Virtual Museum Experiences: Impressions of Museum Education Roundtable’s Journal of Museum Education

August 1, 2019

This week Museum Education Roundtable released the forty-fourth volume, number three edition of their journal, Journal of Museum Education, online. In case you are not familiar with the journal, the Journal of Museum Education is a peer-reviewed journal released by the Museum Education Roundtable four times a year that explores and reports on theory, training, and practice in the museum education field. Each journal is divided into at least four sections, and in the latest edition they are: Editorial; Articles; Tools, Frameworks and Case Studies; and Book Review. In this edition of the Journal, there are four articles focused on virtual reality, five pieces in the Tools, Frameworks and Case Studies, and a book review of the book Intentional Practice for Museums: A Guide for Maximizing Impact by Randi Korn.

On Museum Education Roundtable’s website, they released links to the articles from this edition Virtual Visits: Museums Beaming in Live focusing on using virtual reality for museum experiences. I believe that utilizing virtual reality in museum education is a helpful tool for visitor experiences, and while it does not replace the in-person experience, but it especially is a benefit for individuals who are not able to for various reasons be in the physical space. I have limited experience with virtual reality, but I continuously seek professional development opportunities to advance my skills as a museum educator; which is why I took advantage of reading these articles.

At the Long Island Explorium, a children’s science museum, I have worked with virtual reality programs for educational and entertainment purposes. Each visitor had the opportunity to wear a virtual reality headset and participate in a couple of programs that came with the Microsoft virtual reality system. One of the programs allowed visitors to tour through the solar system wearing the headset and using the handsets participants can click on each star, planet, etc. to learn more about everything about solar systems. The second program gives participants two ancient ruins and their modern landscapes to tour through to learn the history of each civilization; participants can tour through either Peru or Rome. What was different about this program from the solar system program is participants can move around a little bit as if they were really standing in the locations. The Microsoft system we used connected to the PC and Smartboard which allowed individuals who were not wearing the headset to view what the person wearing it sees.

Since I was guiding visitors and showed the rest of the museum staff how to use the virtual reality, I have gained some experience using it and recognize the value of virtual reality in museums. Both programs provide an educational opportunity for visitors to explore space and civilizations where they are most likely have not been before. When I read the latest edition of Journal of Museum Education, I shared the sentiment the Editor-in-Chief, Cynthia Robinson, shared in the journal

“Although virtual access does not provide some of the authenticity of a physical encounter, it is no less meaningful than reading a history book to learn about and imagine the past, or viewing a filmed documentary of a place we would otherwise not visit.”

By including virtual reality in museums, museum professionals can provide another medium they will utilize for programs and exhibits to reach out to visitors. My experience with virtual reality showed me the potential of its use in a children’s science museum and based on the programs I worked with I have no doubt it could work with varying types of museums.

Individuals can take advantage of virtually visiting museums and participating in museum programs that are far from home, or places that are not entirely handicapped accessible. According to one of the articles, “Virtual Visits: Museums Beaming in Live”, Allyson Mitchell stated

“Museum educators already interpret the collections and content of their institutions through educational programming to meet the needs of family, school age, adult, senior, and community audiences. IVL [Interactive Virtual Learning] programs provide a similar real-time connection to a museum professional who facilitates personalized learning experiences that actively engage groups visiting virtually to forge deeper connection to cultural institutions and lifelong learning.”

IVL programs provide live interactive broadcasts that offer visitors at a distance real-time connection to a museum professional and resources. I had my first experience with an IVL program during a professional development program. During last year’s New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference, I participated in a session called Virtual Field Trips: Traveling Through Time and Space to Connect Museums and Audiences in which session speakers discussed the benefits and challenges of running and planning virtual field trips. Also, they performed a demonstration what a virtual field trip is like using Skype by giving us a brief demonstration of what it would be like to be in space without wearing a space suit. As I continued to read the Journal of Museum Education, I realize the continued potential of virtual reality use in museums not only in programs but with museum collections.

In the article “Defining Interactive Virtual Learning in Museum Education: A Shared Perspective”, Kasey Gaylord-Opalewski & Lynda O’Leary discussed how all cultural institutions can benefit from a top-notch virtual learning program in terms of outreach, diversity, and promotion of collection. According to Gaylord-Opalewski and O’Leary, there are multiple benefits of using

“The world of IVL is commonly viewed as an addendum to an onsite experience with cultural institutions such as zoos, museums, libraries, science centers, and the like. Through dedicated virtual educators trained to interpret collections using synchronous technology, IVL programs serve not just as an addendum to onsite experiences, but rather as a conduit for greater outreach and promotion to audiences that may never have the opportunity to visit the collections of a museum in person – due to budget, physical limitations, or distance.”

While the program I used at the Long Island Explorium was used as one of the additions used onsite, I believe in the potential to reach out to many current and potential visitors who do not always have access to museums in person. Museum professionals have always investigated ways we can draw more visitors to our museums and sites, and as technology continues to develop we continue to figure out different ways we can reach out to people to share resources and collections.

Discussion Questions: Have you used virtual reality, whether it was in a museum or not? What is your reaction to virtual reality? Do you think virtual reality could be useful in museums? Why or why not?

Resources:

www.museumedu.org/jme/jme-44-3-virtual-visits-museums-beaming-in-live/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/05/24/social-media-journalists-at-conferences-my-experience-as-one-at-nycmer-2018/

Historic House Keeping: A Hands-On Professional Development Experience

July 18, 2019

On previous blog posts, I shared my experiences in participating in professional development programs including conferences and seminars. I participated in another program that would not only help me refresh my skills as a public historian and museum professional but could also help several museum professionals who are responsible for collections. Also, by sharing my experience in professional development programs it will also help individuals understand the challenges museum professionals face to maintain our collections for the public to enjoy and appreciate.

This past Monday I participated in a Historic House Keeping all-day seminar provided by the Greater Hudson Heritage Network in New York. Greater Hudson Heritage Network serves the museum and history communities as a catalyst to advance professional standards and practices, build the capacity of organizations to meet their missions, and create a network of effective and professional stewards of regional history and culture now and in the future. It serves member cultural organizations, their staffs, their boards, and their communities in New York State and beyond, offering consultations and assistance, a resource network, and professional development opportunities to advance the work of historians, historic house museums, heritage centers, historic sites, archives, and libraries. The workshop I participated in was one of the examples of programs Greater Hudson Heritage Network offers.

Before I took this workshop, my previous experience with historic housekeeping was at the Connecticut Landmarks historic houses in Hartford. At the houses, I assisted in cleaning the floors, carpets, and the collections within the house including but not limited to furniture and toys. I also unpacked and set up holiday decorations that were in the collections to use during the holiday season. For summer tours, I helped set up the family trunk used for their summer trips to Niantic and laid out their wool bathing suits on the bed they once wore when they swam in the summertime. I decided to take this workshop to both refresh my memory of historic housekeeping but to learn more about techniques that I should utilize when I take on my next historic housekeeping project.

