Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Unwanted Water

According to the Floodsmart.gov website, coastal areas of the US account for more than half of the nation’s population and housing. This pattern is reflected the distribution of American museums as well. This being so, the rising sea levels and increased risk of severe storms that face our century is of critical importance to our field. In today’s post Sarah Sutton, principal of Sustainable Museums (@greenmuseum on Twitter) tells us about a recent conference that explored how historic preservation can adapt to the challenges of climate change.

What’s in your basement: the archives; a furnace? What about saltwater?

If you’re within two to seven feet of sea level today, then saltwater is in your future this century; if, like many early cultural sites, yours was built on land that was once wetland, then saltwater is already in your basement.

Imagine the sea regularly visiting your basement, cozying up to electrical panels, leaching brick foundations, or seeping into gift shop wares. Imagine if most high tides prevent visitor access and cost money for repairs. In New Hampshire at high tide saltwater sneaks into the basements of historic structures at Strawbery Banke Museum.

In historic Annapolis, MD, high tides in 2030 will flood downtown 180 times a year.

Composite showing dry and flooding instances
around 74 Bridge Street, Newport RI
To keep ahead of Portsmouth’s sea level rise staff at Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF), has had to raise electrical outlets and panels, and move heating systems out of saltwater’s reach. Still, they have only bought a bit of time for 74 Bridge Street, once the home and workshop of well-known colonial cabinetmaker Christopher Townsend.

Pieter Roos, NRF’s executive director, knew he needed more than preservationists working on this, and that the field as a whole needed reinforcements. That’s why 350 state historic preservation officers, archaeologists, architects and engineers, designers, planners, historic site staff, community organizers and climate scientists gathered last month at NRF’s Keeping History Above Water Conference. We talked about the risks and damage seen worldwide, shared the current process of assessments and planning, and described a few implementation examples.

What to do? Document, protect, salvage, move, or abandon?

The field has dealt with water issues before: major hurricanes; whole communities lost to man-made dams, and rediscovered when water use drained the reservoir; and rivers changing course to reveal or cover burial places and villages. What’s different?

Hurricanes and storm surges were once occasional events; now they are frequent, severe, and wide-reaching. Ninety percent of heat trapped since 1955 has been absorbed by the seas. Warming water expands, creating higher high tides and greater storm surges. Then they come back before we’re ready.

Preservationists at Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk (SCHARP) are inventorying sites, assessing their exposure to coastal erosion from sea level rise and increased storm activity. Citizen teams help identify and monitor sites; some they can rescue, others they cannot.

This led to discussions of triaging culture.

We heard how the National Park Service and Fernandina Beach, FL, both created internal metrics for calculating value and prioritizing sites for protection. And we heard how local communities, indigenous, ethnic, and otherwise, demand that their priorities be valued more than the calculations of outside professionals.

We viewed large-scale water barrier examples from London, Rotterdam, and Venice. We heard legitimate options for allowing buildings to float above high tides, or let water flow through lower levels. It requires heavy retrofitting to secure a building so it will float, harnessed to its poles, straight up and then back down again on its foundation. This suits simple structures under steady water rise. Few of our cultural sites comply, sitting as they often do near hard edges of urban waterfront settings, with century-by-century frame additions.

The alternative is permanently raising buildings: adding a lower level and lifting the structure above the flow. Domestic structures, okay; but raise a recorded historic structure? Change its relationship to its landscape and neighboring structures? Changes the nature of the building, and compromise the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Structures? This was quite a conundrum for many, but not all, participants.  

Howard Mansfield, in The Same Ax Twice (2001), explored how much change history can tolerate and still be history: if someone has an axe, made of a head and handle, and replaces the handle, and years later replaces the head, is it the same axe? Yes, he proposes, if the process of replacing the handle and head involved a true understanding the design, construction and use of the piece – the culture of it. SCHARP would agree. It is willing to change out place to keep structures. It may have no choice, as we may not: salvage archaeology often occurs right as sites cave to coastal erosion.

Water recirculation project, Brooklyn Botanic Garden
For more info see this post by S. Sutton
The first-responders gathered in Portsmouth mostly avoided discussions of letting anything go, but offered few answers for saving – for now. I suspect the solutions lie somewhere in this list:
  • Elevate mechanical hardware, ductwork, and power sources and outlets
  • Learn wet and dry methods for protecting basements and first floors
  • Adapt landscapes and buildings to cope
  • Add a Secretary of the Interior’s Resilience Standard reflecting climate response for historic structures
  • Add sites to state preservation plans to improve access to disaster funds
  • Collaborate in communities and across the profession to create new, faster, and better responses to multiple threats to sites
  • Strengthen citizen participation in identifying and recording endangered culture
  • Include communities when deciding what to save
  • Document the culture and architecture of climate response
 And prepare to let go. 

Image by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
courtesy of Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Museums: An Important Partner in Talent Development Models of Gifted Education

Since I've begun exploring the small but expanding universe of "museum schools," I've discovered they come in many different flavors. Some are schools actually run in and by a museum (like the Grand Rapids Public Museum School). Some are schools that integrate local museums into their operations (such as the Museum School of Avondale Estates in Decatur, Georgia).  Today Dr. Sally C. Krisel, President-Elect of National Association of Gifted Children and Director of Innovative and Advanced Programs at Hall County School System in Georgia, describes yet another variant: a school that behaves like a museum.

