RE-SUMming Up All My Experiences….Again

Name: Valerie Albanese

Objective: Secure the most amazing museum job where I can develop creative programs and exhibits, collaborate with colleagues, encourage and engage in memorable visitor experiences and cultivate and nurture an interest in museums in my community.

Education: Lots, I have loans to prove it!

Related Experience: Ah this part always gets me…. so I’ll stop here…. This post is inspired by my recent attempts to (yet again) “update” my resume. For me, I suppose it’s the equivalent of spring cleaning (for pack rats). So why dont I love to update my resume?

Mainly because:

  • It is time consuming! Although I should not have to re-invent the wheel (and if I did, I’d have a wheel, not a resume) it’s a strain on my creative abilities to try to make the same thing sound different.
  • My template(s) seem so traditional and ordinary. I know I need to “stand-out” but it’s figuring out how (and I’ve used InDesign and Word formats). Part of me hopes that one day, paper-resumes will be obsolete and there will be a new, fresh way of representing oneself.
  • I’ve done a lot in my various positions and it’s challenging to keep it concise while fully sharing all the fabulous things about me. Keeping it to one page is like an urban legend!

    © Matt Glover, 2006.

    © Matt Glover, 2006.

While I can continue listing these challenges, I’d prefer to focus on possible solutions. I recently (and randomly) came across this interesting post. The writer provides great insight from the perspective of a resume-reviewer to anyone who may be tweaking their resumes (especially engineers). Many of his key points resonated with me, but my major take away is that my resume is not my life story (that will be The Memoirs and Musings of Val, on shelves 2020) and as a resume-writer I need to be considerate of my field, my own expectations and doing a good job of linking the two together adequately and with brevity.

Here are a few suggestions for those of you in embarking on similar journeys:

  • Consider your college/ graduate school Career Planning Office to review your current resume. Positives: objective review, no cost.
  • Have a trusted colleague, peer, mentor, or professor review your current resume. Positives: If in the same field, this individual will provide great detailed-insight, no cost.
  • Reaching out to anonymous professionals via list-servers and specialized online groups may provide the same results as above.
  • Consider an agency or specialized service to review your resume and cover letter. Although this will probably be expensive, it’s likely because this option will produce great end results (good networking opportunities, and one-on-one assistance with experienced professionals).
  • Certain organizations (including the American Association of Museums) offers mentor programs to build relations, which can be a great opportunity (if involved) to have a conversation about resumes.
  • Furthermore, some conferences have opportunities to attend Resume Writing Workshops and career building exercises.
  • For those of you who may want to be more…discreet, scouring resumes of other professionals may be of interest.

If you have any suggestions, do share! I promise I won’t make my resume better than yours!

First Impressions on “Second Lives”

Being way off-based about what I was in for, I only recently experienced Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary at the Museum of Arts and Design and I’m so glad I did (as I was not aware that this inaugural exhibit at the museum’s new building, conveniently located in Columbus Circle, ended a few days ago). While this post will not be useful in exciting you to check-out this exhibit for yourself, at the very least I’m hoping the following tidbits and take-aways from my experience will benefit you in some capacity.

Second Lives, The Big Idea: The exhibit featured a handful (50) of internationally established and emerging artists who transformed commonly-found, ordinary materials (most likely made for another purpose, we’re talking magazines, buttons, tin, artificial hair, spools of thread and so on) into objects and installations carefully constructed (or deconstructed), reflecting personal significance and publicly-charged influences.

What Works & Why: The variety of materials used as  an art medium is something people of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds and experiences can relate to. While this may not always be possible, it was evident that the the objects and manner in which they were exhibited provided great opportunities for all to observe, experience, and discuss. As a result, these materials are forever transformed in the visitor’s mind into something beyond it’s utilitarian purpose, i.e. I will never look at another phone book or shirt button the same way again. On a personal note, I really enjoyed the labels (approximately 100 words in length) which highlighted the materials used and included the intentions/ influences/ statements/ reasoning of the artist.

Portrait of a Textile Worker by Terese Agnew (2005), from MAD website. Clothing labels, thread, fabric backing.Photo Credit: Peter DiAntoni. From Museum of Art and Design collection (2006.42).

Portrait of a Textile Worker by Terese Agnew (2005), from MAD website. Clothing labels, thread, fabric backing.Photo Credit: Peter DiAntoni. From Museum of Art and Design collection (2006.42).

Above: Extremely impressive in person, the thousands of designer clothing labels intricately stitched by the artist form a mosaic representative of all textile workers. It’s size is quite impressive and was a personal fave of mine.

For Our Techie Friends: A cell phone audio tour accompanied some of the objects. While I didn’t take advantage of this during my experience at the museum, interested folks can dial-in from their homes. Such virtual experiences may be enhanced by the one-click-away option to learn more about a selection of objects from the exhibit.

