JOINT STATEMENT FROM MUSEUM BLOGGERS & COLLEAGUES ON FERGUSON

JOINT STATEMENT FROM MUSEUM BLOGGERS & COLLEAGUES ON FERGUSON

The recent series of events, from Ferguson to Cleveland and New York, have created a watershed moment. Things must change. New laws and policies may help, but any movement toward greater cultural and racial understanding and communication must be supported by our country’s cultural and educational infrastructure. Museums are a part of this educational and cultural network. What should be our role(s)?

Schools and other arts organizations are rising to the challenge.University law schools are hosting seminars on Ferguson. Colleges are addressing greater cultural and racial understanding in various courses. National education organizations and individual teachers are developing relevant curriculum resources, including the#FergusonSyllabus project initiated by Dr. Marcia Chatelain. Artists and arts organizations are contributing their spaces and their creative energies. And pop culture icons, from basketball players torock stars, are making highly visible commentary with their clothes and voices.

Where do museums fit in? Some might say that only museums with specific African American collections have a role, or perhaps only museums situated in the communities where these events have occurred. As mediators of culture, all museums should commit to identifying how to connect to relevant contemporary issues irrespective of collection, focus, or mission.

We are a community of museum bloggers who write from a variety of perspectives and museum disciplines.  Yet our posts contain similar phrases such as  “21st century museums,” “changing museum paradigms,” “inclusiveness,” “co-curation,” “participatory” and “the museum as forum.”  We believe that strong connections should exist between museums and their communities. Forging those connections means listening and responding to those we serve and those we wish to serve.

There is hardly a community in the U.S. that is untouched by the reverberations emanating from Ferguson and its aftermath. Therefore we believe that museums everywhere should get involved. What should be our role — as institutions that claim to conduct their activities for the public benefit — in the face of ongoing struggles for greater social justice both at the local and national level?

We urge museums to consider these questions by first looking within. Are staff members talking about Ferguson and the deeper issues it raises? How do they relate to the mission and audience of your museum?  Do you have volunteers? What are they thinking and saying? How can the museum help volunteers and partners address their own questions about race, violence, and community?

We urge museums to look to their communities. Are there civic organizations in your area that are hosting conversations? Could you offer your auditorium as a meeting place? Could your director or other senior staff join local initiatives on this topic? If your museum has not until now been involved in community discussions, you may be met at first with suspicion as to your intentions. But now is a great time to start being involved.

Join with your community in addressing these issues. Museums may offer a unique range of resources and support to civic groups that are hoping to organize workshops or public conversations. Museums may want to use this moment not only to “respond” but also to “invest”in conversations and partnerships that call out inequity and racism and commit to positive change.

We invite you to join us in amplifying this statement. As of now, only the Association of African American Museums has issued a formal statement (show link) about the larger issues related to Ferguson, Cleveland, and Staten Island. We believe that the silence of other museum organizations sends a message that these issues are the concern only of African Americans and African American museums. We know that this is not the case. This is a concern of all Americans. We are seeing in a variety of media – blogs, public statements, and conversations on Twitter and Facebook — that colleagues of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are concerned and are seeking guidance and dialogue in understanding the role of museums regarding these troubling events. We hope that organizations such as the American Alliance of Museums; the Association of Science-Technology Centers; the Association of Children’s Museums; theAmerican Association for State and Local History and others, will join us in acknowledging the connections between our institutions and the social justice issues highlighted by Ferguson and related events.

You can join us by…

  • Posting and sharing this statement on your organization’s website or social media
  • Contributing to and following the Twitter tag #museumsrespondtoFerguson which is growing daily
  • Checking out ArtMuseumTeaching which has a regularly updated resource, Teaching #Ferguson: Connecting with Resources
  • Sharing additional resources in the comments
  • Asking your professional organization to respond
  • Checking out the programs at The Missouri History Museum. It has held programs related to Ferguson since August and is planning more for 2015.
  • Look at the website for International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. They are developing information on how to conduct community conversations on race.

MCN 2014: Performative Participation and Diversity

This the last of my wrap-up posts on MCN. I also storified my notes, so they don’t complete disappear into the ether of my Twitter feed.

