Friday, October 30, 2015

Futurist Friday: Breakthrough

If you're a fan of National Geographic specials in general (as I am), you will be psyched to learn they are launching a short futurist series this coming Sunday (November 1, 9/8 Central). 

Each of the six installments of Breakthrough is directed by a great storyteller (Ron Howard, Paul Giamatti, Brett Ratner, Angela Bassett, Peter Berg, Akiva Goldsman), and each focuses on a significant future challenge, exploring a current "breakthrough" that may help humanity weather that disruptive force. The lineup is (descriptions adapted from show notes):

  • November 1: Fighting Pandemics with new treatments and tools, including needle-free vaccines, and using data analytics to forecast how outbreaks may spread
  • November 8: More than Human. Developing technologies are challenging our basic understanding of "normal" through enhancing our senses and physical abilities. You too, can become a cyborg.
  • November 15: Decoding the Brain looks at recent advances in understanding how the brain works, the nature of consciousness and free will (and how this new knowledge might help us treat dementia and other cognitive disorders)
  • November 29: The Age of Aging/ What is growing old going to be like, and how can we extend the healthy years of our lifespan?
  • December 6: Energy on the Edge. Developments in energy production that might wean us from reliance on fossil fuels. 
  • December 13: Water Apocalypse. Global innovations that may help us avert a planet wide water crisis. 
Here's a preview. Take a look, see if you want to join me on Sunday nights. 

Whether or not you watch the series, check out the Breakthrough web site. It is chock-full of video clips and interactive graphics exploring each of these topics. (Even if much of it is overdesigned and a bit fidgity. Works better in Chrome than Firefox, for me.)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Marva Collins: Education Futurist

You may have met Sylvea Hollis, CFM’s project manager, at the annual meeting last spring, where she stage managed our demonstration of Google Glass in MuseumExpo. Now Sylvea’s working with me on the next steps in our exploration of the future of education (stand by for a preview of those projects next month). In today’s post, Sylvea tells us about an inspirational educator who pioneered some of the trends shaping learning today. You can follow Sylvea on Twitter @sil_ve_uh.

“To just read what is given to me in a classroom and not explore other means and not explore other connecting topics, still guarantees failure as a teacher. Learning is everywhere. I think that is the one thing that is missing in the minds of many teachers. Everything in life has knowledge attached to it, and students are just waiting to learn things." –Marva Collins

What should the future of education look like? Who (or what, in the case of robots) will be key facilitators for reinforcing learning with students? How will the future of education differ from traditional classroom instruction? 

For the past few years CFM has been exploring how museums can help shape the future of education through our Blog, our annual TrendsWatch report, a national convening and a seminal report. This includes examining the contributions of educational futurists from the past and present. I believe that we can learn much from the invigorating contributions of one such teacher—Marva Collins.

Marva Collins teaching phonicsChicago Sun-Times 
Marva Collins worked as a substitute teacher in Chicago Public Schools for 14 years. When she retired in 1975, she used her pension of $5,000 to found Westside Preparatory School. She believed children in Chicago’s West Side—including her two children enrolled in an expensive private school—deserved a better quality education. Westside Prep started with four children, including Collins’ daughter, and eventually grew to serve 200 students. It was a last resort for many who had either chosen to drop out or were expelled. Collins became an overnight success when Morely Safer, the 60 Minutes correspondent, commented on her nontraditional model of teaching after visiting the school and meeting with students in 1979: “The results are astounding…alert and challenged children being pushed way beyond the boundaries most school systems set.” Fifteen years later when Safer returned to Westside, he was even more impressed after speaking with alumni and seeing the impact of Collins work.

Collin’s shrewdly chose to use private money for the initial start-up costs of Westside, giving her a measure of autonomy from the red tape of the education system. At Westside Prep, teachers got no desks and no breaks. Teacher training emphasized constant learner-focused instruction and student engagement. There were no substitute teachers in her school. When teachers were absent, students simply taught themselves and developed early skills in teambuilding and peer-to-peer learning. Collins was passionate about family and community members being equally invested in student learning and she became a leader in introducing these ideas far beyond formal traditional educational frameworks.

Marva Collins, teaching at Westside Prep in 1980
 Bettmann/Corbis /AP Images
Collins anticipated today’s focus on multiple forms of media in a learning environment by some three decades. She used hip-hop as a teaching tool and grounded the learning process in what her students already knew. Her work prefigured the current trends of personalized learning, learner engagement and meaningful, accessible learning experiences. “To just read what is given to me in a classroom and not explore other means and not explore other connecting topics, still guarantees failure as a teacher,” she noted. “Learning is everywhere.”