Historic House Keeping took place at the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport on Long Island. The Vanderbilt Museum, located in Suffolk County, includes the Eagle Nest Mansion once owned by William K. Vanderbilt II. He established a trust fund to finance the operation of the museum and deeded it to Suffolk County, New York, upon his death in 1944. Suffolk County opened the museum to the public in 1950.

During the full-day workshop, I learned the proper, hands-on methodology of collections care by working directly with collections which equipped myself and other attendees with the knowledge and skill sets necessary for cleaning, handling, and storing collections, along with the tools to teach our volunteer base these critical skills. Participants received a lite breakfast, networking luncheon, resource packet, and cleaning toolkit. The day began with introductions to Before we began our sessions, we had an opportunity to participate in an hour-long tour of the Mansion.

We learned a lot about the history of the Eagle’s Nest Mansion and the history of the Vanderbilt family. Each room we visited within the Mansion gave us a glimpse at the life of William K. Vanderbilt II through the estate that memorializes his legacy. Once we completed the tour, we were separated into three groups to start the first session before our lunch break. After the lunch break, we went to our next two sessions in our groups. While we did listen to their tips and had the opportunity to ask them questions, we were able to move and handle table settings, pack textiles, clean the carpet and objects, and clean silver based on the tips we were given. When we completed the three sessions, the three groups came back together to work together on a couple of storage and cleaning sessions. Also, we learned about various archival boxes that are recommended for various types of collections.

I enjoyed the full-day workshop not only because it was a great way to network with museum and history professionals, but we worked with session professionals on hands-on projects. We were able to practice our skills so we would know what to do when we are faced with these situations. At the end of the program, we were given cleaning kits of our own that included materials we used during our sessions and information we can refer to later during our own historic housekeeping. The main purpose of each session we participated in was how to prolong the collection items for preservation and for people to learn more about the past. If we do not practice these steps in preserving our collections, we will lose all of the physical connections to the past more quickly through decay. By participating in this workshop, I feel that I am better prepared for cleaning and preserving historic houses.

Discussion Questions: What techniques do you use in historic housekeeping? As a visitor of historic houses, what are your impressions of how the collections are displayed?

To learn more about the places I referenced and Greater Hudson Heritage Network, check out the links below.

Resources:

http://www.greaterhudson.org/

https://www.vanderbiltmuseum.org/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/04/25/museum-memories-connecticut-landmarks-historic-houses-in-hartford/

Patron Request: Museums I Would Like To Visit

Added to Medium, December 13, 2018

I have been asked a number of times throughout my life so far what museums I have been to and which ones I would like to visit. For this month’s Patron request, I decided to answer their question with a list of museums I would like to visit with a brief description of the museum, mission, and why I would like to visit this museum. This list is in no particular order, and it could be museums in and outside of the United States. I am only limiting myself to eight museums even though my list of museums is much longer because the blog post would be too long. Here are some of the museums I would like to visit in the future:

1. Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, PA: It explores the dramatic, surprising story of the American Revolution through its collection of Revolutionary-era weapons, personal items, documents, and works of art. I want to visit the Museum of the American Revolution not only because one of the histories I am most passionate about is Early American history but the last time I visited Philadelphia I was a kid and would have loved to visit a museum like this one in addition to visiting the Liberty Bell. https://www.amrevmuseum.org/

2. Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco, CA: The Museum is about the life story of Walt Disney, the man who raised animation to an art, tirelessly pursued innovation, and created a distinctly American legacy that transformed the entertainment world. It features contemporary, interactive galleries with state-of-the-art exhibits narrated in Walt’s own voice alongside early drawings, cartoons, films, music, a spectacular model of Disneyland, and a lot more. Since I am one of many who have grown up watching Disney films, both animated and live action, and have had a fascination for the history of the Disney family after watching a couple of Walt Disney movies and documentaries, I would like to visit the museum in person. https://www.waltdisney.org/

3. Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA: It a public learning laboratory exploring the world through science, art, and human perception. Their mission is to create inquiry-based experiences that transform learning worldwide. A few of my colleagues at the Long Island Explorium talked about how impressive their exhibits and interactive experiences are, and would like to see this for myself. https://www.exploratorium.edu/

4. Barnum Museum, Bridgeport, CT: The Museum is a leading authority on P.T. Barnum’s life and work, and it contains more than 60,000 artifacts relating to Barnum, Bridgeport, and 19th century America. I went to the circus once as a child, and I thought that the history of the circus was interesting. Also, when I was an intern at Connecticut’s Old State House I learned that P.T. Barnum once served the state inside the Old State House. After talking with a museum colleague who I met online who works at the Barnum Museum and learning about the restoration plan of the Museum from the Director, Kathleen Maher’s, presentation at the NEMA conference, I would like to visit the museum and learn more about P.T. Barnum and his influence on American culture. https://barnum-museum.org/

5. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.: This museum is the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women through the arts, and advocates for better representation of women artists and serves as a vital center for thought leadership, community engagement, and social change. It is a fascinating museum and I have not been to many museums that focus solely on women and the accomplishments made by women. As a woman myself, I think it is especially important to learn more about what these women have accomplished and how their accomplishments impacted the nation. https://nmwa.org/

6. The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, Netherlands: In cooperation with Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, the museum was established inside the house where Anne Frank went into hiding and its’ mission is to increase awareness of Anne’s life story all over the world. Since I learned about Anne Frank and her life while I was in school, I wanted to visit in person to not only learn more about the lives of those who hid in the house but I also think it is important to put into perspective what it would be like to be hidden in a small space by stepping into that space. https://www.annefrank.org/en/museum/

7. The Louvre, Paris, France: Since 1793, the Louvre was intended to be a universal museum in terms of the wealth of the collections (which there are thousands of art and artifacts) and its diversity of its visitors. While it is the most visited museum in the world, I have always wanted to travel to France since I started to learn French when I was in middle school and see the vast history and art that the Louvre has collected in its long history as a museum. https://www.louvre.fr/en/

8. Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence, Italy: This is the largest Franciscan church in the world, and the construction of the current church that replaced an older one began in May 1294. I have relatives who live in northern Italy and in addition to visiting them I would like to see the Basilica for its architectural significance as well as its art and monuments including Michelangelo’s and Galileo’s tombs. http://www.santacroceopera.it/en/default.aspx

What are some of the museums you are interested in visiting?

