Why the Conversation about Gender and Museums Matter?

March 5, 2020

In honor of Women’s History Month, I decided to address the importance of the conversation about gender and museums. I recently received the March/April edition of the Museum magazine from the American Alliance of Museums called “The Illusion of Identity”. The moment I saw the title I was confused since I did not understand what they were going for to describe the overall content of the magazine. It became clear that the magazine articles’ main topic was about gender. Not only is it a disconnect with the articles but it misrepresents what gender and identity are; gender and identity are not the same. Because I heard so much about the contributions made in the magazine, I decided to take a closer look at the articles for this edition, and see how each one adds to the conversation about gender and museums.

The articles were “The Life and Legacy of Harriet Tubman” written by Andrea DeKoter and Kimberly Szewcryk. It shared the life of Harriet Tubman, the central figure in the Underground Railroad, and how she influenced the writers quest for human rights and dignity. “Practicing What We Preach” by Paula Birnbaum is about students who co-curate a feminist art exhibition to test assumptions on inclusion. “The Art of Conversation: The National Museum of Women in the Arts”, written by Emma Filar, describes a conversation series called “Fresh Talk” focuses on the interplay between women, art, and social change. Kara Fedje and Jared Ledesma’s “Abstract Art, Concrete Goals” discussed what happened when The Des Moines Art Center diversified its audience with an exhibition on queer abstraction. “Beyond Binary” by Melissa Alexander and Dina Herring which was written about an exhibition on the many faces of gender identity unmasks the slippery nature of truths.

In the regular sections of the magazine, President and CEO of AAM Laura Lott provided some thoughts on women’s rights in “100 Years Later, Redefining Advocacy”. Lott shared a condensed history of the American Alliance of Museums, which was founded as the American Association of Museums in 1906 in New York City before it was relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1923. Also, she wrote about AAM’s recommitment to museum advocacy and the ability to have secured bipartisan congressional support for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). She also stated the AAM’s strategic plan asks museum professionals to think more broadly about advocacy. According to the segment, Lott pointed out that The Alliance aims to equip members and allies to make the case for museums and to help you tell your stories. AAM provides a toolbox for museum professionals to help advocate for museums since museum professionals are the best advocates to explain the significance of museums to policymakers and the public. Museum magazine also shared statistics about gender and sexuality.

The statistics suggest the conversation about gender and sexuality is important to address within museums. For instance, there is a 313 percent increase in Merriam-Webster dictionary searches for the pronoun “they” in 2019 vs. 2018; “they” was selected as the dictionary’s 2019 Word of the Day. Ninety-nine percent is the percentage of countries where women could vote with the Vatican City as the holdout. Also, there are four in ten history museum-goers who think history museums should be inclusive, including sharing stories of women and LGBTQ people. There are 142 countries that provide at least some legal protections based on sexual orientation, meanwhile 55 countries provide no protection and no criminalization. Seventy countries criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts between adults. By looking at these statistics, it shows that while we have made so much progress in our society in terms of gender and sexuality, we still have a long way to go.

Gender equity in museums, for instance, is still important to not only discuss about but museums need to make more efforts to making museums more gender equitable for its professionals. Amy K. Levin’s point of view article called “No More Platitudes: Fifty years after women’s lib and Stonewall, we’re still behind in advancing gender equity in museums” calls for more systematic and significant change in being more equitable in the museums for both exhibitions and the workforce. Levin included an institutional checklist for gender equity which includes the mission statement; exhibition content; collections/acquisition policies; database/catalogue categories; volunteer guidelines; employee policies, benefits, and hiring practices; and focus groups/public consultations. The importance of gender equity is emphasized not only in this point of view article but also in previous blog posts I wrote.

The post “Gender Equity in Museums: An Important Issue that Should Be Addressed” is one of the examples of why gender and gender equity is important within the museum field. I reflected that

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.

By educating ourselves about gender equity, we would be able to better serve the public that walks through the museum doors. In another previous post about my experience presenting in a professional development program on gender equity and museums, I shared the Gender Equity Museums Movement (GEMM)’s mission as well as emphasized the impact museums could have when they strive to be more equitable for their staff; it will affect the experience museum visitors have while engaging with the staff and exhibits. The recent edition of Museum magazine shows we are continuing to strive for more equitable museums, and still have a long way to go. Since museums are seen as trustworthy resources for varying information presented in our institutions, we should be the example of advocating for social justice and equity.

Each article presented in this magazine show museums and museum professionals should learn who their audiences are, and continue to adapt to their community’s changing values.

Links:

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

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

https://www.aam-us.org/programs/museum-magazine/

Curiosity about History: What Does this Mean for Museum Educators?

February 27, 2020

Earlier this month, the American Alliance of Museums released a blog post called “Curiosity About History is Growing Across Generations, a New Survey Finds” by Conner Prairie President and CEO Norman Burns. The blog post revealed survey results from a survey conducted by Connor Prairie, Indiana’s first Smithsonian affiliate museum which is an outdoor museum that inspires curiosity and fosters learning by providing engaging and individualized experiences for everyone. They wanted to find out what individuals thought about history and museums since the general initial impressions of museums is each one focuses on one discipline (i.e. history, art, science) or one type (i.e. children’s, zoological, and nature). Also, they found that similar surveys have not been conducted in decades which was why they decided to conduct their own national survey. After examining the results, they emphasized how museums have the potential for so much more than a house for collections and museums will continue to evolve with the changing society. Once I read the blog, I kept thinking about what the survey results mean for museum educators teaching programs in history and decided to share a few examples from the blog post to illustrate how museum educators can utilize the results for their practices.