Collins wanted no frills in her classroom, and this pared-down learning environment raises provocative questions as we envision tomorrow’s learning landscape.. What if we followed the course she set to the logical extreme? What if schools of the future have no classrooms at all?

Collins’ passion for teaching became so notable that President Reagan named her as a candidate for the Secretary of Education.  She inspired a television movie—The Marva Collins Story (1981)—with Cicely Tyson in the starring role and Collins herself made a cameo in Princes’ “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” video. 

Marva Collins passed away this past summer, but her strategies remain timely. Learners today still struggle with poverty, varying degrees of confidence with learning, and in the case of many—illiteracy. Today’s educational futurists still grapple with the challenges Collins address, but face additional hurdle, including:
  • the social and digital divide created by increasingly decentralized and specialized options for learning
  • fear of failure, fostered by the current emphasis on testing, leading to an avoidance of risk-taking in curricula, teaching and organization and schools
  • the growing gap between the training provided by K-12 education and employment opportunities

What current “educational futurists” do you admire, and how are they tackling these new issues? What can museums adopt and adapt from their work? Which museums are already mainstreaming these new approaches into their work? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section, below or at shollis at

Recommended Reading:

Marva Collins and Civia Tamarkin, Marva Collins' Way: Returning to Excellence in Education (New York: Tarcher, 1990)
Marva Collins, Ordinary Children, Extraordinary Teachers (Newbury Port, Mass: Hampton Roads,1992)
Marva Collins, Values: Lighting the Candle of Excellence: A Practical Guide for the Family (New York: New Star Press, 1996)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise

#museum #architecture #Norway @BjarkeIngels

Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Museums & Climate Resilience: Working with Your Community

As I explored in TrendsWatch 2015, the coming century will challenge museums to respond to rising tides and increasingly severe storms. The good news is that many expert partners--scientists, urban planners, architects, think tanks--can help museums figure out how to protect themselves and contribute to the safety and health of their communities. In today's guest post, Sarah Sutton (@greenmuseum on Twitter, and Sustainable Museums on the blogosphere) shares some of the emerging best practices in building climate resilience.
Twenty-two thousand miles out in space a weather satellite detects a regional weather event, recording a massing storm on a probable path for a major US city. Weather models at NASA and NOAA corroborate the findings. Together they support deployment of on-the-ground responses. Somewhere, in a city near you, some floodgates close, others open; buildings’ protective “shields” go up; certain water basins empty and others fill. The community is ready for the deluge. In the days ahead the community will be damp, but it likely won’t flood. 

Image by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates courtesy of Brooklyn Botanic Garden
What if communities functioned, metaphorically, as if they were healthy wetlands? Cities and towns would respond to drought and deluge with dormancy and blooms as appropriate; they would harbor and nurture the young and vulnerable while supporting the masses; they could be beautiful, high-functioning, resilient ecosystems. They would be resilient in the face of climate change, able to absorb the shock and stresses of weather events and changing climates, and rebound in ways that strengthen and nurture the community.   
Developing climate resilience is quickly becoming the work of communities and – by extension – should be the work of museums committed to their communities. Are museums, zoos, aquariums, and historical sites helping? What if they actively participated in planning and implementing community resiliency in the face of a changing climate? For museums this would be self-preservation, mission fulfillment, and demonstrating their relevance. This is what museums should do. 

As thought leaders in climate and urban planning develop frameworks for community resilience, they are handing museums, zoos, gardens, and sites a stunning opportunity to contribute to their communities and build value and relevance.

Who is Doing What?
It is difficult to identify museums helping their communities plan and prepare for climate effects or events in a manner that makes their communities increasingly resilient. I do see the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens practicing exemplary climate impact mitigation strategies and participating in the Green Building Alliance’s Pittsburgh 2030 Challenge. I see a great deal of adaptation as structural defense such as at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Perez Art Museum Miami. Some museums contribute to adaptation through building community awareness: UCLA’s Institution of Environmental Science and the Hammer Museum are presenting a year-long series on water and Los Angeles. Some contribute to adaptation through professional awareness, as in the History Above Water conference.The Field Museum of Natural History was a venue for extreme heat response planning, and the Maryland Historical Trust is providing Cultural Resource Hazard Mitigation Planning grants for community planning involving properties threatened by sea-level rise and storm events.