For decades educators and researchers have called our attention to the under-representation of economically disadvantaged, culturally different, and limited English proficiency children in programs for gifted students across our nation. There is, of course, the great personal tragedy of unrecognized and undeveloped talent; but, increasingly, this failure of traditional identification methods is becoming a matter of national urgency. Demographics are shifting in the United States. As a result, the numbers of low-income, culturally, linguistically, and/or ethnically diverse/different (CLED) students are increasing in our nation’s schools. We have become a nation where we can no long afford to fail to recognize or nurture the brainpower of any group! 

DVA Docemts
The use of traditional identification procedures is most often cited as the reason for this continued failure to identify gifted children among underrepresented populations. However, another component of identification precedes the misuse or over-reliance on standardized test scores and may be at least as responsible for the underrepresentation of certain groups of children. This component is teacher advocacy, often the gate that gets a child to the assessment phase of the referral process. Training teachers to understand that typical characteristics of giftedness may manifest differently in high-potential and high-ability learners who are CLED, low-income, and/or in some categories of disability is part of the solution. But then we must also be committed to providing exposure to quality educational environments for high-potential students across all racial, ethnic, language, and economic groups so they will have opportunities to demonstrate and further develop their exceptional abilities. 

In what ways might schools and communities offer a viable model for identifying and cultivating potential in students who have not had ample opportunities to develop their gifts, talents, and potential? I’d like to suggest that museum experiences are one important answer to those questions. And I’ll use the Da Vinci Academy (DVA) in Gainesville, Georgia, as one exciting example of this approach. 

DVA Cave Painters
The most common model for museum schools involves partnerships between schools and area museums. Students visit the museums, benefiting not only from museum resources, but also from enriched curriculum planned collaboratively by their teachers and museum staff. Some partnerships even include schools housed at the museum. There is no doubt that these partnerships can enrich the learning for students from underserved populations, sparking wonder and igniting interests. DVA, however, takes a different approach to museum school education--it IS the museum! 

At DVA 240 gifted middle school students from Hall County, an economically and culturally diverse community 50 miles north of Atlanta, create three professional-quality exhibits a year, each based on a theme that interests them most from one of their integrated curriculum units. Students also continually update a museum annex that houses permanent displays like the largest triceratops fossil in the Southeast and a 40-foot mosasaur fossil. DVA students, who represent the diversity of the community, serve as docents for more than 1500 visitors a year -- students of all ages, area seniors, state dignitaries, etc. Exhibits are interactive and visitor-centered, so students must determine the best ways to communicate with various groups. When decision making for exhibit content and format shifts from teachers and museum curators to students, the museum school approach develops students’ metacognitive skills, independence and confidence. Imagine the sense of personal power and self-efficacy that DVA students develop and how important this is for young adolescents, especially those who, due to circumstances beyond their control, e.g., poverty or their parents’ immigration status, may have felt powerless.

DVA Museum Work Room
But the positive impact of the DVA museum does not stop with the student researchers, artists, builders, curators, and docents. Many of those 1500 visitors are area children, two-thirds of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch. When these youngsters crawl into a simulated cave to learn about the art of prehistoric man, or dig for fossils, or watch a Chinese shadow puppet show in wide-eyed wonder, curtains are pushed back on their worlds! They are engaged in ways that spark interest, curiosity and a desire to know more. They are given chances to demonstrate abilities that might have been undetectable in a less stimulating environment, but now can be cultivated and nurtured by opportunity. 

E. Paul Torrance, in his 50-year longitudinal study of individuals who had scored high on measures of creative thinking in childhood, was able to determine characteristics that were highly correlated to adult creative achievement. Several of the traits of “Beyonders,” as Torrance called them, bring to mind the kinds of experiences that museums can provide to facilitate the fulfillment of early promise. Those traits are: diversity of experience, openness to experience, love of work, and persistence – the same traits I see in students who attend and students who visit DVA. 

Torrance concluded that one of the most powerful wellsprings of creative energy, outstanding accomplishment, and self-fulfillment seems to be falling in love with something – your dream, your image of the future. I wondered recently if I had caught a glimpse of a child’s dream when I spoke to a kindergarten student as he waited in line to get back on the bus after visiting the DVA museum. “So, what did you think?” I asked him. “Did you like the museum?” He looked up at me, his dark eyes sparkling, and said breathlessly, “This is the best day of my life!”

I watched that little Hispanic boy climb up the stairs of the bus that would return him to his school, one that is 95% minority and 100% F/R lunch, and I thought, “Oh, honey, I’m glad it was a great day, but I also hope it is the first of many days made richer, more meaningful, and more joyous by what you experienced. And I hope that light never goes out of your eyes.”

