Museum Professionals, Member’ing Up

I was recently contacted by a member of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) and asked to join their Gen X and Gen Y Advisory Committee. Although I probably just dated myself a bit, how neat is that!? With so many groups, associations, and organizations that are local, national, even virtual, sometimes such great opportunities and connections like this may go unnoticed.

It is definitely easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by the number and types of organizations. While the benefits and professional development opportunities are great, financially (especially if you are not joining as part of an institution) it can be a great undertaking.

I currently have individual memberships to a few organizations  to stay in some kind of loop with the conversations, trends, and hot topics in the field. My life-shifts are not unique; I’ve moved to different cities and worked in different types of museums. With this, my affiliations have reflected these changes and new beginnings.

In an effort to share (and perhaps find out about gem organizations I may not –yet– be aware of) I’m going to start a (brief) list of some organizations (all Val-centric) worth noting:

AAM: (Obvious…yes) Around since 1906, the American Association of Museum’s mission is “to enhance the value of museums to their communities through leadership, advocacy, and service.” Not a small undertaking. What I like about AAM is that as a member, you are part of a nationally recognized organization that offers opportunities to bring together museums and inspire institutions to strive to a level of standards and best practices. AAM bookstore is chock-full of great resources for anyone in the field and their annual meeting (albeit HUGE and seemingly overwhelming at times) is a great way to network and step out of your own turf to gain insight and new ideas. Individual membership isn’t cheap (and is currently calculated based on annual income), but among other benefits, it affords you free/reduced entry to MANY museums across the U.S. and I’ve definitely benefited from joining a few subcommittees based on my own interests in the field, including EdCom, NAME, and CARE (all of which are an additional cost).

MAAM: Established in 1945, the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums “educate individuals on an array of field specific study and programs…representing those museum interests in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.” It’s one of a number of organizations (such as NEMA, AMM, and WMA) that connect professionals based on geographic location. Along with their Annual Conference, MAAM also hosts, Creating Exhibitions which is an Annual Conference focusing on exhibit design and development related topics.

AASLH: I am a new American Association for State and Local History member and excited to be part of this “family.” This organization, nearly 100 years old, aims to serve and support the many history organizations in the U.S. described as “small, volunteer led and, often, volunteer staffed. [with] small budgets and limited resources.” Perhaps that’s why their website is chock-full of great resources (some for free) and offer an array of services from technical resources and books to professional development, specialized programs and initiatives. My membership folder just arrived in the mail so I will definitely share any “goodies” that cross my path.

UHA: There are a lot of cool things Upstate History Alliance offers its members. I received my first grant from their GO! grant program to attend their Annual Conference. They also have a great email list serv sharing questions, news, and discussion on various topics and really neat workshops. Founded in 1971, the organization aims to provides “support, advice, and training to historical societies, museums historians, archivists, and other heritage organizations in New York State.” Also worth noting, their Museum Institute at Sagamore program (by application), an intensive, multi-day retreat in the Adirondacks that brings together museum professionals around New York State.

NYCMER: New York City Museum Educators Roundtable is a great organization for local educators to  “address issues of museum and educational interest, exchange and disseminate relevant information, and to explore and implement cooperative programming opportunities.” With a membership base of about 300 individuals and great monthly programs at museums around the city, the annual membership fee of $30 seems like a bargain! It’s also great to hear that they are starting up their “peer-groups” again.

Beyond these organizations, there are MANY alternatives (some free) worth exploring part of list-servs, meet up, facebook, and alumni associations. All are great ways to stay connected and in the know.

Keep me in the know and share your thoughts!

From New York? Love Museums? Check THIS Out!

An original wordle design based on my RSS feed.

An original wordle design based on my RSS feed.

The Museum Association of New York is calling for New Yorkers to share what inspires them about museums (reason 230,428,340 why it’s great to be a New Yorker)!

What’s really neat about this opportunity is that participants have a variety options of how to share this information. From  wordle (a “toy for generating word clouds” from provided text, and yes I am officially obsessed with this) and YouTube to photos and haikus, there are plenty of ways to share what you think museums do best and how museums inspire you.

Besides being wonderfully creative, participating in this opportunity may find you a bit richer than you were before… by submitting your material by July 31st you will be eligible to win an Amazon gift card.

To keep up with the latest on submissions, check out MANY’s blog.

* An interesting note and perhaps something to keep in mind, I came across this opportunity from a museum list serv and upon visiting MANY’s blog, noticed the first two submissions are from fellow professionals. Hopefully, this opportunity will reach beyond our beloved museum walls, because it really is cool!*

Debit Museum Tix with Bank of America

For all the news circulating about Bank of America, something I came across that I think is really cool is their Museums on Us program.

In short, Bank of America card holders can save a trip to the ATM and simply flash their BoA card at participating museums, zoos, science centers, botanical gardens, etc. at over 100 institutions across the United States on the first full weekend of the month. NYC participating venues include the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, the MET, and the Whitney (to name a few).

I love this idea and only hope that it can expand to more cities with more institutions on more occasions. It reminds me a little bit of such incentives for employees at certain companies who have access to museums and cultural venues for free by showing their work ID (and if you don’t already know what your perks might be, talk to your human resources department to inquire if/what access you may have).

