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

Originally posted on Medium, May 11, 2017. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response to Blog: “Museums are places to forget”

Originally posted on Medium, May 4, 2017. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EdComVersation: Developing a Strategy for Inclusion and Diversity

Originally posted on Medium, April 27, 2017. 

During the months of April and March, there has been a lot of discussion about inclusion, equity, and diversity. First, there was discussion about equity and inclusion in museums (https://medium.com/@steward.lindsey/equity-and-inclusion-in-museums-9abf113c861b). Second, there was the blog post on EdComVersation discussion about the Journal of Museum Education edition on Race, Dialogue, and Inclusion (https://medium.com/@steward.lindsey/edcomversations-and-journal-of-museum-education-race-dialogue-and-inclusion-1a6bdc61ebb5). Third, there was discussion about gender equity in museums(https://medium.com/@steward.lindsey/gender-equity-in-museums-an-important-issue-that-should-be-addressed-723341320b03).

To continue the discussion on inclusivity and diversity, I recently participated in this month’s EdComVersation about developing a strategy for inclusion and diversity. One of the two panelists for this webinar was Dina Bailey, the CEO of Mountaintop Vision, a consulting firm that focuses on working with organizations in change management and strategic initiatives in to embrace diversity and inclusion in communities. The second panelist was Chris Taylor, the Chief Inclusion Officer at the Minnesota Historical Society which preserves Minnesota’s past, shares the state’s stories and connects people with history. By participating in this program, I found the resources very helpful and informative since after learning more about inclusion, equity, and diversity I can continue my understanding of these topics by learning how to implement inclusion and diversity.

This month’s webinar’s format included questions from Sheri Levisky-Raskin, who moderated the discussion, and from participants in the webinar. Bailey and Taylor shared their answers to questions posted and their insights on creating strategies for inclusion and diversity. To begin the discussion, they shared their definition of inclusion and definition. According to Bailey, diversity is having different types of people in one space or program and inclusion is the action of coming together to do something. To add to these definitions, Taylor added that diversity is the intended outcome for an organization while inclusion is the process of how we get there and how we make decisions. Both Bailey and Taylor pointed out that in general people have used the terms “diversity” and “inclusion” interchangeably without realizing this; while these terms refer to the same subject both terms are different. The discussion continued with the difference between Strategy and strategy when developing a strategy for inclusion and diversity.

While defining inclusion and diversity, Taylor also brought up the point that while we are looking at the definitions of these terms we should also look at the definition of strategy. He stated that there is a difference between Strategy and strategy. Strategy with a capital “s” is the strategic planning with the question of what are the outcomes in mind; meanwhile, strategy with a lowercase “s” raises the question of what can you do within your team, and figure out how to do the day to day activities.

Bailey and Taylor answer the question of what can you do to come up with an inclusion plan towards diversity. They stated that it is better to either define diversity and inclusion for the organizational culture or to keep the definitions broad and genetic. Taylor reiterated this answer by pointing out inclusion comes from us and the organizational culture should contain one of the most important things to bring the work internally. Also, Bailey revealed that it is important to make it personal since it is difficult to maintain goals when terms are defined broadly.

The discussion continued by allowing participants to ask themselves where do inclusion and diversity sit in your institutions and gave additional advice on how to start integrating inclusion and diversity in the institutions. Bailey and Taylor stated that diversity must be a part of what you do and by having someone responsible for inclusion there would be someone to evaluate and implement written documents to support diversity in the institution. Other advice both gave are to include leadership in the process and volunteer to do stuff if higher levels do not have time to work on since it shows that you think it is important as well as passionate about diversity; find someone you trust to collaborate with; and use the resources available, and there are plenty, for inclusion and diversity.

Both Bailey and Taylor explained it is alright to have a small group of staff to start with on these discussions and to start on small projects. There are ways to start without spending a lot including getting to know who you are as a staff and institution to allow themselves to become more aware of our own stereotypes, prejudices, etc. then the understanding of oneself gets better. Other ways to start is to share the resources such as books, websites, and webinars by forming small gatherings such as book clubs. They also suggest that articles can also be shared in the lunchroom weekly, send email informing the rest of the staff resources are available in the room, and at the end of the month offer to discuss it if they have read them.

