Thursday, August 26, 2010

How Green is Your Museum? A Call for Case Studies

Rachel Madan, director of Greener Museums, is working on Sustainable Museums: Strategies for the 21st Century, a book being published by MuseumsEtc in November, 2010. Rachel has worked with many U.S. and U.K. organizations including Tate, the (UK Government's) Department of Culture Media & Sport, National Museums Liverpool and the National Library of Scotland. The book aims to “provide a system which enables museum professionals to start making changes that are both transformational and lasting. Its approach aims to help create museums which are resilient, confident and secure in their approach to sustainability.”

Rachel is looking for museums to profile in order to illustrate the following themes (bonus points for new, innovative and successful practices!)

  • Leadership on sustainability from senior management, including the Director and Trustees. 
  • The ability of staff members to influence policy on sustainability.
  • The activities of "green champions".
  • How sustainability is effectively managed within the organisation.
  • How sustainability performance is assessed, and data collected and reported.
  • How your museum's sustainability strategy was developed.
  • How your museum has set and achieved targets and milestones related to sustainability.
  • How your museum has created policies and plans to support your efforts to improve sustainability.
  • How your museum effectively communicates internally on sustainability.
  • How your museum effectively communicates externally on sustainability.
  • Other successful and innovative initiatives in the field of sustainability.
You can send an abstract proposing a case study to
Deadline: Sept. 12, 2010

Format: Abstract (300 word limit) and biographical note (up to 150 words).

You'll be notified by Sept. 17 if your proposal is accepted.

Contact information for this project:
Rachel Madan
Director, Greener Museums

Graeme Farnell
Publisher, MuseumsEtc Ltd

Monday, August 23, 2010

Using History to Build Community

This week's guest post is by Dr. Tom Hanchett, staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, one of the museums profiled in AAM's recent report on the challenge museums' face in coming decades to serve an increasingly diverse American public. Tom writes about a surprise partnership that is boosting the Levine's bridge-building to their potential Latino audiences. 
Since an overview of Changing Places was included in the white paper “Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums,” the exhibit has enjoyed considerable success … and one conspicuous failure.

Visitors are flocking to the installation. Levine President Emily Zimmern decided to extend the original closing from February to November 2010 – a good call since the Museum has now rounded out its fiscal year with the largest attendance in its 20 year history.

Though Changing Places was drawing lots of visitors, and also attracting considerable diversity in ages and ethnicity, one particular demographic was noticeably absent: Latinos. Charlotte is the nation’s second-fastest growing Latino metro area, according to a Brookings Institution study. The Museum has Latino board members, has partnered with the local Latin American Coalition for many events over the years including hosting Charlotte’s annual Day of the Dead celebration, and worked with Latino advisors to include Spanish text and a Spanish gallery guide as part of Changing Places. But while Latino leaders often come to Museum events, general attendance remained negligible.

Then in April, Emily received a remarkable offer of support.

Norberto Sanchez, a Levine Museum board member, runs Norsan Multimedia, a burgeoning Latino media company with three radio stations and Mi Gente newspaper in Charlotte, plus a growing number of radio affiliates across the South. Would Levine Museum be interested in a partnership?

Sanchez felt that the Museum could be a vital bridge between Latinos and mainstream Charlotte. The Museum’s exhibits and programs offer the kinds of historical and community background that help connect newcomers to this new place. Audiences from Latin America, though, are generally not accustomed to museum-going. Using Norsan media outlets and lots of repetition, Sanchez said, those attitudes likely could be changed.

By the same token, Levine Museum is already a place where longtime Charlotteans get to know their Latino neighbors. Could Norsan resources add to those experiences?

Today Levine Museum and Norsan are pursuing several initiatives – at no charge to the Museum – and more are on the drawing board:
  • A twice-monthly hour on Latino talk radio 1310AM (in English and Spanish) with educator Janeen Bryant and staff historian Dr. Tom Hanchett. Topics include general Southern history, from Civil Rights struggles to the stories behind major holidays, and also discussion of upcoming events at the Museum.
  • A summer program series “Verano Multicultural” at the Museum featuring poetry and dance by new arrivals from across Latin America.
  • Regular half-page ads for Levine Museum in Mi Gente plus a monthly column by Dr. Hanchett.
  • A Spanish translation of the Museum’s general brochure, plus discount cards in Spanish. Norsan provided the translations and also helps distribute these at festivals where its radio stations have promotional booths.
  • A greatly expanded Day of the Dead event in late October including a photo exhibit Mujer en la RevoluciĆ³n Mexicana loaned by the Mexican Consulate, a reception with the Consul General and showing of an independent documentary provided by the Consulate entitled Those Who Remain about life in villages where many sons and daughters have left for the U.S.
  • The Museum will be watching to see if Latino visitorship increases. Even if that is not the case, thousands more people are now being exposed to Levine Museum and its message via the airwaves and the pages of Mi Gente.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Interview with a Museum Director at Age 5