Runco, M. A., Millar, G., Acar, S., & Cramond, B. (2010). Torrance tests of creative thinking as predictors of personal and public achievement: A fifty-year follow-up. Creativity Research Journal, 47 (2), 361-368.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Role of Museums in an On Demand Economy

Hi-it's Sylvea....Today's guest post considers the role that museums play in our on demand economy. Thomas Fisher is a professor of architecture, former dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota and a very frequent museum-goer. He offers a possible framework for establishing a way forward in this changing landscape.

The Field Museum Library
      What role does a museum play when we can download images of almost every kind of object or work of art on our mobile digital devices at any time? Such a question may sound ignorant or philistine, but we have to ask it of ourselves if we have any hope of sustaining museums – or any institution – dedicated to the storing, assessing, and conveying of human knowledge and creativity. Museums are not alone.  The Higher education industry faces the same disruptive forces, with even more dramatic effect: Why sit in a lecture when you can get the same information faster and maybe even more accurately on your mobile device? And why come to a campus when you can now get a degree in some fields entirely online?
            The pervasiveness of digital access forces us to re-examine why we have museums – or universities – in the first place. Our predecessors established such institutions so that people would have exposure to and inspiration from the products of human imagination and understanding in hopes that they, our visitors or students, might make their own contributions to the store of human accomplishment (or at least see their own lives differently and more expansively). That institutional role has not changed, even as the way in which people access images or information has. So how do we create a new kind of museum that complements rather than competes with the virtual “museums” most of us carry around with us on our smart phones?
            One answer has involved museums making themselves more digitally friendly, enabling visitors to enhance their experience. While eminently sensible, that approach seems like a transitional solution, since it may be only a matter of time before the connection between the image and the information gets digitized across the full spectrum of artifacts. While there remains considerable value in seeing an object in person and in three-dimension rather than on a screen, the growing verisimilitude of virtual reality may take even that advantage away from bricks-and-mortar museums.
            Another answer lies in Marshall McLuhan’s useful observation that every new technology turns the old one into an art form, an insight that might help us think differently about the future of the museum in the age of digital reproduction.1 Museums preserve artworks and artifacts, but in the digital age, they might themselves become an art form, offering experiences not available through any other means. What might that look like? As with art itself, these institutions must ensure that people will continually return to the museum, much as they do their mobile devices, to experience something new.
            A weakness in the digital environment lies in its continually trying to assess what we like and to connect us to more of the same, which might work when trying to sell something, but which fails to offer people what they didn’t know they needed until experienced. For museums, this might mean moving away from chronological, geographical, or thematically related exhibitions toward the unexpected juxtaposition of apparently unrelated works within a collection. Asking the visitor to find the commonalities and differences among what’s on display, with enough background information, of course, to make the exercise fruitful and not frustrating could be another space of departure of curatorial work. Such seemingly random relationships may sound irrational or even an abrogation of curatorial responsibility. This approach, though, does what no digital environment can, which is to help visitors make creative connections among things and co-curate the experience they have in a museum on a continual basis.
This might sound like a return to where many museums began, as warehouses of work of widely varying quality, stacked up the walls or in cases, with little information or explanation. But do not let appearances deceive. The serendipitous discovery of relationships among objects in a collection prepares museum goers for the world in which we all now exist, one in which creativity and innovation have become key to the success of both individuals and communities. This, in turn, implies a new social role for museums as not just the place for us to see works on display, but also a place to instill the habits of mind that will help us adjust to the rapid economic, environmental, and demographic changes occurring all around us. It may sound like heresy to some, but the works in museums – and museums themselves – in this light become means to an end rather than an end themselves.
How can you make this happen? Consider inviting the public to not just view work on display, but to re-imagine the museum in ways that will make it more relevant and revelatory. That, too, may sound heretical, but that is what the digital revolution portends: a future in which we are all producers and consumers of culture.

1. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McGraw-Hill: New York, 1964, p. 38.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Bias Cache: Collecting Incidents and Interruptions of Workplace Bias in Museums

Hi--Sylvea here! Our guest authors for this post--Aletheia Wittman, Rose Paquet Kinsley, and Margaret Middleton--introduce The Incluseum's upcoming program on workplace bias at the CFM Demo Booth during the annual meeting.  The Incluseum is a project that advances new ways of being a museum through critical discourse, community building and collaborative practice related to inclusion in museums.  Aletheia Wittman is a cofounder, coordinator and consultant with The Incluseum. She also currently works as the Exhibits & Public Programs Manager at Seattle Architecture Foundation (SAF). Rose Paquet Kinsley is a cofounder and coordinator with the Incluseum and currently is pursuing doctoral studies at the University of Washington’s Information School Margaret Middleton is a Boston-based exhibit designer and developer with a blog called On Exhibit Last week Nicole outlined CFM's programming on museums and labor at AAM , including the CFM Demo Booth that she's project managing. And,  #MuseumWorkersSpeak introduced their slate of activities for the annual meeting. Interested in learning more about The Incluseum's work?  Read below, visit their website/ blog, follow them on Twitter, and stop by their demo!

bi•as n.: an inclination of temperament or outlook; esp : a highly personal and unreasoned distortion of judgment : PREJUDICE - American Library Association

Racial bias, ability bias, sexual orientation bias, gender bias - these are just some of the forms of bias experienced in the workplace. As museum staff and leaders, we might experience bias during day-to-day work in collections care, exhibitions, education as well as in interactions with colleagues and supervisors.