Race, culture, and socio-economic class also loomed large for me at #MCN2014. Certainly, the wonderful Ignite helped move me towards that conversation. But, given my own professional labors in community engagement, outreach, and action, I was particularly receptive to these conversations. In the days before the Ferguson grand jury was announced, perhaps race was foremost in our consciousness. But, for me, the issue has been ever present. Museums receive funds from organizations that are eager to “impact the diversity of audiences.” Diversity is just one such coded term. (Community is another common one.) This phrase is a sort of catch phrase for something very specific. The actual meaning of diversity could be said to be a mix. An alien newly arrived at Earth might rationally state that diversity could include a mix of ages, genders, socio-economic classes, and races. But, diversity in the museum context is more often a coded term for something specific. In many regions, this means African-American; in some, Latino. Generally, museums are attempting to bring in the poorest denizens of their region.

The challenge is that the impetus for such initiatives is altruistic. Certainly, there are major implied barriers in museums. Breaking these barriers is incredibly challenging. They are invisible to most average visitors and staff members. They are felt by those who not feel welcome for their background, education-level, race, ethnicity. While invisible, they are very real. Diversity initiatives, in their best forms, are about finding useful ways to create chinks in these barriers. Museums have certainly been guilty of paternalistically planning the best programs for an intended group. But, now, museums have started to do much better. Ideally, these initiatives are done in a shared manner, working with those in the target group.

Yet, we still find ourselves carefully employing works like diversity and community, knowing full well that we have much more discrete meanings. As a field, we do need to have more honest terminology about race and ethnicity, power and authority. Now, given the state of race in America, museums are not alone in our inability to discuss race and class honestly. But, rather than trying to be just as good as the rest of the messed up conversations, museums have an opportunity to do better. We are not schools. We are not politicians or government officials, mostly. We are in a limnal space. We have dinosaurs and sculptures and butterflies and beautiful paintings. We have the best of human innovation and the most magnificent aspects of the natural world in our halls. We house the universals of existence. In other words, we are universal, and so in the unique position to move the conversations about race and power forward. We can push past banal, tentative discussions about diversity and community and into a phase where we can honestly deal with race.

MCN Recap 2014: Open Authority/ Shared Access

Open-authority, shared-authority, open-access, shared-access was another theme that seeped through many of the conversations at #MCN2014. People all over are now finding/ demanding transparency of organizations and even governments. If ISIS has annual reports about their reports, then shouldn’t museums? But, in what ways can museums open up access while at the same time maintaining their core competency, collections interpreted in reputable ways.

Yet, what is the term for allowing other others into our community of practice? In my mind, open access is the most reasonable term. Sharing is hard; my daughters, and their dolls, can attest to that. Sharing has the baggage of loss associated with it, mostly loss of power. The fear for many museums is that shared production of content would result in a devaluation of the core brand. Yet, many of our collections could actually profit from citizen interpreters. Think of how you might remember an amazing story about the museum coin fountain in your childhood museum, like when your friend waited until the guard’s back was turned to stand upon in. Or, more seriously, if objects of your faith are housed within a museum collection, your perspective might truly transform the way that the institution understands that collection.

Open access is a term that implies transparency, which in its own way might feel frighteningly honest. But, openness doesn’t mean losing ground or power. From the point of an institution, open access might be the least frightening. It is about bringing your arcane knowledge into the open, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you lose all your power. You are offering something but not everything.

MCN 2014 Recap: Nomenclature/ Content

There were a number of fruitful conversations about nomenclature this year at MCN. I thought I would write down some thoughts should I hope to remember them in the future. As a practitioner, I understand the desire to just get the work done rather than focus on the details of naming the work you are doing. But, conferences offer a useful juncture to break with active practice and instead focus on fruitful reflection on said practice.

Content

One major topic was what the ideas being generated should be called. Content is a term that is field agnostic, used by marketers and museums alike. But, similarly, the backlash to the term is equally shared across fields. Angst and straight up hatred of the term interpretation was also expressed in conference hallways. There were the story folk, who felt at essence like Homer, we are but spinners of tales. Idea-men also shared their thoughts about the correct term. For all of this discussion, I wonder if the issue remains the uneasy relationship between information and delivery. We are in the midst of a point where the revolutions of delivery methods were hot and heavy in our minds. Most museum professionals remember a time when you still needed a computer to access the internet. The aged amongst us remember the zzhhhding of the dial up. (I wished a word had been coined for that sound.)

