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!

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Localizing Museum Love: Getting to the Heart of Your Community

Untitled-1I know I am not alone in believing in the strength and power of museums to cultivate community pride, create access to programs rich in cultural diversity, and encourage cultural understanding through open dialog and meaningful offerings. Still reveling in my recent professional development experiences and considering trends in community development, growth, and participation I want to share some thoughts and findings about cultivating, engaging, and sustaining programs for such local audiences.

Be creative in approaches to realizing your museum’s mission in connecting with your community. Make an effort to bring your museum to your community. Learn about the needs of your community through personal connections and interactions.

  • Just as museums should seek to truly “Know Thyself” it is also so important for these institutions to know thy community. Knowing who your neighbors are and what needs they have better positions you to be of help. In the April/May 2009 issue of IPM, Ben Dickdow’s article, “Museums as Community” discusses experiences and programs where museums serve “as a hope for the community, building an enthusiastically engaged relation between museum and public,” and “as a platform from which a community can begin to meet their needs.” He stresses the importance of “bringing museums to the community and forging personal, engaged relationships in neighborhoods.” Of the examples he provides in demonstrating what this looks like, one of my favorites is the Buffalo Museum of Science. The museum created “science spots” to cultivate community involvement and brought the museum experience to the greater public by these program spaces.
  • The opportunities that museums have to tap into community networks through relevant, cross-cultural programming seems endless. Rosa Cabrera’s 2006 Museum New’s article, “Beyond the Museum Walls” discusses at length, the Field Museum’s Cultural Connections collaboration which encompasses partnerships and cross-culturally relevant topics to foster cultural understanding and examines the “value of cultural differences” to bring together ethnically-diverse communities in the Chicago area. Just as an FYI, “Planting Seeds of Community” is another article from the July/August 2006 issue of Museum News with fantastic programming examples related to this topic – definitely worth checking out.
  • At this year’s NYCMER conference, I attended two sessions which focused on the notion of community. During one of the sessions, Dr. Paul Radensky, Museum Educator for Jewish Schools, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage discussed the four month-long Interfaith Living Museum project, an extension of the Living Museum program. This year the project brought together students from the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan and the Islamic Leadership School of the Bronx to share experiences and knowledge with each other, their teachers, and families using museum-inspired approaches like cataloging personal artifacts and creating mini-exhibits. As quoted in a press release about the program, Solomon Schechter principal Gary Pretsfelder stated, “It has given our fifth graders the opportunity to meet and engage peers from very different backgrounds and from a community with which they would ordinarily have very little, if any, contact. It is important to us that our students recognize at a young age what Muslims and Jews have in common so that the future discourse, which right now is so intertwined with politics, can have a chance to succeed.” The museum recognized the need to encourage cross-cultural dialog and utilized its resources to provide an opportunity for this. While this program is a great undertaking it is not without it’s own challenges which are mainly related to the inclusive exhibiting of artifacts and approach to connecting these rich narratives and personal stories.

Research and reach-out to fellow museums, non-profits, cultural organizations in your neighborhood. Find out what is already being done and where the gaps are – fill the void and find your niche so that you can bridge that gap between your community and your museum.

  • Dr. Radensky’s talk reminded me of a project I collaborated on as a grad student in the Tufts University Museum Studies program. Along with a couple of classmates, I developed an adult ELL (English Language Learners) program proposal, Savvy Sea Stories for the USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown, MA in which participants would also work closely with artifacts. Especially in heavily touristed cities it can be challenging to solidify strong bonds with local communities and potential patrons. In preliminary research, we came to understand more about the diversity of the Charlestown community and their needs. In doing so, we sought collaborations with local libraries and ELL classes to complement and enhance their current program offerings to build English language skills while alleviating some costs and resources likely incurred if the program were to be developed independent of partnerships. We saw a niche for the museum to welcome this audience and use artifacts as a springboard for sparking conversations and connections among participants while practicing skills developed in their classes.

Show your community you care! Support local businesses and attend community events. Consider access to your museum: Does your community feel welcomed? What can you do to encourage participation and connections with and among your community members?

  • Sometimes it’s a matter of making your institution welcoming and accessible to your local community. Let your community know that you are there and that you are interested in them. I remember an inspiring lecture that Nina Zanniere, Executive Director of Paul Revere House in Boston, MA gave to one of my Museum Studies classes. She spoke at length about the North End community and how she sought opportunities to embrace and connect with local residents so that the museum’s neighbors would likewise care more deeply about the historic site. On a small scale, it may be as simple as supporting local establishments whenever possible (from buying coffee to office supplies) or providing space in your museum for community groups to hold meetings.
  • This brings to mind something I just heard recently while speaking with staff from the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum in the Bronx, NY. The staff provides free tickets to all children from school groups to entice these young visitors to come back to the museum with their families…. and it works! I love this idea mainly because making connections with younger visitors is likely to have two results: 1. If these young visitors had a good experience they will most likely bug their families about going back to the museum (I mean “bug” in the most endearing, positive, cute way of course). 2. The museum empowers the child by placing importance on her/him as an active decision-maker while indirectly promoting and cultivating  lifelong learners with strong connections to their institution.

Share your findings!!