Power and identity play important roles in shaping experiences of bias. An individual from a dominant group expressing bias toward someone marginalized in society for their identity, reconstitutes the power that oppressive systems give them and also reaps the benefits. On the other hand, individuals who experience oppression themselves can be agents of bias; expressing identity bias towards someone whom they share that identity with (for example, a misogynistic woman.)

In making the claim that anyone can be the agent of bias we want to be careful not to perpetuate the myth of reverse sexism, reverse racism or reverse-any type of oppression. For example, it is a very different power dynamic at play when a woman’s behaviour is misogynistic toward other women than when a man is misogynistic toward women. A man’s bias, in this case, is institutionally reinforced and therefore, an expression of systemic sexism. A woman’s behavior or beliefs may be misogynistic or prejudiced but there is no institutionalized systematized power behind those opinions, and therefore she is not sexist.

However, even these examples fall short in describing the complex interactions of power and identity at play in experiences of  bias. Experiences of bias are always intersectional; informed simultaneously by an individual’s gender, class, race, sexuality, ability and other integral aspects of identity.

This Incluseum’s Bias Cache for CFM will offer a space for sharing stories of both experiencing workplace bias and interrupting bias. Stories contributed by participants will be part of a visual display but participants will share stories anonymously. Submitted stories will be written on colorful paper and sorted by respondents into labeled jars that indicate specific museum contexts: collections, exhibitions, programming, coworkers, supervisors and human resources.

By sifting through these stories one-by-one as well as seeing where they are "adding up" visually (analogue data visualization), the Incluseum’s goal is to draw attention to the need to recognize incidents of bias in museums. However, we want to go beyond identifying and visualizing the problem. We want to share all the ways that museum workers are effectively interrupting bias in museums so that effective strategies and tools for doing so can proliferate across the field. Anonymous stories will be shared via twitter by Incluseum on Thursday and trends in the Cache will be shared through Incluseum and CFM social media on Saturday morning.

AND you can help us prepare for Bias Cache!
      What do you want to know about workplace bias in museums?
      What would you like to see as outcomes of this activity?
      What “Room Agreements” would you like to have posted on the wall in the space during this activity? An example agreement could be: “I agree to give people space as they contribute their stories” or “I agree not to question other people as they submit stories.”

You can find the Incluseum elsewhere at AAM events working with the Diversity Committee (DivCom) at a an Open Forum on Diversity & Inclusion, a field trip to the Octagon Museum, Happy Hour at Old Ebbitt Grill (more info here), and from noon-5pm at the Museums & Race Gathering for Transformation and Justice on Friday May 27 (more info here.)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Refracting the Social Justice Lens: An Intersectional Approach to Labor Equity in Museums

Hi--Sylvea here! Elizabeth is giving a talk in New Zealand and while she's away Nicole and I will host CFM's blog. Today's post aligns quite well with Nicole's Monday Musing on museum internships and  Tuesday story about the CFM Booth at AAM's Annual Meeting.  Alyssa Greenberg, Nina Pelaez, Adrianne Russell, and Kate Swisher of #MuseumWorkersSpeak offer a thoughtful review of their organization's work over the past year. They invite you to attend several of their programs during the Annual Meeting where museum professionals and emerging members of the field can continue to develop tools for looking inward, while building more equitable and inclusive environments for staff and visitors. In addition to attending this programming, join the conversation on Twitter and visit their website!

Since last year’s rogue session, Museum Workers Speak has convened perspectives on the topic of museum labor and internal practices. Our monthly tweetchats and regional meetings in Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, NYC, Miami, and the Bay Area have brought together a range of voices whose varied experiences and frustrations reveal, not a unified concern with a single neat solution, but a multiplicity of interconnected issues that must be addressed as such.

We founded this group hoping to galvanize museums to “turn the social justice lens inward,” but the lesson we have internalized over this past year of activism is that the lens must refract. It has become apparent that a close examination on the topic of labor practice cannot take place in a silo -- it must be approached from a deliberately intersectional stance.

We must take into account how the many oppressive structures shaping the field (racism, sexism, elitism, among others) connect. While we are happy to see museum stakeholders begin to address many issues related to inclusion, these issues are often still analyzed and discussed in isolation, as discrete sessions or trends, rather than in totality. This year, we return to AAM to shift the conversation away from separate issues and toward an analysis of the underlying systemic power structure. We invite you to attend the following sessions and contribute to the dialogue on Twitter.

Thursday, May 26
MuseumExpo Demo in the Alliance Resource Center

Much of our initial rogue session’s success came from the presence of museum workers from all levels -- sharing and listening to the perspectives of individuals with varied experiences. This balance was a step toward breaking down the silos and echo chambers that often inhibit understanding.