What could we be doing?
The leaders among us will be actors in community resilience. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) is a premier example. According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, 34.6 percent of “museums and related institutions” are within 100km of the coast, with 25.2 percent in areas of “high coastal vulnerability” (Trendswatch 2015). That includes BBG: the property’s key water feature is a manmade brook of potable water running through the property to a terminal pond. As the institution prepared to renew the feature, the leadership chose to redesign the system to recirculate the fresh water rather than release 21M gallons annually into New York Harbor. As they considered the options, Hurricane Sandy dramatically demonstrated the problem of the city’s combined sewage overflow (CSO) system.

According to BBG’s President Scot Medbury, about 200 cities nationwide have stormwater and sewage systems that merge. When wet weather events create stormwater runoff in great quantities, the merged systems overwhelm treatment plants and the overflow is released untreated to the natural waterways. BBG’s new system will use satellite information and 17 other datapoints to automatically drain a new water garden into the harbor in advance of a storm. The empty water garden can then capture and hold much of the property’s runoff without contributing to the CSO crisis. As the skies clear and waters recede, the surface stormwater can be slowly and safely released, and the system returned to design levels for circulating and filtering as appropriate.  

Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Campaign for a New Century
This project supports important tenets of The Rockefeller Foundation’s work, City Resilience Framework. The framework articulates four dimensions of resilient cities: health and wellbeing of individuals, infrastructure and environment, economy and society, and leadership and strategy. Each of these four dimensions contain three drivers. The BBG project supports the "infrastructure and environment dimension" and two drivers:
  • “enhances and provides protective natural and man-made assets” and
  • “ensures continuity of critical services.”
Your institution does not have to engage in new construction to contribute to urban resiliency. In the "leadership and strategy" dimension museums can “empower a broad range of stakeholders” by encouraging involvement and providing information, education and access. Your site can also “promote cohesive and engaged communities” by providing safe spaces, supporting inclusivity and cultural diversity and promoting tolerance. 

We know that a cohesive community responds to threats in a healthier fashion.  Why not step into your community to build its resilience to whatever social, economic, and environmental stresses may come? We can and must protect more than our collections: we have a duty to protect our communities, too.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Monday Musing: Prequel to a Museum

Monday musings are my way of sharing "brain blorts": brief, off-the-cuff thoughts about something I have read recently, both to help clarify my thinking an in the hopes of generating discussion and response. I give myself 15 minutes or so to jot down a summary of the article(s) stuck in my brain, and outline why I think they may be important.

Here is the prototypical way to launch a new museum:
  1. Raise a ton of money
  2. Commission an architect to build a posh building (sometime this comes before step 1)
  3. Open to the public
  4. See if it works
Often people are surprised and disappointed when the attendance projections fall short. (Though the not-so-secret sauce in museum planning is that the attendance projections are often jiggered to make the project budget balance. So, not really a surprise when they are off, eh?)

In an era when the buzz phrase in museums is "design thinking," when we enthuse about rapid prototyping and iterative development, this model of "build it and they will come" is anachronistic. And indeed, it may have been so for several decades. The University of Chicago's excellent 2007 report Set In Stone documented the deficiencies of this approach during the 1994-2008 cultural building boom. Not only did 80% of the projects run over budget (some by as much as 200%) but many of them resulted in buildings more expensive than the organization could afford to maintain. And, the authors noted, "because it could take up to ten years to plan and complete a project, the actual needs of the communities served by the project could end up being very different from those originally envisioned."

So what's the alternative? For today's musing I want to point out two recent articles that suggest other approaches to planning and building a museum:

Last week the NYT previewed the Museum of Food and Drink*'s  first exhibit in a new space in Brooklyn.  MOFAD has its origins in 2005, when founder Dave Arnold set up a small exhibit at a food exposition. In the last ten years, a small core staff, led by director Peter Kim, explored potential sites and built audience via a Kickstarter funded mobile exhibit (centered on an awe-inspiring 3,200 lb cannon used to create puffed cereals) and a series of provocative public debates exploring current issues about food production, policies, values and health. Even this first long-term space is positioned as a "lab"--a site to experiment as the museum finds its footing and slowly scales up.