This week’s guest blogger is Silvia Liu, speaking as a representative of future museum founders/directors. Silvia has visited numerous museums in four countries. When she was four years old she collected a dead baby turtle while on a walk with her grandmother. That afternoon she declared that she wanted to have a natural history museum in her home. A year later, with help from her parents, Silvia installed her ever-growing collection of bones, shells, and flora in a corner of her family’s basement. Silvia gives guided tours of her museum, which she calls “Silvia’s Nature Museum”, to any visitor willing to sign the guest book. Recently, Silvia decided to add a small gift shop to her museum that she keeps stocked with merchandise that she has made herself.

Silvia was interviewed by her parents at their home in Lawrence, Kansas.

Interviewer: What is it about museums that you enjoy the most?

Silvia: Fossils and dinosaur bones and lots of fun things to do and gift shops!

Interviewer: What is your favorite kind of museum?

Silvia: Now let me think, natural history!

Interviewer: What is your favorite part about visiting natural history museums?

Silvia: [Getting] to see bones and fossils

Interviewer: What makes you want to spend time in a museum?

Silvia: Looking at things…if they are not too scary.

Interviewer: What do you think museums will be like in the future, when you are grown up and living in your own house?

Silvia: Bigger. And maybe they’ll find some dragonfly fossils.

Interviewer: What else do you think there will be in museums in the future? I know it is kind of hard to imagine what it will be like when you are all grown up.

Silvia: I think they’ll still have computers, but they won’t be old fashioned – like power cords that look like rope (cloth-covered).

Interviewer: Do you think there will be iPods?

Silvia: Of course there will be. Giant iPods.

Interviewer: If there were giant iPods at the museum, would that make you want to go there?

Silvia: Yes, if they were at an art museum. It would be an iPod that they could put pictures of art on so that people could touch it and look at pictures of the art that they have in the museum on it. So it helps the people find the art, you know, like a map.
Interviewer: Did you know that they’re called iPads? They have a special name. What do you think the museum will be doing with iPads?

Silvia: Using them for frames, like showing the art on them. I would like to see it if there was like a painting on the screen, using the iPad as a frame. If it is not too interesting, I wouldn’t want to see it again. If I like the museum a lot, I would want to go there again.

Interviewer: What will other museums be like in the future?

Silvia: Like the museum in Canada?

Interviewer: The ROM (Royal Ontario Museum)?

Silvia: Yeah. They’ll have more fossils, if they find them.

Interviewer: Who are they?

Silvia: The paleontologists.

Interviewer: What type of fossils?

Silvia: Dinosaur bone fossils.

Interviewer: What else will they add to that museum?

Silvia: Cool rocks, like volcano rocks. Volcano rocks covered in dirt.

Interviewer: What do you think will be the most popular type of museum in the future?

Silvia: Natural history museums, because I like them the most. I love natural history museums.

Interviewer: Why do you like museums natural history museums the most?

Silvia: Because I like being scared a little bit, but I don’t like being scared too much. Fossils are awesome.

Interviewer: Will museums that have fossils have art in them too?

Silvia: Maybe.

Interviewer: In the future, do you think there will be more museums that have both fossils and art?

Silvia: No. But, what if there was a silly museum with dinosaur bones, pterodactyls, hanging from the ceiling holding picture frames! That would be awesome! And the gift shop could have little models of it.

Gentle readers—did you have your own museum when you were a kid? (I did! With accession numbers and everything…) Are your children or grandchildren curating their own collections now? This is our next generation of colleagues, and I would love to hear about their museums. How old is/was the founder? What is/was in the museum? Share your stories here, in comments to the blog; and upload photos to the CFM Flickr group (where you can also find more photos of Silvia’s Nature Museum).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Librarians. Sheesh.

This week’s guest blogger Lauren Silberman, thinks museumers have something to learn from the "Librarians of the Future" and their kin about how to shape the image of their profession. Lauren hearts museums but still likes libraries and books. In addition to serving as the coordinator for AAM’s Museum Assessment Program and on the board of the Small Museum Association, she was the education and program coordinator for the Jewish Museum of Maryland and is currently working on her second book, Wicked Baltimore (The History Press, expected 2011).

I’m annoyed with librarians. 

