Reactions to Blog: “Emotionally Charged Spaces”

I read another blog post from Museum Hack, which is one of their case studies, called Emotionally Charged Spaces: Why You Should Create Immersive Tours with Sensitive Subject Matter. While this was a case study of one of the services they performed for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, there is a lot to learn about the challenges of telling a story of a difficult past. According to the blog post, the Canadian Museum of Human Rights’ mission “to create lasting global change in the field of human rights, shining a spotlight on some of the most egregious violations of human rights around the world, and to inspire activism.” To help fulfill the mission, Museum Hack provided the staff training on how storytelling can help people connect with the subject matter the museum presents.

Museum Hack uses the case studies in their blog not only to share what they were able to do for the museums that asked for their services but Museum Hack shared case studies like this one to show what museums can learn from these organizations.

As we know as museum educators, it is important to know how to tell a narrative or story effectively to show audiences how significant these stories are to be able to understand our past or subject matter. Museum Hack pointed out that the goal for programming on difficult subjects is for visitors to be educated, informed, and inspired to make change instead of leaving the place depressed. Also, it stated creating programming and telling stories that both acknowledge the gravity and seriousness of issues while getting audiences engaged without overwhelming them is a challenging objective but worth the effort when received positively. As a public historian, I have both learned and practiced storytelling of difficult subjects, especially slavery.

My previous experience was more focused on doing research for Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington for their symposium program discussing slavery in 17th century Connecticut. In addition to the research presented at the symposium, there were other colleagues that did their own research and presented their findings to share with the community of professionals and individuals interested learning more about the subject.

This experience is one of the examples of the points the blog made that not many challenging subjects are told through engaging programming but mostly through lecture series. To create more engaging programs and storytelling on difficult subject matter, there must be human connection to the topic discussed.

In the case study, Museum Hack revealed that by having guides share their personal connections it will further humanize what the visitor is interacting with. I agree with this because to have relevance in museums, especially with museums discussing difficult subject matter, visitors have to recognize the human connection in these stories. Whether they have their own personal connections to difficult subject matter or not, visitors should at least be able to learn from and understand those who have a personal connection.

Museum Hack also briefly talked about one of their best practices called scaffolding. According to the blog post, scaffolding is a way to strategically maximize visitor engagement throughout a tour. This practice is vital to making sensitive environments less overwhelming for visitors. Scaffolding is a practice museum professionals continue to adapt the museums’ stories to the visitor tours.

What we should take away from the Museum Hack blog post is when presented with the challenge to create an engaging tour with difficult subject matter it is important to make sure there is human connection with the stories. This is also an example of how relevance can be used to encourage engaging visitors to the museums.

What did you think of Museum Hack’s blog post on engaging in emotionally charged spaces? Have you seen scaffolding in other emotionally charged spaces? Share your thoughts. Here is the link to the original post:
View at Medium.com

Reactions to Blog: “9 Ways To Supercharge Your Museum Volunteers”

Also posted on Medium, June 29, 2017.

I decided this week to talk about another one of the blog posts I have been reading this week. I found this blog on Medium, 9 Ways To Supercharge Your Museum Volunteers, written by Ashleigh Hibbins for Museum Hack. As I prepare to help with revamping the docent manual for the Three Village Historical Society, I review resources I have to use as guides for this project. Part of developing the volunteer program is working on the docent manual. When I read this post, it reinforced what I already learned from the webinar I attended in January and the book I have read, Recruiting and Managing Volunteers in Museums by Kristy Van Hoven and Loni Wellman. Museum Hack’s post provides additional resources that are very helpful for the readers, and there were many statements they made that reaffirmed not only the knowledge I have gained but the importance of maintaining a great relationship with volunteers.

In the past and currently, I have volunteered for various organizations that have different ways of running their volunteer programs. I have also run a volunteer program in the past where I was responsible for volunteers teaching larger school programs. By learning how they could be run through professional development and reading books, I gain knowledge on how I should be treated as a volunteer and learn how I can improve my skills when I run a volunteer program. There is always something to learn when revisiting a subject including volunteer management, and this post is no exception.

I liked that they included how important volunteers are to museums at the very beginning of the article. They stated “Who are the most excited and engaged people in your museum?… Your volunteers!” And this is very true because as a volunteer and a leader in the volunteer program I see so many passionate people who have been volunteering for many years. It is important therefore to make sure that passion is kindled and used to help complete projects for their museums. Also, the post pointed out the importance of keeping volunteers happy.

It is true that volunteers are our museums’ biggest fans and advocates since they are dedicating their time to help museums to continue to adapt and develop. What I have not thought about before that they pointed out was according to a U.S. survey two-thirds of volunteers also donate money to their place of volunteering (they used Fidelity® Charitable Gift Fund Volunteerism and Charitable Giving in 2009 Executive Summary as a source). It makes sense because they work hard to keep the museums running and they are willing to do whatever is possible to keep them running including donations of time and sometimes money. The rest of the post gave the ways to supercharge volunteers, and then gave detailed explanations for each way.