In many ways, we are still enthralled with the idea of mobile, and so it looms as large as the information being conveyed. I wonder if in the first years of the printing press people sat amazed that their books required not a single scriber’s labor. To me, the see-saw screams that content is king or that design is the point are really manifestations of our residual excitement about the media. While we might cite the printed page, we mostly refer to the actual story.

In terms of content and interpretation though, another underlying issue is about the democratization of information/ text creation. More and more museum professionals are responsible for offering visitors inroads into the collection, either through text or imagery. Videographers, digital media professionals, social media professionals, and educators all share the work of making collections accessible. This onus is one that these professionals welcome, but one that certain traditionalist might not quite want to part with. Therefore, finding the right word for our interpretative labors is a political act—one in which we are advocating for our value.

Remembering My Student

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I think of a boy I once knew. He was 17 years old. He was tall. He still had a baby face. He stopped smiling if you noticed. He was trying as hard as he could to look tough, to be tough. He was like lots of other kids in that way. But, in many other ways, he was just himself—goofy, empathetic.

Then one day, he became like too many American sons. He was shot down in his neighborhood. His brother was being shot, and he saved him. His honorable end was still that—an end.

So many years later, looking at Michael Brown’s face, I can’t help but think of my student. Certainly, Michael Brown’s story has many turns that were quite different. But, in both situations, a young man stood on a street and found a violent end thanks to the violent path of a bullet.

Since the announcement of the lack of an indictment, I have realized that for me this is a reminder of my student. I keep remembering the terrible feeling of looking down into that coffin, and seeing his baby face lying so peacefully there. I remember the whole community of people stuffed into that church on a desolate Cleveland street. I remember the scores of kids who testified to the great times they had. The sea of black coats all trembling quietly in the pews.

I remember feeling sick then, more sick than I feel now. Now, I feel terribly, awfully resigned. We are at a moment, half a century after the civil rights movement, where gun violence is one of the greatest public health risks in our cities. There are young African-American men, children, really, who are shot daily. The shooter’s race is sort of irrelevant to me. Our sons, our students, our friends are dying. Certainly, there are mitigating factors, drugs, poverty, education, nutrition…But, at its core, my student’s mother has had one less son to hug on Thanksgiving. He was not sick. He was living in a country that is sick with gun violence.

Visitor Flow through the Museum

Visitor Flow

I recently came to the revelation that while I might consider myself an Information professional, the concept of information is not something that I have considering fully. What is information? How do my clients, museum-goers, use the information that museums offer?
Upon entering the museum, visitors are faced with numerous choices.

Selection
Evaluate the choices of galleries
• What goes into visitor’s choices? For some, it is interest. They go up to the information desk, asking to find Impressionism. For others, browsers for example, this evaluation phase might be so infinitesimal. It might just be the thoughts, “Turn left? Okay.”
• Often the map plays into this. Some institutions offer visualizations on their maps: picture of key artworks for example. Others give very descriptive gallery titles: American Landscape Painting after 1860. Visitors might go into a gallery based on some interpretation on a map.
• Visitors that take a tour might turn this element over to the museum docent/staff.

Choose Gallery (ies)
• What goes into visitor’s choices? For some, it is interest. Those are the people who had gone up to the information desk, asking to find Impressionism. For the browsers, again this choice might be done visually. They stop at places that look interesting.
• Visitors that take a tour might turn this element over to the museum docent/staff. Though once led there by a docent, if uninterested, a visitor my peel off of the tour.

Select Artwork(s)
• This is an act of judging a book by its cover. Art is often all about cover, or in this case surface. People are often attracted to what they see. They walk up to it to see it better, or to read the label.
• Pre-knowledge plays a part in choosing an artwork. A visitor might go up to a Picasso based on the fact that it “looks” like a Picasso.
• Visitors that take a tour might turn this element over to the museum docent/staff. Though once led there by a docent, if uninterested, a visitor my peel off of the tour.

Access and Retrieval
Retrieve information
• Once they get to the gallery, many people start by reading the label, even before they look at the artwork.
• The other artworks or objects in the space can add context. If the room is filled with paintings of landscapes, you might start to focus on the differences or similarities.
• Information retrieval can involve human intercessors. Docents and staff can share information in front of an artwork. Conversations with friends or even with strangers can be a means of gaining information. Audio guides involved a human voice, but have a digital delivery.
• Museum staff can add content to the space, such as panels that offer context. There could be magnifying glasses or samples of materials.
• But, in this digital era, there are also other means of accessing information. There could be in gallery digital devices. Museum apps can share content. And, of course, there is always Wikipedia, accessible from any smart phone.