Museum educators in history museums, historical societies, and historic house museums in recent years have been learning to incorporate other disciplines to provide well-rounded experiences for the audiences they teach. In my experience as a museum educator, I developed my skills in teaching not only history but also art and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). All museum educators, including myself, could benefit from finding out from their audiences how to best create memorable and educational experiences. This survey is an example of what we can take away about how we can harness the increasing interest in history. In the post, Burns pointed out museums role in helping individuals connect with history:

The survey found that, second only to gatherings with their families, Americans most often mentioned visits to museums and historic sites as the situation that makes them feel most in touch with history. When asked which sources they most trusted for knowledge of the past, Americans put museums and historic sites first, ahead of grandparents, eyewitnesses, college professors, history books, movies, television programs, and high school history teachers. The survey demonstrated that America’s history museums have broad appeal and respect, while also having a real personal impact on Americans. People connect with the past when they visit museums and historic sites, and award these institutions a credibility that is greater even than an eyewitness’s account or a grandparent’s memory.

I have seen visitors who came to the museums I worked for tell me about what book, television show, movie, etc. that inspired them to visit this museum and asked questions confirming whether or not the information they learned in other mediums was accurate. For instance, at the Three Village Historical Society, which works within the community to explore local history through education, I spoke with visitors who came to see the Historical Society’s exhibit about the Culper Spy Ring (who collected intelligence during the Revolutionary War for General George Washington) because of the AMC television show Turn about the Culper Spy Ring. A lot of questions I received were how accurate the show was to what happened during the Revolutionary War and how the Culper Spy Ring operated. Museum professionals should make sure that their research is up to date when anything new is discovered so the narrative presented in programs and exhibits are accurate especially since our institutions are seen as credible sources of information.

The survey also pointed out that history museums are the number one most trustworthy source of information in America. Therefore, museum professionals, especially museum educators, have been doing something right for survey participants to state history museums are the most trustworthy source of information.

Burns continued to share results from the survey and some of the findings including why history is valuable to us personally, to our communities, and to our future. According to the survey,

96 percent of Americans believe it is important to look at our history to inform our future.

91 percent of Americans agree that it is important that people learn about history to build a strong foundation for the future.

42 percent of Americans now have a higher level of curiosity in history as compared to this time to last year.

Millennials showed the highest level of increased curiosity, at 55 percent, compared to 42 percent of Gen Xers and 28 percent of baby boomers.

These results show increasing interest in and curiosity about history within generations in America, and it is important to also appeal to the younger generations who seem to be the most interested in learning about history especially since a large number of individuals see history as a way to inform the future. Also, other results from the survey revealed that Americans believe in history museums can stress the importance of protecting the environment and develop critical thinking skills. Museum educators should learn about the communities their museums serve, and with survey results like this one we are able to evolve with the communities we are a part of.

Links:

https://www.aam-us.org/2020/02/03/curiosity-about-history-is-growing-across-generations-a-new-survey-finds/

https://www.connerprairie.org/

https://www.connerprairie.org/new-survey-nine-in-10-americans-say-our-past-should-inform-our-future-curiosity-in-history-expands-across-generations-with-millennials-leading-the-way/

How Virtual Exhibits Can Be Accessible

February 20, 2020

This past week in the United States, we celebrated Presidents’ Day and in honor of the holiday Bunk designed a virtual exhibit called Presidents Precedents that explores the shifting ways Americans have viewed the U.S. presidency. Bunk, a non-profit and non-partisan launched in September 2017, captures the passion for history and reveals the ways that people of different backgrounds and purposes are connecting with the nation’s history by searching the internet for the most interesting articles, maps, videos, conversations, visualizations, and podcasts about history that they can find. Funded by supporters of the University of Richmond, they hope to create a fuller and more honest portrayal of our shared past, and reveal the extent to which every representation is part of a longer conversation. Presidents Precedents is an exhibit filled with a collection of articles from varying sources divided into three categories: The Mandate, The Pulpit, and The Legacy. After examining this exhibit, I thought about other virtual exhibits and the significance of virtual exhibits, and I decided to explore museum virtual exhibits.

In my previous blog post “Virtual Museum Experiences: Impressions of Museum Education Roundtable’s Journal of Museum Education”, I shared experiences I have had with virtual reality and how museums have taken advantage of virtual experiences. Towards the end of that post, I pointed out that

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.

This is especially true when museums are making their exhibits available online for individuals interested in visiting them. In the blog post, I pointed out the benefits of providing virtual experiences of museum exhibits online: 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. Not many individuals are able to financially travel to museums in other countries and when museums provide virtual exhibits, they will at least be able to get a closer look at objects, exhibit labels, and additional information they can learn in each space. Also, there are individuals who are not able to physically access spaces in museums and by providing virtual exhibits to them they will be able to have an engaging experience within the space once inaccessible.

These are examples of virtual exhibits and tours I have come across from around the world:

The British Museum has a virtual exhibit called The Museum of the World which is navigated using the arrow keys or scrolling to explore back and forth through time. Also, it is set up as a timeline divided into five color-coded sections: Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. When one clicks on a color circle, an object appears with a short description and the option to learn more about it; for instance, I clicked on Ceramic Bowl from the Path of Roses in Tunisia, Africa, and it includes an audio of a speaker providing more information, a Google map showing the location, a description of the object and its history, and pictures of related objects. Also, there are themes that visitors can explore the exhibit by in addition to the timeline: Art and design, Living and dying, Power and identity, Religion and belief, and Trade and conflict.