MOFAD's inaugural Lab exhibit "Flavor, Making Itand Faking It" as profiled in the NYT

The second article also springs from the world of food. Last week the Washington Post reviewed Prequel, a "permanent pop-up space" that will host a rotating cast of food-related business looking to test the market and attract funding. Prequel is kind of a bricks-and-mortar version of Kickstarter: a way to gauge interest in a concept, and attract backers who may give cash now, as well as becoming dedicated fans and customers when you open. In cities groaning under the collective weight of nonprofits asking for private and philanthropic support, maybe a similar approach for museums could work. An enterprising individual (or collective) could convert a warehouse to flexible exhibit space, and invite startup nonprofits to take their turn piloting their concept and pitching to funders. 

What do you think? If you were (or are) planning a new museum, what is the most promising 21c approach to design/build your new organization?

*For the record, I am on the advisory board of MOFAD, but this encomium isn't tooting my own horn because Dave, Peter et al came up with this strategy based on their own collective brilliance.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Futurist Friday: RoboKindness

Here are some facts on autism in the US, from the advocacy group Autism Speaks:

  • Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys
  • Autism prevalence figures are growing
  • Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the U.S.
Their website also says "there is no medical detection or cure for autism," but from a futurist perspective, we may be on the cusp of detection and, if not a cure, at least more effective therapy.  

Just last month, researchers at the University of California at Irvine announced they have found a biomarker for some forms of autism, that may suggest potential theraputic approaches for adjusting cellular signaling mechanisms. 

But while we wait for drug trials or even (further out) gene therapy, other technologies are coming into play.

For your Futurist Friday viewing this week, I would like to introduce Milo--an robot designed to "help children learn to express empathy, self-motivate, and navigate social situations." As this article points out, therapy dogs are already doing great work with many autistic children, and "using robots is one more way of reaching children that are difficult to engage socially." [Video a bit over 5 minutes.]

While you watch, notice how you, whether you are autistic or neurotypical, react to Milo. Does he fall into the "uncanny valley" of seeming almost, but not quite, human? (And therefor creepy,)  Or does he trigger empathetic response? 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Research Roundup: SurveyingThe Employment Landscape

 With today’s post, ACLS Public Fellow (and CFM Futurist-in-Training) Dr. Nicole Ivy launches a new occasional feature on the blog: a roundup of recent research relevant to her work and (we hope) to yours.

As part of my wonderings about compensation—and my ongoing research on museums, labor, and the future of work--I’ve collected some resources that shed greater light on how we work, what we earn, and what we think about both. I’d love to hear what reports or survey tools YOU rely on to understand workforce trends! Here is a summary of some of the sources and recent data I have been mining:

  • The US Social Security Administration maintains the national average wage index, an adjusted measure of workers’ earnings used to compute future Social Security benefits. The Administration reports that roughly 50% of wage earners made less than $30,000 per year.
  • The Mellon Foundation’s groundbreaking report on diversity in U.S. art museums provides critical data on employment and diversity and inclusion. Among its many insights, the survey reveals that although women make up roughly 60% of art museum staff and boast strong numbers in leadership positions, the landscape is not so promising for historically underrepresented minorities. From the report: "Among museum curators, conservators, educators and leaders, only 4 percent are African American and 3 percent Hispanic.”
Infographic by UpWork
  • The Freelancers Union, in partnership with freelance job search platform Upwork, recently released the results of their 2nd annual “Freelancing in America” survey. They found that one in three Americans freelance, with some 60% of respondents saying that they work freelance primarily by choice. The study also notes that the bulk of freelancers who left more traditional job structures currently earn more than they did prior to freelancing. This has important resonance with the museum community, as museums in both the U.S. and the UK continue to employ freelancers and consultants. 
  • The Harvard Business Review recently profiled a survey of 71,000 respondents taken by compensation software firm Payscale. According to the firm’s Chief Product Officer Dave Smith, employees are frequently wrong about how their pay compares to the market rate. The study found that beliefs about one’s pay factor significantly in employees’ decisions to leave a company. 
From "Most People Have No Idea Whether They’re Paid Fairly"

  • Several reports now give a more granular survey of the gender wage gap in the U.S. The Pew Research Center has reported that, despite the persistence of workplace inequalities, the wage gap is notably narrower for young women.
  • But, as the Economic Policy Institute reports, while women have made significant gains in corporate positions, women still hold some 56% of low-wage jobs.The pay gap numbers are even more pronounced when aggregated by race, ethnicity and level of education, according to the American Association of University Women.
From "The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (Fall 2015)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: 3D Ouchies

#3DPrinting #Tattoos @Makerbot
Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It’s Debatable

Nicole and I just got back from Atlanta, where we attended our first Association of Professional Futurists meeting. (In what we felt like was a fair cultural exchange, we led a bunch of the attendees over to the High Museum of Art on Friday night to enjoy live music and a “Drawing in the Galleries” drop-in activity. It was great.)