Use
Reinterpret to Make Meaning
• In a formal tour, visitors might be prompted by the staff or docents to do this in a collaborative, discussion based manner.
• In reading the label, visitors would likely try to make sense what they read. “So, if it was made in 1917, what was happening at that time,” for example.
• Some interactives (both technological and analog) might invite reinterpretation. Visitors might be asked to include tags or content about art.

Create Based on This Information
• In a class, visitors might be invited to draw.
• But, there are other forms of creation. Visitors might take a selfie with a work. Visitors might tweet about it. (These would also be forms of sharing.)

Collection and Diffusion
Collect this Information
• Visitors might jot down the name of the work on the map.
• They might collect it in the phone camera roll.
• They might just remember the work of art, keeping it in their memory.

Share This Information
• Sharing can be word of mouth. Passing on their reinterpretation to others. This could be in virtual or non-virtual conversations. This could be text or images or a combination of the two.

Social Media Tips for Interns

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We were talking in the office about interns and social media.  Here are some of the thoughts I brought to that conversation.  Social media can be a powerful tool for connecting, potentially scaffolding for future job acquisition and fulfillment.  It can also be a means for future challenges with job acquisition.  So, a little guidance from mentors might be helpful. 

Given how few jobs are available in the field, with the competition as it is, and the fact that most managers are tech savvy enough to give a little Google search of applicants a try, it would be bad management not to mentor your students.  You should offer mentorship for students in the best ways to comport themselves in the virtual environment.  If you don’t, it’s a little like knowing teens are having sex but not telling them how to put on a condom. 

As managers, it is useful to start this conversation in a positive proactive way.  Share what has worked for you.  For me:

  • As a museum professional, I love the chance that social media gives to interact with the global environment.  I like when people tweet me back.  I love when institutions communicate back.  I love a repin.  I love a comment/ like on an Instagram account.  And, well, don’t let me start about Vine. I would encourage interns to be interactive, and tweet people back.  Favorite items that you have read/ seen. 
  • Being in social media is a way to indicate to the museum world that you are an active participant. 
  • Twitter is a real-time conversation.  So, you do need to tend it.  Check in periodically.  This makes the tool feel immediate. 
  • Hash tags are a great way to connect to surprising people.  For Vine, I find that my hashtags bring me to surprising people. 
  • In Twitter, include questions, when you have them.  People will answer them.  It is a tool to do real work, and people can help point you to new research. 
  • I use Twitter and Pinterest as ways to track ideas that I want to keep track of.  (though hashtags help in both tools.)

 

As a manager, tell people when you might have screwed up.  And, share challenges that might come up.

  • There are real challenges about having a “work” account.  You will need to decide how much personal info is appropriate.  And, different social media services can brook different amount of personal sharing.  On Pinterest, you can have work and personal boards.  Your work colleagues can choose not to participate in your obsessions with Japanese furnishings; crafty banners; or juice cleanses. (I only have two of those by the way.) But, on Twitter, you might choose to have separate accounts for really personal stuff, or do that on Facebook. 
  • Some museums are really serious about confidentiality.  Often all meetings notes, checklists, packing crates, etc. are confidential.  Photography rules are often very strict in galleries.  You need to conform to that.
  • Pictures are often the thing that can get you in trouble.  You might be shooting a selfie, thinking about your image instead of the background.  But, in the background, you might have a work that has yet to be released to the public.  So, if in doubt, ask.
  • Finally, remember social media is at its essence social.  It is a two way street.  When you say something, people can hear it.  This is not unlike being in a museum and saying something personal in the galleries.  The public can hear you. 

 

Your social media presence should be an extension of yourself and the personal brand that you hope to project.  If you are a little irreverent, you account can show that.  If you are very studious, that too is fine.  If you are like many of us, and you are both studious and irreverent, well, then we should connect. 

 

Thinking about Numbers: Playing with the IMLS Data Set

IMLS timed their release of the data on the numbers of museums well. It came just as thousands of museum professionals were playing hooky from their day jobs in sunny Seattle. The numbers sparks a few interesting cocktail conversations, certainly. And, for the number nerds, it was fun to play with on the long planes back home.

They are doing a webinar June 11 about the dataset. But, I thought I would toss out some of my initial stabs at exploring the numbers. First, I was trying to figure out what the map looked like in terms of sheer numbers of museums. Which states have the most museums?