The Louvre offers virtual tours that allow individuals to visit the museum’s exhibition rooms and galleries. Inside the virtual space, visitors can tour three different sections of the museum, read an introduction to and descriptions of where they are located within the Louvre: Egyptian Antiquities, Remains of the Louvre’s Moat, and Galerie d’Apollon. The Egyptian Antiquities has collections from the Pharaonic period that are displayed on the east side of the Sully wing, on the ground floor and 1st floor. In the Remains of the Louvre’s Moat tour, it describes that originally the Louvre was a fortress built by the French king, Philippe Auguste; it was intended to reinforce the defenses that the king had ordered to be built in 1190 to protect Paris from attack via the Seine, and today visitors can walk around the original perimeter moat and view the piers that supported the drawbridge. The Galerie d’Apollon, which is a decorative art situated above the Petite Galerie, was destroyed by fire in 1661 and rebuilt. Also, the Louvre’s website includes descriptions of 55 rooms inside the museum and what is located in these rooms.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History offers varying museum virtual tours that allow individuals to take self-guided room-by-room tours of select rooms or areas within the museum on the computer and/or on cellphones. Also, there is an opportunity to access select research and collections areas with satellite support, research stations, and past exhibits that no longer on display. The museum’s website also includes other tours of the Smithsonian including the Smithsonian Castle and the Hirshhorn (a sculpture museum). Their virtual tours provide arrow links on the floor and the ability to use the navigation map to travel through rooms in the tours, and a camera icon give a close-up view of a particular object or exhibit panel.

Each example I explored has a different way of presenting virtual experiences. If museums have the capability, they should take advantage of making their exhibits and tours more accessible for all visitors. To learn more about virtual tours that are available, I included a list of links I found to virtual tours and exhibits that explore museums around the world.

Have you experienced virtual exhibits or tours? What are your impressions? Do you feel like you are as just engaged with the virtual experience as you would be in person? Why or why not?

Links:

https://www.bunkhistory.org/exhibits/30

https://www.bunkhistory.org/

https://britishmuseum.withgoogle.com/

https://naturalhistory.si.edu/visit/virtual-tour

https://www.si.edu/exhibitions/online

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/75809/12-world-class-museums-you-can-visit-online

https://www.top10.com/virtual-museum-tours

http://www.virtualfreesites.com/museums.museums.html

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/08/01/virtual-museum-experiences-impressions-of-museum-education-roundtables-journal-of-museum-education/

Art and History Museum Perspectives on Storytelling

February 13, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

Services Examination: Lucidea

January 30, 2020

As I was catching up on the latest #MuseumEdChat conversation on Twitter, I came across a tweet from a collections management software company called Lucidea. They shared a blog post on museum funding and what phrases should not be used, and I decided to take a closer look at what Lucidea offers. I decided to take a closer look at this service to find out more about it. At first glance, I saw that they offer a lot of options for varying organizations not just museums. I really appreciate there is a lot of support in learning how each system works through talking directly with experts and webinars. It is worth looking into if you are searching for a collections management software for your museum or organization. The following information is what I learned about Lucidea and the opportunities they offer.

According to their website, Lucidea provides products that help clients redefine how knowledge is shared with applications and business process expertise empowering organizations to easily collect, organize, and leverage important knowledge assets.  They also stated that

Everything we offer our clients embodies one or more of the following: access; discovery; independence; integration; security, or partnership. Results for our clients include higher employee productivity, lower operational costs and increased customer satisfaction.

Their software solutions help make it easy to collect, organize and exchange information through one venue, from anywhere, at any time. Lucidea offers five systems that would appeal to the needs of varying organizations with varying options to choose from within each system: Integrated Library Systems, Knowledge Management Systems, Museum Collections Management Software, Archives Collections Management Software, and Digital Resource Management.

The Integrated Library Systems has innovative applications for libraries, with integrated access, purpose-built workflows and immediate return on investment (ROI). Also, their integrated library systems for libraries large and small offer innovations in web-based technology and integration, powerful information access and discovery capabilities, as well as unprecedented flexibility and independence with exceptional value. Lucidea offers two solutions in the Integrated Library Systems called SydneyEnterprise and GeniePlus. The difference between the two solutions is that SydneyEnterprise is built for large, multinational or multi-branch libraries and GeniePlus has the Integrated Libraries Systems essentials for agile libraries.

The Knowledge Management Systems is designed to unlock knowledge silos and make information assets searchable, social, and available anywhere, any time. Lucidea’s applications in the Knowledge Management Systems provide a single authoritative venue for managing, finding and sharing knowledge no matter where it resides, and users can instantly connect people with information to spend less time searching and more time engaging with knowledge. Unlike the Integrated Library Systems, there are three solutions available for this system new users can choose from which are Presto (with web-based and social knowledge management), DB/TextWorks (flexible text base knowledge management), and LawPort (law firm knowledge management, legal portals and intranets).

Meanwhile, the Museum Collections Management Software is designed for museums and galleries, large or small, and offers comprehensive collections management tools which takes users further with community curation/co-curation, a dynamic online presence, full multimedia support, and streamlined workflows. The solution available from the Museum Collections Management Software is called Argus which according to their website is built to enhance curation, and to significantly expand outreach and access via the Web, enriching the experience for both in-person and virtual visitors. Argus is a fully web-based that enables you to easily offer public portal access to objects and exhibits and to provide more in-depth documentation about each artifact as well as delivering content in context.

Archives Collections Management Software, like the Museum Collections Management Software, helps connect researchers and visitors with materials and memories preserved. This software is built for archives large or small, and it is flexible, extensible, and always up-to-date. There are three solutions for this software called the CuadraSTAR SKCA (for integrated and efficient archives), Eloquent Archives (for public-facing and dynamic archives), and ArchivEra (for larger innovative archives).