If you would like to learn more about Patreon and make your own requests please visit my Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward

Summer Memories, and How to Prepare for the Upcoming School Year

Added to Medium, August 24, 2018

Most of the summer for museum educators is dedicated to organizing the school programs for the upcoming school year. Since we also focus on practicing self-care, museum educators also focus their summers on spending time enjoying the summer vacation. With schools starting soon, a lot of our minds especially museum educators reflect on what has been accomplished during the summer and finalize programs for the upcoming school year.

This week’s main topic on #MuseumEdChat’s Twitter discussion was a recap of our summers. Participants were asked to share where we went during the summer (from far away places to a couple of blocks away), books, articles, and what skills we learned outside of the field that we can adopt into our practice as museum educators. Also, we were encouraged to share photographs from our summer experiences. The memories I have shared with #MuseumEdChat are:

I took part in planning and executing Culper Spy Tour in collaboration with the @fairfieldmuseum and I planned and executed a test summer program for the Three Village Historical Society #MuseumEdChat

@Museumptnrs
Q2: Read any good books (or articles or magazines or blogposts or listened to podcasts)? Tell us! They can be #museum or work related, or not… we all need to escape now and then… #MuseumEdChat
A2 I am currently reading The Forgotten Founding Father by Joshua Kendall about Noah Webster (shout out to @NoahWebHouse where I used to work!) and I am reading the current edition of the Journal of Museum Education #MuseumEdChat

@Museumptnrs
Q3. OK, there has to be a good story – whether it’s a #museum story or not… tell us – in 180 characters or less (or a string of replied tweets)! #MuseumEdChat
A3 I don’t know if you mean recent stories or not but the pictures of seagulls I posted reminded me of when I was a kid visiting my grandparents on the Cape my cousins, sisters, and I were feeding seagulls then suddenly a swarm of them chased us across the beach. #MuseumEdChat

Plus I also shared that I went to Robert Moses Beach in Babylon, New York with my fiancé and friends then went to one of our friends’ houses for a game night. I also shared a few photographs of seagulls from that day that reminded me of my childhood. It was a lively conversation that showed so many museum professionals enjoying their summers in and out of the field.

Now we think about what we need to do to prepare for the upcoming school year. Museum educators prepare for school visits by, and not limited to, sharing what the museums have to offer to school teachers and their students and prepare materials to have enough for each program. By advertising school programs ahead of time, teachers are made aware of what they can offer to their students to aide the lessons learned within the classroom. Museum educators also review evaluations from the previous school year to figure out how to improve the quality of their education programming to meet the standards and expectations of the visiting schools.

An upcoming resource from the New England Museum Association offers information to help museum educators prepare for this school year. According to their website, this month’s Lunch with NEMA webinar, Small Goals are Better than No Goals: An Hour for Museum Educators to Plan for Evaluation and Reflection Before the Madness Begins,

During this session, you’ll set realistic evaluation goals for the upcoming year—whether you simply want to find ways to be more reflective about your personal practice or you want to develop an evaluation plan for your entire department.

I plan to use this resource to assist myself and my teams to see how we can develop our educational programming and utilize our evaluations in the most effective way possible.

What is your plans for the upcoming year? How are your educators and/or education departments preparing for this school year?

Resource: https://nemanet.org/conference-events/lunch-nema/museum-educators/

Planning a Summer Program: My Experience Creating a Summer Camp Program

Added to Medium, August 2, 2018

On August 1st, I executed and implemented a test summer program for the Three Village Historical Society. I spent months with the rest of the Education Committee coming up with ideas for activities and coming up with a list of materials needed for the program. During those months, I developed the invoice, lesson plan, and evaluation forms for the program. While planning this program, I thought a lot about summer programming and the significance of keeping activity going in the museum during the summer.

 
Last year I discussed in a previous blog post about previous experiences with summer programs in museums. I included a link to the blog post “Summertime: Keeping Audiences Coming to Museums” below which provided details about my experience at Connecticut’s Old State House, Connecticut Landmarks, Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, and the Long Island Museum. I stated my plans with the Three Village Historical Society:
I also began working with Three Village Historical Society on education programs. Collaborating with the Director of Education and the Historian, I will work on school and kids summer programs. I look for inspiration from past programs Three Village Historical Society has taught, my own experiences, and the lessons I learned from professional development programs. Summer programs and the staff who develop them I have learned from my experiences provide opportunities for visitors to return for more programming. It is important to have it well advertised so more people will be able to know about these programs through outlets such as social media, newspaper ads, flyers, mailings, and/or a mixture of any of the previous methods. Also, it is important to develop a way to evaluate the programs to see what works and what needs to be improved on.
A few months ago, the plan I mentioned in last year’s blog post was put into action. As we planned and implemented the program, we found that there are things we could improve upon for future programs.

 
One of the first steps that were taken was to find a camp that is willing to participate in our test summer program. The Three Village Historical Society decided to ask Campus Camps in Oakdale to participate in the demonstration, and they accepted our invitation. I was put in charge of not only being the main person to maintain contact with Campus Camps but I was also put in charge of leading the activities. Both parties came to an agreement on the cost and number of participants for the program, and we determined that the program should last about two hours. Since this summer program is a test run, we decided to charge the regular rate for school programs but decided to revisit the summer program rates in the future.

 
During the initial process, I developed a couple of documents to put our agreements into writing and to allow program participants provide feedback for us to keep or make changes going forward. After we made the agreements for the amount of campers and rates, I drew up an invoice based on the historical society’s invoice set up for school programs and sent it to the director of Campus Camps. Then I created two different versions of evaluation forms for campers and counselors, and the rest of the Education Committee’s reviewed the forms so we would be able to determine what we want to take away from the evaluations so we should ask the right questions that will help us improve the program.

 
In the counselors’ evaluations, the first couple of questions asked them to provide a rating for their experience with the program and the educational value of the program. The third question asked the counselors to rate the staff and explain how the staff could be more effective while leaving the fourth question to have the counselors elaborate on their previous ratings. The last question asked the counselors to provide any suggestions or recommendations for improving the summer program.

 
In the campers’ evaluations, we asked them to describe what their favorite part of the visit was, what they were surprised about, and what they would like to learn more about. At the end of the sheet, they were also given an option to draw a picture or write a story about their favorite part of the trip. The evaluation forms were given to the counselors at the end of the program.

 
Once we had the evaluation forms developed, we were ready to develop the lesson plan to use as a guideline. The Education Committee met on a weekly basis to discuss ideas for activities focused on the Culper Spy Ring, and we came to a consensus on how this test program will be run. I took the notes I wrote down from our brainstorming and planning process to develop the lesson plan.

