Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Welcoming New Citizens: A Natural Role for Museums

When Nicole Ivy and I were working on the 2016 edition of TrendsWatch, CFM’s annual forecasting report, we identified mass migration as a global trend having a huge impact on museums and their communities. The topic was so complex we spent over a year reading up on the issue and collecting stories. The result of that research is “Reshaping the World: migration, refugees, and forced displacement,” Chapter 4 in TrendsWatch 2017, which the Alliance will release at the end of February. Even after we locked the text, examples of the good work museums do with and for immigrants and refugees continued to pour in. Today’s guest post by Adam Reed Rozan, Director of Audience Engagement at the Worcester Art Museum, shares one of those stories.

Welcome! That was what was said to the 48 men and women--representing 23 different countries, along with their family and friends--as they arrived at the Worcester Art Museum on the morning of Wednesday, January 11, 2017. The occasion was a naturalization ceremony- both a formal, legal proceeding, and a joyous occasion.

The Worcester Art Museum’s journey to a naturalization ceremony took some time and was a process begun in 2012, when the museum unveiled its vision statement, a tool that helped describe where we were going as an institution. Building upon our history and aligning with the Museum's mission, we started internal conversations around the idea that a museum could also become a community space, a civic minded institution that could use art to better engage with and support the community we wanted to serve.

Working through the Audience Engagement Division, a team that comprises four departments—Guest Services, Education & Experience, Studio Classes, and Marketing, Communications, and Design—we began to discuss the idea of providing civic-based programming. Our first foray into this realm was a summer program entitled Art + Market, which combined farm stands with area artists and community organizations. Now in its fourth season, Art + Market has grown into a neighborhood staple, running weekly on Saturdays from early spring to late summer with an anchor farm serving our community.

As we developed the Art + Market program, we gained new confidence, learning from what worked and what didn’t and, in the process, refining our understanding of this type of outreach. Just as conversations can create new conversations, programs have a way of creating new programming. Our interests and commitment grew, and we began to explore other roles for the museum within the community. We became aware that the polling locations where the museum is located had been in flux for several years. We reached out to Worcester City Clerk’s office and in a short time the museum become the home for Ward 3 Precinct 2 voting in Worcester, MA. That was 2014 and this past November 8, the museum hosted its first Presidential Election voting. This was an opportunity that provided us a platform to connect our civic activity to our curatorial activity. Members of the museum came together to discuss and work on a project that responded to voting and the election, and we developed an exhibition titled Picket Fence to Picket Line: Visions of American Citizenship.

When the museum became a polling location and developed an exhibition on citizenship, it opened the doors to a conversation that had begun almost four years ago on how to host naturalization ceremonies and become a site where new citizens take the oath of citizenship.

Working with the United States Federal Courts and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, we were invited to host the ceremony. Given a short lead time, we developed a cross departmental team, and held a series of group check-ins. Our efforts were supported by the office of United States Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass).

Courtesy Barbara Roberts
With an internal and external working team in place, we rounded out the needed programmatic components by reaching out to community partners. We worked with sixteen 8thgrade ushers from the Nativity School of Worcester to seat the new citizens and their guests; presentation of the colors from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s ROTC and Veterans, Inc., a local veteran’s support organization; music and singing from the Bancroft School accompanied by the presentation of an American flag which had flown over the U.S. Capitol, was presented to the museum by a 6th grade student of Ghanaian descent, who also led the museum in the Pledge of Allegiance. To support the program artistically, we invited two poets and a visual artist to attend, with the hope that the event might inspire drawings and poems. As an art museum, we try to include artists in everything we do, providing opportunities to make art as well as show art. To extend an ongoing welcome to the new citizens, we gave each a Worcester Art Museum family membership. With the support of Congressman McGovern’s office, we provided hand-held flags for everyone in attendance as well for each new citizen a pocket constitution, voter registration cards, and information from the Worcester City Clerk’s Office.

As a museum, we host hundreds of programs of all sizes and complexities each year, connecting our public with our collections. The naturalization ceremony took this one step further: we became the community and the community became us.

WAM Update on Naturalization – http://wamupdates.worcesterart.org/2017/01/worcester-art-museum-to-host.html

Naturalization Ceremony Press - http://www.telegram.com/news/20170111/worcester-art-museum-to-host-naturalization-ceremony-today

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What’s in a Name? A Resource for Difficult Conversations

Yale recently released a Report of the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming. I’m using this post as an addendum to TrendsWatch 2016, adding the renaming report to TrendsWatch’s list of resources museums can use to navigate difficult decisions regarding representation, identity, and material culture. The process the committee used to gather input and conduct research is a model for thorough, inclusive, open-minded consideration of a contentious topic; and the principles presented in the report provide a useful framework for museums dealing with similar controversies in their own institutions or in their communities.

