Matchmaker, Matchmaker Find Me a Museum

I spent the better part of today adapting my post “Riddle Me This: Why Do People Visit Museums” for Network, the e-newsletter for Museum Education Roundtable (and yes, I’m quite excited about this). In thinking about some of the main ideas behind identity-related visitor motivations to museums and in recently reading Julia Kaganskiy’s, “I Search Therefore I am: Envisioning a Search Powered Museum Experience” I’ve been toying with the concept of a website or search engine inspired by the likes of eHarmony and Match.com where the individual completes certain fields (such as mood, type of experience desired, zip code etc.) and a list of museums matching that criteria is presented with blurbs about exhibits, information about hours and directions and “don’t miss” programs. Does this already exist?

What WOULD a search engine for museum-visitor matching look like?

What WOULD a search engine for museum-visitor matching look like?

From personal experiences, it’s challenging and time consuming to stay abreast on all the museum-happenings in New York through individual websites, twitter (it does help to follow museums who are active about their programs and exhibits) and magazine/newspaper listings (I do want to mention nycgo.com as a great resource with a calendar of cultural events happening in the area). In thinking about why people visit museums, perhaps an opportunity for potential visitors to include information about those expectations before the visit i.e.:  a first date, grandparents are in town, or a hankering for 18th century portraits will point these individuals in the right direction and get their experience off to a great start.

I began to think about how such a search engine might work and found connections with my musings and  Julia’s article in which she draws from a number of sources to discuss the concept of customized context in a search engine format  to “access additional information…that is relative to my relationship with and interest in the artwork” during a museum visit to enhance an experience.

Considering the great conversations happening at conferences and other places among museum professionals (in better serving our communities, enhancing programs, and really bringing our visitors and their experiences to the forefront of what we do and how we do it) I wonder if our visitors and potential visitors are aware of all of this buzz. Are we doing the best job we can of breaking down stereotypes, mainstreaming our thinking, and communicating our ideas to our public? Perhaps such a website, connecting museums and individuals may be a good start (Cue: Natalie Cole singing “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)”)!

A-HA! Design Inspiration (It’s All Around Us)

I was one of the many eager AAM session-hoppers to sit-in on: Eye On Design II, a wonderful session that brought together an eclectic group of professionals to discuss where they draw their inspiration.

Hearing from other professional talk about their connections and inspiration taken from gardens, graffiti, play, children TV programs, and other imaginary and realized spaces, sparked a curiosity from within prompting me to ask myself: Well what about me? Where do I get my inspiration from? Often, I get so wrapped up with an idea or project, I do not realize or consider the connections between what inspires me and the product of that inspiration.

Happening vs. Performance

So naturally, since it’s more fun to ponder such thoughts aloud, I talked with my favorite concert-going pal. We were watching a Flaming Lips concert on TV and began to talk about our experiences at their live performances.

While some bands will perform on stage, give you good music, and maybe even some chit-chat in between songs, the Flaming Lips brings the audience into their performance; it’s about the music but it’s also bigger than the music. As so many people would agree, their concerts are more like happenings: where individuals are constantly connecting, feeling, experiencing, sharing and participating. While it may seem a bit chaotic, it is also invigorating and enlightening. The idea of a performance does not seem as powerful when compared to the thought of a happening. There is no separation between musicians and audience, rather all are participants.

This idea of happening as changing, continuous, and perhaps unpredictable inspires me.

While some projects such as community-created exhibitions and interactive exhibit components are great examples of prompting visitors to participate, is it the same as a shared happening? Do happenings happen in museums? Have you experienced a happening in a museum? What does it look like?

As such conversations were sparked during the lively AAM session, I hope you’ll share your thoughts and musings here too!

AAM 2009: Reflections & Musings

I recently returned from the 2009 American Association of Museums Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA and I must admit that although registration was in the thousands, there was a sense of connectedness throughout my experience. This contrasts greatly to the overwhelming feeling of drowning in a sea of musessionals (museum professionals) I felt last year. With this being my second Annual Meeting experience, I liken my ability to stay afloat to a few helpful tools and resources part of this year’s conference including the program’s blog and active twitter feed. Of course push-pin boards to write personalized messages and share comments with other passerbys also filled the convention center creating an overall sense of community (a community I was more familiar with).

With a bit of time to reflect on this year’s experience and in thinking ahead, I wonder what the role of technology will be in next year’s meeting in terms of connecting participants and if/how this might also relate to the format of the sessions.