I’m a huge fan of sharing the learning that comes out of conferences, and try to make sure at least 10 people benefit from something I bring back—a fact, connection, technique, an opportunity.

In this case, I am eager to share two brilliant tools conference organizers used to help us explore the future of education in the US. I’m convinced that these tools—formal debate and forecasting decks—can be useful in any organization’s planning. While I can’t teach you everything about how to use them, I hope to plant the idea in your head that they are worth trying, point you to some resources, and encourage you to follow up. (And I will try them out inside AAM—stay tuned!)

First up: debate.

I’ve always been somewhat uneasy about formal, competitive, debate. Even though I know it is far more respectable than the so-called debates that embellish our presidential campaigns, I had the impression it was reductive (for or against! No shades of grey), antagonistic (and therefore divisive), and inherently insincere (since it teaches you to make a persuasive argument even for a position you feel to be wrong.)

Well, count me a convert. Melissa Wade, principal founder of the Atlanta Urban Debate League demolished all my assumptions, and showed us how debate can help teams:
  • Explore the nuances of positions by learning from and responding to counterarguments
  • Build trust and improve communications
  • Foster mutual understanding of and respect for conflicting positions
Perhaps most importantly, debate teaches critical listening—closely attending to and evaluating the content of what is being said. (A valuable skill all too often lacking in the workplace.)

Some of Melissa’s top students and coaches staged a formal (if abbreviated) debate for and against the proposition that there should be a major restructuring of education. Then it was our turn: she divided attendees up into two teams, and assigned us to argue for against the forecast that: “By 2040, all learning will be individualized and distributed.” The iterative process of making an argument, responding to questions, listening to the counter argument, asking questions and formulating a summation was an extremely effective method of exploring a complex question. Considering how well it worked in an extremely compressed format, I imagine it would be that much more effective when given more time and instruction.

I can think of all sorts of contentious issues that routinely arise in museums that could benefit from this approach: should we allow food (or balloons, or plants) in the galleries during events; is it ethical for board members to lend art for an exhibit, or have their own art in an exhibit, or borrow art for a party (I’m not making that one up…). The particular strength of this approach being that you may have to embrace (or at least thoroughly understand and articulate) a position you disagree with. A curator, for example, would have to live inside the head of a registrar for a while, while the registrar walks a mile in the archaeologist’s field boots.

Where this method could really shine, I believe, is in strategic planning. Imagine assigning your board and staff to teams to create briefs and argue for or against the statements that:

  • By 2020, the museum should and will have universal free admission
  • We should divest ourselves of half our historic properties, and help them transition into private ownership as residences or businesses
  • The museum should launch a major touring exhibit program
  • The museum should stop (fill in the blank with the thing your organization never can seem to stop doing, though the financial and mission-related ROI is contentious: renting the garden out for weddings; relying on block-buster exhibits; holding an annual gala)

I suspect you would find that, post-debate, the group would be much better positioned to have a civil and productive discussion and come to a good decision.

And if you don’t believe me, here’s Thinkr’s argument for the central role debate plays in shaping our decisions, in a thrifty 5 minute argument. 


I hate the title of the video, though—the point of debate in the real world, rather than competition, isn’t winning, it’s the quest for mutual understanding. As one of the interviewees say, “now when I meet a person, and they have a point of view that I would have thought…’wow, this person is completely out of their mind,” now I say ‘well, I’ve had to defend that position, so I know where they are coming from.”

CFM dabbled with a debate format, loosely speaking, in the Ethics Smackdown at the 2013 annual meeting: we recruited James Bradburne and John Simmons, respectively, to argue for and against loosening the restrictions on the use of funds from deaccessioning. However, now that I appreciate the power of formal debate preparation and format, I’m jotting down a list of other contentious field wide issues that could be tackled with a more rigorous approach. Perhaps at a future annual meeting we could recruit teams from a local college to take sides on the proposition that:
Unpaid museum internships are unethical and should be abolished, or
All museums should divest themselves of investments in fossil fuels, or
To qualify for government funding, museum staff should have to reflect local demographics

Perhaps you were a crack debater in high school or college, or maybe your son or daughter is treading that path. If not, you can draw on the extensive online resources at Debate Central or the International Debate Education Association.  And if you prefer video, Melissa’s organization has a great YouTube channel on debate training as well.