Subsequent Museum Workers Speak conversations and events, however, have predominantly attracted graduate students and emerging professionals. Although these discussions provide a crucial space for individuals with less power to make their voices heard, we want to place them in conversation with current leaders and other changemakers in the field.  By convening a roundtable at AAM 2016, we hope to once again leverage the presence of museum workers at all levels to prompt generative, sector-wide dialogue.

We made a strategic decision not only to cover the CFM Demo’s theme of internships, but also to examine wage equity more broadly. An exclusive focus on securing paid internships for emerging professionals is rightfully criticized by many as favoring those who already benefit from significant privilege -- most often, white women. Our interest, as a collective, is to expand the scope of this dialogue and focus on how sustainable salaries enable workers from marginalized backgrounds to both enter and thrive in museum careers.

Featured roundtable participants:
      Jamie Daniel (UPI Local 4100, IFT/AFT; Chicago Center for Working Class Studies)
      Omar Eaton-Martinez (Smithsonian National Museum of American History; Museums and Race)
      Wendy Ng (Royal Ontario Museum)

This drop-in session will be facilitated by Adrianne Russell, Nina Pelaez, Kate Swisher, and Alyssa Greenberg and will include questions collaboratively developed by the roundtable participants, co-facilitators, and Twitter discussions.

Friday, May 27
Marquis Marriott - 901 Massachusetts Ave NW , Washington, DC
(Free registration required)

Museum Workers Speak’s mission centers on intersectionality: we believe race and labor must be discussed together. Therefore, a partnership with Museums and Race was a natural fit. We were also excited by this collaboration because the Gathering is free of charge and located in an “unbadged” space, providing access to local participants who may otherwise be kept out by steep conference fees.

Our partnership takes the form of a workshop co-created with the Empathetic Museum. Workshop attendees will practice critical self-reflection using a rubric developed by the Empathetic Museum with consultation from members of Museum Workers Speak.

The Empathetic Museum Summary Maturity Model: A Model for Inner Transformation of Museum Structures identifies benchmarks for institutional practices that reflect social justice values. In groups facilitated by members of the Empathetic Museum and Museum Workers Speak, participants will test out this tool by applying it to their own practices -- and workshopping the tool itself.

Co-facilitators from Museum Workers Speak:
      Alyssa Greenberg
      Alli Hartley
      Jennifer Keim
      Margaret Middleton
      Monica O. Montgomery
      Mariela Rossel-Pritikin
      Kate Swisher

Saturday, May 28
Committee on Museum Professional Training (COMPT) Breakfast
Salon 13
Marquis Marriott - 901 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC
($35.00 registration required)

Teresa Martinez and Alli Hartley, two founding members of the Museum Workers Speak Washington D.C. regional group, will share their advocacy work with members of the Committee on Museum Professional Training (COMPT).

Walter E. Washington Convention Center

Museum Workers Speak co-founders Adrianne Russell, Monica O. Montgomery, Alyssa Greenberg, Jillian Reese, and Nina Pelaez will frame a dialogue with attendees and remote participants around the question: What does it mean to advocate for an intersectional approach to labor equity? This session will offer strategies for challenging entrenched power dynamics that perpetuate exclusivity in the museum workforce.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Exploring the Future of Museums and Labor

Hi, this is Nicole. Yesterday, I posted some thoughts inspired by a local, intimate dialogue on museums and internships that I was honored to convene here at AAM. Today, continuing with the theme of museums and the future of work, I’m excited to share a preview of CFM’s demo on Museums and Labor happening in the MuseumExpo at the annual meeting in just two weeks. 

Following from TrendsWatch 2016’s profile of changes in the nature and flow of work itself in the section “Labor 3.0,” we’re exploring the issue in a suite of ongoing programs over the course of three days. We will host flash sessions, open forums, one-on-one meetings, and interactive experiences designed to tackle big questions around access, equity, diversity and inclusion as they relate to the future of museum work. I hope that you will use this post to spark your thinking--and map your schedules. Join us in person in DC and on Twitter using the hashtags #Labor3pt0 and #AAM2016.

We are honored to be joined in this work by a group of capable and committed partners. My deepest, heartfelt thanks to the entire team of folks lending their considerable talents to this effort:

Porchia Moore (Visitors of Color Tumblr)
Adrianne Russell (#MuseumsRespondtoFerguson)
Jamie Daniel (UPI Local 4100, IFT/AFT; Chicago Center for Working Class Studies)
Omar Eaton-Martinez (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)
Makeba Clay (Smithsonian National Museum of African Art)
Anne Gregory (GapJumpers)
Suezette Robotham (The Higher and Hire Group)
Day Al-Mohamed (US Department of Labor)
Chris Taylor (Dept. of Inclusion and Community Engagement, Minnesota Historical Society)
DivCom (The AAM Diversity Professional Network)
Brittany Webb (The African American Museum in Philadelphia)
Lanae Spruce (Smithsonian National Museum of African American History)

For the CFM Demo schedule-at-a-glance and a full list of recommended events, follow the link to your guide to museums and labor at the annual meeting. I’m also delighted to announce that we’ve added three new events to the line-up.