The last one is the Digital Resource Management which is a system designed to efficiently manage online resource portfolio and support evidence-based decision making. Also, users can track usage patterns, expose content gaps, justify resource expenditures, and make evidence-based decisions. The DRM also has two solutions: the LookUp Precision (designed for online resource administrators) and Eloquent Records Management (designed for records managers).

If you would like to learn more, I included the link to the website below.

https://lucidea.com/

The History of Museum Educators, Part Two: Children’s Museums

December 12, 2019

Last week I wrote about my reaction to part of this edition of the Journal of Museum Education, a publication by Museum Education Roundtable. I continued to read the Journal and after I finished reading the Journal, I thought I would give my thoughts on the rest of it. As I mentioned last week, the articles made me think about my previous experiences. This week while I read the rest of the Journal, I thought about my experiences in children’s museum. While these articles reminded me of my experiences, I always find more to learn in the Journal of Museum Education.

The most recent edition of the Journal of Museum Education, for instance, had a couple of articles focused on children’s museums. In the article “Museums for Somebody: Children’s Museum Professionals and the American Association of Museums (1907-1922)”, Jessie Swigger discussed the origins of children’s museums and the contributions of museum professionals in these children’s museums. Swigger discussed the first three children’s museums in the world opened in Brooklyn, New York (1899), Boston, Massachusetts (1913), and Detroit, Michigan (1917). She examined contributions of children’s museum professionals and museum education through presentations at the American Association of Museums (now known as the American Alliance of Museums) given by the curators of the first three children’s museums: Anna Billings Gallup’s (Brooklyn), Delia I. Griffin (Boston), and Gertrude A. Gillmore (Detroit). The review of papers delivered to their colleagues demonstrated how their pioneering educational approaches, including encouraging visitors to interact with objects and creating opportunities for children to become empowered and invested museum visitors, continue to shape the field. Also, the article pointed out the value of including children’s museum professionals in conversations on museum education. Another article about children’s museums revealed another example of the value of children’s museum professionals contributions to conversations on museum education.

In the article “What Caregivers Observe about Their Children’s Learning During a Visit to the Children’s Museum” by Jessica J. Luke, Eileen D. Tomczuk, Susan Foutz, Nicole Rivera, Lisa Brahms, Kari Nelson, Barbara Hahn, Melissa Swank & Kimberly McKenney, they pointed out that while significant research focused on caregiver-child interaction in children’s museums little is known about what caregivers might be observing or perceiving about their children’s learning. The article discussed a study conducted by the Children’s Museums Research Network to examine what caregivers observe about their children’s learning during a visit to the children’s museum. Data were collected through online questionnaires (N=223) and follow-up phone interviews (N=20) with caregivers recruited from eight children’s museums across the U.S. Results show that caregivers could identify numerous things they discovered about their child(ren) in the museum, including their interests, social skills, thinking/problem-solving skills, and emotional regulation. What contributed most to these discoveries was opportunities to watch their children play and interact with others, and to play with unique materials and activities that they don’t have access to at home. The signage and floor staff were seen as minimally important. These findings have implications for exhibit design and staff facilitation in children’s museums.

As a museum professional who has experience working in a children’s museum, I loved learning more about the history of children’s museums and what other children’s museum professionals have discovered about children’s learning in their research. The research reinforced what I learned about how children learned and interacted with museum exhibits. I learned in my experience in a children’s museum about the constructivist method which allowed children to get involved in the process of their own learning; what I learned in my experience is that the constructivist method cannot be relied on alone to educate children, and therefore a little bit of instruction is important to give children context to what they need to learn. In a couple of blog posts I have written, I wrote about children’s museums and my experience in a children’s museum.

The post “Maker Space: Museums Can Benefit from Having a Creative Space” is where I related what I learned in the children’s science museum Maritime Explorium and how I translate my experience from historic house museums into the newer experience. Another blog post I wrote was “Is Children’s Play Declining? What are Museums Doing to Encourage Playtime” in which I wrote about my reaction to an article in the Huffington Post called “Children’s Play is Declining, But We Can Help Reclaim It.”

By reading these articles in publications such as the Journal of Museum Education, museum professionals and museum educators share their knowledge and learn from one another to help move the museum field forward.

Resources:

Jessica J. Luke, Eileen D. Tomczuk, Susan Foutz, Nicole Rivera, Lisa Brahms, Kari Nelson, Barbara Hahn, Melissa Swank & Kimberly McKenney (2019) What Caregivers Observe about Their Children’s Learning During a Visit to the Children’s Museum, Journal of Museum Education, 44:4, 427-438, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2019.1672136

Jessie Swigger (2019) Museums for Somebody: Children’s Museum Professionals and the American Association of Museums (1907–1922), Journal of Museum Education, 44:4, 345-353, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2019.1663685

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/06/23/maker-space-museums-can-benefit-from-having-a-creative-space/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2017/07/20/is-childrens-play-declining-what-are-museums-doing-to-encourage-playtime/

Museum Impressions: Henry Sheldon Museum

November 21, 2019

During the New England Museum Association conference earlier this month, I was able to visit a museum in Vermont before attending sessions. I knew that I was going to arrive the day before the conference officially began so I looked up what was in the area. When I found out I was going to Middlebury with a friend, I discovered the Henry Sheldon Museum and decided to visit it while my friend participated in pre-conference sessions. In my recent recap of the NEMA conference, I stated that

The Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History is the oldest community-based museum in the country opening their doors to visitors and researchers in 1884. Their mission is to serve the public by preserving the historic memory of the Addison County and surrounding communities, heightening the awareness and enjoyment of their rich cultural legacy, and stimulating the study of connections between Vermont’s past and broader historical themes. There are three main areas of the museum:

The Judd-Harris House, built in 1829, showcases a wealth of objects depicting small town life in nineteenth century Vermont

The Stewart-Swift Research Center houses one of the state’s premier archival collections, documenting the history of Middlebury, Addison County, and Vermont

The Walter Cerf Gallery hosts changing exhibits throughout the year.