How about it? What would be on your list for a rousing, civil argument in your museum or in the field? I’d like to know. And in a future post, I'll share some thoughts on the second tool we used at the conference--forecasting decks. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Recommended Social Media Sources on Social Justice

Today's post is by Dr. Nicole Ivy, ACLS Public Fellow & CFM Museum Futurist-in-Training. In this earlier post Nicole outlined the issues she will be tackling in her 2 year stint at the Alliance. Follow her on Twitter: @nicotron3000
At last month’s MuseumNext conference in Indianapolis, Ravon Ruffin, creator of Brown Girls Museum Blog, made a bold call for increased museum engagement with digital spaces convened by people of color.  Her talk, “Mining the Digital Landscape, Engaging Communities of Color,” outlined the connections between social media and social justice.
Ruffin noted that “communities of color are creating alternative spaces online where they discuss, reflect [on], and criticize” various issues in our social world. She charged museums to consider—and consult—the important contributions of these online communities as part of how they re-imagine their futures in the digital age.    
In the spirit of this challenge, here’s a completely non-exhaustive list of some of the social justice websites blogs, and Twitter feeds that I find helpful for remaining engaged:
·         Colorlines publishes investigative reporting, analysis, and original news content focusing on racial justice issues.
·         Jacobin Magazine gives dispatches from the American political left. Its deeply-researched articles emphasize history, culture, and economics. Its contributors include journalists, academics, and activists.
·         Urban Cusp is the brainchild of writer and public theologian Rahiel Tesfamariam (@RahielT on Twitter). It covers social change through the lenses of faith and global perspectives.
·         Queering the Museum highlights the work of LGBT/Q community members in museum practice. In addition to detailed blog posts, the site features resources on queer history.
·         The Incluseum blog advocates inclusion in museums and showcases individual museums doing creative work in that vein. Founded by Rose Paquet Kinsley and Aletheia Wittman, it features regular contributors and guest posters alike.
·         The Feminist Wire brings scholars, poets, artists, and other thinkers together to provide feminist social and cultural critique. Supporting pro-feminist work, the site aims to “create alternative frameworks to build a just and equitable society.”
On Twitter:
·         @blklivesmatter is the Twitter feed of the movement founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. It gives real-time information on movement events and offers a space for digitally-organized, grassroots collective action.
·         #MuseumWorkersSpeak is committed to “turning the social justice lens inward” by examining labor issues in the field. They host Workers’ Wednesdays tweet chats every first Wednesday of the month at 2pm and 8pm EST.
·         @museumhue’s mission is to promote “the visibility [and] viability of people of color” through the use of arts and culture as a means for effecting social change.
·         Johnetta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson are two young BlackLivesMatter activists and advocates of non-violent protest based in Ferguson, MO. They are the co-founders of the This is the Movement newsletter. Honorable mention to deray’s blue vest, perhaps the best Twitter feed of outerwear committed to social justice.
·         @Dreamdefenders is the Twitter account of the Dream Defenders, a Florida-based, youth-led social justice organization committed to nonviolent resistance and organizing for change.
I will be joining #MuseumWorkersSpeak as co-host of their November Workers’ Wednesday tweet chat. I welcome you to join in and think with us to continue the conversation!
Who would you include in this list? What social justice websites does your museum consult or contribute to? Let us know!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Translating a Tail's Tale

#TailTalk #wearables #communication

Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Modern, Morbid, Cabinet of Wonder

 Post-2008, it is difficult to make the books balance for even the most well-established museum. Which makes me particularly interested in those hardy souls who brave the odds to start a new museum. What niches do these new museums fill? Evolving in the new fiscal landscape, will they find new ways of operating that they can then share with their older peers? Past bloggers in this series include the founders of the Climate Museum in New York City and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans. Today’s post is by Joanna Ebenstein--artist, designer, curator, writer, blogger, photographer and co-founder and creative director of the Morbid Anatomy Museum.

The Morbid Anatomy Museum is a new (just over one year old) museum in Brooklyn, New York. It began in 2007 as a blog, a tool to organize my research relating to a photo exhibition on medical museums for the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences. Soon after, it expanded to a research library (my own collection, which I made available to the public), a series of lectures and events around the world, and only now has become a brick and mortar museum, founded by myself and our board chair Tracy Hurley Martin. Exhibitions and public programming revolve around esoteric topics like anthropomorphic mouse taxidermy, mourning arts, alchemical imagery, moulage making, and museum history. We also host fieldtrips and popups in places such as Mexico, Amsterdam and Baltimore; a singles nights, collectors’ show and tells, and our most popular event to date, a quarterly flea market.