I leave it here to ask you these questions: Has your staff worked on an inclusion plan towards diversity within your institutions? What methods have you worked on to raise awareness on inclusion and diversity?

 

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?

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

Originally posted on Medium, March 30, 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women Represented in Historical Narrative and Museums

Originally posted on Medium, March 23, 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Equity and Inclusion in Museums

Originally posted on Medium, March 10, 2017.

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

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

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

Museum of Chinese in America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted on Medium, March 2, 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Books I Want to Read on Museum Education in 2017

Originally posted on Medium. January 12, 2017.

After I read a blog post from Museum Hack called Ten Inspiring Museum Reads for 2017, I was inspired to write my own list of I want to read about the museum education field in 2017 except I created a list of books written for the field. I used Amazon and American Alliance of Museums websites to research available literature for this field. Keep in mind not all books written about the museum education field are included on here because this blog post would take you all days to finish reading. Each book includes descriptions of what they are about as well as publication information, and I also explain why I put these books on the list. The books on this list are in no specific order; I chose these books based on when I first came across them. I will later discuss the books I already have on the field in another future blog post. Enjoy the list! What books do you want to read this year, both on museum education field and other books capture your interests? Do you have a book you have read on the museum education field?

I want to read the following:
1. The Manual of Museum Learning by Brad King (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2nd edition, 2015, ISBN 978–1442258471): This book offers practical advice for creating successful learning experiences in museums and other institutions including galleries, zoos, and botanical gardens. The first edition was published in 2007, and in the second edition focuses on the ways museums staff and the departments they work in can facilitate experience that point out connections between institutional strategic planning and its approach to museum learning. The book acknowledges that not all institutions run the same way so it identifies various approaches and enables museums to find the paths for which they are individually best suited, that will help them identify their own unique approaches to facilitating museum learning. I put this book on the list because in the past I thought that each department work separately to fulfill one mission but the longer I worked in the museum world the more I realize that education is a part of museums’ mission. Also, I read a book review of King’s book in the Journal of Museum Education, the publication of the Museum Education Roundtable. It is important to recognize that museum learning should be incorporated into a part of museums’ strategic planning. I want to see the various approaches King presents in the book to have a better understanding of how museum education is presented in different types of institutions.

2. Engagement and Access: Innovative Approaches for Museums by Juilee Decker (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2015, ISBN: 978–1442238756): The book addresses how museums forge two-way communication and engaged participation by using community curation, social media, collaboration, and inquiry-based learning. Decker collected case studies that advocate for doing and listening, or in other words the institutions mentioned in the case studies can understand the importance of meeting the audience’s needs both onsite and online. This book is part of a series called Innovative Approaches for Museums which offers case studies, written by scholars and practitioners from museums, galleries, and other institutions; each case study present original, transformative, and sometimes wholly re-invented methods, techniques, systems, theories, and actions that demonstrate innovative work being done in the museum and cultural sector throughout the world. The contributors come from various institutions and each volume offers ideas and support to those working in museums while serving as a resource and primer, as much as inspiration, for students and the museum staff and faculty training future professionals who will further develop future innovative approaches. This book is on my list because I am interested in seeing different ways other museums approach engagement and access for their visitors.

3. Museum Learning: Theory and Research as Tools for Enhancing Practice by Jill Hohenstein and Theano Moussouri (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978–1138901131): This book is not released yet but the reason why I included this book is I think it is important to review educational theories to make sure museum educators revitalize their skills for school and public programming. I hope to gain both methods to retain my skills as a museum educator and different insights on how learning as well as teaching in museums would benefit our education.

4. Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience by John H Falk (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978–1598741636): Falk’s book reiterates that understanding the visitor experience provides essential insights into how museums can affect people’s lives. Visitor experiences have various meanings, such as personal drives, group identity, memory, and leisure performances, for each individual and that experience extends beyond the four walls of an institution in time and space. Falk reveals there are five different types of visitors who attend museums and identifies the processes that inspire people to visit time and time again. I would like to read this book since by finding out different aspects on why people visit museums it would help museum professionals like myself to increase our ability to retain visitors as well as gain more visitors to our museums.

5. The Multisensory Museum: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Touch, Sound, Smell, Memory, and Space by Nina Levent and Alvaro Pascual-Leone (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014, ISBN: 978–0759123540): Levent and Pascual-Leone’s book brought together scholars and museum professionals to highlight new trends and opportunities for using scent, sound, and touch to offer more immersive experiences as well as diverse sensory engagement for visually- and other impaired patrons. The book also reveals that education researchers discover museums as unique educational playgrounds that allow for various learning styles, active and passive exploration, and participatory learning. I include this book on this list because I believe museums can provide people of all abilities access to education, and I find the psychological and museum connection would be fascinating to get a more in-depth knowledge of.

6. Creating the Visitor-centered Museum by Peter Samis and Mimi Michaelson (Routledge, 2016, ISBN: 978–1629581910): Samis and Michaelson’s book brought up numerous questions that are answered with cases and additional resources to help transform their museums into visitor-centered museums: What does the transformation to a visitor-centered approach do for a museum? How are museums made relevant to a broad range of visitors of varying ages, identities, and social classes? Does appealing to a larger audience force museums to “dumb down” their work? What internal changes are required? I think we can always learn more ways to help adapt our museums to the changing viewpoints of visitors.

7. The Museum Effect: How Museums, Libraries, and Cultural Institutions Educate and Civilize Society by Jeffrey K. Smith (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014, ISBN: 978–0759122956): The book explores how museums, libraries, and cultural institutions provide opportunities for people to understand and celebrate who they are, were, and might be. According to Smith, the “museum effect” is a process through which cultural institutions educate and civilize us as individuals and as societies. I think it is an interesting book to read since I have known from when I was a kid that museums can provide ways to educate visitors and help them identify with what museums offer. By reading this book, I would gain another perspective on how my work as a museum professional can affect our society.

8. Contemporary Curating and Museum Education by Carmen Mörsch, Angeli Sachs, and Thomas Sieber (will be released February 2017): The writers of this book share insight that international scholars discovered as they answer the question: How does museum work change if we conceive of curating and education as an integrated practice? This is the second book that has not been released yet but I believe I would enjoy this one because not only it would supplement the knowledge I gained about creating an exhibit to design an education plan through a NYCMER workshop I attended, Exhibition Design for Educators, but the book can offer additional insights that would allow me to explore more the intertwining of curatorship and education.

9. All Together Now: Museums and Online Collaborative Learning by William B. Crow and Herminia Wei-Hsin Din (American Alliance of Museums, 2011, ISBN: 978–1933253619): Crow and Wei-Hsin Din’s book discusses the potential of online learning for museum professionals and visitors from all over the world. The book reveals that online collaborative learning offers museums and visitors new possibilities for learning, both in small, “narrowcast” groups and at the larger institutional level. The writers included extensive case studies and practical advice for museum educators. As an online learner, I think the concept of museum education in the online community is fascinating and would be a possible move for more museums to engage in online learning. I also think it would be able to help the museum education field reach out to more people as fewer field trips are booked each year due to limited school funding. I also like that this book is endorsed by EdCom (American Alliance of Museum’s education group) and the Media and Technology Committee of AAM because it reassures me as a reader that the United States’ museums organization sees online learning as a possible outlet for museum education to branch out to various audiences inside and outside the museum.

I am sure that this list is not set in stone, and I will continue to find more books that I will add to my list for 2017. I hope you all read many books this year, museum education related or not. Thank you all so much for reading! I really appreciate all of your support for this blog, and if you know of anyone who is interested in the museum education field please refer them to this blog. Thank you to all of you who are currently following this blog. It really means a lot that you continue to be interested in what I have to write about. I am so touched that there are more and more people reading these posts. Thank you all again and stay tuned for more blog posts.