Before I entered the museum, I walked through the museum’s garden and then went inside for the museum. I first explored the Judd-Harris House with objects displayed to show what small-town life was like in nineteenth century Vermont. The first floor was set up as both a home and an exhibit space. When I was exploring the first floor of the museum, one of the things that stood out to me that I have never seen in a historic house museum before was an 124 year old stuffed cat sitting behind glass that was donated to the museum after the woman from Cornwall, Vermont who owned the cat had it stuffed by one of the students from Middlebury College.

At first, I was startled because I was not expecting to see a stuffed cat lying there in a case. The more I stared at it, the more impressed I was with how the cat was able to be preserved since about 1895. While I would not want to do this with my own pet, I understand why someone at that time wanted to keep their favorite pet around after its death. It also felt like a morbid time capsule that preserved what an animal that lived over a hundred years ago looked like.

I also noticed that there were at least three exhibits located within the museum. The exhibits I explored the most were Conjuring the Dead: Spirit Art In The Age Of Radical Reform, The Animals Are Innocent, Ceramics And Paintings By Dana Simson, and Whimsical Wonders: Fairy Houses From Nature By Sally J Smith. In Conjuring the Dead, it presents spirit photographs and original spirit artwork from the Henry Sheldon Museum’s collections acquired by Solomon Wright Jewett (1808-94). According to the exhibit description from the Sheldon Museum, Jewett claimed he had supernatural powers that made him able to cure multiple ailments and bring people back from dead. Also, he was a strong believer in Spiritualism, which was a movement that preoccupied many people in the U.S. before and especially after the Civil War.

The Conjuring the Dead exhibit displayed Jewett’s collection of “spirit photographs” in which he appeared to be visited by notable figures, including President George Washington and Prince Albert of Great Britain. He also associated with and befriended a spirit artist, Wella P. Anderson and his wife, Lizzie “Pet” Anderson (a medium), who worked in New York City and Oakland, California. Jewett acquired from them eighteen pencil portraits that depict well-known historical and mythical figures spanning many geographical locations and historical times that apparently “visited” the artist under the influence of Jewett’s presence. Anderson’s drawings are now mostly known from photographs, and the original drawings in the Sheldon’s archives are rare.

In addition to the photographs and drawings, it also had ephemera, pamphlets, and objects that provide a rich context to the rise of Modern Spiritualism. It stemmed from a number of radical religious and social movements, including Mormonism, Millerism, utopianism, abolitionism and women’s suffrage, many of which originated and took a strong hold in Upstate New York and Vermont beginning in the 1820s. This exhibit occupied two floors, and I found on the second-floor drawings of spirits including one of Jesus of Nazareth. I also noticed a table with a Ouija board set up in the middle of the room which was most likely set up for exhibit related events.

After I explored the Spiritualism exhibit, I noticed on the door trim there was a subtle sign to show the next exhibit. In the Animals are Innocent, there are pieces that are part of a mixed media/ceramic exhibit of colorful, boat sculptures and paintings featuring animals, by Maryland artist, ceramist, author, and illustrator Dana Simson. Dana’s goal through her art is to how animals are losing both habitat and food sources, suffering the man-made effects of pollution and wilderness encroachment, and are imperiled by fossil-fuel enhanced climate change.  Simson’s message she conveyed within her pieces was very clear to me, and I recommend checking out her pieces to see an artistic representation of the pain animals are going through because of climate change on our planet.

I was also impressed with other exhibits and interactive activities within the historic house setting. For instance, there is a children’s area where kids can both play and learn what 19th century life was like especially in Vermont. Also, there is an exhibit within one of the bedrooms called Whimsical Wonders: Fairy Houses from Nature.  Sally J Smith created fairy houses inspired by ones she made when she was a little girl; and like Simson, Smith considers herself an environmental artist. Her hopes with the fairy houses are to bring visitors back to nature, to invoke “a deeper respect and love for the Earth,” stressing the need for us to “reconnect with the Earth” in order to survive. One of the things I find fascinating about her fairy houses is the materials used to make them were found and gathered from the woods near her studio in Westport, New York. Located on shelves inside a closet behind glass, another thing I find fascinating about the fairy houses is the detail that goes into each house. There were no two houses that looked the same, and each one had its own unique character.

The last part of the self-guided tour was Henry Sheldon’s bedroom where a lot more treasures were found there including a set of keys laid on the bedside table and the Sheldon family crest. While I did not include everything I saw inside the museum, I strongly recommend seeing it for one selves and learn more about the history of Vermont.

For more information, check out their website: https://henrysheldonmuseum.org/

#NEMA2019 Recap

November 13, 2019

I have once again participated in the New England Museum Association conference. It was in Burlington, Vermont this year and it was the first time that I have been in the state. I was not only excited to be participating in this year’s NEMA conference, but I was also looking forward to exploring the area. With a friend, I took a road trip to travel to Vermont for the conference. This year I decided to not only focus on sessions focusing on education but also sessions that help me get a better understanding of how to improve my leadership skills and of fundraising. As always, I found these conferences both informative, engaging, and entertaining to be with New England and New York colleagues. Thanks to all who have been following my tweets on Twitter covering the conference, and I have included a highlight of my tweets, photographs, and the sessions I attended during the week.