Apologies to my husband, who happens to be one. It’s not that librarians have done anything wrong. In fact, the reason that I’m annoyed is because of what they’re doing right. Librarians have gone viral. Across YouTube are videos of book cart drills and Lady Gaga parodies. The “Old Spice Guy” has done a bit on libraries (and there’s another video parodying him to promote libraries!). There are so many blogs about the new hip vanguard of librarians that their entries could more than fill many brick and mortar locations.* NPR has done a piece suggesting that libraries may be next “pop-culture wave” after cupcakes. They even have an action figure with “amazing push-button shushing action.”

So, it leaves me wondering, “Where are the museums?”

Why aren’t there videos of museum staff and visitors singing parody songs in the galleries? Are there any crudely drawn animations of museum collections coming to life? How about a reality tv show featuring the crazy world of registrars? You can almost see the sharpened pencils and white gloves flying!

Okay, I’ll admit that “annoyed” is not the right word choice. To be honest, I’m just jealous. I want to see videos and links to museum oriented fun being exchanged on Facebook. I want the New York Times to one-up NPR and espouse a duel between museums and libraries for the social media throne. I want people to talk about us in a new way. And I want you to do it.

Yes, that’s right. You have to help us museum lovers out. I can’t get us viral on my own. I need your assistance. So, I challenge you – no matter your museum specialty or work expertise – to help me show up those trendy librarians. I want to see what you’ve done and what you’re thinking about doing. I want to know what fun items exist or could exist for museums. Is it already out there and I’m simply missing it? Is it an idea just waiting for the right person or people to come along and bring it to life? Let me know! Let the social media revolution begin. Include your links, ideas, and whatnots in the comments below.

*You are correct. Every single word in that sentence links to a different library focused blog. The author of this post does not necessarily agree with anything mentioned on any of these blogs.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Trends in the "Attractions Industry"

Six Key Trends identified by the Attractions Handbook 2010-2011:

  1. Greater awareness of the differences between Western markets and the emerging markets of China, India, Russia, the Middle East, South America. For example:
  2. Western populations are older and accustomed to using attractions. Many emerging markets are predominantly young, with limited experience in visiting attractions. And the emerging markets are HUGE--the handbook points out "there are five times more children born every year in India than in the entire European Union--all 27 countries."
  3. Enduringly valuable attributes in both for-profit and nonprofit attractions continue to be: good storytelling, stagecraft, showmanship, great imagery, great sound. The report comments that, to reach emerging markets, the challenge is to successfully present these attributes in a culturally and generationally appropriate context. (And notes that maybe middle-aged, Western attractions consultants are not in the best people to go to for advice on how to do this.)
  4. The need to tap deep passions and emotions to create "product" that is meaningful to audiences. Museums are pre-adapted to excel in this area--we are all about exciting passion for our content and causes!
  5. Taking into account the implications of climate change and the need to go green. (See AAM's PIC Green (Professional Interest Committee) for more on this!
  6. Adapting to new patterns of travel and tourism, by creating "short vacation" experiences that include an overnight stay. How can museums "bundle" experiences with other local attractions (including those that offer night-time experiences like theatres and restaurants) to offer full weekend of fun?

What are your sources of information about trends in travel and tourism? Please share with fellow readers of the blog...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Seeing Individuals in Diversity

This week’s guest post is from Julia Brucker, Museum Education Coordinator at the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, Mass.

On a chilly spring evening, the lights were still burning at the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham, Mass. People began to arrive in small groups, smiling shyly at the museum guides waiting to greet them, and sometimes turning to talk to a friend in Portuguese or Russian. An hour later, the energy level was transformed. The groups chatted in English, to their museum guides or to each other. The museum buzzed with life and excitement.

The CFM’s recent blog post, “Empowering New Immigrants through Art ,” inspired me to write about the Danforth Museum of Art’s Language of Art Program. This program, which is supported by the Framingham Cultural Council, is designed for ESL classes to practice new vocabulary and conversational English in response to the artwork on display.

The Museum has a long-standing partnership with an ESL program in Framingham, Massachusetts, called Framingham Adult ESL Plus. Begun in 2002 with a few tentative ESL teachers and the support of their administration, the program has grown to include more than half of the FAESL classes (approx. 300 students), who visit the Museum during the spring semester, using the exhibits to learn new vocabulary and discuss form, color and meaning.

To engage students in conversation, museum guides lead discussions using Visual Thinking Strategies and other open-ended questions. Paraphrasing each student’s response is key. The guide is able to check that all students have understood and model correct grammar and phrasing. At the same time, the act of paraphrasing slows down the conversation, allowing ESL students to better absorb what is said.

