NEMA 2020 Part 2

December 10, 2020

This is the second part of my experience at this year’s virtual NEMA conference. If you have not read the first part, check out the link here: NEMA 2020 Virtual Conference: Part 1:   https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-1bD . Then come back here to see the rest of this post.

Day 3

              On the third day of the NEMA conference, the first session I attended was the keynote with Sarah Sutton, the Principal of Sustainable Museums, and Cultural Sector Lead at We Are Still In. The presentation was pre-recorded, and once we finished watching the presentation Sutton was available to answer our questions. In the keynote Climate Change. Covid-19. Racial Inequality: What Each Crisis Can Teach Us for Tackling the Others, Sutton’s presentation addressed that the lessons from decades of climate advocacy have noticeable parallels with the experience of fighting Covid-19, the efforts to manage an economic recovery, and the work to address racial inequality. Also, the argument made was museums are perfectly suited to help communities because science, data, language, politics, history, and human nature are all mixed up in the problems and the solutions cope with and overcome these crises.

Session 1

             The first session I attended was called We Are Allies: How to Listen, Learn, and Become Anti-Racist Museums with Kristin Gallas (Principal, Interpreting Slavery) as facilitator and the speaker was Katherine Kane (the former Executive Director at Harriet Beecher Stowe Center). Gallas and Kane pointed out that museums must step up and commit to making their work and public spaces welcoming and equitable.

PAG Lunch

After the session, I had lunch with the Education Professional Affinity Group/Gathering (PAG). At the in person NEMA conference, there were PAG Lunches that encourage conference participants to engage with one another while taking lunch breaks between sessions; I wrote about previous PAG Lunches in past posts about the NEMA conference. Each PAG lunch also had themes for each one, and this year’s Education PAG Lunch theme was Grief and Recovery.

Session 2

The next session I attended was Let’s Take This Outside with Brindha Muniappan (Senior Director of the Museum Experience at the Discovery Museum) as facilitator, and the speakers were Kate Leavitt (Director of Mission at the Seacoast Science Center) and Lorén Spears (Executive Director at the Tomaquag Museum). Within the session, each of them discussed how their four different organizations (children’s museum, science center, historic house/garden, and Indigenous museum) encourage visitors to spend time outside and think about their physical place in the world as a way to build life-long connections with nature and conserve it for future generations.

Last Session of Day 3

I attended the Fostering Community Within Frontline Staff with Helen Brechlin and Tom Maio, who are both from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Massachusetts, for the last session of the third day. Brechlin and Maio shared how their frontline staff program not only supports their frontline staff but support the visitors during this pandemic. Their discussion focused on how to build and foster a positive working relationship with and among frontline staff.

Day 4

Panel

                 The panel session for the fourth day of the NEMA conference was Celebrating Museums with Rebekah Beaulieu (Executive Director at the Florence Griswold Museum) as moderator, and the following individuals were the panelists: Catherine Allgor (President at the Massachusetts Historical Society), Chris Newell (Passamaquoddy) the Executive Director and Sr. Partner to Wabanaki Nations at the Abbe Museum, and Hallie Selinger (Visitor Experience Manager at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, MA). In the panel discussion, they talked about the question: Why do you love museums?

Session 1

For my first session of the fourth day, I attended the Beyond Hands-On: Tapping the Non-Touch Senses in Exhibitions session.  Betsy Loring (Principal, exploring exhibits & engagement, LLC, MA) and Laurie Pasteryak (Director of Interpretation at Fairfield Museum & History Center) spent some time reminding us of the many other senses that exhibitions can invoke instead of – or in addition to – touch. They shared examples of non-touch interactivity through sound, smell, and proprioception; and participants broke out into smaller groups brainstorm ways to inexpensively increase the sensory dimensions of exhibits.

Session 2

The next session I attended was Planning for Interpretive Planning with Julie Arrison-Bishop (Community Engagement Director at The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association) as facilitator, and the speakers were Matt Kirchman (President and Creative Director at ObjectIDEA in Massachusetts) and Brooke Steinhauser (Program Director at the Emily Dickinson Museum). All of them discussed tackling the interpretive planning process and shared their tips and tricks for successful project planning.

Last Session of Day 4

The last session I attended on the fourth day was Happy House Tours: Working with Homeowners and Volunteers for a Great Event with Sue Goganian (Director at Historic Beverly in Massachusetts) as facilitator, and the speakers were Fay Salt (a Trustee at Historic Beverly) and Beverly Homeowners John and Jaye Cuffe. Goganian, Salt, and Cuffe shared their perspectives on how much work and cooperation it takes to run a house tour event. They discussed how they require many volunteers and lots of coordination, and a great partnership makes it possible even with limited staff and a small budget. Staff members share the financial, organizational, and community benefits, and how it is done before the pandemic and beyond.

Day 5

Exhibit Hall: Panospin360

        Before I attended the sessions for the last day of the conference, I revisited the Exhibit Hall to participate in a live demonstration from Panospin 360. Located in Lowell, Massachusetts, it offers virtual tour services for hospitality venues, universities, conference centers, medical facilities, corporations, retail stores, historical sites, and national parks across the United States. I will go into more detail in a future services examination blog post.

Session 1

The first session I attended on the last day of the conference was Resource Roundup: A Roundtable for Sharing (and Discussing) Sources Relevant to Contemporary Issues in the Museum Field with many museum professionals participating as facilitators and speakers. It was a session where participants could get a bibliography of sources and engage with colleagues via active discussion to explore resources, ideas, share information, and network. All participants were broken into a number of different groups on various topics, and were encouraged to attend more than one: Museum Compensation/Salary Transparency; Issues of Access; Evaluation; Decolonization; Museum Activism & Social Justice; Gender Equity & Leadership; and Museum Careers & Professional Development. The purpose of the roundtable was to:

highlight the key books, articles, and resources useful for understanding and navigating contemporary museum issues while encouraging participants to seek out and engage with literature in the field, and consider how it influences, inspires, and/ or applies to their professional practice.

Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon

While this year’s conference had a different format than usual, the Annual Meeting and Awards still celebrated museum colleagues, associations, and museums. The highlights of the Annual Meeting and Awards luncheon were presenting the annual NEMA Excellence Awards, presented to colleagues who have gone “above and beyond;” presenting the NEMA Lifetime Achievement Award honoring Susan Robertson, executive director of Gore Place; and a brief “state of the association” presentation from NEMA Executive Director Dan Yaeger. Also, NEMA members voted on this year’s slate of NEMA officers and new members, plus bylaw updates.

Last Session of the Conference

The last session I attended for the last day of the conference was Accessibility for Online Programs and Communication Channels with Susan Robertson (Executive Director at Gore Place) as facilitator, and the speakers were Charles Baldwin (Program Officer, UP Designation, Innovation and Learning Network at Mass Cultural Council), Emily Carpenter (Web Designer and Digital Marketer, WA), and Aaron Rawley (Volunteer Coordinator at Gore Place). Within the session, the speakers spoke about how participants of all levels of technical knowledge could improve access to their digital offerings for visitors with disabilities. Participants learned from each presenter on how Gore Place, for instance, makes digital programs and communication channels more accessible through universal design. The discussion included but not limited to accessibility for social media, webinars, and websites.

Thank you all for your patience as I complete this second part of the conference coverage! If you have any questions about the sessions I attended above and in the previous NEMA virtual conference post, you can find my contact information on the Contacts page. Stay tuned for next week’s blog post about the holidays this year, and be sure to check out my campaign I have started on the Buy Me A Coffee site:

https://www.buymeacoffee.com/lbmfmusedblog

NEMA 2020 Virtual Conference: Part 1

November 19, 2020

This year I decided to attend the virtual New England Museum Association (NEMA) conference not only for professional development reasons but to also find out how they will execute a virtual conference. Like in previous conferences, I have also participated in the conversations and shared my thoughts on Twitter using the conference hashtag: #NEMA2020.  Also, I decided to split it into two parts since there is so much information I gathered, it would be too long to fit into one post. I will post the second part after Thanksgiving. I learned that the majority of the recordings from the conference will be available after the conference for three months.

In case you are not familiar with the NEMA conference, I have included a few previous blog posts I wrote about a couple of the conferences I attended in the past below. I found out as I signed up for this year’s conference that the whole conference would be held through the app Whova. The app, Whova, has been used in previous NEMA conferences and I have used it as a way to network and keep track of the conference schedule. Whova has provided a platform this year to participate in the conference virtually, and the app could be used not just on the phone but also on the laptop/computer.

Whova (Mobile)
Whova (Laptop)

The NEMA conference took place between Monday November 16th and Friday November 20th. It was originally going to be located in Newport, Rhode Island (the same place where I attended my first NEMA conference seven years ago) but due to the pandemic it was switched over to the virtual platform. Like the rest of the virtual conferences I attended this year, I missed interacting with people in person however I did find it convenient to attend online. It saved me some time commuting to the in-person location and I did not have to worry about finding a hotel to stay in during the week. This year’s theme is Who Do We Think We Are Now? There are over sixty sessions, multiple keynotes, networking lunches, and a virtual exhibit hall.

Day 1

Keynote Presentation: Colleen Dilenschneider

On the first day of the conference, I attended the first keynote, three sessions, and visited the virtual Exhibit Hall. The keynote speaker for the first day was Coleen Dilenschneider who is the Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS. Dilenschneider is also author of the popular website Know Your Own Bone, and during the keynote she shared contemporary research about potential museum visitors in New England. This presentation focused on shifting sentiments, the insights these shifts provide for the future, and why agile, strategic museums are especially well-positioned to engage and inspire their communities during this time of change and beyond.

One of the key takeaways from the data Dilenschneider shared was when participants answered the question (what would make you feel comfortable returning to cultural organizations?) the number one answer for participants in the United States and in the New England region was mandatory face mask coverings. She also pointed out that there are three trends that are indicating positive change: superconnection, elevated expertise, and activating new audiences. The following are from the notes I took during the session of the survey results Dilenschneider shared:

Superconnection:

  • to the web at home, work, and on mobile device
  • people prefer to stay home, the safest place to stay during the pandemic [according to survey]
  • more people spend time using digital sources for media consumption

Elevated Expertise:

  • highly credible source of information
  • visiting a(n) [organization type] is educational
    • opinion has increased during the pandemic
  • We are trusted experts.

Activating New Audiences:

  • Length of leisure visit preference in New England: preference to take day trips increased in 2020.
  • Leisure travel means: increase in personal vehicle preference
  • Newly activated visitation increased significantly in 2020
    • Newly activated visitation=new visitors, or those who have not visited in the last 3 years or so.

After the first keynote, I went to the virtual Exhibit Hall to see the exhibitors’ services and what giveaways they are offering for this year’s conference.

Exhibit Hall
Your Museum Career: Now What?

The first session I attended was called Your Museum Career: Now What? This session was aimed to help participants get ready to deal with the issues in the field that were amplified by this crisis. Each of the speakers talked about understanding museum salaries and doing your research before applying; the divide between “essential” and “non-essential” positions; coming out of the shutdown trauma and returning to work; taking control of the application process; how to get your digital and physical materials ready; and how to handle an all-virtual process. Some of the advice they shared for the job search post-COVID include:

  • pay close attention to the details of the job description, and while your resume may not be a 100 percent match to the job description it has to be enough to meet the qualifications
  • do not be afraid to apply to something you haven’t done in a while
  • look at the priority of listings in the job description; it will show what responsibilities are the most important for the role.

