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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Call For Feedback: Grad School Programs on Display

If you:

  • Completed a non-museum related grad program and work in a museum field.
  • Completed a museum-related grad program and don’t work in the museum field.
  • Completed a museum-related grad program and work in the museum field.

….. I want to hear from you!

This year at AAM, I came to learn about so many museum-related graduate programs based in the U.S. and beyond – I’m now fascinated with this. Having recently completed my MA in Museum Education from Tufts University, I am really interested in sharing my experiences and also hearing from graduates of other programs- for a new blog post that I hope will help prospective students navigate these waters.

In an effort to be all-inclusive (aware of the buzz about museum-related grad programs) I do not want to limit this to museum-specific programs (although the more the better) as I’m sure we all have different paths which have led us to museum-related careers. I’m interested in your program and if/how it’s helped you. The more variety – the better!

Alternatively, I am also interested in those of you who may have graduated from a museum-related program and you are not working in a museum-related field. For those of you who were part of a museum studies related program, how has your museum-related degree shaped your career in the non-museum world what has your career path been like?

For those who have the time and would like to contribute please respond to the following and email me: valbanese@gmail.com (while you do not have to answer all questions of course, the more information you can/are willing to provide, the better):

1. Name of School:
2. Name of Department/ Program:
3. Year(s) attended:
4. Degree:

5. Any classes/projects that stand out
(positive/negative):
6. Elaborate on your overall experience (were you moving to a new area, how did you find the graduate studies department, did you end up staying in the area where you went to school, etc. whatever comes to mind- this is informal so have fun with it!):
7. How has this program prepared/helped you to where you are/what you are doing today- are there any connections:

8. Would you recommend this program to someone else:
9. If you had to do it all over again, would you? Would you change anything (coursework, concentration, where you went to school, etc.):
10. May I include your name in my post (if yes please provide your name and any title you would like me to include):
11. May I directly quote you (yes/no):
12. Please list/note anything you prefer me not to include in my post:

Depending on feedback, I will follow up with you if there are any changes or information about this post. Please understand that this request is for educational purposes only and I do not intend to use/sell any of the information provided except for intended purposes.

Thanks so much in advance for your help!

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?

Targeting Your Non-Audience, Shaping Your Museum’s Future

Yesterday I attended the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable Annual Conference, “Are We Listening” (thanks to receiving a Scholarship from NYCMER). Although I will be writing a fabulous webssay for the NYCMER website which will touch on my experience and take-aways from this day-long program, I would like to share a few thoughts that are circling my mind….

Maxie Jackson, Senior Director Program Development at New York Public Radio and our morning keynote, spoke candidly about his experiences moving from “producer-driven” to “audience-driven” radio programming. He highlighted the need of targeting and reaching  non-audiences, potential audiences as well educating those who are currently served by expanding program efforts and initiatives for the wider community. A total side note: I think it is great on the part of the conference committee to bring in a speaker who does not work in museums to discuss broader challenges and issues that we in the non-profit world are facing.

Jackson provided practical resources and outlined his process towards growing an audience via diversifying offerings. Jackson’s four steps towards diversity include:

  1. Program mission: Creating and managing a mission to fill the void of what is currently missing from offerings.
  2. Research base when developing program concept: Reach out to the emerging audience by working with organizations who already serve this community and meet with them, make that human connection. In doing this, find the balance between the expectations of this group and where your core audience thinks you can go.
  3. Staff resources for authentic engagement: Include job postings through a variety of channels to create a diverse pool of applicants with diverse experience and exposure to strengthen inclusive program ideas and program development. As an institution open yourself up to analysis: Do you speak with authority? Are you providing authentic engagement? Are you willing to hold yourself accountable?
  4. Audience engagement: By participating in information gathering you can be educated by your community. Stimulate the “American conversation,” perhaps by first focusing on a specific emerging audience and expanding along the way while super-serving your core audience. Communicate with your core audience that you are “doing them a favor of broadening the world around them.”

These methods are intensive which is probably why his results are so fruitful. I really took to heart Jackson’s call to extend beyond niche programming to develop offerings that are relevant to audiences not served. Applying these ideas to museums, considerations for authentic engagement via inclusive programming for current and emerging audiences will provide countless benefits but may also provide challenges in shifting mindsets, ideas, and goals.

In thinking about Jackson’s keynote,  I’m also mulling over a recent article I read in the May-June 2009 Museum, “Deliberately Unsustainable” by Nina Simon which considers the nature of museums to survive through cautious and calculated measures and calls upon these institutions to consider benefits of taking risks and pursue mission statements “foolishly, rashly or successfully – in our activities every day.” In her article, Simon states, “Unlike startups and rock stars, museums aren’t structured to shoot for the moon and burn up trying. They’re made to plod along…..The problem arises when the desire to sustain overcomes the desire to be superlative and more resources go to surviving than succeeding.” Simon encourages museums to “make it” by surviving and succeeding via offering “core services that people depend on” and “services you provide that make you awesome” (how you support your community).

I find connections between these ideas and Jackson’s remarks, which I am still processing. In an effort to sum up my thoughts (I promise, no more direct quotes), it’s not enough to narrowly serve your core-audience with niche programs nor is it enough to provide diluted experiences for emerging audiences. With rapidly changing demographics, neither is sustainable. We are at a point and time where museums can cultivate new audiences through exciting programs with zest and ambition. Therefore, a commitment to reaching out to non-audiences and working with core audience members in the development of more inclusive, meaningful programming needs to be prioritized and sought through creative perhaps risk-taking approaches (consider it cutting edge  programming). For museums to remain relevant we need to bring core, emerging, and non-audiences into a shared conversation so we are all present and all listening. This will bring to surface the problems, concerns, opportunities, and solutions to new programming ideas awesome for all.

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!

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!

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!