There were many beautiful views I witnessed as my friend and I went up to Middlebury, Vermont as the first stop before going to the hotel.

Once we arrived, she went to a pre-conference event and I decided to explore the area. The first place I went to was the Henry Sheldon Museum. The Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History is the oldest community-based museum in the country opening their doors to visitors and researchers in 1884. Their mission is to serve the public by preserving the historic memory of the Addison County and surrounding communities, heightening the awareness and enjoyment of our rich cultural legacy, and stimulating the study of connections between Vermont’s past and broader historical themes. There are three main areas of the museum:

The Judd-Harris House, built in 1829, showcases a wealth of objects depicting small town life in nineteenth century Vermont

The Stewart-Swift Research Center houses one of the state’s premier archival collections, documenting the history of Middlebury, Addison County, and Vermont

The Walter Cerf Gallery hosts changing exhibits throughout the year.

After visiting the museum, I walked around Main Street and window shopped along the street. I did go into a few stores including Vermont’s Own, which the majority of the products they sell were maple syrup which I could not help but purchase a sample. I went through a country store and the Vermont Book Shop. Eventually I walked back to meet my friend and explore the Middlebury College Museum of Art’s exhibit on the Women’s Suffragette.

Once we checked into the hotel, we walked down Main Street to visit the Lake Champlain Chocolate Store. As a former employee of a chocolate store, I purchased a number of samples for comparison. When we were done with exploring, we were ready for the next few days of conference sessions and events.

My first day of the conference began with learning about analysis of the open-ended questions and audience data. The panelists pointed out that using more than one method to analyze the data and multiple people to review the questions will be helpful for getting the results needed for what the museum is looking for.

I also attended the keynote session that focused on social justice. Dr. Gretchen Sorin, who is committed to encouraging museums to be more active in civic responsibility and social justice, discussed the upcoming book Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights and the PBS documentary produced by Ric Burns and Steeplechase Films, to be released in 2020.

The next session I attended focused on how to foster deeper connections between local teachers and museums; they argued that focusing education programming on supporting educators can lead to more quality student-site interactions, a deeper valuing of our museums in the community, and an expansion of museum capacity. Other sessions I attended were about summer camps and how to use camps to draw in new audiences as well as strengthen ties to schools and community (and listened to the experiences of teenagers who participated in the camps), and museum volunteers and how to create an impact measure for their roles.

That night I attended the opening evening event at the Echo Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. Echo Leahy Center inspires and engages families in the joy of scientific discovery, wonder of nature, and care of Lake Champlain. While enjoying hors d’oeuvres, I interacted with various exhibits including but not limited to Thomas Edison’s Secret Lab (which invites visitors to join the fun through interactive explorations that promote science, technology, engineering and math learning) and Into the Lake (which allows visitors to be immersed in the shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Champlain and learn about a twenty-foot serpent that may have lived in the lake). 

On the second day, I attended a number of sessions, an Educators professional affinity group (PAG) lunch, and another evening event at the Shelburne Museum. The first session I attended that morning was the importance of fundraising as a team effort (to learn effective ways to motivate staff and board members to be better fundraisers and hear strategies for attracting and retaining members). Also, the panelists led us in a half hour exercise around major gifts where we practiced “Making the Ask” or an elevator pitch to convince donors to help contribute to our museums’ upcoming major projects. One of the most important takeaways I learned from this session was:

Other sessions I attended were about emotionally intelligent leadership and how to incorporate evaluation practices into museum programming. In the session on emotionally intelligent leadership, we learned about assessing emotional skills, leveraging emotions and learning strategies to achieve results.

In the session on how to incorporate evaluation practices into museum programming, panelists shared practices and examples of incorporating evaluative thinking and reflective practice into the work as practitioners. It introduced practical, tested approaches for building evaluation capacity and using data to improve educational products and professional practices. At the Educators PAG lunch, we discussed the necessity of advocating for our needs as educators and had discussions among ourselves to ask questions, share ideas, offer each other advice, and connect with one another to provide inspiration, support, and resources after we leave the conference. 

The second night I attended the evening event at Shelburne Museum. After eating hors d’oeuvres, I walked through an exhibit that was not yet open to the public and a current exhibit. Time Lapse: Contemporary Analog Photography, which opened on November 9th (a couple of days after the evening event), is an exhibit that celebrates the work of 13 international and national contemporary artists who use the darkroom as a laboratory and find inspiration in the vast range of 19th-century photographic processes, from daguerreotypes to photograms. In the second exhibit, which is called Joel Barber & the Modern Decoy, the curator of the exhibit led us through a tour to discuss the life and artwork of architect, author, illustrator, and pioneering decoy collector Joel D. Barber.

After returning to the hotel, there was a lot of cars covered in snow which made me excited since I grew up watching the film White Christmas (majority of the film taking place in Vermont) and I was looking forward to seeing snow in Vermont. I was excited to see more snow on the ground the next morning, and while I was a little disappointed that most of it melted by the end of the conference, I was relieved that we were able to travel without worrying too much about the road conditions.

On the last day of the conference, I attended sessions about the introduction to assessment programs for museums, intangible histories, and a session of its kind called Recharge and Reimagine: Creative Break before attending the closing luncheon and annual meeting. The assessment programs session was intended to introduce, clarify, and spark interest in museum assessment programs such as AASLH StEPS, AAM MAP and Accreditation programs. In the intangible histories session, which was standing room only, panelists shared case studies from the Monticello (an exhibit about Sally Hemings), the Rokeby Museum, and Florence Griswold Museum to share techniques they used to show intangible histories and create meaning out of the memories and stories of individuals. As a public historian, this session was interesting to me because of the challenge intangible histories present and the importance of addressing underrepresented history.