Yale empaneled the renaming committee as part of an ongoing conversation sparked by student protests calling on the university to rename Calhoun College (one of twelve residential colleges housing undergraduates). John Calhoun was a 19th century US Senator from South Carolina who also served as vice president and secretary of state, and was an outspoken defender of slavery.  As documented in the report, some students feel that the Calhoun name “is emblematic of a more general phenomenon of racial oppression and injustice at Yale.” In a video (embedded below) that accompanied the release of the report, Jonathan Holloway, Dean of Yale College and a member of the committee, said “we tell stories about who we are by the names we use for buildings, places, or things.” This caught my attention, as museums deal with the consequences of such storytelling on several fronts

Some museums struggle with their own problematic names. For example, last fall Cornell University announced it was changing the name of Cornell Plantations to Cornell Botanic Gardens noting that “for many the name Plantations evoked negative associations with slavery and racial oppression.” Other museums are reexamining the stories told by the names (terminology) used to describe their collections. Most notably, the Rijksmuseum has altered the titles of several hundred works in their 1.1 million piece collection to remove racially and culturally offensive terms.

The 24-page report presents a long, thoughtful examination of the issues surrounding renaming in general. After reviewing issues of renaming in general, and the history of John C. Calhoun and Calhoun College in particular, the committee explores three principles to guide decision making.

The first principle presumes that renaming on account of values should be an exceptional event. “Holding all else equal, it is a virtue to appreciate the complexity of those lives that have given shape to the world in which we live.” The report notes, for example, that Mahatma Gandhi, “the Indian independence leader who inspired a worldwide movement of nonviolent protest, held starkly racist views about black Africans.”

With the second principle, the report affirms that sometimes renaming on the basis of values is warranted. In making this determination, the committee stresses the importance of identifying a namesake’s “principal legacy”—the lasting effects that cause a namesake to be remembered. For example, the report notes that Frederick Douglass, honored for his principal legacy as an abolitionist and advocate for civil rights, held racist views regarding Native Americans. That principal legacy can then be evaluated, for example, in light of an organization’s mission and the original reasons for honoring the namesake.

The third principle proposes that decisions to retain a name or to rename come with obligations of nonerasure, contextualization, and process. Changing a name, the report notes, does not have to be synonymous with erasing history. “Changing a name in one place may impose obligations of preservation in others.” The committee observes that affirmative steps to avoid the problems of erasure may include “museum-like exhibits” along with public art and other forms of interpretation.

This process and principles reflected in the renaming report may be useful for museums reexamining their own issues about naming (whether of buildings, programs, objects). They also provide a framework for museums helping their community make decisions about renaming and reconsideration of monuments and memorials. Museum archives and collections can provide context for the deliberations, scholarship can illuminate the context of original decisions at different points in history, and museums as trusted conveners can facilitate difficult conversations, and solicit input from a wide variety of stakeholders.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Shaping the First 100 Days

I hope you read my colleague Gail’s Tuesday post encouraging museumers to participate in the upcoming Museums Advocacy Day (February 27-18).

And in a nice bit of timing, the first episode of 100 Days for Good, a new podcast from Independent Sector, reinforces that message.

The first #100daysforgood guest is Kyle Lierman, who just finished clearing his desk in the White House’s Office of Public Engagement, where he was liaison to Young Americans and coordinated outreach on education issues.

Kyle didn’t share any specific news on his successor (though I’ve read reports that President elect Trump has recruited Omarosa Manigault to play a role in community outreach. Manigault worked for Al Gore in the Clinton administration.) However public engagement is organized in the new administration, Kyle’s advice to the nonprofit community is to make sure they get a lot of input on what we feel they should do. He recommends both digital and in-person advocacy and notes that a great way to do this is through national associations and groups. (Museums Advocacy Day!!!) Much of what Kyles says could have been taken directly from the Alliance’s advocacy 101 training: start by building a relationship (it’s harder for political representatives to say “no” to people they know), and bring in people you are serving and for whom you do your good work. 

Strategically, as we enter the first 100 days of the new administration, Kyle’s advice to the nonprofit sector is to proactively speak up for what you think is right. “Be vigilant,” he says, “and go after things in a big way.”

“It’s on nonprofits and foundations to fill a leadership void that may occur because of the change in administration. It’s also on them to catch the inspiration people are feeling right now in their communities, and channel that positively.”

“Why advocate?” he concludes, “These goals are in our reach, you just have to show up.