 
We decided to have the campers walk through the Culper Spy Exhibit and once they have walked through the campers will gather in the room to listen to the introduction. In the introduction, we would explain what the Culper Spy Ring is as well as who the spies were: Benjamin Tallmadge (who was in charge of the espionage ring), Robert Townsend, Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster, Austin Roe, and Anna Smith Strong. During this introduction, a brief explanation of what the campers would expect from the program is given. We have three stations to divide the campers into to participate in writing messages using invisible ink, creating clues to guess which Culper Spy they portray called Who Am I?, and solving codes. Each station has an opportunity to create their own presentations to share with the rest of the participating campers to see what they learned and discovered at the end of the program. The campers picked the names of stations out of a basket to help move the process along.

 
In the Invisible Ink station, campers would first practice writing with quill pens and lemon juice. While their first sample dried, campers would make predictions of whether milk, baking soda and water mixture, or lemon juice would work better for use as invisible ink. After making their predictions, the campers wrote messages using each method. As those messages dried, since I was in charge of this station, I would discuss invisible ink or sympathetic stain with the campers and demonstrate how pH pens worked on revealing messages. The campers then prepared poster boards for their presentations, and used an iron to reveal their hidden messages. Each camper had varying results since some found that baking soda worked better while others found lemon juice worked better. What each camper agreed was the heat worked better to reveal the hidden messages than the pH pens for the majority of the invisible ink methods.

 
In the Who Am I? station, the leader would explain why the Three Village Historical Society wanted a permanent display to be made so campers can contribute to the exhibit. The campers can choose from six characters who were involved in the Culper Spy Ring, pick and try on costumes, and pick related props for their characters. Once they picked their characters, they have an opportunity to practice out their clues and act as their characters.

 
In the Coding station, the leader would explain what coding is to the campers and then show a poster of a primary source document, Tallmadge’s Code. The campers received a copy of one of the original letters written by Abraham Woodhull and a dictionary code of Tallmadge’s Code to decode letter. Also, the leader would show campers other samples of types of codes and the campers would choose one to decode. Then the campers chose a code to write their own message with to have other campers attempt to decode.
We used the past couple of days earlier in the week to prepare for the program. The Director of Education and myself went in to the Three Village Historical Society to set up the costumes and props, the invisible ink section, and the coding sections. Then we left the rest of the preparation for the morning of the program.

 
On the day of the program, we tested our flexibility skills when we executed and implemented the program. As the campers came in, the campers were older than we initially believed they would be so we made last minute adjustments to each of the stations, and we added a trip to the nearby cemetery at the Presbyterian Church so the campers could visit Abraham Woodhull’s grave. Overall, the campers as well as the counselors seemed to enjoy the visit, and we had a blast working with the group. The Education Committee will meet again to compare notes and see what we can do to develop the summer program further as we look to the future.

 
Have you planned a summer program in the past? What were your experiences like?
Resources:
Summertime: Keeping Audiences Coming to Museums: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-9v
Three Village Historical Society: http://www.threevillagehistoricalsociety.org/

What Grants Mean for Museums

Added to Medium, July 26, 2018

Museum professionals understand that grants are significant for funding museums to keep them exercising their practices such as running programs and caring for collections. Based on my experiences, grants are a tedious necessity since there is a lot of paperwork that needs to be filled out to fund museums, and the information we need to fill out for grants is repetitive depending on how many times we need to apply to the same grant.

One of my responsibilities at the Long Island Explorium includes writing grant applications and proposals. I have worked with state grants and kit applications to keep the museum fulfilling its mission. With the Executive Director, I filled out paperwork to send to the state representative and the county legislator. Also, I filled out online applications for program kits such as the Earth Science Earth & Space Toolkit to be able to use at the museum. In the Earth Science Earth & Space Toolkit application, I would first write in the museum’s demographics as well as a brief explanation of how the museum will use the toolkit in a downloaded form then copy the information into the online application after making adjustments to reflect the current year.

While my main interest in the museum field is education, I see value in learning about grant application processes since we need a fund source that is at least somewhat consistent to keep museum education programs running. The problems we all come across in the field is limited availability of grants and being able to convince foundations, government agencies, and other funders of why we need these funds. It is a challenge to find funding for our museums but it is worth the time and effort to search and apply for these grants.

Foundations, organizations, government agencies, and other funding sources have websites that share resources on what grants are out there and how to apply for them. I came across a blog post on the American Alliance of Museum’s website written by Charlotte A. Montgomery who shared some of the websites about grants to help museum professionals get started on the grant search process. One of the websites in the post was for the Foundation Center (http://foundationcenter.org/) which connects people to the resources they need by using data, analysis, and training. Another grant website discussed in the blog post was Grants.gov which is a place to find and apply for federal grants, and it is highly advisable to make sure the organization is registered with the System for Award Management weeks before planning to submit a proposal. Once museum professionals find the grant or grants they want to apply for, they need to figure out what the grant process is like to accurately submit a proposal.

Sarah Sutton’s second edition of Is Your Museum Grant-Ready? revealed one of the first things to do before even thinking about applying for grants is to understand the grant funding system. According to Sutton, she pointed out that

If you need funds for programs or capital projects, then the best way to support the grants process is to understand it well enough to ask the right questions and provide the right kind of material and assistance.

When museum professionals are able to ask the right questions and provide the right kind of material as well as assistance, the whole grant process will be easier to understand for future grant applications. Also, museums would save a lot of time when figuring out how to apply for the grant. Without knowing how the process is performed, a lot of time is wasted as we continue to correct the errors are made.

I learned that it is important to go over each detail carefully while I was filling out grant paperwork for the Long Island Explorium. Since I have to make a number of copies to send to the state representative and county legislator, it was easy for me to make and discover errors. The good news was I was able to catch them before I sent the paperwork in the mail. If any errors were made in the process, we would not be able to know until a few months after submitting the paperwork; it would take a few months for them to go through the grant paperwork. Understanding the process is beneficial for myself as well as all museum professionals working on grant proposals. Since there are so many museums that apply to grants, each museum need to figure out how they can stand out from other applications.