Another session I attended which was different than ones I have previously attended was Recharge and Reimagine: Creative Break. I enjoyed it because it not only helped us tap into our creativity to inspire our work, but it also helped us wind down from an overload of information and excitement from the past few days. We participated in hands-on exercises that helped us use examples of ekphrasis, or the creation of one kind of art inspired by another kind of art. For example, one of the pieces of art shown to us Henri Matisse’s Open Window (1905) and we were encouraged to write any type of poem inspired by this painting. This is my poem:

Today I will look out my window. The colors are so vibrant. The shades of green bring the yard to life. The reds are these in my flowers helping them stand out on this beautiful day. The blues bring out the boats and the body of water. The water filled with so many waves of pink that channels happiness on this beautiful day. I welcome these colors into my window, and I watch as they emerge inside. The pinks and greens occupy the walls of my home. The blues join the greens and even some of the pinks joined the greens. All of the colors also reflect in my windows. I hope to never close my windows to these colors. I implore all who see colors outside to let them in. The colors bring me joy each day. Colors, please keep coming to my window. Tomorrow will be another beautiful day with you.

The drive back was beautiful because there was still snow on the ground. Once again, I enjoyed my experiences at the NEMA conference and will make efforts to exercise what I learned in all of the sessions.

If you are interested in learning more specific information about what I learned and my thoughts, please contact me here. Stay tuned for a new blog post tomorrow!

Resources:

https://henrysheldonmuseum.org/

https://www.echovermont.org/

https://shelburnemuseum.org/

The History of Halloween and How Museums Celebrate

October 30, 2019

To celebrate Halloween, it is time to remind ourselves of how Halloween became the holiday we know in the twenty-first century. Halloween’s earliest root is the Pagan celebration and ancient Gaelic festival Samhain (pronounced “saah-win”) which marked the time of year when seasons changed, and many observers believed the boundary between this world and the outside world is at its thinnest to connect with the dead. Margot Alder explained in her book Drawing Down the Moon that Pagans, or Neo-Pagans, are varying religious groups with differing tradition, scope, structure, organizations, ritual, and names of their deities but regard one another as part of the same religious and philosophical movement; they share the same set of values and communicate with one another through a network of newsletters and websites, as well as regional and national gatherings. Her book went into detail about groups that attempt to recreate ancient European pre-Christian religions with leaders who developed key concepts and theories that are now common within the whole of Paganism. In an attempt to keep this post straight to the point, I will share how Samhain was celebrated, how it is celebrated nowadays, and how it led to the Halloween we now celebrate from resources I came across.

Early celebrations of Samhain involved a lot of ritualistic ceremonies to connect to spirits including celebrating in costumes (using animal skins) as a disguise themselves against ghosts, special feasts, built bon fires, and made lanterns by hollowing out gourds. During these celebrations, people would also tell each other fortunes. After the celebration was over, they re-lit the fires in their homes from the sacred bonfire to help protect them and keep themselves warm during the winter months.

Modern Pagans still celebrate the holiday with death as its central theme. According to Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, she pointed out

Although observances may include merry-making, the honoring of the Dead that is central to Samhain is a serious religious practice rather than a light-hearted make-believe re-enactment. Today’s Pagan Samhain rites, while somber, are benevolent, and, although centered on death, do not involve human or animal sacrifices. Most Samhain rituals are held in private rather than in public.

There are many ways that Pagans today celebrate Samhain. Like people of other faiths, they always honor and show respect for their dead but modern Pagans particularly mark these practices during Samhain. When loved ones recently die, they are remembered, and their spirits are often invited to join the living in the celebratory feast. They also spend time during Samhain formally welcome those born during the past year into the community. Because death symbolizes endings, Samhain is not only a time to reflect on mortality, but it is a time to take stock of the past and coming to terms with it before moving on and looking forward to the future. As Christianity grew, Samhain practices were adopted and branched out into religious holidays celebrating their saints.

When Christians adopted the practices, they celebrated it as All Hallows’ Eve on October 31st, followed by All Saints’ Day on November 1st, retaining the elements of remembering and honoring the dead. All Hallows’ Eve literally means “hallowed evening”, and both All Hallows’ Eve and All Saints’ Day paid homage to the holy saints, or “hallows”. The Church traditionally held a vigil on All Hallows’ Eve when worshippers prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast. A third holiday, All Souls’ Day, was usually combined with the other celebrations and traditions from this holiday seem to be precursors of the modern Halloween celebrations. In some traditions, children went from door to door begging for soul cakes (or small cakes described as hot-cross buns, current-topped buns, or small round loaves) and state a traditional rhyme on the day: “A Soule-cake, a Soule-cake, Have mercy on all Christen soules for a Soule-cake”. This tradition evolved into trick-or treating that the candy-grabbing concept became part of the mainstream in the United States between early to mid-1900s when families would provide treats for children hoping they would be immune to the holiday pranks. How do museums relate to Halloween celebrations?

As with other holidays celebrated, museums look for opportunities to engage with visitors and participate within their communities. When museums began to focus on visitor engagement to remain relevant, more programs celebrating Halloween emerged. Current examples of Halloween museum programs are limitless so I will share some of the ones I came across.

Of course, the most popular place to visit during Halloween is in Salem, Massachusetts. There is a website about family friendly events that happen in Salem, especially during Halloween, called Haunted Happenings . Events include but not limited to The Salem Psychic Fair & Witches’ Market, Witch’s Brew Patisserie Tea, Black Cat Tales Book Signing and Discussion, Salem Haunted Magic Show presents Hysteria: Ghost Stories, 28th Annual Temple of Nine Wells-ATC Witches of Salem Magick Circle 2019 e.v. For Samhain Night Free Event, and Haunted Dinner Theater presents Clue Live.