I’m going to follow 100 Days for Good (#100daysforgood) and recommend you add it to your podcast queue as well. Upcoming episodes will look at the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act; how executive orders, the Congressional Review Act and agency directives may impact our collective work; and the tax reform debate. Stay tuned…

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Stress Mapping

@HusseinChalayan  @DesignMuseum #WearableTech
#biofeedback #FearandLove
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, January 17, 2017

Be a Truthteller. Advocate for Museums.

Today Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied, Vice President for Government Relations & Communications here at the Alliance, can help rebuild an appreciation for facts in a year awash in fake news.

There are dozens of reasons to be part of Museums Advocacy Day in February, but this year, there’s a critical new message to carry to lawmakers: the role of museums as truthtellers in a “post-truth” world.

A decade after comedian Stephen Colbert introduced ‘truthiness’ into the American lexicon, Oxford dictionaries selected “post-truth”—defined as objective facts being less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief—as its 2016 word of the year.

The word of the year is meant to be one that captures the “ethos, mood or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.” Post-truth was selected because of its increased usage related to the Brexit vote in the UK and, of course, the 2016 presidential election, during which the Washington Post blog Fact Checker (which rates political claims on a scale of 0-4 Pinocchios) reported on 314 mostly false claims by presidential candidates. An ally of one presidential campaign was even quoted as saying, “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts.”

Over time, surveys have tracked the public’s loss of confidence in government, the criminal justice system, banks, corporations, organized religion, public schools, and the traditional media. And 2016 made things a whole lot worse for those in the media: more than 200 websites routinely shared fake news that was viewed 213 million times during the 2016 campaign.

So what can be done to disrupt the pattern of fake news, restore trust in public entities, and bring about more civil discourse?

Enter museums.

Americans view museums as one of the most important resources for educating our children and as one of the most trustworthy sources of objective information, according to AAM’s public opinion polling. Reach Advisors found that museums rated higher in trustworthiness than any other set of institutions measured, including Wikipedia, local newspapers, and even academic researchers.

The Organization of American Historians study found that museums are considered a more reliable source of historical information than books, teachers, or even personal accounts by relatives. (Sorry, grandpa!)

So museums not only have amazing stories to tell—about their work with schools, teachers, veterans, seniors, persons with disabilities, and underserved communities—and important collections to protect, they can also boast about public trust. Museums are credible, respected, and beloved; what lawmaker wouldn’t want to be associated with those qualities? But if we are not at the table, no doubt museums will be on the table when Congress makes critical budget decisions.

Make the case that federal support is a worthwhile investment—and that the charitable deduction is a financial lifeline for museums—by participating in Museums Advocacy Day, February 27-28 in Washington, DC.

What else can museums do?

Jeffrey Herbst, president and CEO of the Newseum, argues that the way to address fake news is not by addressing the supply of it, but the demand for it. He notes that to lessen the demand for fake news requires real news and information becoming available to more people in a more engaging format. And museums do this beautifully, spending $2 billion each year on education, three-quarters of which is spent on K-12 students, often tailored to the state, local, or core curriculum. One example is the Newseum teaching media literacy—discerning what is true and what is not by analyzing sources and evidence—to millions of students through the free online NewseumED program.

Museums can also follow the model of the philanthropic sector.

Writing about “the pervasive loss of trust in major institutions of government and society,” MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch recently said, “To be effective, philanthropy as a sector must facilitate, and operate in, an environment of trust and goodwill…We must listen more, be more flexible and inclusive, and allow those who experience directly the problems we seek to address even more room to participate fully and lead. We cannot take trust for granted; it must be earned in all we do, every day.”

In this “post-truth” world, museums have an opportunity to demonstrate their immense value by continuing to open their doors, share knowledge, engage new and diverse audiences, foster innovation, and retell the stories from our history.

Join us in staking out museums’ rightful place as truthtellers. We invite you to share your story at Museums Advocacy Day. AAM members—and members of our key partnering organizations—register for free. See you in Washington, DC!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Benthic Museology

@museoatlantico #newmuseum #climatechange  

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, January 10, 2017

Neurodiversifying the Museum

One topic I’ve explored here on the Blog is how museums such as the Pacific Science Center are making themselves more accessible to visitors with autism. And with ACLS Fellow Nicole Ivy, I’ve examined efforts to diversify the museum workforce. Today’s guest post by Meredith Gregory, special education and access coordinator at the New York Transit Museum, explores the intersection of these two issues: integrating employees with autism into the museum workplace.