As I was reviewing information about grants, I came across two blog posts on answers to grant proposals if non-profits were brutally honest. The writer pointed out that non-profits are trained to tell funders what we think they want to hear, and had collected various honest answers to questions posed by grant applications. If non-profits are able to be brutally honest, some of the answers are

  1. What is innovative about your program design? “Our program is entirely innovative. The design is unproven; the approach is untested; the outcomes are unknown. We also have a tried-and-true service delivery model with outstanding results and a solid evidence base to support it. But you funded that last year and your priority is to fund innovative projects. So we made this one up. Please send money.”
  2. How will you use the funds if you receive this grant? We honestly really need this grant to pay for rent and utilities and for wages so our staff can do important work and feed their families, but since you won’t allow your funds to be used for those things, we will say that your grant is paying for whatever you will actually fund, then get other funders or donors to give and then tell them that their money is paying for the stuff that they want to fund. We will ultimately waste hundreds of hours every year trying to figure out who is paying for what, hours that could be used to deliver services. Please send unrestricted money.
  3. What is the mission of your organization? Susan, can we talk? This is a renewal grant. It’s the third year you have supported us. You know what our mission is, along with our programs, outcomes, challenges, etc., because we’ve been in constant communication. Instead of writing an entire proposal again as if you’ve never heard of us, how about I just tell you what’s new since last year? That will save us both a lot of time. What’s new is that Jason got a standing desk that he made out of cardboard boxes and Gorilla tape because you and other funders want overhead to be low. He says hi. Also, demands for our services has doubled. Please send double the amount of money you normally send.
  4. What needs are you addressing? We are addressing the failure of our government and capitalism to provide for people who are suffering from systemic injustice caused by government and capitalism. Please send money or convince corporations and the rest of society to pay more taxes and take care of people better and put us nonprofit professionals out of business so that some of us can pursue our dreams of acting and/or wedding photography.

I believe a lot of museum professionals from time to time have identified with these honest responses. Museum professionals are constantly attempting to brainstorm innovative ideas for programs to draw visitors in and show foundations providing grants we have something unique worth putting money towards.

Also, we do need to consider paying for rent, utilities, and salaries when trying to fund our museums but the problem can be summed up with this question: is there a grant that will pay for us to be in our building and do the work we do to support ourselves? An honest response previously listed suggests there isn’t. One of the issues we are talking about in this field is the lack of providing living wages for our staff and how we should be working towards better pay. As we work towards addressing and resolving what we need to fix, we should acknowledge how we need to receive more support from the government to help us fix the problems we are facing in the museum field. We are constantly working towards making sure the government provides funding for our organizations through our advocacy efforts, and since we continue to struggle to make sure they run smoothly with sufficient funds we need to continue to advocate for our museums.

We acknowledge the need for grants in our organizations, and without grants we would have a hard time keeping our museums running.

Have you worked on a grant or grants for your organization? What are your experiences with grants?

Resources:
http://nonprofitaf.com/2018/02/answers-on-grant-proposals-if-nonprofits-were-brutally-honest-with-funders/
http://nonprofitaf.com/2018/07/answers-on-grant-proposals-if-nonprofits-were-brutally-honest-part-2/
https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442273108/Is-Your-Museum-Grant-Ready-Second-Edition
http://ww2.aam-us.org/about-us/grants-awards-and-competitions/grants-calendar
https://www.comnetwork.org/insights/
http://www.raise-funds.com/positioning-grant-writers-for-success/
https://www.aam-us.org/2015/02/02/your-museum-needs-money-now-what/
http://www.smallmuseum.org/smaresources
https://www.childrensmuseums.org/members/resources/grants-and-award-calendar

Patron Request: Does History Repeat Itself? A Discussion About This Concept

Added to Medium, June 14, 2018

One of the common thoughts that has been discussed numerous times over the years is “does history repeat itself”. We continue to ask ourselves this question as well as: What makes history repeat itself? Individuals in and outside of academia talked about the concept of history repeating itself especially when discussing current events that remind ourselves of the past. I was introduced to the concept itself while I was studying history in college. One of my history professors had stated, which I will never forget, that history does not repeat but rhymes. I think it is a good point because we are not repeating the exact same circumstances of the past but we are living through situations that definitely sound similar.

For instance, we do not go through every single day by going through the same movements and the same actions of Pearl Harbor in a time loop forever. We do, however, see similar patterns that are recognized from previous historic events as we face current events. When I was asked to write about this concept, I thought it would be a good topic to write about this week and to revisit the concept by doing research on what has been written about the topic. While I was doing my research, I found numerous information about the concept of history repeating itself.

The concept of history repeating itself is also known as historic recurrence. In addition to the concept of history rhyming, I also like the term “historic recurrence” because it acknowledges actions that have reappeared in different circumstances. G.W. Trompf’s The Idea of Historical Recurrence in Western Thought, from Antiquity to the Reformation, they discussed that historical recurrence has variously been applied to the overall history of the world (such as the rises and falls of empires), to repetitive patterns in the history of a given society, and to any two specific events which bear a striking similarity. A post called “Short Paragraph on the concept of history repeats itself” provided a brief discussion about historic recurrence. It stated that,

History is thus nothing, but man’s long struggle for survival, identity and values. The struggle has often been born more than a slight resemblance in methods used and the manner adopted in such period. Such repetition of historical fact-events, ideas and acts-sometimes makes us think that there was nothing coincidental, but a planned sequence leading towards a pre-destined goal.

These statements pointed out an important idea: history is a human experience. Humans make various decisions every day whether they are living now or have lived a thousand years ago. Even though all humans that have existed and currently live on this planet lived with different technological advances and life expectancy, each human develop similar habits, thought processes, and actions which leaves the next human to look back at past human experiences and see similar patterns.

Historic recurrence is not a new concept, rather the discussions about historic recurrence began in ancient times. According to Trompf, ancient western thinkers focused on cosmological rather than historic recurrence and they introduced western philosophers and historians who have discussed various concepts of historic recurrence including Polybius, the Greek historian and rhetorician Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Italian philosopher and historian Niccolò Machiavelli. A modern historian named Arnold J. Toynbee also discussed concepts of historic recurrence.

Scholars have come up with their own conclusions about historic recurrence within their works. Arnold J. Toynbee’s book Civilization on Trial has a chapter dedicated to historic recurrence called “Does History Repeat Itself?”, and provides an example of thoughts on historic recurrence. Toynbee stated in this chapter that

If human history repeats itself, it does so in accordance with the general rhythm of the universe; but the significance of this pattern of repetition lies in the scope that it gives for the work of creation to go forward. In this light, the repetitive element in history reveals itself as an instrument for freedom of creative action, not as an indication that God and man are the slaves of fate (38).

In other words, Toynbee believes history repeats itself based on humans having the capability of making their own decisions and have the choice to follow on their actions. Individuals also have the choice to make changes to move forward in society. Historic recurrence has been discussed in the past, and will continue to be discussed as long as humans continue to exhibit similar behaviors and make similar decisions.

What do you think of the concept of “history repeats itself”? Does it really repeat or rhyme? Do we have a choice in breaking these patterns? Why or why not?

Patron Request: People’s Experiences during the Great Depression

Added to Medium, May 31, 2018

As a benefit of being a Patreon contributor, you can send in requests for upcoming blog posts. For this week, I was asked to write about a topic in history that always interested this patron: people’s experience during the Great Depression. She is interested in this topic because she was told about her mother’s life when the Great Depression hit, and her mother told her that years later she did not realize the impact of the Great Depression until many years later when she talked about it with her friends. I also thought it is an interesting topic to discuss because I knew of the general information about what happened during the Great Depression, and learning more about the specific experiences of individuals within the United States would not only give us the human perspective of the event but it would also help us identify with the individuals as we continue to recover from the recession.