In the session, the speakers also shared their advice on how to understand museum salaries. A couple of the points they made on understanding museum salaries were:

  • look up the 990 forms of organizations but keep in mind that everything is different in 2020
  • do the research first then put down a reasonable number that is fair to you

Also, they provided advice on virtual interviews. According to the speakers, when you get a virtual interview it is important to run the technology beforehand. I believe that advice goes both ways because while it is important that the interviewees should make sure their internet connection, sound, et. cetera is working, it is also important for interviewers to make sure everything on their end is working for a successful interaction throughout the interview. For interviewers, speakers also recommended that the instructions and materials for the interview should be sent ahead of time to the interviewee in order to make sure they know what to expect for the interview process; also, if interviewers do not send log in information for the interview, the interviewee will not be able to get into the interview on time. A couple more advices they shared for interviewees are to dress the part (because it would also be a mood and confidence booster) and to have notes near you so that you would have visual reminders of what you want to say and ask in the interview.

The second session I attended was called What Now? Immersive Theater, Games, and Interactive Content Responds to Covid. Each speaker talked about how they were coming up with solutions like live radio, letterboxing, alternate reality games, unique Zoom interactions, and GoPro cameras to deliver engagement with an isolated audience using on-hand tools. There were five different presentations that addressed how they responded to and adapted programs because of Covid. Each speaker shared interesting programs, games, et. cetera that museum professionals could create their own versions. For instance, there are online puzzle hunts, radio broadcasts, mobile escape games, and phone- and letter-based immersive theater.

What Now? Immersive Theater, Games, and Interactive Content Responds to Covid
Resources to Create Virtual Games, What Now? Immersive Theater, Games, and Interactive Content Responds to Covid

The third session I attended was called History is Happening Now: Collecting the Covid Experience. Representatives from three organizations recounted their efforts to capture the impact of the pandemic on their communities by collecting time capsules, written reflections, artwork, signage, masks, and other objects. Strategies discussed will include fast-forwarding development of projects in a moment of crisis, collecting methods and logistics, reaching different constituent groups, web archiving on a shoestring, and legal considerations. The speakers from the Norwich Historical Society (Vermont), Champlain College Archives (Vermont), and the Vermont Historical Society have shared their projects on keeping track of how the pandemic has impacted their communities and what they have faced during the process. The Norwich Historical Society for instance had a blogger help document curbside pickup for collecting items for their collection, and they also created a space online for members of the community to upload paintings that depict emotions felt during this time; they also had encouraged members of the community to paint murals, called Community Circles, that depict their answers to the question: What brings you hope?

I have also included some highlights of the presentations I shared on Twitter through #NEMA2020

Norwich Historical Society:

Champlain College Archives:

Vermont Historical Society:

Concept of Programs from Vermont Historical Society, History is Happening Now: Collecting the Covid Experience

Day 2

On the second day of the NEMA conference, I started the day by attending the second keynote of the conference Museums, Race, and the Road to Inclusion. The keynote speaker was Jamal Jimerson who is the founder of Minority Inclusion Report and the Managing Partner at Thought Partner Solutions. Jimerson spoke about the issues of board and staff diversity, and the layers of systemic racism that is pervasive in society; he also spoke about how museums can stay effective and relevant in this changing world by aligning their values based on equity and inclusion with their practices. Here is a highlight of Twitter posts from this keynote presentation:

The first session I attended was called Leadership At All Levels – Exercising Influence When You Don’t Have Authority. Within this session, the speakers challenged the traditional idea of leadership in museums (leadership comes from the top-i.e. head of an institution or department in order to be a leader). They explored what it means to be an influential mid-level or emerging leader, and shared practical tools for leading without official authority, an understanding of what it means to step up and why it is essential for our success, and strategies for showing and developing our leadership skills no matter where we are in an organization. The following is a highlight from the session I shared on Twitter:

The third session I attended on the second day of the conference was Moving from “George Washington Slept Here” to “Who Cleaned this Chamber Pot?”: Redefining School Programs to Meet 21st Century Learning and Teaching. Within this session, the speaker provided tools, takeaways, and tips to help museum education professionals revamp school programs in order to be more intentional and utilize current strategies in education. The session covered how to make minor, no cost changes that have major impacts that include adaptations for specific grade ranges, sensory learning integration, and student-directed experiences. Each of the sections in the session presented tools and strategies that are applicable across the field and could enhance existing programs.

The session set up was interesting to me because it was a half hour pre-recorded session then the rest of the time was an open discussion; I liked that it was a somewhat different way of participating in a virtual conference session, and I could revisit it when I need to during and after the conference. I liked that there was also an opportunity for all participants to share their own experiences in revamping school programs and our own wants in adapting programs in an open discussion section. Here are a few tweets I posted to contribute to the discussion about the session:

The last session I attended on the second day was Stretching the STEAM/STEM Pipeline- Advancements Through Community Collaborations. It was an interesting session that pointed out museums should ask how they can help their community especially when it is facing social and economic challenges, and the academic achievement of area youth is tested. The speakers from the Children’s Museum in West Hartford, Connecticut shared their experience in answering the question: How can we step outside of our museum walls and unite with likeminded community stakeholders to make a lasting impact on STEAM/STEM achievement?

The presenters used their program “Bringing the Museum to the Neighborhoods” to highlight the steps necessary to successfully engage, coordinate, and manage a common agenda with collaborators and stakeholders who maintained varied missions and processes, and strive to advance a common agenda to support the community. For their program, the Children’s Museum collaborated with Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Hartford, the Hartford Public Library, and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center to provide a program that would encourage families within the Hartford community to engage in activities. Here are some highlights from that session:

The next three days of the conference will be covered in the second blog post covering this year’s NEMA conference. In the meantime, enjoy the blog posts I have previously written about past NEMA conferences I have attended since starting this blog.