Morbid Anatomy Library
Morbid Anatomy faces what I imagine are a different set of challenges than many traditional museums. Where most museums begin with a physical space and a permanent collection we began as an online project with no collection, serving an international digital community. While most museums are established non-profits with a long history, we have only had our 501c3 status since April. And, while many museums struggle to engage with younger audiences and increase their online presence, this is precisely where our strengths lie.

Morbid Anatomy is a popular museum, drawing thousands of people to our exhibitions and near-daily events and classes, but we receive virtually no financial support via the traditional means of grants.  Nor, sadly, will we be eligible for most grants until we have three years of fiscal records. Therefore, in order to keep our doors open, we are forced to find creative and inventive ways to make ends meet. I find myself wondering if the reason many museum and library professionals are fascinated by Morbid Anatomy Museum is because they see in our current reality a possible future for their own museums. As more and more public funding disappears, many museums will, by necessity, be looking to different models in order to survive. Morbid Anatomy has been facing these challenges since our inception, and hopefully our experiences can suggest a way forward for other museums.
Dilletaniti Society

One of Morbid Anatomy’s greatest strengths is our social media following. We have tens of thousands of followers on all our social media platforms, with the largest (over 218k) and most active audience on Facebook. If each of our followers on Facebook donated $1 a year, the museum would be completely sustainable. But, as we have learned through experiment, this is simply not how it works. A related challenge is memberships. If most traditional museums rely on yearly memberships, and most memberships are geared towards locals who plan to visit the museum more than once or who want special site-specific perks such as backstage access, what might a membership look like which would interest the biggest concentrations of our followers which, Facebook tells us, are located, after New York, in Mexico City, London, Los Angeles, Bogota, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aries, and Chicago? These are problem/opportunities we are still trying to sort out.

"Art of Mourning"
Since opening, The Morbid Anatomy Museum has, to our surprise and delight, captured the public imagination here in New York. It has attracted a large, young (mostly 22-45 years old) and enthusiastic audience to our exhibitions and events, and been the subject of scores of articles in venues that include The New York Times, Die Zeit, The New Yorker, and The Wall Street Journal. It has been described as an “indispensable new institution” by The Financial Times and included on a list of top museums in New York. In a city filled with what are considered by many to be the finest museums in the country (The Metropolitan Museum or Art, MoMA, The American Museum of Natural History), how could this be?

The attention from the press, I acknowledge, may be driven by the novelty of what we do. (“Look! People cutting up birds!”) But I think our popularity with the public reveals something meaningful. It is my conviction that the larger, more professional museums leave many people cold. Morbid Anatomy is really more like a cabinet of curiosity—such as Charles Wilson Peale’s museum or the Teylers Museum in The Netherlands—than The Met. The Morbid Anatomy Museum is intimate, small scale, collaborative, friendly, and homelike, with a strong and engaged core community. Many of the objects in our permanent collection can be touched, and people who start as audience members often end up teaching or speaking for us. Exhibitions happen organically through conversations with our network of private collectors, and events are both education and appealing. The Morbid Anatomy Museum seeks to reunite pleasure and education, to provide a bridge between academia and the general public, to make learning fun and to complicate our notions of what a museum can be. It is also my belief that museums function as something like churches or temples for a secular society. They are special spaces outside our usual spheres of commerce, which encourage people to pause, slow down, and engage deeply in an emotional, aesthetic and intellectual fashion.

But in a society where culture, education, community and contemplation are not fundable values, how does a museum keep a roof over one’s head? This is a problem we think about by necessity every day at the Morbid Anatomy Museum. I would love for this blog post to begin a conversation—perhaps culminating in a panel at the next AAM conference—in which we workshop these ideas and try to create a new viable model for museum sustainability in a post-philanthropic age.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Futurist Friday: Send in the Drones

This week smart drone manufacturer 3DR is premiering Life After Gravity, an original sci-fi series described as "a thriller on a global scale—intergalactic, really—about the blessings and poisons of extraordinary power, the many conflicts of its pursuit, and the birth of a new era for our civilization when we’re suddenly relieved of the trappings of gravity." They plan to release 6 episodes by the end of the year.

Here's the trailer.

Which doesn't really tell you much, eh? According to a preview in Fast Company, "the series shows a dystopian future set primarily in Hong Kong and the Mexican jungle, and highlights the tension between the forces of science and antiscience, as well as "a menacing international space agency . . . a type III alien civilization," and even the beginnings of a new human age."