I’d love to hear about your thoughts, ideas, approaches, concerns with such programming! You may also be interested in following  this thread on the Museum-L list serv, which I’m sure will get a lot of responses for education programs in museums that fill a need in the community (I’m sure the publication, once completed, will be a great resource). Also, if you’re in the New York area, you may also want to check out “How to Build a Community Around Your Brand,” a meet-up event on June 15th which will bring together a lot of creative individuals across disciplines to share best practices, tactics, and tips for community engagement.

Put on your community member hat for a moment: Do you feel connected to museums in your communities? What are these museums doing to empower you as a member of your community? Would you be interested in such programs? Are your local museums helping to connect you to the rest of your community?

Put on your museum professional hat for a moment: How do you serve your community’s needs? Can you think of current offerings that can be tweaked to better serve this local audience? What are your goals for reaching out to your community and what are anticipated challenges? What are five immediate things you can do to strengthen your relationship with your community?

‘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!

Move to Action: Programs for Individuals with Alzheimer’s

Yesterday I attended an informative and interesting program hosted by the Museum Access Consortium and the Museum of Modern Art. The focus of the two-hour event, held at the MoMA was “Welcoming People with Alzheimer’s to your Museum.” Essentially, participants learned about Alzheimer’s (a form of Dementia) and examples of on-site, museum programs offered in the local community. Jed Levine, Executive Vice President of the Alzheimer’s Association, New York City Chapter spoke extensively about this disease and it’s various stages.

Individuals in the early and middle stages of the disease are likely to still be quite active and capable of varying levels of communication, self expression and interpretation. Considering this, museums provide a unique environment and  great opportunity for people with Alzheimer’s and their Caregivers to participate in programs that will empower, entice and connect these participants in deep and meaningful ways.

The panel of museum professionals from local art museums discussed their experiences in developing programs for this audience. The following is a brief listing of such considerations:

  • Institutional Support: Will the Board, Museum director support this initiative? Keep in mind your regular staff-participant ratio and remember to include Caregivers and/or family members in you group size.
  • Audience: Is there a need for such programming? With over 5 million American’s living with Alzheimer’s- the need is there. Contacting your local Alzheimer’s Association can help you determine that need more specifically.
  • Environment: Is the environment of your museum conducive to the needs of this audience? The physical space of the museum (taking into consideration that individuals with Alzheimer’s may wander) as well as the time when programs would take place (preferably during the museum’s most quiet times, with fewer distractions and noise as to not intimidate the participants) should be considered.
  • Funding: Do you have the financial means to sustain such programs?
  • Marketing: How will you reach your prospective participants? It was noted during this program that the Alzheimer’s Association is a key resource in getting in touch with these individuals. Also, it may be beneficial to contact staff from local museums and organizations who currently offer such programs as you may be able to provide mutual marketing support.

Only a personal assessment of available resources will determine if such programming is feasible. What was particularly moving for me was the personal story of a Caregiver and her experience attending the Meet Me At MoMA at the Museum of Modern Art with her husband. She mentioned that while he was not exactly an art enthusiast, the program became something they both looked forward to and later recalled. For Caregivers, who are typically family members, an opportunity to deeply connect with their fellow loved one is something that may not occur as often (especially as Alzheimer’s progresses). It was inspiring to hear that after her husband passed away, it was these positive memories she carried especially close with her.

While the following art museums offer innovative and interactive programs for this audience, other types of museums may also be able to utilize its collection and space to benefit individuals with Alzheimer’s and their Caregivers.

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, offers Met Escapes, free programs on particular Sundays and Wednesdays of each month for individuals living with dementia, their family members and caregivers. Program components include tours and art-making workshops.
  • Folk Art Reflections is an interactive, discussion-based program offered at the American Folk Art Museum, NY. This free program is offered the third Thursday of each month.
  • The MoMA has an on-site, free program entitled Meet Me at MoMA and also launched their Alzheimer’s Project, a “nationwide expansion of the Museum’s outreach program for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.”

Food For Thought…

I received a postcard about an upcoming free event that sounds really cool and wanted to share:

Brooklyn Food Conference: Local Action for Global Change

When: May 2, 2009, 9am-9pm

Where: John Jay HS and PS 321, 7th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn

There are going to be tons of fun things: guest speakers, music, (healthy) food, activities and even a parade so check it out!

Kickin’ Off The Weekend Right

I recently received an email from one of our regular readers informing me of an upcoming event at the American Museum of Natural History, a first-Friday of the month program with live music, drinks, dancing and extended museum hours. You’ve probably read about such events in the New York Times and a quick Google search provides a list of similar events at neighboring museums, vying for your dollars and dancing feet. Rather than highlight one, I’m going to list a few that I came across and let you decide how you’ll spend your next Friday night!

If you come across any other programs in the NYC area, please do comment!

Tales to America, A Call to Share Your Story

Ellis Island Immigration Museum makes dishing family stories cool! The Museum is interested in gathering and sharing stories of immigration . Stories are available on the Museum’s website and will eventually be added to their People of America® Center.

Whether this immigration story is that of your ancestors arriving through Ellis Island years ago or  your own recent tale of coming to America, the museum wants to know! With an added treat of a certificate to commemorate your contribution to the museum, why not become part of history and tell your story?

Get the conversation started, have fun and share!