To catch up on my live reactions to the virtual NEMA conference, follow me on Twitter at this username: @Steward2Lindsey and check out the hashtag #NEMA2020 for conversations among museum professionals, including myself, about the keynotes, sessions, and virtual meetups.

If you attended this year’s virtual NEMA conference, what do you think of the sessions and the virtual platform so far? Which one of the sessions I attended would you like to learn more about?

Past NEMA conference coverage:

Mini Blog Post: #NEMA2019

#NEMA2019 Recap

Recap: The 100th Annual New England Museum Association Conference

Information about Whova App

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/

Mini Blog Post: #NEMA2019

November 3, 2019

This week I will be attending the New England Museum Association conference in Burlington, Vermont. The New England Museum Association conference is a large annual professional development gathering of museum professionals in and out of the New England area; in most recent years, member of the Museum Association of New York are able to attend as NEMA members. Museum professionals have been gaining new insights, inspirations, and friendships through the NEMA conference since 1919. Since I am going to have a full schedule attending sessions and events, I will not be posting a full blog post on the usual Thursday date but I will be updating my experiences on my Twitter page throughout the week.

I will be in Vermont from November 5th through November 8th, and on November 5th I will be exploring the area before the official sessions begin. To learn about my experiences and my thoughts on the sessions as well as the events, follow me on Twitter: @Steward2Lindsey. Also, follow the conference itself by using the hashtag: #NEMA2019.

To learn about the previous NEMA conference, this is a recap from last year.

Recap: The 100th Annual New England Museum Association Conference

It has been a long time since I talked about my experience and experienced the New England Museum Association (NEMA) conference. After a few years of not being able to attend the conference, I chose to attend the 100th annual NEMA conference. As always, I had a positive learning experience as well as reunited with a number of colleagues I have met at previous conferences and met with new conference participants. It was located at the Hilton Stamford Hotel & Executive Meeting Center in Stamford, Connecticut, and the theme of the conference was Museums on the Move which explored how museums have evolved since the very first NEMA conference and how they are positioning themselves for success in the century ahead.

A few days before the conference began, NEMA conference attendants were made aware of the labor situation at the Hilton Stamford Hotel & Executive Meeting Center in which hotel workers were protesting unfair wages. While NEMA considered moving the conference to another location, NEMA decided that it was not practical considering the size of the NEMA conference and the relatively short time frame before the conference; the full NEMA statement can be found here: https://nemanet.org/conference-events/conference/2018-nema-conference/hotel/. There have been some participants that decided to not attend the conference or decided to not hold sessions in the hotel as a result, and as a museum community we supported their decisions. During the keynote session, NEMA Executive Director Dan Yaeger dedicated time to talk about the labor situation at the hotel and a couple of staff members from the hotel spoke to us about what the work conditions were like at the hotel. Throughout our conference experience, discussions about the labor situation emphasized the importance of recognizing one another as hard workers who should and deserve to do and see changes made in our fields.

Also during the NEMA session, we heard more about the 100-yearhistory of NEMA and the NEMA conference. They introduced a pop-up exhibit which displayed a timeline of NEMA’s history and allowed conference participants to add their own museum’s history to the timeline using Post-Its, markers, and dry erase boards. What was also added to the exhibit was the wishes for NEMA and the museum field inside boxes that were lifted by the NEMA staff and keynote session presenters in front of the whole conference.

@Steward2Lindsey: Whoa! #nema2018 https://twitter.com/Steward2Lindsey/status/1060223671619514369

Each of the sessions I selected to attend during the week were both for my personal interest and also to gather information for the Long Island Explorium and the Three Village Historical Society. On the first day, I attended a session called The STEAM Dream Team in which I learned how collaboration between institutions can create meaningful STEAM programming from educators at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and the Connecticut Science Center; they discussed how an initial joint-school program evolved, and continues to evolve, into a multivalent partnership that benefits both institutions. Also, the session included a hands-on STEAM activity using shadows, light and colors. and practical tips for starting our own art/science collaboration. Then I attended a session called Continuing Education for Your Most Committed(and Creative) Life-Long Learners which considers experiences of long-serving volunteer educators from the standpoint of their interest in and capacity for new learning, in subject matter and pedagogical techniques; I learned about different tailored programs that can refresh docents’ intellectual lives, keeping them up to date and incorporate reflective, cyclical self-assessment and these developmental strategies can be applied to all subject areas. The last session I attended for the day was Power Dynamics and Workplace Culture: A Think Tank in which I participated in a discussion about how to help colleagues examine power dynamics and workplace culture in museums by sharing solutions and ideas for moving the field towards a more equitable and transparent future.

In the evening I attended the Opening ceremony at the Bruce Museum of Art and Science in Greenwich which was originally built in 1853 as a private home on a hill overlooking Greenwich Harbor, and the museum has emerged as one of the area’s premier institutions highlighting art, science, and natural history. I strolled through the permanent collection galleries featuring art from legendary Cos Cob Impressionists (including Childe Hassam, Emil Carlsen, Leonard and Mina Fonda Ochtman, and Elmer McRae among others), a spectacular mineral and natural history collection, and American material culture spanning the Colonial period to the present day. Also, I went into the giftshop to purchase a few items, enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, and since I attended the ceremony I received a free book about the Bruce Museum’s collections.