I took a closer look into learning about individuals’ experiences during the Great Depression through the material I came across.

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression which took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. According to PBS, on Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed, triggering the Great Depression, which was the worst economic collapse in the history of the modern industrial world. A strong believer in rugged individualism, President Herbert Hoover did not think the federal government should offer relief to the poverty-stricken population. Focusing on a trickle-down economic program to help finance businesses and banks, Hoover met with resistance from business executives who preferred to lay off workers. Not many people living during that time understood how everyone was living since the big hit and the years since then.

In Washington state, for instance, more than a quarter of the population had lost their source of income, from unemployment or loss of a family breadwinner. According to research from the University of Washington, in response to the larger changes happening in the government

People in Washington and across the nation developed new household and work practices, navigated emerging social systems of welfare, explored different avenues of social protest, and reworked their understandings of their role in communities, in the nation, and in the world.

The changes during the Great Depression were absolutely felt by the individuals who lived in the state. An article written and posted through the University of Washington by Annie Morro provides a glimpse of what everyday life was like in the town of Bellingham after the Great Depression.

In the town of Bellingham, which had been a thriving coal-mining town in Washington’s Whatcom County, many men found their wages and hours cut, or lost their jobs completely. Meanwhile the wives and mothers throughout Whatcom County did their best to adjust to the hard times, and one way to do this was to change household routines such as cooking simple recipes like Quick Breads that used every day ingredients and left money typically spent on bread for their other needs.

Women were expected to be a positive force in the community and the supportive center of a family and community weathering hardships. It was anticipated that women would become active community members by attending PTA meetings, raising funds for charities, collecting clothing for the needy, saving at the market, raising a family, and providing encouragement for disheartened husbands all while keeping up a happy, normal appearance. Children in the Bellingham community absolutely felt the affects of the Great Depression.

They were raised to be competitive on the job market and active members of their community, which reflected the cooperative community’s values as well as the competitive nature of a very tight job market. Older children, teenagers and college students, felt the effects of the Great Depression through school budget cuts which made it harder for them to begin their own lives through the difficult times. The experiences of each individual in the United States seemed similar while at the same time more specific experiences were different from one another.

I learned of an experience from the patron whose mother lived in Massachusetts as a little girl during the Great Depression. This patron’s mother grew up on Cape Cod, and lived on vegetables grown in her family’s garden. As an adult, she learned about one of her friends, who lived closer to the Boston area, knew too well about the concept of “coresies”. Coresies was when someone yelled out coresies that person would be able to eat the core of the apple once the person who was eating the apple left the core. As I compared the experiences of individuals from Washington and the two women from Massachusetts, I noticed that each individual of varying ages had different perspectives of the Great Depression based on what society expected from them.

Families had to adapt in order to survive, and their misfortunes did not seem to end until the New Deal introduced by Franklin Delano Roosevelt began to help people turn their lives around. It took until the end of World War II for the nation to fully recover from the Great Depression.

What experiences have you learned about individuals who lived during the Great Depression? Are there similarities and differences that stood out the most to you?

Want to be featured on my website? Is there a topic you would like me to write about for the next entry? Find out more on how you can become a patron to the website here: https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward

Resources
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/dustbowl-great-depression/
http://depts.washington.edu/depress/everyday_life.shtml
https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression
https://www.britannica.com/event/Great-Depression
https://www.nytimes.com/topic/subject/the-great-depression
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depression_cake
https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/8214/depression-cake-i/

How to Lead a Professional Development Program: Reflections of My Experience Presenting One on Gender Equity

Added to Medium, March 8, 2018

On Monday, March 5, 2018, I have had my first professional development program that I have presented for the field. The program was the Long Island Museum Association Roundtable, hosted by Preservation Long Island, called “Lessons from the Workplace: Women in the Museum”. I presented at this program with Anne Ackerson, who co-founded Gender Equity in Museums Movement in 2016. It was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot from the process of arranging it to presenting the program.

This process began last year when I met with a then board member of the Long Island Museum Association (LIMA) at a previous Roundtable program to propose an idea for a future Roundtable program. Since I then recently joined Gender Equity in Museums Movement, I thought it would be a good idea to bring awareness of gender equity to my colleagues on Long Island. For the next few months, I discussed the idea with various LIMA board members and presidents and figure out when the roundtable should be scheduled.

After proposing this idea, I kept in contact with the then LIMA board member until he retired from the museum field. I continued the conversation with the remaining board members. A date was finally set for March 5th, 2018.

While having discussions with the LIMA board members, I informed the rest of the GEMM coalition that LIMA is interested in having a program about gender equity. Since I have not been involved with GEMM for very long and that it was the first presentation I have had since graduate school, I asked during one of the GEMM meetings if anyone is interested in coming down to Long Island to help with the presentation. Anne Ackerson volunteered to help with the presentation by collaborating together on the presentation and driving down to Long Island to co-present with me.

She and I determined that it would be best to edit an existing PowerPoint presentation so we would not necessarily need to re-invented the wheel. GEMM committee members have volunteered in the past to present at similar programs to promote the coalition and discuss gender equity issues.

Anne and I continued planning the roundtable meeting by talking with LIMA board members about logistics. For promotional materials, we were asked to send information about ourselves, the program, and about GEMM. Both of us emailed our biographies and the summary of the program we will present the day of the presentation.

Because I am also a LIMA member, I received the email newsletter that promoted our program. The LIMA board decided that the program will be presented at the organization Preservation Long Island in Cold Spring Harbor; located in the Methodist Episcopal Church, Preservation Long Island is a not-for-profit organization committed to working with Long Islanders to protect, preserve, and celebrate our cultural heritage through advocacy, education, and the stewardship of historic sites and collections. According to the email newsletter, our program would begin with check in and coffee at nine in the morning. Then our program would begin at nine-thirty, and would last until twelve thirty.

Since we had a PowerPoint presentation that typically are for shorter programs, Anne and I decided we would figure out how to fill the rest of the time. We decided it would be a good idea to see if there are museum professionals on Long Island who are willing to participate in a panel to answer questions from us and the audience. If we were not able to have panelists, we would fill the time with time dedicated to questions and answers from the audience and small group discussions.

Small group discussions would allow audience members to divide into small groups to answer questions we provided on handouts so after they discussed the answers to the questions they will write the answers down. A few of the questions that were on the sheet include:

“What does your board do to advance gender equity within your museum? What can or should it do?”
“How does your museum eliminate gender bias in board or volunteer recruitment, and in hiring staff?”
“How would a statement of organizational values be useful in addressing equity in your museum?”