In 2014, I attended a Museum Access Consortium workshop that included a breakout session about the benefits of hiring adults with autism. Here’s what I learned: The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 10.7%, two times higher than the rate for those without a disability. And within that statistic, people with autism have the lowest employment rates compared to other people with disabilities (http://www.bls.gov/cps/, 2016).

Here’s what else I learned: There tends to be a lower turnover rate for employees with disabilities, employees with autism can be reliable employees (on time and rarely absent), and they excel at tasks that others might find monotonous. This prompted me to think about opportunities in my own workplace, the New York Transit Museum.

Brooklyn Union Elevated Car on the Museum’s platform level,
Photograph by Black Paw Photo
The New York Transit Museum is located in a decommissioned subway station in downtown Brooklyn and is home to dozens of vintage subway train cars and other transportation objects. We see a large number of visitors with autism, youth and adults. We wanted to deepen our commitment to accessibility by having our workplace better reflect the diversity we see in the Museum. With the support of the education manager, Elyse Newman, I met with various departments such as retail and facilities and learned that one of the greatest needs for staffing was within education. Our department needed a dedicated person to keep track of education supply inventory and prepare art materials for hundreds of school children who visit the Museum each day on field trips. We thought this could be a perfect opportunity for someone with autism.

Luckily, one of our funders, the FAR Fund, was interested in funding a position for an adult with autism. Because this was a new initiative we thought it would be good to partner with an organization that offers resources for adults with autism including a job training program. The FAR Fund supports Birch Family Services, a local service organization that seemed like a natural partner for us- as they had a pool of candidates who had been through at least 6 months of job training, and they provided a job coach who would help the employee transition to their new work environment.

Now it was time to get buy-in from some senior staff including our Executive Director at the time, Gabrielle Shubert through several meetings. Our Director supported the creation of a new position because we were able to establish the need for the position, the importance of a diverse work environment, and the exciting prospect of being a leader in the museum field. I wrote the description for the newly named Inventory Associate position with the help of Kristin Fields, the Museum’s education coordinator and supervisor of the future position.

Finally, it was time to start interviewing! Birch Family Services was instrumental in ensuring that our hiring process was as accessible to people with autism as possible. Here are some of the recommendations we implemented:
Jason preparing art materials for a school group 
in the Museum’s education center, 
Photograph by Meredith Gregory
  • Give the candidate questions in advance so that they know what to expect. Social interactions can be hard for someone with autism so interviews might be challenging. In addition to giving questions in advance so they know what to expect, also offer to have the first interview over the phone, in-person, or on Skype so that the candidate can choose whichever option makes them most comfortable.
  • Describe the work environment in the job description. Will this person be working alone in a room or with 20 people rushing around them? It’s important to note this in advance. Someone who does not like noise should not be applying to a job where they will be required to work in, for example, a busy lobby.
  • Have a second interview where the candidate can show off their skills. They may not excel at conversation, but their skill level may shine through when they’re performing tasks related to the job.

One of the most important things I learned during the interview process was not to hire someone just because they have autism. Really make sure they’re a good fit for the position so that the employee can succeed in their work and contribute positively to the Museum.

After interviewing several candidates, we decided to hire Jason. In the interview, Jason seemed eager to work at the Museum, had previous experience working in inventory and did not mind working in a busy education space.

Jason at his desk getting supplies ready for the upcoming week
Jason worked with his job coach for two weeks at the Museum when he started in November 2015 to help him learn tasks and get acclimated to a new work environment. Since then, he has excelled at his work, especially preparing materials for school groups. Jason says, “I like making boxes [for the bus making art workshop] because it’s easy to do and quiet when I do that. The special events like family nights are also fun to work”. With the help of the job coach, Jason’s supervisor at the Museum was able to put several supports in place to help Jason be successful including: 

-A checklist on the inside of each art supply cabinet
-A list of how many art materials he need to prep each week
-Having Jason’s job coach return to the Museum any time he’s learning a new task.

Jason has added a new level to positivity to our workplace. He engages colleagues in conversation about sports, food, and trains, brings a sense of humor to the daily staff meetings, and has a strong work ethic. What’s his advice for someone with autism looking for a career in museums? “Find a job you like and a place you like working at. I like working here.”

Museums have an opportunity to not only give people with autism meaningful work experiences, but have a chance to impact the mindset of employees by diversifying the workplace. For more information on hiring adults with autism, visit www.museumaccessconsortium.org/resources

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Future of Education Road Trip Begins!