Garbage Museum To Be Scrapped?

Trash on exhibit? That’s not someone’s opinion. At the Garbage Museum in Stratford, Connecticut, the trash on exhibit is trash – literally! Developed and maintained by the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) this museum, which first opened its doors in 1993,  serves to educate and explore “the many challenges and solutions of waste management,” while also highlighting the importance of recycling through education programs and tours for children and adults. According to a recent Associated Press article by Dave Collins (found in the Staten Island Advance, 4/19/09), “…the truckes keep dumping trash and the school buses keeping dumping children.”

Upon reading the above mentioned article entitled, “It’s always Earth Day at trash museum,” I was surprised that I was not (yet) familiar with this museum, nor was I aware of it’s sister museum, the Trash Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. Although the museums boasted reported a combined visitation of over 57,000 people last year, the Garbage Museum is facing money problems. It is interesting that while some museums struggle to reflect and defend their relevancy to the public, with the growing popularity of “being green,” recycling, and using sustainable and environmentally friendly products, the Garbage Museum is struggling to keep its doors open. Unfortunately, the Museum received its funding from one source (the Southwest Connecticut Recycling Operating Committee, SWEROC) and between contracts being up and the global recession, SWEROC is no longer in a position to cover the museum’s operational costs (approximately $225,000 annually), leaving the museum to “scramble” to find alternative financial support. If this is the case, I may not get the chance to meet Trash-o-saurus, a dinosaur made from a ton of trash (representing the amount of trash an average person throws away in a year) on display at the museum.

With a modest admission price of $2, the museum offers interactive experiences of walking through a giant compost pile and “watching what happens to recyclables in a ‘sky-box’ view of the tipping and sorting process.” As the Garbage Museum is connected to its regional recycle center, such experiences beautifully intertwine the purpose and mission with its programming and offerings. As the museum is open to the public on select weekdays it may be difficult to plan a visit, however do make a point to visit as the museum soon, as it may only be able to stay open thru the end of the summer.

I do want to note some creative measures the museum is taking in reaching out to the public for support; including a link on the CRRA website to donate to the Garbage Museum, become a  fan of the museum on Facebook, and a link to the Save the Stratford, CT Garbage Museum blog. With regard to the blog, of particular signfiicance is the mention of local high school students who created a video helping to “spread the word” about the importance and current struggles of the museum.

Doodling: Sparking Creativity & Cool Collaborations

While most of us use the Google search engine website to Google (searching for relevant resources and websites); Google is now doing the searching. In an effort to “encourage the next generation of designers and artists” Google partnered with the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum to launch Doodle 4 Google, a competition inviting children and teens to design a Google logo with the theme “What I Wish for the World.”

"Friendship Around the World" by Miriam Elizabeth Lowery of Covington, TN (age: 5). Her statement: "My wish for the world is that everyone would get along and treat one another in a nice and loving way. We could all be friends!"

"Friendship Around the World" by Miriam Elizabeth Lowery of Covington, TN (age: 5). Her statement: "My wish for the world is that everyone would get along and treat one another in a nice and loving way. We could all be friends!"

The homepage states, “Both our country and the world are undergoing significant change. At Google we believe in thinking big, and dreaming big, and we can’t think of anything more important than encouraging students to do the same.” What I think is encouraging is this great partnership between the Cooper-Hewitt and Google, a creative collaboration that I’m sure pleases the likes of educators and marketing museum folks, among others.

Although the submission dates for this year’s competition passed, you do have the opportunity to select the National Finalists by voting for your favorite logo, now thru May 21st. Wishes range from quirky and heartfelt to imaginative and inspiring; all are definitely worth checking out!

Survival of the Fittest? More Like a Dose of Healthy Competition!

I recently received an email from a Bostonian friend, urging me to “vote” for my favorite (Boston) historic site. With me and my New York state of mind, I was a bit confused and so I visited the program’s website to understand exactly what’s going on in Beantown….. and what I found is pretty cool!

American Express partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation a few years ago and launched the Partners in Preservation, a program committed to contributing over $5 million dollars over a five-year period. With a focus on preserving historic places throughout the United States, the program has already funded historic places in San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans with it’s latest program recently launched in the Greater Boston, Massachusetts area.

A few really cool things to point out:

  • I mentioned voting before…. basically the public will help decide what historic site should receive the allotted funds by voting online. This is a really great way to get all  (who have access to the internet) involved in contributing to this “community-oriented” initiative. With Boston being such a large tourist magnet, it’s great to see that individuals not living in the area can also participate (or in my case, those of us who used to live in the Greater Boston area).
  • While the winner of the public vote is guaranteed funds, additional sites will be selected by a committee to receive funds too!
  • The website includes an easy way to get some basic information, click by click, about each site which can be a useful tool beyond the actual competition and also provides information on how you can help spread the word.

It’s interesting to see where some of the museums part of the competition are currently ranked compared to other neighborhood sites. To check out the current top 10 sites and vote for your own, click here. Voting will conclude on May 17th so get a move on!

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.