Additionally, on-site, flat-screen monitors provided opportunities for visitor engagement, self-guided interaction with exhibits, and a resource for general information. As I’ve seen elsewhere, I’m excited about the possibilities and forthcoming uses related to interacting with collections via a tap n’ teach format (tapping on the image of an object to learn about it). However one must know how to interface with these screens or at the very least know they exist in order to benefit from them. While I was at the museum, no one went near these screens. Even I fell susceptible to walking right by one of these 40+ inch monitors until I saw a security guard (by chance) interacting with it. I only spent about 5 seconds tapping on different objects before people started to surround me, wanting to try it out for themselves. My suggestion to MAD is to include some sort of cue to inform visitors of this interactive tool.  Including signage near the touch screens is an easy (although, possibly costly) solution. Alternatively, staff on the museum floor could encourage others and/or periodically interact with these screens as a means to inform visitors of its existence and uses. Such tactics may also be useful in preventing visitors from touching monitors that may not be interactive (as was the case when I got my fingerprints all over a static screen with general museum information. I will spare myself further embarrassment by sparing you the details).

In short, here are some take-aways to….. take-away:

  • Capitalize on any opportunities to connect with visitors. With Second Lives the artists’ materials provided numerous entry points for visitors to engage, interact and converse about. I couldn’t help but overhear two visitors talking about a friend who makes bowls from vinyl records while near Paul Villinski’s, My Back Pages.
  • The power of words, use them wisely. Whether through a cell-phone audio tour or text label, insight, context and clarity comes from the understanding the artists’ point of view. This concept can be applied more broadly (and to different types of museums) by keeping in mind the benefits in collaborating with subject-matter experts and individuals who have a personal and direct connection to the exhibit material or content.
  • Technology = good. Encourage usage by informing users. Creative, interactive opportunities part of an exhibit may greatly enhance an experience if/when the visitor is aware of these opportunities. The types of programs and interactions appropriate and suitable to complement a particular exhibit is a whole conversation in and of itself, so for now I’ll leave it at that.

the good….THE BAD & THE UGLY

I’ve had this rant conversation with a couple of people now and feel my thoughts are almost completely formulated so that I can begin to blog about it because yes, I labor over my blog posts the way a new parent might coddle a newborn child.

In my experience (brief as it may be) attending conferences or talking with other professionals, it seems that we spend quite a bit of time talking about and learning from all the good about programs, initiatives and success stories of our counterparts. With that said, I would love to open up the airwaves to start chatting and gabbing about the bad: all the ideas thought to be so great but not so great in action, the methods used and not to be used again, the pitfalls which (in the future) will be avoided but were at least once the huge, gaping holes that welcomed unsuspecting victims to fall right on through.

Once upon a time many internships and jobs ago, I worked with a supervisor who encouraged, in fact demanded, that after each program, bad hair day, event, and so on, those involved (staff, interns, volunteers etc.) would sit down and write up a “good, bad and ugly.” This document was circulated internally and used as a means of evaluating programs and developing creative alternatives to things that just did not work. This gritty and honest approach to opening the airwaves about program pitfalls really helped us improve on some of our practices and provided a sense of motivation to take these lessons-learned into future programming areas.

Of course, each museum is unique and an endless list of possible programming and problem-solving tactics exists. Even so, I would encourage my colleagues, peers, superiors, mentors and anyone who will listen that it’s good to talk about the bad. Engaging in open dialog about the not-s0-great ideas will surely create a stir in our community that will help us become aware of such considerations, or at the very least bring new ideas of problem-solving into the mix resulting in a variety of approaches to combat such challenges.

I love hearing the success stories about those gold star programs filled successful partnerships, record-breaking attendance, endless resources and secured funding, but I’m sure even these amazing gems hail from earlier ideas that were tried with less gleaming results or that possibly suffered some setback along the way.

If we believe that saying about learning from our own mistakes can’t we then, learn from each others’ mistakes as well? Let’s get the chatting started!

Design Competition for NMAAHC Heats Up!

I received via email a link to the Smithsonian’s Blog, highlighting the current buzz about the design competition involving a handful of world renown architects for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). A poll on the blog asks viewers to choose which design should win the bid. I’m not sure how great of an impact the poll will have on deciding the winning design; the final decision will be announced on Tuesday, April 14 (um…. yep that’s tomorrow). Regardless, it’s really neat that the museum seeks the participation and involvement among their public and those interested in this process. With a tentative opening date slated for November 18, 2015 (a few years after the 2012 groundbreaking) it’s never too early to get started! It’s also never too late to get involved, check out the designs and vote today!

On a personal note, having worked at Amaze Design Inc., the Boston-based exhibit deisgn firm part of the fantastic team responsible for the Interpretive Master Plan for the NMAAHC, I am very happy to see this project progress and I definitely plan to stay updated on the latest news.

Volunteering is the New Black

So for those of you who are finding it difficult to get back into the work force, put your “free” time to good use- volunteer!