Friday, May 27

3 – 4:00 pm:  Access, Inclusion and Dis/Ability. Join Day Al-Mohamed, Senior Policy Advisor with the US Department of Labor, speculative fiction writer, and member of CFM’s founding Council for a drop-in session on strategies for highlighting intersectionality in museums. I’m super psyched about her calls for community advisory committees in museums to increase community engagement.

4 – 5:00 pm: Retention and Workplace Inclusion. Chris Taylor leads a drop-in session on the value of fostering a culture of inclusion in the museum workplace and the importance of retention strategies to achieving your organization’s diversity goals.

Saturday, May 28

9 – 10:00 am: Museums and Living Wage. Join Elizabeth Merritt and the CFM team in an interactive activity exploring the living wage in your community. Use MIT’s Living Wage Calculator to map where you are and get real-time data on comparables that you can use to help your organization benchmark its wages.

Check the blog regularly across the next two weeks for guest posts by collaborators from the Incluseum; Stephanie Cunningham and Monica Montgomery of Museum Hue; and Museum Workers Speak outlining their events.

In the meantime, here are two questions that have been guiding my thinking in planning for the demo. 

Why Labor?

Sustainability is top-of-mind across the cultural heritage sector. Museums, especially, are concerned with the long-term impacts they will have on the physical and cultural environments in which they do their work. Part of this conversation about sustainability includes a discussion of what Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole names as the “social value of museums.” In her keynote at last year’s annual meeting, Dr. Cole pointed to diversity as essential for the sustainability of our field. Museums, she argued, “cannot continue to be of social value if we do not do what is required to have more diversity in who works in our museums, in the work we present in our museums, in the audiences we welcome to our museums, and in the philanthropic and board leadership in our museums.” When our museum workforces reflect the diversity of race, ethnicity, ability, and gender expression within our communities; when they are safe spaces for queer and LGBT employees; and when they offer fair opportunities for compensation and career advancement, they are better able to anticipate and create more vibrant social worlds.    

What Can We Do?

Ensuring equitable futures in our nation’s museum workforce is a big job that benefits most from a varied tool-kit. From blind auditions and challenge-based hiring to algorithms, tools for mitigating hiring bias run the gamut between the analog and the high-tech. Public- and private-sector organizations are increasingly turning to a wide array of strategies to help them identify talented applicants. I encourage you to sign up for a time between 12 noon and 3 pm on Friday, May 27 to talk with industry leaders who are pioneering some of these tools. 

Additionally, activists, students, and other museum professionals continue to search for ways to make museums work less as a province of the privileged by being more accessible for emerging professionals with less economic means. 

But the focus on pathways to employment only address one dimension of access. Creating welcoming workplace cultures and retaining employee diversity are equally important. We must find ways to increase equity at all levels of museum work. Our future depends on it, and our partners are helping our field do just that. I invite you to think with me--and with them. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below and join me in the booth!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Monday Musing...

Hi, Nicole here! Last week, AAM brought together over twenty museum professionals from the Washington, DC area for an intimate and in-depth dialogue about museums and internships. This convening gathered interns, museum directors, leaders of museum studies programs, and other museum professionals to talk candidly about the issues shaping internships as pathways to museum work. I was honored to lead this project with the support of my colleagues here, including expert moderating efforts by CFM’s own Elizabeth Merritt and thoughtful framing by President and CEO Laura Lott. This dialogue is part of the larger arc of my work  as a Mellon/ACLS Public fellow with CFM.  You may recall that I’ve been exploring museums, equity, access and inclusion in the context of the future of work here on the blog and in my fellowship more broadly.

Last week’s dialogue on museums and internships was only a preliminary step in in-person engagement with these themes. Tomorrow, I’ll be posting on how CFM is grappling with these issues in greater depth with our demo in the MuseumExpo at the annual meeting. I’ll also post more about the outcomes and specifics of this dialogue in the weeks to come (whew, there’s a lot to process and share). But, for now, in this week’s Monday Musing, I want to share a few big themes and questions that stuck out to me--and solicit your feedback on how changes in the internships pipeline might impact the future of the museum field.

One of the issues that arose early in the conversation was the challenge of defining what an internship actually means—both for interns and for host institutions. The US Department of Labor has established six criteria to help "for-profit" private sector interns determine whether they qualify for minimum wage and overtime according to the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Dept. of Labor emphasizes that internships must, primarily, be for the benefit of the intern. In short, internships must be mainly educational. The National Association of Colleges and Employers, however, is pushing for more expansive standards. They offer their own, concise definition of internships and outline seven criteria that opportunities should meet in order to be considered proper internships. I recommend taking a look if you’re at all interested in best practices for internships in multiple sectors.

What’s striking to me across this discussion, and in the in-person convening, is just how complex the issue of internships and fair compensation actually is. Even the policy experts in the room disagreed on the specifics and terms (e.g. stipend vs. payment, experience vs. job).  While I, personally, am compelled by the importance of providing payments to interns, I understand the thorniness of funding challenges—especially for smaller museums—that make these issues so tough. I’ve been reading Emily Turner’s post on the Incluseum blog for guidance on the ethics of paid internships and strategies for best practices. AAM has also compiled a list of readings that offer insight on the issue.

