for the Met constantly change. She also points out, that in addition to pointing out the challenges, she enjoys her work in adapting materials to make them more accessible for various people of limited abilities. Also, Drew discussed that a line must be drawn between being glued to the computer and “unplugging”; in other words, one managing social media has to find ways to not make working on social media taxing. This I understand because it is important to access resources shared on social media but there are so many things on the Internet that it can be easy to end up glued to the computer or laptop. I myself use social media to keep up to date on resources I see from various museums and museum associations and to maintain networks made on the social media sites; what I usually do to find a balance of spending time away from social media and on social media is I dedicate time to look through social media sites to see what has been posted, then I saved what captured my attention and move on to other aspects in life away from the computer.

Drew moved on to the topic on the future of museums and communities. She stated that museums should be encouraged to continue connecting with the community outside of the museum. Drew also stressed the importance of reaching out to community leaders, and to bridge dialogue with the community through social media outlets. Initiating dialogue goes a long way for making people aware of what organizations such as historic house museums and art institutions offer since it is easy for people to forget about their existence even when they live near these places. I agree that it is significant to maintain a strong relationship with the community because it helps support museums importance within the community and maintaining museums as resources communities can turn to. When museums maintain and update their social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, people understand what museums have to offer in terms of programming and resources they can participate in and use. For instance, I continue to learn more about museums on Long Island by following them on their Facebook pages.

After the discussion opened to questions from the audience in the center, one of the questions asked was what projects inspires Drew and brings her joy. She did not point to a specific project but she stated that she likes people and she is happy to be able to talk to many people and hear different perspectives. I see where she is coming from because since getting more involved in social media myself and creating this blog I have met so many people and learned a lot from them on their experiences and perspectives in the field; I appreciate all the responses to the blog, and thank you all for continuing to inspire me to continue to write. Drew also said that she likes walking to the Met each day and notice people take selfies and share them on the social media sites since she sees so many different stories and perspectives in each one. This further points out that people’s experiences in museums vary from person to person, and different aspects of museums make an impact in various ways. Museums continue to serve the community, and we need to continue social media to adapt to an evolving society.

How does your organization use social media? What are the challenges you face on social media?

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?