Number of Museums in the State

And, if you are more of a numbers person, this grid sorts the states by number of museums.

States sorted by number of museums

But, I don’t think this really shows a picture of the haves and have nots in terms of museums. How does this break down per capita? I used the census numbers to start thinking about that.

First, I calculated the number of museums per million people and sorted this per state.

States sorted by museums per capita

I was also playing around with thinking of the collective mass of museums and how they are distributed across the country. This graphic shows each state as a percentage of the total population, and each state’s percentage of total museums.

Percentage of all museums and percentage of total US population by State

Finally, perhaps because I began thinking about these numbers when I was enjoying the hospitality of the American Alliance of Museums, I wanted to see how this compares to accredited museums. As of Jan 14, there are 779 accredited museums, according to AAM’s site. AAM reports their categories by field slightly differently than IMLS. For example, AAM broke out Zoos and Aquariums separately, where as IMLS had them in a combined field. So, I went with IMLS’s categories. Here is how they compare:

accredited and all museums by field

Has anyone else started playing around with the data set? What have you found? What other graphics are you thinking about generating?

Vine Interface–An Orientation

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Vine offers a clean interface, but that might mean you need a little extra orientation to get started.

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My vines can be found here.

I have written a series of short posts about Vine. Enjoy:
Vine Video for Museums: Post 1
How can Museum Educators use Vine?
The Right Audience for Vine
Fostering Participation in Vines
Vine to Share the Museum Experience
Narrative in Vine
Looking at Art through Vine
Vine on Your Own
Vine Interface—An Orientation
Vine Basics
Vine and Audio
Stop Motion Tips

I produced these posts as notes in preparation for co-writing this paper for Museums and the Web 2014, with Alli Burness, @Alli_Burnie; Patty Edmonson, @Retrograde_D; and Chad Weinard, @caw_

Our presentation Vine feed is here.

Our workshop in April, 2014 sparked some good conversation, see the Storify.

Many of our participants made some wonderful Vines, check these out.

Stop Motion Tips

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I love anthropomorphizing things. Dancing bananas, singing teapots, talking shoes… So, this lifelong love is my excuse for loving the stop motion culture of Vines. I love the idea of potatoes up and becoming stamps without any human intervention. Or the fact that magic helped you make a silkscreen with drawing fluid.

Stop motion needs most of the frame to remain constant while aspects of the frame change incrementally. The illusion is better when many small increments of change are done in many shots. But, this requires patience and time. I can’t say I have either, but I have still been able to get some satisfying stop motion videos.

Here are a few tips to help you get started with stop motion:

You need something that keeps your phone still and in the same place. A tripod is best, but you can improvise, say with a book and tape.

Lighting can be a tell. Because stop motion takes a lot longer than 6 seconds, you might find yourself shooting frames over the span of hours. With strong light, say from a window, changes in the light will indicate long elapses of time. Artificial light remains constant, and creates a more seamless effect.

Framing devices help you with stop motion. If you are doing a craft video, a cutting board can serve not only as a constant and a framing device for the craft supplies above it.

Ghost, ghost, ghost. Patty E. has some good videos showing the ghost function. Essentially, it shows a faint image of the previous frame to serve as a guide for your current frame. Without it, you are creating stop motion blind to the previous frame.

Save time for your final shot. You are often so excited that you got everything in, and you tap just once for that final shot. But, in reality for a satisfying video, you really need to give that final shot at least double the time of any of your earlier increments. This of it as your final scene rather than just a shot. Let your viewers see your satisfaction rather than your exhaustion.

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My vines can be found here.

I have written a series of short posts about Vine. Enjoy:
Vine Video for Museums: Post 1
How can Museum Educators use Vine?
The Right Audience for Vine
Fostering Participation in Vines
Vine to Share the Museum Experience
Narrative in Vine
Looking at Art through Vine
Vine on Your Own
Vine Interface—An Orientation
Vine Basics
Vine and Audio
Stop Motion Tips

I produced these posts as notes in preparation for co-writing this paper for Museums and the Web 2014, with Alli Burness, @Alli_Burnie; Patty Edmonson, @Retrograde_D; and Chad Weinard, @caw_

Our presentation Vine feed is here.

Our workshop in April, 2014 sparked some good conversation, see the Storify.

Many of our participants made some wonderful Vines, check these out.

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