But a bigger question for me, beyond the challenges of defining the term itself, is the issue of internships as part of a broader pipeline toward museum employment. As many in the field continue to stress unpaid internships have increasingly become pre-requisites for museum work; meaning that those who can afford to work for free—or who are able to finance unpaid internships through other paid work—will be primarily the people who can take advantage of these opportunities. Internships, then, have bearing on both training and sustainability. If our field is unable to attract and retain a diverse museum professionals, how can we hope to remain relevant and relatable to the publics we serve? We must consider what strategies are available to help us do just that. What might it mean for museums to explore other forms of credentialing beyond the internship? What kinds of funds can museums employ to make sure that opportunities are broadly available to people who cannot afford to work for free? What models are there for successful internships that involve retention and how can we make sure that our field reflects the broad diversity of the communities that we serve? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this huge issue of great importance for the future of our field! What examples or recommendations have you or your museum turned to? 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

ReMAKING Learning through Hand-on Education

CFM’s 2014 report Building the Future of Education (Museums and the Learning Ecosystem), shared a vision in which all children draw on a vibrant learning grid of educational resources. In this future, “school” isn’t just a building where kids go to sit in a classroom—it’s a function distributed throughout the community in museums, libraries, makerspaces, parks, public gardens, private companies and community centers. Pittsburgh is farther along the path to this future than much of the US—thanks to that city’s high concentration of museums, foundations, institutions of higher education and companies dedicated to improving education. Today Suzanne McCaffrey, director of new media at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh maps the connections that form the learning grid in her city, and the Museum’s role as a key node in that emerging network.

When the day begins for the Remake Learning Network, it begins for more than 200 organizations and 3,000 individuals in Southwestern Pennsylvania who use education technology and digital media resources in the region to advance a new model for educating children. The many participants include educators, youth counselors, museum staff, librarians, game designers, artists and more. The paths they take are numerous too-found in programs, curricula and spaces all across the region, from school districts to libraries and museums, afterschool programs to community housing for young adults.

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has been a part of the Remake Learning Network since its early days, recognizing the need to integrate new technologies and media into its core philosophies of experiences based on "Play with Real Stuff", and a reliance on research to understand how children and families learn in informal spaces such as museums and libraries. The Museum created its tinkering space MAKESHOP in 2011 with the help of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE) and Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. Here, children and families create with and explore old and new technologies such as an old-school loom and 3D printer, hammers, saws and wood, green screen animation, sewing and soldering. The space has become a model for family and community maker programs across the country.

Soon museum staff recognized we could make a wider impact by bringing the experiences of MAKESHOP into schools and the community. By meeting children and families where they were, we began helping design and create makerspaces, train staff, and bring programs to children and youth in a wide variety of places (from the Hosanna House community center to local schools, YouthPlaces teen hubs, and Gwen's Girls afterschool programs with post foster-care young adults of Action Housing). Partnering with schools and organizations is a core philosophy of the Children's Museum, and being a member of the Remake Learning Network is conducive to facilitating these types of relationships.

Through a more formal partnership with UPCLOSE, the Museum also values the importance of knowing how, where and why learning in informal, non-school spaces happens. Being able to understand the learning strategies and approaches taken through making, and training other educators in the process, have become core strengths of MAKESHOP and its educators. To help educators across the region embrace “making” as a way to educate, the Museum offers Maker Educator Boot Camps, we helped to create the West Virginia Maker Network and launched the “Kickstarting Making” project last year. Through this program we helped 10 local schools establish makerspaces and programs through their own crowd-funding efforts. This program will scale to a national level at five pilot locations this year.

Through the Making + Learning framework, the Museum and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, along with partners from across the country (Exploratorium, the Chicago Public Library, North Carolina State University Library and the Maker Education Initiative) are also helping museums and libraries create and sustain effective makerspaces and programs. A publication and website to support this work will be released this May.

Next week the Remake Learning Network will present “Remake Learning Days.” From May 9 – 15 we will use these events to showcase, share, and further their endeavors toward the future of learning. More than 200 events across Southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia (many of them free) will present work and offer activities for students of all ages. Attendees will be able to explore circuitry, build trebuchets, record with youth media reporters, and tour places such as schools, Fab Labs and the game company Schell Games. Many schools are taking a day or evening to immerse students in STEAM activities such as building and programming robots, rockets and light sabers, coding, screen printing and making cardboard arcade games using Scratch and Legos.

For Remake Learning Days, the Children's Museum will host families from its school outreach projects for making activities; welcome the PNC Grow Up Great Mobile Learning Adventure; host MAKEnight, a 21+ night of making and mingling; and announce the dates for this fall's Maker Faire Pittsburgh. It will also hold a charrette or planning session with community stakeholders, many from the Remake Learning Network, to brainstorm ideas for renovating a nearby historic library and the future role it will play in informal and formal learning.

Remake Learning Days also includes 35 opportunities for professional development, with educator training on topics such as design thinking in the classroom, formative assessment tools for technology, computer instruction, digital literacy and educational standards. The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children will hold the UnConference: Maker Tots, to focus on instructing early learners in making processes.