I find it interesting that while we seek opportunities and inspiration to create and contribute to unique, creative, memorable, and meaningful experiences for visitors, we approach these fascinating discussions and programs in a thoughtful although slightly traditional and formal way. I will refrain from writing in absolutes, but many of my session experiences followed a formula of: presenter 1 presents, questions and answers, presenter 2 presents, questions and answers, culminating with time for additional questions and answers (powerpoint optional). Of course, the information and experiences discussed are wonderful, innovative, and helpful and in some cases such an approach to providing this insight is expected.

I challenge us to consider the unexpected: ways that we can connect one another in a lively and memorable session that will accomplish the same goals of a “traditional session” and more. Such considerations may keep those of us likely exhausted after the multi-day conference a bit more energized and ready to return to our museums and put our inspiration into action. Whether or not this can/should be achieved with technology is one of the many considerations in taking on such a challenge.

I do not (yet) have answers, only questions and I would not be surprised if such ideas were discussed during this year’s workshops (about creating a successful presentation). Do share your experiences and ideas!

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!

Blurb = Blarg

A blurb is like a mini “elevator speech” about yourself to introduce who you are, what you do, why you are so great in 3 sentences or less. This much we know.

Why do I mention this? Because I am currently (attempting) to write a blurb about myself for a program I am participating in tomorrow.

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum is holding their Youth Leadership Conference program with over 100 high school students from the NYC area. This day-long Conference includes a tour of the museum, a keynote speaker and a few sessions with mentors to discuss character traits and leadership qualities.

As I am a mentor for this program, I need a blurb and I need one bad. Talk about writer’s block. This is a great writing exercise to get my thoughts together and once I do, I will use this blurb like it’s my job (or at least to help get me a job).

To clear my thoughts, I’ve made a list of blurb must-haves below:

  1. my name
  2. education info (summed up)
  3. professional info (typically starting with current position and highlighting accomplishments)

Seems kind of straightforward….I’m not sure why I dedicated a whole blog entry about this.

My Blurb: Valerie Albanese is a dedicated educator with over seven years experience in the museum and non-profit field. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology and Visual Arts from Fordham University, NY and recently completed her Master’s of Arts degree in Museum Education from Tufts University, MA while working at a Boston-based exhibit design firm, where her projects included the African Burial Ground Interpretive Center, NY and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, AL. Some interesting facts about Valerie; she has studied abroad in Australia, participated in an archaeology dig of a 18th century home, volunteered to clear brush for an education center on the Mohawk Reservation and curated an exhibit about folk art for the Lynn Museum in Lynn, MA.

(not) Workin’ 9-5

What I wouldn’t give to be secretary pals and schemers with Doralee right about now!

Alas, I am putting my efforts into e-networking, job hunting, résumé writing and trying to stay positive. My courtship for a perfect job is challenging but I’m up for that challenge. These are some thoughts and discussion points about this whole process:

  • Get Involved! Cliché, I know, but it’s true! As we speak I am applying for jobs left and right but I am also excited that I will be volunteering at the UHA Annual Conference later this month. Hopefully I will get some networking time in while helping participants register. I am also looking into internships that are flexible so I can hopefully gain experience in the field I want to pursue in the interim.
  • LinkedIn? Are you LinkedIn? I’m still on the fence about whether or not updating my LinkedIn profile has done any good (obviously not, if I’m still “looking” for a job). Also, I am not sure how prospective employers might access your complete LinkedIn profile unless you are in the same network (I’m sure I could answer my own question by re-reading the user settings/options). Nonetheless, I must say, reading my 11 recommendations daily is a good confidence boost and something I recommend to any LinkedIn user.
  • To email or to mail…THAT is the question. I have absolutely no faith in the USPS and yet, I feel that mailing an application is standard, it is what we should all be doing. Am I right on this?? Then again shouldn’t we, the job-seekers care enough about our planet to email applications? In an effort to go paperless and follow the green footprints of our phone providers, credit card companies and bank agencies, does the applicant appear less interested or qualified by sending such documents electronically?
  • Dust Off Those Textbooks! I have recently considered taking classes….knowledge is power (even though you can’t eat knowledge and sleep in knowledge) and there are lots of night courses and short-term certificates to consider in all fields.
  • Job Hunters for Non-Profit Peeps? Do job hunters exist in the non-profit sector? Regardless I should open my own firm as I’ve successfully forwarded a number of appropriate position descriptions to former colleagues in an effort to work collaboratively to find jobs. This is a great company I recently came across and I am considering getting my act together and taking advantage of their services.

Here are some resources I check-out daily:

Idealist

American Association of Museums

Museum Professionals

Global Museum