The next day, I attendedthe session Beyond the School Visit:Museum and District Collaboration in which representatives from The AldrichMuseum and the Ridgefield Public Schools discussed their collaboration and howthey evolved school visits into “deep dive” programming resulting in district-wide, cross-disciplinary curriculum, learning opportunities for educators, school memberships, and experiences for students that align with their respective missions. We listened to museum management, district administrators, and a parent on how the collaboration evolved and how it impacts their institutions; afterwards we were engaged in an activity that was designed to inspired partnerships rooted in reciprocity, shared values, and innovation. The next session I went to was a session called How Visitor-Centered Are We? which was a follow up to the last year’s seminar discussion about truth in museums, and the discussion continued with examining the continuing shift to create more visitor-centered environments and what this means in the context of today’s society. This session also came with selected pre-readings in which we used to examine and share ideas and examples of inclusion, diversity and access, both physical and cultural, to help us understand how they shape, or should shape, our work today. The last session of the day I attended was called Finding Your Voice on Social Media which provided an overview of how Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can become powerful tools for our organizations and connect with a greater audience.

Since this was the lastday of the conference, I attended two sessions before the conference luncheonand annual meeting. The first session was called Re-Imagining the Future! Museums for Tomorrow in which I learned howthree institutions of art, culture, and science are transforming their facilities and programming for the 21st century and beyond. This had a panel discussion that explored three significant capital projects at the Barnum Museum, Bruce Museum, and Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, and they addressed mater planning and design, construction and interpretive planning. The last session was called Integrating Skill Building into Museum Programs for Children and Caregivers which had hands-on science activities introduced by science center and children’s museum staff that can be facilitated in a variety of museum settings; these activities can be used to look beyond the product or content goals and think about how children can practice important developmental and science process skills as they participate, and the presenters shared strategies for engaging caregivers in the process of their children’s learning and helping them recognize the skill development that is taking place.

At the conferenceluncheon and annual meeting we continued the celebration of NEMA’s 100thanniversary by recognizing winners of the 2018 NEMA Excellence Awards and commemorate the career of Larry Yerdon, NEMA’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Awardee. Yerdon, President & CEO of Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH, has had a distinguished career in museums, an active supporter of NEMA its President, and has mentored countless museum professionals as they built their own careers in the field. During the lunch, conference participants heard about NEMA’s latest initiatives, then we helped elect the next NEMA board and officers during a brief annual meeting before heading home from the conference.

The conference experience is just as I remembered in terms of socializingwith former colleagues and new acquaintances. It meant a lot to me to be ableto participate in the 100th conference, and the additional momentsthat highlighted its 100 year history stood out to me; reading the timeline made me realize how much I did not know about NEMA and I am happy to have learned about this rich history. Meanwhile, the sessions themselves have not only been informative but presented fascinating information that I am happy to share with colleagues in New York (including colleagues at the Long Island Explorium and the Three Village Historical Society) and everyone in the museum online community reading this blog post.

If you would like to learn more about each session Idescribed above or have any questions, please contact me on social media or here: https://wp.me/P8J8yQ-4

Creating an Environment-Friendly World with Museums

Added to Medium, November 16, 2017

Our society is continuing to becoming more aware of what we can do to preserve our environment, and museums are great resources for this preservation. I have come across many articles, blog posts, and other resources discussing the environment and sustainability. We can use these resources as we move forward in our preservation and sustainability efforts. There are many examples that I will mention in this blog post but they are not limited to these resources.

Most recently, for example, the American Alliance of Museums released the most recent edition of Museums magazine that flash forwards to the year 2040 to show a version of what the future we can envision for museums and our world. I also came across an article online about the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh designed a storm water filtration system that got sustainability advocates’ attention. Another article I came across was from the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice written by Catherine Dumouchel and Douglas Worts which introduces and discusses in detail about Canadian Working Group on Museums and Sustainable Communities (WGMSC) – a group that operated between 2000 and 2007. There were also a workshop and a webinar I participated in, both hosted by Sarah Sutton (Sustainable Museums) about Environmental Sustainability in Museums through New England Museum Association (NEMA).

This is not a new subject but it is worth discussing because every living thing has one planet to live on, and we need to do what we can to preserve our world. The number of resources we see are a testament to our museum field’s acknowledgement to how significant our world’s preservation is. I appreciate seeing so many museum professionals talking about this topic.

By reading about what other museum professionals have to say about this topic, we can learn so much and make our institutions more environmentally friendly as a result.

The latest edition of AAM’s Museums, Museums 2040, for instance includes articles about the environment and sustainability. Overall this special edition of this magazine shows readers what 2040 could look like based on information we have and what we are doing right now to protect our future. According to Elizabeth Merritt, of the Center for the Future of Museums, she challenged authors of the articles to describe what museums could have done between 2017 and this idea of 2040 to achieve the success museums have in this version of 2040. The articles, including “The Next Sustainability Frontier” and “Maintaining Green while Sustaining Collections”, take on this challenge to give us a fascinating version of 2040.

In “The Next Sustainability Frontier”, it discusses museums’ progress towards sustainability in 2040. The article revealed what has been done in the past and what is being done in this present to create sustainable solutions for our museums and environments. This author stated in the article,

“Most major cities have reached or are approaching carbon neutral status, having benefitted from museums’ significant contributions to urban planning. Our research into historical and cultural alternatives, our commitment to public outreach for engagement and compliance, and our infrastructure adaptations and innovations have established museums as leaders in the drive toward sustainability. We have accomplished this by integrating our buildings and open spaces, knowledge, programming, and creativity into climate response teams in major urban areas, helping to improve the lives of millions.” (12)

The previous example shares the idea of what the writing style was like to take on that challenge Merritt proposed for this special edition magazine. An example of how integration of buildings and open spaces discussed in the article was Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay which opened in 2012 and used 250 acres to help transform Singapore from a “garden city” to a “city in a garden”. The author stated that the Gardens by the Bay serves as a stunning example of applying climate positive solutions to the urban issues of both energy and habitat.

This example reminds me of the garden at Butler-McCook House & Garden in Hartford where I previously worked. Since the McCook family returned from their visits to Europe, they designed a garden inspired by the European gardens they witnessed. Today, it serves as a little oasis for Hartford residents and workers who sit in the garden to admire the beauty of the plants, both foreign and local. If we work towards this version of 2040, gardens like the one at Butler-McCook House can serve as part of the positive solutions to urban issues.