Some of the ways they shared in the post include treat volunteer interviews like job interviews, don’t just smile and nod-volunteers have great ideas, volunteers are your secret recruiting weapon, and remind your volunteers how awesome they are. While these tips should seem obvious when considering volunteers, there are various points that need to be brought to our attention. For instance, when it was stated that readers should treat volunteer interviews like job interviews they pointed out that “don’t set someone up for failure by giving them a position they are unable to perform.” It is not only important to keep this in mind because no projects will be accomplished if volunteers cannot perform tasks but it will also affect their self-esteem and passion for the organization. Without that passion, we will not be able to retain the hard-working volunteers we need.

The post also pointed out how important it is to learn about volunteer programming from other museums in the community. In the post, it talked about being a nosy volunteer manager, or be continuously involved in making sure volunteers’ and museums’ needs are met, and then they stated “Also, be nosy with volunteer managers at other museums so you can pick up tips and tricks from them too.” I believe that it is important for volunteer managers should learn from other museums on how they run their volunteer programs not only because the programs can inspire their own way of running volunteer programs but museum professionals can come together to learn how to keep their museums relevant in the community through their volunteer programs.

What we should take away from this post is to be sure to keep our volunteers needs and happiness in mind when developing volunteer programs. I have also provided the link to the original post from Museum Hack for you all to read, and links to the resources they used in their post especially for anyone running volunteer programs.

Do you run volunteer programs? What do you think of Museum Hack’s contribution to the subject of museum volunteers? Have you followed similar advice Museum Hack discussed? What challenges have you faced when developing your volunteer program(s)? Share your reactions.

Resources used in Museum Hack article:
https://aamv.wildapricot.org/Standards-and-Best-Practices

Click to access Technical_Bulletin_45_-_Creating_a_Successful_Volunteer_Program.pdf


Click to access Volunteerism-Charitable-Giving-2009-Executive-Summary.pdf

View at Medium.com

Reaction to Article: Museums transition from institutions of elite to places that “promote humanity”

Originally posted on Medium, May 18, 2017.

Especially in honor of International Museums Day, I wrote this blog post about museums progress towards inclusion and diversity. I came across an article posted on the St. Louis Public Radio website called “How are museums changing from institutions of the elite to places that ‘promote humanity?’” written by Kelly Moffitt, who is an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio’s talk shows St. Louis on the Air. Moffitt discusses about the radio show host Don Marsh’s interview with Sarah Sims, the Director of K-12 Education Programs at the Missouri History Museum, and Nicole Ivy, the Director of Inclusion for the American Alliance of Museums on the topic about promoting humanity and last week’s Annual Conference and Meeting in St. Louis.

In the beginning of the article, Moffitt stated a memory Sims had about visitors in museums. Sims stated that she remembers a trip she took her students to a local museum; one of the students came up to her during the visit and said to her how special the trip was, and when Sims asked why the student said, “this is a mansion and this is the only time I get to come here.” Sims mentioned how much this broke her heart since the museum they went to and many museums are free, and that museums should be places for everyone.

This story also broke my heart since it is not right that there are people who do not feel they are able to go to museums. Museums should be accessible to people who want to learn and make people feel welcome to attend. Museum professionals are working on making their organizations more accessible and inclusive, as evidenced especially in my previous blog posts on this subject.

The interview continued when Ivy described a brief history of how museums were viewed and run. According to the article, Ivy stated the history of the American museum is linked to elitism; museums started with the cabinet of curiosity and a real focus on exclusion. Her reference to the cabinet of curiosity reminded me of my own experience with a version of a cabinet of curiosity. While I was at Connecticut’s Old State House completing my internship, I was fortunate enough to see its own version of a cabinet of curiosities.

Inside one of the rooms of Connecticut’s Old State House, there was a small museum called Steward’s Museum of Curiosities. The Connecticut General Assembly allowed Reverend Joseph Steward to occupy space in the Old State House in 1796 to use it as a portrait studio. A year after opening the portrait studio, Reverend Steward established a curiosity room on the third floor featuring all sorts of wonders and treasures, including animals such as a two-headed calf, from around the world. The Museum of Curiosities was reproduced and moved to the second floor where other items are also displayed including Steward’s portraits. The purpose of this museum was to educate individuals of nature and animals they were not normally exposed to.

When I took both school groups and visitors through this Museum of Curiosities, there was a mixed reaction to the items in the room. As I described the history behind this museum, some individuals were impressed with the items in the room. Some were not impressed with the animals but were interested in the portraits Steward painted. This experience taught me that many people will have different reactions to curiosities. Also, the experience showed how individuals’ educational experiences have changed since the cabinet of curiosities were set up.

Museums have over time changed to become more responsive and more inclusive. This fact has been reiterated by Ivy during the interview and other museum professionals have worked to have their organizations create programs and exhibits more responsive and more inclusive. Ivy pointed out that a key to increasing diversity and inclusion would mean opening the doors of the museum to people who are really hurting; I agree that it is a key to increasing diversity and inclusion because everyone should be able to have a space to express their thoughts and museums can create relationships with the community to be able to serve society better.

To read the original article, see the post here: http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/how-are-museums-changing-institutions-elite-places-promote-humanity#stream/0

What do you think of this article? Do you think we are making good progress so far in diversity and inclusion?

Response to Blog: “Museums are places to forget”

Originally posted on Medium, May 4, 2017. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reactions to MuseumHive: Discussion with Kimberly Drew

Originally posted on Medium, April 20, 2017. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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