I bring it to the attention of all you Friday Futurists for two reasons:

  1. A free "dystopian future" series on YouTube? Absolutely worth a try, in my book. If it is impenetrable or boring, you can always flip over to the Walker CatVidFest channel.
  2. However this series turns out, the underlying technology is potentially disruptive. 3DR is using Life After Gravity to show off its drone cameras and editing software--what they call "complete video production in a backpack." You've probably seen "oh wow" drone videos of everything from fireworks to whale pods, and even a large number of museums (as featured in this CFM post last year.) Tools like this can democratize powerful storytelling and (not incidentally) make it more accessible to nonprofits. Note that the video series will be accompanied by a blog detailing the technical aspects of the work. 

So, watch the trailer, keep an eye open for the first episode, and let me know what you think of a) the plot and b) the tech. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Radical futures – new realities

 The future is too big a place to explore alone, so I am always delighted to share the work of other groups and individuals peering ahead into the Cone of Plausibility. Today on the Blog Sharon Heal, director of the UK Museums Association (@MuseumsAssoc), previews how their upcoming conference in Birmingham on November 5-6, will contribute to the collective foresight for our field.    

“Museums are about the future not the past”. This challenging and thought-provoking statement was made recently by Mark Holmgren the CEO of the Bissell Centre in Edmonton. Holmgren is a proponent of Upside Down Thinking  - a method of viewing issues from a different angle to generate radical solutions.

Holmgren’s speech at the Alberta Museums Association conference resonated with me as I have been wondering lately what the role of museums is in a troubled world where contradictory messages abound.

The news in Europe over the summer has been dominated by the refugee crisis, with harrowing images of displaced people desperately seeking a safe haven on every news channel. The inconsistency between the theory of free movement and the reality of stringent border controls has been sharply exposed.

Globalization has shrunk the planet but we also have the spectre of devolution, separatism and nationalism. Hyper-connectivity brings with it hyper-surveillance and a world where cyberbullying is a worse problem among teenagers than drug abuse.

We are told that smart cities and smart villages are the future and yet we know that digital exclusion and segregation exist on a mass scale. Where do alternative currencies and cash-less economies fit with communities that have no economic power whatsoever?

And of course museums face their own contradictions.

On the one hand museums are thriving. There has been a well-documented boom in museum building and refurbishment globally. Museums are popular with visitors; we have all witnessed blockbuster exhibitions with queues snaking around the block. And museums increasingly have political power and can influence government agendas internationally.

On the other hand museums are struggling. In many countries their funding base is being undermined by public spending cuts. Collections are under threat of unethical sales. And some museums have become tired and irrelevant - how interesting is a mining museum when the industry that spawned it is dead?

The question for museums is: can they help us make sense of these turbulent times and conflicting messages? And do they cater for those pushed to the margins of society?

Hence the theme for the UK Museums Association’s conference next month: Radical Futures. Under that heading delegates will debate “Saving the Museum” – can we rescue museums under threat of swingeing budget cuts and closure? Which campaigns work and which don’t? There will also be discussion about the Magic Business Model: we’re all searching for that illusive, cure-all business model but does it really exist and if so how does it operate? And a session entitled “Renew Your Vows” will examine the civic contract between the museum and society.

Other sessions will deal with contemporary concerns from migration to co-curation to working with people with autism and learning difficulties. Some notable happenings include:
  • The Diversity Forum—which will discuss what can be done to work towards a more representative workforce and how we can work in partnership with diverse communities. Increasing concern in the UK about the lack of diversity in the workforce and also how relevant museums are to diverse audiences. People who work in museums have an abundance of enthusiasm and often an abundance of professional qualifications – but increasingly we are monocultural and much less diverse than the audiences we purport to serve.
  • Museums Change Lives—the MA’s campaign to increase the positive social impact of museums.
  • The Museums Association’s new Code of Ethics for Museums, which will be presented for approval. In addition to discussing the new principles that are enshrined in the code, we will be looking at what can we learn from the legal, journalistic and charitable sectors about ethical engagement and the public.
  • A Museums Change Lives pop-up museum highlighting the work institutions are doing to make a difference in the lives of people. This is an ongoing campaign that is crucial in connecting museums to those who have been pushed to the margins in society.

“Radical Futures” encapsulates some of the big issues that the sector and society faces.  Thinking about and debating these issues will help us unlock what museums can be in the future and prevent us from getting stuck in the past.