The second article, “Maintaining Green while Sustaining Collections”, is a case study about California Science Museum in Santa Rosa figuring out how to cultivate living walls while protecting the museum’s diverse collection of objects. According to the article, the California Science Museum was able to be green and sustain the collections in three steps:

“First, staff reviewed humidity readings to determine the most affected zones. They replaced sensitive objects in those areas with reproductions, allowing the museum to preserve the original objects and display them in other ways. Second, they shortened the object rotation cycle for galleries outside the most affected zones.
Third, they created a visible “open” storage area with stringent temperature and humidity control, where they could display objects at minimal cost and staff time, without interpretive context.” (15)

When we work to balance being green and sustaining the museums’ collections, we can improve our practices to preserve our collections while making our environment a better place to live.

I love how this special edition pushes us forward in time, and how we interpret how our future could look as a global society and as a museum field. I thought about the questions Merritt posed in the letter she wrote at the end of the edition: “Do I think this could happen?” “Do I want this to happen?” and “Does this have to wait until 2040, or can I make it happen now?” And I believe we should not wait. Museums have so much potential to help our communities improve our environments, and we already are working towards a better future.

In addition to this special edition of Museums magazine, I also came across this post about storm water flow at the North Carolina Museum of Art. According to the article, they stated that the parking lots at the museum in West Raleigh, help storm water flow into a designed system of grass and soil that slows the water and filters pollutants before the water flows into a stream on the property and eventually into the Neuse River. Water is an important resource we have on this planet, and it can be taken for granted. By doing something similar at other museums, we can help maintain our water supply and create a better environment.

Other examples that discuss museums’ dedication to creating a better environment include ones I found on the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice’s website. The first example is called “Museums & Sustainable Communities – Six Things Our Working Group Learned”; it introduces the organization, Canadian Working Group on Museums and Sustainable Communities. It went into the backstory of the organization that addressed the question: How could museums help to create a coherent culture of sustainability (including environmental learning as well as social and economic equity), which touched Canadians of all ages, ethnicities, geographic settings and socioeconomic backgrounds? The purposes of this organization include:

To provide opportunities for capacity-building in the museum community, regarding the role of museums in the development of sustainable communities;
To develop resources and tools for use by museums for planning, implementing and evaluating initiatives related to the development of sustainable communities; and
To develop and maintain networks within and outside the museum community that encourage museums to take action in contributing to the development of sustainable communities.

This article continues to provide additional information that can inspire museums to work towards a better environment in our world.

The second example I found on the website called “A Shade of Green: Ten Practical Steps for Museums” written by Joshua Lichty, who the article stated is an experienced Project & Event Coordinator with a demonstrated history of working in the museums and cultural industry and is involved with the Ontario Museum Association. It offers advice museums can follow to make their museums greener including light your museum with LED lighting solutions; remove all plastic bags from your gift shop; recycle and compost at your museum; purchase only recycled and sustainable paper products; and run an annual eco-inspired program (exhibit, lectures, school program, etc.). By being able to learn practical advice, it will help museums not only be environment friendly but also use its status as an educational resource to educate visitors on making their homes environmentally friendly.

Good news is museum professionals are still talking about creating a cleaner, greener environment and we need to continue this discussion not only within our field but with our visitors and community members.

Announcement: Since next week is Thanksgiving, I will not be posting on the blog to focus on celebrating the holiday with family and loved ones.

*Announcement: Guess what?! I’m on Patreon! With your help, I can expand my blog & website to do even cooler things. https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward *

To those who are celebrating, Happy Thanksgiving!

Resources:
http://www.aam-us.org/resources/center-for-the-future-of-museums/museum-2040
http://www.wral.com/museum-s-stormwater-system-gets-high-marks-from-sustainability-advocates/16931706/?platform=hootsuite
https://coalitionofmuseumsforclimatejustice.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/museums-sustainable-communities-six-things-our-working-group-learned/
https://coalitionofmuseumsforclimatejustice.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/a-shade-of-green-ten-practical-steps-for-museums/
https://nemanet.org/conference-events/

 

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

Originally posted on Medium, April 27, 2017. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professional Development Programs: Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation and Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs

Originally posted on Medium, February 2, 2017. 

In one of my previous blog posts, I said that professional development is important for all career paths. I still believe that is true. I recently attended a couple of professional development programs offered by the New England Museum Association and American Alliance of Museums. The New England Museum Association (NEMA) offers monthly online discussion series called Lunch with NEMA. NEMA’s program this month was called “Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation Will Increase Visitors and Save Marketing Time and Expense”, and the presenters were Jonathan Lhowe and Terra Marcarelli from the Visit New England website. Lhowe and Marcarelli discuss how to attract today’s visitors and maintain museums’ online presence. Meanwhile, the American Alliance of Museums feature various online programs, including the EdComVersation discussions. The EdComVersation I attended this time was called “Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs” which featured several presenters giving case studies of how volunteer programs are run at different museums or organizations; each case study provide advice on how we can run our volunteer programs and make sure we utilize volunteers’ time to everyone’s advantage. It is important that volunteers feel like their time is well spent at the organizations and the museums or organizations need to see how volunteers’ work are assisting with their overall goals. By attending these programs, I not only learned more about the museum field but I also could see how the advice these programs gave can be applied to the museum education field.