Volunteering at a museum, science center, zoo, aquarium or other non-profit may help towards landing a paid position or at the very least help you hone and strengthen your skills and gain experience in the field.

Here are Tips on Volunteering from Museums Association, the Britain-based oldest museums association in the world:

• Don’t limit your efforts to national and large regional museums and galleries. They are probably overwhelmed with requests for voluntary work.

• Apply to smaller local museums. You are likely to get a broader range of experience.

• Treat your request as if you are applying for paid work – find out about the museums you are interested in, visit them if you can and when you contact them explain why you want to volunteer for them.

• Be honest about how much time you have available – you’re more likely to find an opening if you are available for the same amount of time each week.

• Remember that it’s not the amount of experience you gain through volunteering but what you make of it that will count in your favour when looking to progress your career in museums or galleries.

Of course checking out your local favorite museum may be the best place to start. Often, museums have volunteer coordinators who can answer any questions you may have, provide scheduling information and let you know what kind of commitment is needed on your end.

If you are concerned about your available time and would prefer not to commit to a long-term volunteer position, a good alternative is volunteering  with conferences and professional development programs via museums or regional associations. Offering such support is likely to provide great networking opportunities with fellow event staff, presenters, and program attendees. Another plus, in some cases your registration fee for this professional development opportunity will be waived.

On a personal note, I was able to attend the Upstate History Alliance as a volunteer last week, an opportunity that led to volunteering at the recent Greater Hudson Heritage Network’s Pracitcum for Museum Professionals in 21st Century Historic House Museums. Both opportunities enabled me to meet a lot of great people in the field, take lots of notes on a variety of topics and save my waived registration fees for gas!

While you’re letting all this soak in, check out Idealist for available volunteer opportunities and get involved today!

Artifacts at the Heart of It All

Most who love and/or work in museums are drawn to these cultural centers for the artifacts, for what’s displayed, what can be seen and what we can learn from these priceless objects.

However, for some museums, science centers, etc. it may be challenging to combine hands-off objects with hands-on experiences. A session during the MAAM Creating Exhibitions conference focused on “Bringing Back the Artifact.” Presenters from the Franklin Institute Science Museum discussed their experiences collaborating and developing the Franklin’s  latest core exhibition, Amazing Machine. I’ve provided some suggestions and tips discussed that may benefit those looking to “enrich hands-on experiences with hands-off collections.”

Regarding Artifacts

  • Don’t give up on the artifact! As reflected in visitor surveys from the Amazing Machine exhibit, artifacts are just as popular as hands-on interactives.
  • Incorporate cultural stories to help personalize artifacts and connect visitors.
  • Do not lend out artifacts. Sometimes various contractors may request artifacts to observe, photograph, illustrate or use in some capacity. If the museum is collaborating with contractors who are not in close proximity to the museum, consider alternatives to sending these partners artifacts or museum objects.

Regarding Collaboration

  • Get curators, educators and other staff  involved with the Exhibit Design team early on in the process. This will spark ideas and help keep communication open.
  • Utilize a database system for artifact tracking and record keeping that incorporates fields pertinent to all involved staff. This will allow more active communication and accurate details.
  • Teamwork and strong integration is key!

Regarding Exhibit Design

  • Integrate artifacts to support and influence 3D and 2D design. This can greatly impact graphics used, color palettes, and layout. Color scheme can also reflect certain attitudes towards artifacts. Using certain tones will support a feeling of respect towards artifacts.
  • A cost saving tip, if applicable, incorporate historic images into exhibits. These graphics may be easier to obtain without copyright restrictions.
  • Use temporary graphics for instructions. Test directives with visitors before committing to specific language. Such tactics can avoid costly mistakes.
  • Test interactive prototypes THROUGHOUT the process! Especially if the museum is collaborating with interactive consultants, be sure to continually test (even if you’re told everything is alright and not to worry).

I’m hoping to check out the Amazing Machine exhibit and see these great tips in action when I visit Philadelphia for the AAM Annual Meeting in a few weeks!

‘Tis the Season for Professional Development

With warmer weather comes a season full of professional development opportunities for individuals in the museum field. I’ve been a bit busy this past week, attending Mid-Atlantic Museum Associations’s Creating Exhibitions at the Liberty Science Center, NJ and helping out with the Annual UHA/MANY Conference hosted by Upstate History Alliance and Museum Association of New York up in Tarrytown, NY. This is a great time of year where museum professionals can re-charge their batteries, reflect on the past and also look ahead to the future.

In looking ahead, there are some great professional development opportunities coming up that I intend to attend including:

While these are some of the latest and greatest (local) professional development opportunities I intend to take advantage of, LinkedIn is a pretty good resource that lists numerous events, conferences and programs and let’s members add events in a calendar format. Be sure to share conference and professional development opportunities (by adding comments to this post) and start networking!