Teachers find that the open-ended nature of this tour style even persuades less confident speakers to join the conversation. Sharon, a FAESL teacher, told her docent, “Some of my students who are shy and quiet in class became really engaged in the museum, talking about the art, the pictures. They really opened up. That’s why I take my students here.”

Tour technique and image selection provide the framework for a successful tour, but I consider a tour successful only if the docents and students interact in a meaningful way.

I have noticed that on successful tours, docents interact with ESL students as individuals, listening carefully to each response and demonstrating genuine curiosity about the many different cultures represented in each class. The students, for their part, respond to this attention with astounding energy and engagement, especially considering that they often arrive at the museum after a full day of work. The mutual respect results in a truly rewarding experience for both parties.

As the Nassau County Museum of Art noted in their recent guest post on this blog, students make an emotional connection with art that represents multicultural identities. The Danforth Museum of Art recently exhibited intricate 3D collages by children’s book illustrator, Giles Laroche, depicting buildings from all over the world. Supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the exhibit was brought to the museum specifically to include multicultural audiences. The response it inspired was recorded by a Danforth docent in his blog:

“After about 15 minutes, Lynn directed us all towards the Bridges Across Cultures gallery on the 2nd floor and what was fun to observe was the emotional response of the students as they got off the elevator and walked in the gallery. Their instant reactions were-"Holaaaa-Waaaoow!", "Ahaaa", "Look at the people", "Look at the temple!", "Heyyy we have this in our country!" - in short everyone's face was lit up in this gallery.”

Other exhibits have inspired curiosity and easy conversation, but this particular exhibit was successful on a deeper level.

Do our ESL visitors now feel more comfortable visiting other museums or public buildings where no one speaks their language? Will they return to the Danforth? As classes leave the Museum, ESL teachers are handed forms to evaluate their visit. Many students return with other levels of ESL classes, and they are given passes to return with their families. The Museum’s next steps are to encourage and track future engagement with the Museum and to better function as a relevant public place for new immigrants outside of class.

In her last paragraph, Julia asks the $20 million dollar question—are programs such as the Danforth’s Language of Art “sticky experiences” that lead new immigrants to return and help them feel the museum is “their place?” If your museum has done research on the results of your efforts to foster museum-going in non-traditional audiences, please (please, please) write me at and share!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Futures Studies 101: The Purpose of Foresight

This post is the first in a series of short essays exploring the basics of Futures Studies and how they can be applied to the museum field.

Why is foresight important? Without someone playing the important role of futurist, we risk being mired in the present. Our planning is often focused on short term challenges and immediate needs. We have a tendency, when looking at only a short time frame, to defend old assumptions and choose narrow measures of success. We tinker with the edges of what we already do well rather than risking innovation. It’s all too easy, when faced with the need to change, to become paralyzed by fear, uncertainty, doubt and outright denial.

Futures-thinking breaks through this logjam by freeing peoples’ imaginations. It fosters a start-up mindset where anything is possible, people are willing to question assumptions, think broadly of how to measure success, discover or create new needs and try lots of things, fast, knowing that many of them will fail.

Foresight isn’t the same as prediction. Rather than placing a bet on which particular future is most likely to occur, foresight’s role is to help us imagine many plausible futures and identify useful actions that can be taken in the present. Futurists accomplish this in three fundamental ways, by:

  • Identifying and monitoring change, tracking the flow of trends, events and emerging issues
  • Imagining different futures and testing new assumptions through forecasting and scenario building
  •  Communicating and responding to change
Over the next couple months I will blog a brief introduction to foresight and futures thinking emphasizing the first two methodologies—identifying and monitoring change (otherwise known as scanning) and imagining differences (forecasting and creating scenarios). And I will encourage the field to think about how future studies can supplement or be integrated into institutional planning. (For starters, see this guest post by Angie Kim on the potential for forecasting to transform traditional planning. )

If you are interested in exploring futures studies in more depth, consider registering for the University of Houston’s weeklong program Certificate in Strategic Forethought. It will be offered in Brussels, Belgium this December, but if you need to stick a little closer to home, it will also be held in Houston, January 10-14, 2011. I highly recommend the course. Last spring, Joe Cavanaugh, director of the National Museum of the Pacific War, and I attended, and thought it was awesome. (You can read Joe’s review here.) A couple of museum folk have contacted me about the January iteration, so maybe there will be another museum contingent, which would make for good discussions! Peter Bishop, head of U. Houston Futures Studies, and CFM Council member, is generously offering a 20% discount on the registration fee to people affiliated with CFM (that would be you, gentle readers!)