The New England Museum Association’s “Managing Your Online Reputation” program began with statistics related to online presence of businesses in general then moved on to detailed advice for maintaining an accurate online presence to gain as well as maintain attention. Lhowe and Marcarelli explained that in the past reviews of museums and other businesses depended on in person visits and word of mouth. Today many people rely on online reviews from reliable sources including Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, and expedia; in fact, two-thirds of people are more likely to buy from a store if they find positive comments about it online, and half are less likely to buy if there are negative comments. They also stated that it is important to be a part of the people’s conversations since the consumers control conversations about your institution and therefore your institution can participate in the conversation to easily moderate it. Another take away from this program was social media is not just about followers and likes but social media can also be used to generate leads and conduct customer service to gain return on investment. Managing online reputation can contribute to museum’s educational purposes.

By participating in consumer’s conversations, the museums will be able to get accurate reactions to the summer camp programs, after school programs, adult programs, and other public programs; then the staff can understand how to improve their programs or how to run the programs. Connecticut Landmarks, for instance, has released a survey on Facebook that will provide data that will help them understand how they are doing, compare them to other museums, and help them understand how they can create better experiences for the viewer and their community. With the data they collect, Connecticut Landmarks will be able to better serve the community with re-evaluated educational programs. It is especially important if a museum created a new educational program like a lecture, family or summer program; the museum would want to see how participants reacted to the program to see what they liked about it and what can be improved upon for the future. The second program I attended went into detail about how evaluating volunteers and the programs can benefit the museum overall, and by attending I not only gained new skills but was reinforced by my unique advantage of both running a volunteer program and being a volunteer myself.

The American Alliance of Museums’ “Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs” discuss the importance of evaluating volunteers and the programs as well as providing specific case studies on how evaluations can affect volunteers and volunteer programs. The following are reasons why museums should evaluate the volunteers and the volunteer programs: evaluation can help give volunteers information they need to do better work and can help museums nab problems early (problems with program or problem volunteers); convey appreciation and reinforce value of volunteers; motivate volunteers to do both their personal best and give positive impact on the museums; and it allows museum to improve volunteer program. When evaluating volunteers and the volunteer program, museums need to keep these questions in mind: Are we attracting enough volunteers with the right skills? Is our volunteer program effective? Are volunteers having the best possible experience with us? The presenters also gave specific pointers about how to evaluate the volunteer programs and the volunteers themselves. To effectively evaluate volunteer programs, it is important to have constant and consistent formal as well as informal evaluations; also, it is important to build the evaluation into the handbook, expectations, and orientation, explain your motivations and methods then report back to the volunteers, and be prepared to actively use the results and feedback. To effectively evaluate volunteers, there are a few ways to proceed including self-evaluations (asking them about their own actions as volunteers can give museums a visual of what is exactly being accomplished), individual evaluation sessions with supervisor, informal feedback, and if they are leaving the museum provide an exit interview to see what the museum can improve on the program. Then the program went into specific case studies with details on how their programs are run and what methods were used that either worked or needed improvements; a couple of them include a teen volunteer program at the Winterthur Museum, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, and the Chicago History Museum. Volunteers can serve many different departments in a museum, and the education department is no exception.

Volunteers can serve different purposes for the education department in a museum including assisting with school programs and summer camps, and working on administrative duties in the office. In my experience as a museum educator, I have had the opportunity to work with volunteers as well as being a volunteer for museums because I hope to develop my skills as a museum professional and continue my career in the field. At the start of my career, I volunteered at my childhood hometown’s museum during college and later I began an internship at Connecticut’s Old State House as a graduate student; then I got a job as a museum teacher at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut. I then later worked for Connecticut Landmarks’ historic house museums in Hartford, Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, as a museum interpreter (I gave tours for school groups and the public) and Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society as a museum educator; while I worked at these two historic house museums, I also volunteered to co-create and run a craft fair fundraiser for the Killingly Historical Society in Killingly, Connecticut. I created this fundraiser with my friend and grad school colleague to raise funds for operating the historical society; I ran the historical society’s twitter page to point out fun facts about the history of the town and advertise for the craft fair, talked to some interested crafters who wanted to sell their items at our craft fair and collect reservation fees, went with my friend to see the space where it will take place and organize the tables layout, and helped set up and clean up the fair. When I went on to the Long Island Museum, I oversaw scheduling volunteers to assist with larger school programs based on their availability and discussed with them what the students got from the lessons. Then when I went on to the Long Island Maritime Museum, I volunteered for a school tour, collected admission for a Boat Burning event, Past Perfect data entry and preserving books by scanning pages, and working at the visitor services desk. From my perspective, I can understand what volunteers need to complete their goals as well as making sure their work accomplishes work museums’ need to accomplish their mission.

Have you attended programs like these two programs? Did you attend these programs, and what did you think of these programs? What are your organizations doing to preserve your online reputations? What are your volunteer programs like? Do you feel that volunteers are accomplishing their goals and the goals of your organizations?

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

Writing about Museum Education: Using Professional Development to Our Advantage

Originally posted on Medium. October 26, 2016

I truly believe professional development is important for all career paths, especially in the museum education field. Professional development in the museum education field have many opportunities to help museum professionals develop their careers to make sure they are up to date with latest theories and skills. There are many ways any professional can develop their skills in their chosen careers. For instance, there are conferences, networking, courses, online and workshops professionals can develop their own skills and use those lessons to share with their organizations to continue to grow. These options allow every professional to gain insight in their own professions, and by sharing my experiences in participating in professional development I hope this would inspire both emerging professionals and seasoned professionals to take advantage of what our organizations can offer. As a museum educator, I participated in various professional development programs including conferences and workshops.

I attended annual New England Museum Association conferences held in various cities in the New England states. The ones I attended were at hotels in Newport, RI in 2013, Boston/Cambridge, MA in 2014, and Portland, ME in 2015. The first conference’s theme was called Who Cares? Why Museums Are Needed More Than Ever; this theme touched on exactly how museums can still be relevant today. The second conference’s theme was called Picture of Health: Museums, Wellness, & Healthy Communities which explained how museums can promote health and wellness. The third conference’s theme was called The Language of Museums which discussed communication within the museum, among the staff, and with museum visitors to best serve the surrounding community. Each conference lasted for three days, has various sessions related to each department in the museum field as well as to the overall conference, and some off-site sessions allowing participants to explore the area where the conference is held. The conferences start with Keynote Sessions lead by speakers related to the theme and discuss how the conference’s theme advances the museum field.