Hi, Nicole here! We are excited to begin this new year with a new project at CFM. My colleague, Sage Morgan-Hubbard (Ford W. Bell Fellow in Museums and P-12 Education) and I are preparing to start the first leg of the Future of Education Road Trip—in the Southeastern US. Our trip kicks off in Washington DC this Saturday, January 7. We’ll be heading first to Raleigh, NC then to Charlotte, NC and will conclude our trip in New Orleans, LA on January 20. The primary purpose of this road-trip is to think locally with educators, museum professionals, students, artists, and community leaders about how they are envisioning—and creating--the future of education. In doing so, we also seek to engage the field around their visions for how museum work will change and to highlight the innovations that Southeastern museums are making around labor practices.

We will be hosting round-table discussions along the way in Charleston, SC and New Orleans, LA to involve the broadest audience possible in exploring these connections. Be sure to follow Sage (@Museumsp12) and me (@nicotron3000) on Twitter for more details about these meet-ups and for updates from the road in real-time (We make no promises that there won’t be car karaoke)! As museum professionals, Sage and I are both deeply interested in the connections communities make between teaching, learning, and the power of their local stories. Also, follow us on Twitter and Facebook at #AAMroadtrip and share your thoughts, questions, and recommendations of must-see things to see and do and eat!

Our Itinerary

Southern states are large, and broad, and storied. We cannot possibly capture the diversity of the Southeast in one fell swoop. Our travel plans are necessarily limited by our own capacity as drivers and by the sheer amount of time it takes to travel across the region. With that in mind, we’ve put together a travel plan that brings us to major cities and smaller towns that also maps onto histories of African-American migration and civil rights activism. We will be on the road as many museums across the country are gearing up for celebrations of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. For many of the places we’ll visit, these busy King Day events will roll into February programming around Black History Month. Sage and I and our collaborators have kept this top-of-mind as we developed our itinerary:

Map of Our Road Trip

Raleigh, NC
Charlotte, NC
Florence, SC
Marion, SC
Charleston, SC
Atlanta, GA
Montgomery, AL
Birmingham, AL
Memphis, TN
Jackson, MS
New Orleans, LA

A Collaborative Effort

This roster of stops on our trip was made possible with the help of so many people who modeled this traveling work for us—and who offered their on-the-ground connections and expertise so generously to us. Many of you reached out to us via phone, social media, and email to invite us to your cities. And the invitations are still coming! For this, we are deeply grateful and honored. Today, we want to highlight a few of the collaborators who each gave us a different perspective around labor, education, civil rights and social justice as we prepared for this trip.  Dr. fari nzinga, Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, and Porchia Moore of New Orleans, Raleigh-Durham, and Columbia, SC, respectively, each helped shape our thinking on museums, public engagement and art as social practice. We learned, too, from Mia Henry, Executive Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College, whose FreedomLifted initiative hosts personalized, affordable Civil RIghts tours, with particular focus on Alabama and Mississippi.

Dr. fari nzinga, cultural anthropologist, American Council of Learned Societies Public Fellowship alum, and professor at the Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO), worked with us to  develop a round-table in New Orleans exploring the future of museum, work, and public engagement. She reminded us of the links between academia, public practice, and museum accessibility. Porchia Moore, curator, information specialist, and co-founder of the Visitors of Color Project, has been profoundly generous in her thinking and in helping us organize the Charleston round-table. Among the many things we learned from her, I am especially grateful for the lesson that individual museums make sometimes-competing claims as they work to tell the local stories. She reminds us that tracing histories through objects is a process that calls for debate and listening. Dr. Alexis Gumbs’s Mobile Homecoming Project remains a model. She and her partner, Julia Sangodare Wallace, created an intentionally intergenerational space as they interviewed queer black elders throughout the country. From Dr. Gumbs, we learned the value of personalized experience in a road trip such as this. She stressed the importance of developing rituals of self-care and of practicing intentionality in everything we do—from how we communicate to people to how we take notes and document and give back to our participants.

The Questions

Sage and I developed a list of several questions that we’ll be asking interviewees along the way. They are:

  • What trends do you see in (museum) education?
  • What is your vision for the future of education?
  • What would an ideal museum-school partnership look like?
  • What is a best practice or thing that you are most proud of within your work within education that you want to share?
  • What is one challenge that you see within (museum) education that you would like to see improved?
  • What trends do you see in the nature of work (or in the museum workforce)?
  • What do you want people to know about your vision for the future of work? What does the future of labor look like to you?
  • What do you wish the rest of the country knew about work in your city, state, or region?

What questions would you like to ask of museum professionals in the Southeast? What questions do you have for us? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us your ideas. Find updates on our progress and perhaps a bit of poetry on-the-road on social media at #AAMroadtrip!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Bringing Taxidermy to Life

@CarnegieMNH @ashleycecil #ArtistsInResidence 
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.