Last Sunday, the New York Historical Society had an event called Beyond Spooky: Hallowe’en Family Party to celebrate their exhibition Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere. Some of the activities they had included get a ride on one of two visiting ponies, create your own horse on a stick, listen to spooky stories, craft secret messages with our Living Historian spymaster, and trick-or-treat for candy.

The Museum of the City of New York has a Halloween party on Halloween geared to families with children ages 6–12 years old. Adults and children attending the party can wear costumes to trick or treat on the spooky New York scavenger hunt, make fun Halloween themed accessories, and dance at the monster mash dance party. Not all Halloween celebrations in museums only target families to attend their public events.

In Connecticut, the New Britain Museum of American Art has an event called Spooky Speakeasy: 1920s Halloween Party! On Halloween partygoers will arrive at the Museum to experience the 1920’s-inspired nightclub to enjoy hors d’oeuvres, learn how to do the Lindy Hop and the Charleston from professional dancers, and listen to live music of the period performed by The Cartells. There is an event that is more for adults but kids can participate if they wish to participate in being scared.

On select dates between September 20th and November 9th, the Eastern State Penitentiary is holding an event for the Halloween season called Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary which is America’s largest haunted house. It consists of six haunted attractions included in one admission price: Lock Down (zombie inmates and guards), Machine Shop (interactive attractions with maniacal surgeons, dentists, and nurses), Infirmary, Blood Yard, Quarantine 4D, and Break Out (inmates using visitors to aid in their escape). No matter how you celebrate this year, I hope everyone stays safe and has a wonderful time.

Happy Halloween! Blessed Samhain!

Resources and Additional Resources:  

Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America, New York: Penguin Group, 1979; revised edition 2006, pp. 3, 243–99.

Morton, Lisa. The Halloween Encyclopedia, Second Edition, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2011.

Skal, David J. Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, New York: Bloomsbury, 2003.

https://www.countryliving.com/entertaining/a40250/heres-why-we-really-celebrate-halloween/

https://www.circlesanctuary.org/index.php/celebrating-the-seasons/celebrating-samhain

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/holydays/samhain.shtml

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/holydays/halloween_1.shtml

Halloween Event at the Jack the Ripper Museum, London: https://www.jacktherippermuseum.com/

Hershey’s Chocolate Tastings, Hershey, PA: https://hersheystory.org/hersheys-chocolate-tastings/

My Impressions of Salem Witch Museum: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/10/04/patron-request-museum-impressions-salem-witch-museum/

International Museum Workers Day 2019 and #MuseumEdChat

October 24, 2019

October 24th is International Museum Workers Day. According to the official website, IMWD began as an educational project to introduce the general public to the myriad professions relating to the creation, research, discovery and presentation of heritage. The people behind International Museum Workers Day value the importance of soft power heritage diplomacy to help with exchange of views & ideas, promote knowledge of other cultures, and build bridges between nations. This year IMWD is supporting sustainable heritage by committing to stimulate communities to urgently embrace the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. The Agenda, developed by the United Nations, is a commitment to eliminate poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030 world-wide. To learn more about the Agenda, take a look at the European Commission page on the Agenda and sustainable development here.

In honor of International Museum Workers Day, I participated in the #MuseumEdChat on Twitter that focuses on stress and how museum professionals deal with stress. We all need to remember how to take time for ourselves for our emotional, mental, and physical health. The first question we addressed in the discussion was:

Q1: What in your work tends to ignite stress? #MuseumEdChat

A lot of the discussion focused on boundaries not being set, working significantly beyond the job description, low wages, and lack of understanding from leadership about emotional labor as well as physical and mental work put into our work as the main triggers of our stress in the museum field. In my opinion it seems that the further removed from the emotional, physical, and mental work the more leadership is unaware of what museum staff can realistically accomplish.

Museum professionals who participated in the discussion seem to agree that it is a challenge to have a work-life balance because we are stretched beyond our capabilities to meet expectations of leadership and the nature of our work. Some museum professionals, in my experience from talking with colleagues and participating in professional development programs, feel that they need to stretch themselves out to make ends meet on unlivable wages. If we continue this path, we will continue to have both an increase in burn out and individuals leaving the museum field. The second question we addressed in tonight’s discussion was:

Q2: What methods or strategies do you use to manage your stress? #MuseumEdChat.

My response to this question was:

There are varying strategies museum professionals can do to manage stress. For instance, some watch favorite television shows and knitting. The third question we addressed in our discussion was:

Q3: In what ways can managers/supervisors help staff manage their stress? In other words, what support do you need?  #MuseumEdChat

My response to this question was:

In other words, staff and managers should set aside time away from the museum to attend painting classes, go for a hike, etc. which would help both parties set up work/life balances. It is important that leadership should set an example for a healthy work/life balance. Also, an open communication between leadership and staff is a must to improve the quality of the museum work we do.

All museum professionals would benefit greatly from equitable pay, benefits, feasible expectations, and a healthy work/life balance. We need to continue to advocate for these things for museum workers. When we think about our museums contributions to the communities surrounding them, and sustainability for around the world, we should not forget about improving the quality of the museum workers’ working conditions. Our recognition of museum workers should be acknowledged on more than one day, as the people of IMWD strive towards with International Museum Workers Day.

Resources and Relevant Posts:

http://museumworkersday.org/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2018/06/07/why-self-care-is-important-for-museum-educators/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/04/04/reaction-no-money-no-new-ideas-conundrum/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/06/06/moving-towards-an-equitable-museum-workforce-reaction-to-salary-doc/