Also, the conferences provide various networking opportunities including opening events at local museum, and Professional Affinity Group Lunches; the Professional Affinity Group Lunches (or PAG Lunches) allow professionals to meet with other professionals in the field, such as museum educators, take a boxed lunch ordered ahead of time and participate in discussions as well as group activities. NEMA conferences also provide a couple of sessions for professionals who were attending the conference for the first time; there was a session on the introduction to the conference and newcomer’s reception for networking opportunities. When I attended the newcomer’s session and reception in 2013 as a graduate student, I was introduced to how the conferences were set up and the panelists gave me and other newcomers advice on how to choose sessions as well as how to take advantage of networking with colleagues. These newcomer’s sessions are very helpful because it made me feel comfortable about navigating through the conferences, and when I introduced a friend and colleague to the NEMA conference I made sure she went to these sessions. As I transitioned to the museum community in New York, I took advantage of attending conferences and events in New York City.

I attended my first New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference in May 2016. The NYCMER conference was located at the Morgan Library & Museum near Penn Station. While it was like the NEMA conferences I attended in the past, the differences include the focus was professional development for museum educators, and all on site sessions were at the museum not at a hotel. NYCMER conference started with a keynote session with many sessions related to the museum education field. The keynote session at the beginning of the conference featured speakers Steven Seidel, Faculty Director of the Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Jennifer Ifill-Ryan, Associate Director, Education & Community Engagement at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Learning, introducing the overall importance of storytelling in the museum education field. Unlike the NEMA conferences which had some sessions related to museum education, all NYCMER sessions were more focused on subjects related to the museum education field. For instance, I attended a session that shared how to engage new audiences through playful experiences presented by staff from Museum Hack, a program designed to engage individuals with museums and to help museums develop their skills in creating interactive programs. Not only have I taken advantage of attending conferences, I also participated in a workshop in New York.

Last week I attended a workshop hosted by NYCMER and El Museo del Barrio called “Exhibition Designs for Educators”. The workshop event started with an activity on creating an exhibit related to one object; we were split into four different groups and were given a task to create an exhibit using prompts to interpret the object in four different ways. The challenge was we were not told what the object was, and we were expected to create an exhibit with an unknown artifact. What I can describe about the object is it looked like a cement block with a whole in it, and had nails sticking out of it. This group activity allowed us to discuss with each other ideas about how we can achieve our mission. My group’s prompt was to create an open exhibit that has a warm, inviting environment. We decided to create a model of our exhibit; our model had the object on a pedestal in the center of the exhibit with seats around it and wires between the seats. I asked the group what if we included inquiry-based questions to allow the visitors of our exhibit to be able to talk about the object, and we agreed in addition to inquiry-based questions on the wall we also included a box next to the pedestal with answers related to the object. To create that warm, inviting environment, we decided to use bright colors associated with comfort for the wall and seats then used a darker color for the floor to complement the object. After a few minutes, each group presented their exhibit ideas.

The rest of “Exhibition Design for Educators” workshop had three panelists discuss their involvement in exhibition and how it can be translated to education. NYCMER’s event mission was to make sure everyone attending will have a better understanding of the relationship between exhibition design and interpretation, and how educators can take advantage of their colleagues’ strategies in their own practice. These panelists explained their approaches to the practice of designing exhibits and their approaches to integrating interpretation. The first panelist was Ricardo Mulero who has been involved in exhibition projects include the National September 11 Memorial Museum and James Madison’s Montpelier in Virginia; he discussed his experiences working on projects for these museums and revealed at the end the object we created exhibits for was a cast of Kodak Camera packaging foam (circa 1970s). The second panelist was Sofia Reeser Del Rio who is the Curatorial Programs Coordinator at El Museo del Barrio; she discussed her approach to exhibit design as a form of storytelling and used a seed as a simile for an exhibit. Like a seed, ideas need to be nurtured and supported by research, emotions, imagination, appropriate gallery space, and planning to become successful projects.

The last panelist was Paul Orselli, the President and Chief Instigator at Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc. (POW!) who discussed about creating prototypes or a tool to engage in co-creation outside museum, exhibit diplomacy (or how to try things quickly, answer simply, and let visitor answer you), and hybrid museum. Orselli also used Elvis Presley to explain exhibit prototyping by using each letter of his first name to discuss each step for prototyping; use everyday materials to make it easier, looseness in opportunities during development, have exhibits be vermicious or to worm around on different subjects, have iteration or in other words keep trying, and sharing ideas with visitors and other professionals. What I took away from this experience is being able to come up with ideas for integrating exhibit and education programs, and will hopefully use these discussions to assist in planning future programs. I believe I left the workshop with a better understanding of the relationship between exhibition design and interpretation.

These are only some of the emerging and seasoned professionals can develop their skills in museum education. Volunteering is another great way to get involved to not only help an organization but you can also continue to utilize and develop your skills. I volunteer as a Parish Historian for the church I grew up attending to keep track of the collections and figure out ways to utilize the collections; also, I volunteer for the Historical Society of Greater Port Jefferson and the Long Island Maritime Museum teaching school programs and working within the visitor services department. The previous experiences I shared with you all will hopefully show how much we can learn from professional development, and how important it is to take advantage of these events. I will leave you with the following questions to ponder on: What are ways you take advantage of professional development? Is there a session or workshop that inspired you? Have you presented at a conference before, and if you have what did you like most about your experiences?