After the small group discussions were finished, we would collect at least one handout from each group so that the responses will be used for future publications from the coalition on gender equity issues.

We were able to have museum professionals participate in the panel, and because of this we also decided to break down time dedicated to the presentation, panel, and small group discussions so we would be able to keep track of the time for the program.

Anne arranged to have panelists from organizations on Long Island to join the roundtable and participate in the discussion on gender equity. On the day of the program, we were able to have four female museum and former museum professionals to participate in the panel.

The first participant was Sarah Abruzzi who is an accomplished executive and fundraising professional with 20 years of experience in the non-profit sector. She served as Director of two museums and worked in all aspects of museum operations including education, collections management, volunteer coordination, fundraising, communications, and government relations. Now Abruzzi serves as Director of Major Gifts and Special Projects at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook.

Then the next participant was Barbara Applegate who is the director of the Steinberg Museum of Art at Long Island University where she developed and presented exhibitions, many of them were made in collaboration with other institutions, and oversaw the development of special websites based on the Museum’s collection. Recently, she oversaw construction for the museum at a new campus location.

Marianne Howard, the Grant Writer for Mercy Haven in Islip Terrace, is another panel participant. Howard was previously the executive director for the Smithtown Historical Society, and she has held leadership positions among both museums and social services agencies in both New York City and on Long Island. She now works for Mercy Haven in Islip Terrace which is a non-profit organization which provides temporary and permanent housing and supportive services to those in need across Long Island.

Last but not least, Tracy Pfaff participated in the program as one of the four panelists. She became the Director of the Northport Historical Society in 2016, and before that she worked in a for-profit fine arts gallery, and she has interned at museums in Peru and Wyoming. Pfaff is the incoming co-president of LIMA with Theresa Skvarla. Once we were able to determine who would be able to participate in the panel, Anne and I discussed the schedule for the day as well as what should be divided among the two of us.

We decided to have the PowerPoint presentation at the beginning of the program which would last about fifteen to twenty minutes. Our presentation in the beginning was our welcome to the program as well as an overview of gender equity issues. The presentation has fourteen slides, and we made the decision to split the slides between the both of us.

Then the panel discussion would last for about forty minutes. Each of the panelists had opportunities to select questions they would like to address, and therefore not every panelist has to respond to every question. Nine questions were developed but we kept in mind that we may not be able to get to all of the questions. A couple of examples of questions that were addressed to the panelists are:

“Share an example of gender bias or inequity that affected your career and what you did about it.”
“What would you like to see our professional associations do to address gender bias? Is there a role for funders to advance the conversation?”
“In looking across the museum sector, where do you see the greatest positive movement to address gender inequity (i.e., collections, workforce and hiring, exhibits, etc.)”

Anne and I also decided to divide the questions between us so each of us would be able to ask questions to the panelists. We also allocated time for audience members to ask the panelists questions related to gender equity and the museum field.

Then we allocated time for a break so audience members can spend their time doing such as checking email, and get more coffee and pastries. During our conversations, we also decided to include a role playing activity after break and before the small group discussions.

Role playing activities would allow volunteers from the audience to play roles we give each pair and they will act out a scenario related to gender equity. We would allow up to five minutes of role playing then open it up to the audience to see how the situation could be handled differently or what their impressions were about the scenario. Also, we decided to have four different scenarios prepared for the program but we will start with two scenarios then see how much time is available.

Once the role playing and small group discussions are completed, we would wrap up the program by asking the audience to share a little bit of what their groups discussed and thanked them for coming out to hear our presentation and participate in our discussion.

A few days before the program, Anne and I spoke on the phone to finalize details for the day. We both agreed that it is important that we should be flexible and play by ear how we should proceed with the program to make sure the program is on schedule and to make sure our panelists and audience members are comfortable.

On the day of, I arrived early to take a look at the space we would be presenting in. Anne and I decided to take a few chairs from the first row to allow the panelists to sit there during the panel discussion and allow them to move to the back during the PowerPoint presentation. Also, we set up the PowerPoint presentation and mingled with museum professionals who have arrived for the program.

There were about between twenty and thirty museum professionals who arrived for the program which is more than Anne and I were expecting. We were very happy with the turn out, and we were also happy that many of them engaged with us, the panelists, and with each other about gender equity. Many questions, comments, and concerns were brought to us and we were able to answer to as many of them as possible. The discussion among the small groups was especially lively and we were able to collect many worksheets so we are able to use these answers for future publications.

There were some technical difficulties such as the microphone feed occasionally turned on and the lighting of the presentation made it a little hard to see the PowerPoint. I knew that we cannot always plan for everything, but we were flexible enough to continue on with the program. For instance, instead of using the last slide to share the small groups discussion we turned off the computer since we already had the questions on the handouts we gave audience members.

Overall, we had a very positive response from the program participants. We received many thanks from individuals we spoke with throughout the program. Also, I received congratulations from my colleagues and former colleagues I knew who attended the program. We also had many of them sign up to receive more information about GEMM, and we sent them the March newsletter we just sent out to other GEMM followers.

I learned a lot from this experience, and I am very proud to have arranged the program, been in the process, and in the program.

A special shout out to Anne Ackerson who has been so helpful during the process, and I thank you again Anne for everything leading up to and during the program.

What has your experiences been like presenting in professional development programs? Is there any advice you would give other professionals who start planning their own professional development programs?

How to Handle Trauma, Memory, and Lived Experience in Museums and Historic Sites

Added to Medium, February 15, 2018

This week I received Museum Education Roundtable’s March edition of Journal of Museum Education and the theme of this edition is “Interpreting Trauma, Memory, and Lived Experience in Museums and Historic Sites”. When I received the Journal in the field, it made me think about the experiences I have had in professional development and in the museum field with dealing with tough subject matter. It is important for all museum professionals, whether or not they directly work with narratives about traumatic events, understand how to interpret trauma, memory, and lived experience for the visitors.

The March edition of Journal of Museum Education have a few articles that delved into this subject matter.

For instance, Lauren Zalut’s, guest editor of this edition, “Interpreting Trauma, Memory, and Lived Experience in Museums and Historic Sites” introduces the subject of handling topics of trauma, memory, and lived experience. Zalut stated that,

Our field typically tells stories of trauma and complex issues through museum educators, tour guides, or docents who are generations or decades removed from the topic or event. This approach utilizes historical empathy, defined as developing “…understanding for how people from the past thought, felt, made decisions, acted, and faced consequences within a specific historical and social context.” Research reveals that this approach humanizes historic figures, but is applied inconsistently by educators.