Remake Learning Network provides its members many unique opportunities and connections for collaboration, inspiration and funding in the region. As an active participant, Children's Museum of Pittsburgh strives to continue to develop creative, curious and joyful avenues of informal education for children, youth and families that will play an important role in the future of education.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Oh Brave New World of Biohacking

@GrindhouseWetware #bodyhacking #cyborg #Circadia
(learn more @futureofmuseum session @AAMers #AAM2016 conference)
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, May 3, 2016

Appraising the Arts with Sense, but no Dollars

I see TrendsWatch, CFM’s annual forecasting report, as a jumping off point for deeper explorations of each year’s themes. Every chapter is essentially a lure, hoping to attract the attention of people who know more about these topics than I do, and to bring diverse perspectives to bear. This week Michael Feldman offers some thoughts on the Happiness chapter in TrendsWatch 2016, which examines the rising popularity of non-financial metrics of success. Michael is an editorial team member at Createquity and serves their Research and Alliance-Building teams. If you aren’t already familiar with Createquity, I hope this post puts them on your radar—founded by “serial entrepreneur” Ian David Moss (who also works for Fractured Atlas), this nonprofit is devoted to making the arts ecosystem work better for artists and audiences. That means a lot of their research and content is spot-on for museums as well. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

TrendsWatch seeks to identify the most important issues in the museum world.  But what if the most impactful thing we could do is something that no one’s talking about?  The challenge is how to prioritize our limited energies to make the most difference.  Createquity, a virtual think tank and online publication, looks at these opportunities through the lens of our definition of a healthy arts ecosystem.  Under this framework, we measure every opportunity by the “yardstick” of “improving people’s lives in concrete and meaningful ways.”  But to understand what it actually means to improve someone’s life, Createquity has had to become familiar with the emerging, multidisciplinary scholarship around wellbeing.  The TrendsWatch 2016 article on measuring happiness may spark a conversation about how museum practitioners construct their own yardsticks that will help define the future of the museums in society.  

Last summer, Createquity published an in-depth article, Part of Your World, about how to value the arts in context with other ways of trying to make the world a better place. We feel that incorporating the perspective and terminology of wellbeing provides an opening for the field to participate in broader conversations about happy and healthy communities. This work is inspired in part by philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s perspective on wellbeing. She prioritizes arts and culture and believes that the clearest ties to them both is through the two principles of “Senses, Imagination, and Thought” and “Play.” The former includes “being able to use imagination and thought in connection with experiencing and producing works and events of one’s own choice, religious, literary, musical, and so forth,” and the latter refers to “being able to laugh, to play, to enjoy recreational activities.”

In the course of this investigation, we found several additional indices that could be useful for the museum field. One assessment that relies on self-reported perceptions of wellbeing - the Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Index - was unveiled in 2008 and has a national and international version. The U.S. version measures life evaluation, physical health, emotional health, healthy behavior, work environment, and basic access via a 55-question survey distributed to 1,000 Americans per day. Its ultimate ambitions are to be “a daily measure determining the correlation between the places where people work and the communities in which they live, and how that and other factors impact their well-being.” Other examples of wellbeing and quality of life indicator systems include the Mercer Quality of Living Survey and two products from the Economist Intelligence Unit: the Global Liveability Survey and the Where-to-be-Born Index. The Gallup-Healthways, Mercer, and Global Liveability surveys rank quality of life in individual cities rather than entire nations. The local focus of these indices can enable museum professionals and stakeholders to speak to the “ability of museums to improve wellbeing in specific communities” with foundations and others, as suggested in recommendations at the conclusion of the TrendsWatch 2016 chapter on happiness.

While leading economists continue to work on metrics for wellbeing, replacing GDP with happiness measures appears to be a distant prospect for the U.S. federal government at the moment. There may be some interest in parts of the U.S. government in using other measures to illuminate areas of activity that fail to be captured fully by classic “dollars and cents” measures like GDP. According to Justin Fox, Daniel Kahneman had worked with the economist Alan Krueger (former Chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers) on creating “national time accounts,” notably in a 2004 paper. But, as Fox writes:

[T]here are limits...to how far the [the U.S. Government’s] Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) is willing to go. A 2010 paper by several BEA officials concluded that any GDP expansion should “focus on economic aspects of non-market and near-market activities…and not attempt to measure the welfare effect of such interactions.” Even then, they warned, “it is critical that such an expansion of the scope of the accounts not occur at the expense of funds needed to maintain, update, and improve the existing GDP accounts.”

We look forward to the continued insights and varied perspectives from the Center of the Future of Museums' community. Indeed, at the end of our Part of Your World investigation, we pose unanswered questions on issues like how to account for present and future value of arts and cultural products. That question lands right in this community's wheelhouse and we’d love to hear from you. And props for the nice photo shoot of Elizabeth testing the “other species” component of wellbeing under Martha Nussbaum’s capability approach. (See Nussbaum’s  explanation of this list of “central human capabilities” in Part of Your World, op cit).

CFM Director Elizabeth Merritt testing the hypothesis that happiness is a warm puppy. Image Credit: Josh Morin with the American Alliance of Museums.