We have the skills to convey the significance of these stories, however we need to commit to what consistent approach is needed.

Not many museums and organizations have a narrative that includes traumatic issues. There are museums such as U.S. Holocaust Museum and the National 9/11 Museum that discuss emotional and traumatic situations on a regular basis. Meanwhile, there are museums and organizations that share a part of its overall narrative dealing with traumatic, emotional, or lived experience.

One of my first experiences with interpreting trauma, memory, and lived experience was when I was working at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut. The Stanley-Whitman House is a living history center and museum that teaches through its collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington.

At the Stanley-Whitman House, I taught school programs that also discussed Native Americans and African Americans who lived in the early American Farmington. One of the students did ask if the house owners had slaves, and while at the time I was not entirely sure what the answer was I delicately explained that there were slaves in Farmington during the 17th century but slavery in the New England area was no longer accepted by the 1800s.

While I was in graduate school, I decided to work with the Stanley-Whitman House on a project that addressed slavery in Connecticut. I had a couple of classmates and colleagues join me in the team to work on this project for a Curatorship class requirement. We researched former slaves who worked and lived in Connecticut before the 1790 Census to present the research results about what slavery was like for slaves in Farmington to colleagues who attended the In Plain Sight symposium presentations and discussion.

Since working on this project and the symposium, there have been more developments on discussing slavery in Connecticut. One of my teammates collaborated with the Stanley-Whitman House to create a database on the information about slaves in Farmington. Also, more recently a new exhibit is opening this Saturday (February 17th) called “Slavery, Resistance & Freedom in Connecticut”; one of the students from the Public History program I graduated from at Central Connecticut State University researched, wrote, and designed the exhibit.

By being able to discuss slavery in Connecticut more, we are able to address what life had been like for enslaved individuals and draw more attention to their lived experiences.

I believe that with what the Stanley-Whitman House is doing now we are working towards helping visitors understand these lived experiences. Zalut pointed out the importance of encouraging visitors to ask questions and how museum educators have the skills to assist visitors in understanding and learning from the past:

Asking questions and spending time reflecting are critical parts of transforming the work of museum educators. If our field is genuine about its will to make space for visitors to process emotionally complex topics, spark social change, and learn from the past to make a more equitable present and future then museum educators are the ones to make it happen. We can create job opportunities for disenfranchised populations and draw in new audiences, but this work is resource intensive, and requires major internal work – both personally and institutionally. If taken on with great care, collaboration and gratitude, creating platforms for marginalized voices and narratives will be transformative for you, your visitors, your co-workers, your museum, and the field at large.

We have to dedicate our time and efforts as museum educators to create places marginalized voices and narratives can be heard and understood. Emphasis on spaces is especially important for visitors to feel they can go through the process of understanding untold stories.

Mark Katrikh’s “Creating Safe(r) Spaces for Visitors and Staff in Museum Programs” discusses visitors’ expectations of their museum experience. Visitors do not necessarily come to museums to have an emotional response, and it can be hard for them to be accustomed to this response especially when they are not prepared for it. Our responsibilities as museum educators include guiding visitors by helping them process their emotions with engaging dialogue between the museum educators and visitors. Katrikh discussed the Museum of Tolerance’s approach to having safe and responsible conversations through a framework for understanding and managing key issues when easing challenging conversations. Their framework points out there are many needs and interests participants have involved in conversations, and museum educators are responsible for approaching them with compassion, mindfulness, and skilled responses.

As museum educators, we do acknowledge that we always have the responsibility to engage with the visitors in a way that will allow them to take away with them the lessons our past have to offer. We are all responsible for figuring out what to do with these lessons to make our world a better place for us in the future. According to Katrikh,

At museums whose focus is discussing and presenting trauma, emotional responses are the norm. Visitors unprepared for such a personal experience can react in a multitude of ways along the spectrum that includes confusion, denial, inappropriate comments or questions, and anger. Anticipating such reactions, museums have a responsibility to build into their programming opportunities to promote dialogue, to process emotions and ultimately to allow visitors to reach a place of equilibrium.

We maintain balance within our museums, and by creating opportunities for visitors to process their emotions and reach a balance they would be able to take that lesson museum educators gave them to create a better community.

To be able to fulfill our responsibilities as museum educators, we should start with our training so we are prepared for the challenging conversations. Noah Rauch’s “A Balancing Act: Interpreting Tragedy at the 9/11 Memorial Museum” discussed the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s docent program and the challenges it presented. When the program was launched, it raised many questions including those on how to balance and convey strongly held, often traumatic, and sometimes conflicting experiences with a newly constructed institutional narrative. Since then the museum negotiated on specific issues and dealt with ongoing questions and challenges.

The more we work together, the more we learn and understand how our museums deal with fact-checking progresses, the more we are able to feel responsibility of our expertise in the events and life experiences. When we include more of our staff and volunteers in the training process, we would be able to connect to our missions and effectively help our visitors understand the narrative they learn.

When I participated in last year’s New York City Museum Education Roundtable’s (NYCMER) conference, I attended a session presented by the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum called The Challenges of Confronting Difficult Content. Rauch’s article reminded me of this session because both dealt with the challenges. While Rauch discussed mainly the docent perspective of the dealing with the subject matter, this NYCMER session discussed the school programs they developed and explained how their lessons approached difficult content.

In my blog post about the conference, Reflections on the NYCMER 2017 Conference, I revealed that I thought this session was interesting because these programs provided a way for students from third grade to seniors to express their thoughts on the events through art and discussion. The takeaways from the session are to address the common question: How to translate difficult content in ways that allow all visitors to correct with sensitive subject matter? And the second takeaway was as a differentiated and inclusive practice, strategy transcends content by incorporating storytelling and historical contents and current resonances/present day connections.

It is important to understand both perspectives of museum professionals and visitors so we can work on strengthening the relationship between the two. When we do, both museum staff and visitors will have the understanding and space to confront difficult content and learn the lessons they have to offer.

How has your museum or organization dealt with educating difficult content? What challenges have you faced when interpreting trauma, memory, and lived experience?

Resources:
Mark Katrikh (2018) Creating Safe(r) Spaces for Visitors and Staff in Museum Programs, Journal of Museum Education, 43:1, 7-15
Noah Rauch (2018) A Balancing Act: Interpreting Tragedy at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Journal of Museum Education, 43:1, 16-21
Lauren Zalut (2018) Interpreting Trauma, Memory, and Lived Experience in Museums and Historic Sites, Journal of Museum Education, 43:1, 4-6
If interested in exhibit opening I mentioned, register for the Stanley-Whitman House’s exhibit opening here: http://www.stanleywhitman.org/Calendar.Details.asp?ID=743&Cat=Visit