Saturday, March 10, 2018

The 2018 Mentees (finally!)

It's been a busy year already, with hardly time to blog, much less announce this year's mentees.  Many, many thanks to all of you who took the time to apply and share your passions, your childhood creative efforts, and the changes you want to make in the field.  You inspire me every year--and the choice is always very difficult.  This year, I'm happy to announce that Claire Lanyon and Doreen Pastor will each be joining me for a year's worth of monthly coffee and conversation.  We'll be time zone challenging, and intriguing that each are migrants to their current country.

Claire is Interim Learning Manager at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in Auckland, New Zealand. She came to this position with experience in the world of educational technology, including 6 years at Apple as an Account Executive focusing on education sales.  Among the questions we'll be exploring this year are:
  • What can we do to increase the relevance of Museums in the lives of young people?
  • What programmes or exhibitions are you seeing that meaningfully increase participation?
  • What steps can we take to increase the development of empathy?

Claire's childhood acts took her from shy child to the Majorette World Championships, as performing in various guises helped her find her voice and her passions include education (teaching and learning), empathy and food.  Her two best museums experiences of the last year were ones I wish I'd seen:  the Empathy Museum and ‘We’re here because we are here’ a public art piece commemorating the Battle of the Somme.

Doreen is currently working on her Ph.D. and part-time Community, Learning and Volunteer Coordinator at St George's in Bristol, England.  At the University of Bristol, her research is focusing on tourism and cultural memory at “difficult” heritage sites in Germany. She is passionate about "historical research and communicating this research to a public audience, particularly addressing challenging historical themes."  Over the year, we'll be talking about the work of memorial sites globally and as well, ways to build out individual skills and capacity.

Doreen's remembered creative act was also an act of resistance:
I have always been a little bit of a rebel, which, bearing in mind that I was born in the GDR,was problematic. From day one, I did not enjoy going to school and one day during a mathlesson, I stood up and informed the teacher that I would leave the lesson as I was bored. Such an act in the GDR school system was very brave and had some consequences for me, however, it did not deter me from always speaking my mind.
Braver museums--moving away from the cautious--is the change Doreen would like to see, and at memorial sites, she would like to see sites "consider the impact of the exhibitions on the visitors from the outset rather than as an after-thought."

As I said above, this process is always a difficult one--and one of my favorite parts is reading about those first creative acts.  Here's just a few:

  • Writing adventure stories featuring Pokemon characters
  • When I was 7 a friend and I put posters up around our village advertising a drama class that we were holding in the playground (no-one turned up…)
  • My 3rd-grade teacher Ms. Brown noticed one of my notebooks and convinced me to submit a poem about the Time Square ball drop to our township’s local newspaper, and it was published, which was about the biggest event of my childhood.
  • a very (very!) complex board game for Whose Line is It Anyway?
  • When I was maybe 11 or 12 I started making drawings that illustrated popular song titles. For example, for Journey’s “Open Arms” I drew, you guessed it, a torso with extended arms. For Yes’ “Owner of a lonely heart”, I drew a typical heart with a collar and chained leash, and little a hand firmly holding the other end of the leash.

You are all amazing!  Keep up the creative work to keep changing the museum field.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

How Can You Learn? Count the Ways!

In the last post, learning consultant Ivy Young shared the ways in which the California Association of Museums created a climate of learning for museum colleagues in the state.  Now, she shares some of her favorite tools developed by museum peer learning groups. Begin exploring! And many thanks, Ivy, for sharing the work of our California colleagues.

To whet your appetite for learning here are just a few of my favorite knowledge products, by topic:

Visualize accessibility interventions in a four-quadrant graph organized from least to greatest impact across one axis and easiest to most demanding implementation across the other axis. Participants in the San Francisco region mapped accessibility interventions for fellow museum professionals in an interactive Prezi that also includes topical resources and examples.

A Culture of Inclusion: Recommendations for Museum Accessibility Policy
The Gold Country region produced a six-page document outlining core criteria to consider in crafting museum accessibility policies: Feedback, Universal Design, Diversity Training, Inclusion, Inviting Atmosphere, Education, External Access, and Evaluation. Users may read the document in its entirety or jump to select criteria. References and resources are also embedded.

The Shasta Cascade region produced this simple, one-page, graphic roadmap to guide museum practitioners through critical process considerations in designing audience research studies.

2.5 Hour Evaluation Challenge
Central Coast regional participants created a template for any museum team interested in designing a pilot evaluation. Along with the evaluation study, this knowledge product provides an easy, step-by-step process for creating and implementing the pilot study and, later, reflecting on the instrument, it’s implementation, and assessing the collected data.

How do institutions change to become more inclusive and engaging? The Los Angeles region created an insightful infographic that documents a pathway for the organizational change process from the individual to the institution, and finally to the holistic relationship with the public they serve.

Identifying Engagement Tumblr 
Examples of visitor engagement can be found throughout the Inland Empire region. Program participants here created this Tumblr account to highlight the engagement strategies they recognized around them. What’s more, you too may submit your own examples of engagement to the Tumblr!

I am incredibly proud of the collaborative work that everyone involved brought to the CNfC pilot. I really could go on and on… However, I am going to leave you here with just a few more avenues for additional information should you be curious for more:

I’m eager to know what you think, too. What have your most collaborative experiences entailed? What made them tricky? What made them satisfying? Did they lead to any unanticipated outcomes? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments below.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, grant number MG-10-14-0010-14, and with the generous support of all CNfC partner organizations.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Collaboration + Museum Pros = Treasure Trove of Ideas

I think about collaboration all the time. In my career I've had some amazing collaborative successes and some pretty tough failures, so I'm always looking to learn more.  I met Ivy Young several years ago and we've continued to have great conversations around all sorts of things--but our talk turned to collaborations recently, so I've asked her to share some thoughts from her time as director of the California Networks for Collaboration, a project of the California Association of Museums. Ivy is currently working as a consultant for learning design and the facilitation of collaborative processes. She starts us off by reflecting on the question she posts above.

Some of my immediate thoughts include:
  • Collaboration cannot be done alone – it involves a group of people.
  • Collaboration requires trust and mutual respect. Without establishing core, shared values at the outset, collaboration risks failing.
  • The collaborative process is organic and can be difficult! It requires commitment.
  • Communication pathways need to be clear and remain open.
  • It’s most meaningful, insightful, and produces the best outcomes when the collaborative group is diverse. (Diverse across multiple dimensions: age, gender, culture, race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomics, education, abilities, etc.)
  • Collaboration takes a lot time. And sometimes it may just feel that it’s easier to go at the work alone.
  • Often, collaboration yields new ideas or new innovations.
  • Strong collaboration has deeper impacts and broader reaches. It has the potential to strengthen organizations, communities, and networks.

What would you like to add to this list? Please share in the comments below. Let’s keep it going!
Truth be told, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about collaboration. The above reflections have largely been shaped by my experiences in helping to steer the California Networks for Collaboration (CNfC)– an aptly titled project at that! Collaboration was at the very heart of the project and all CNfC stakeholders were engaged in collaborative processes throughout, from esteemed advisors to voluntary participants.
In the briefest of nutshells, the CNfC is a four-phase, multi-year project that is directed by the California Association of Museums (CAM) in collaboration with 13 other partner organizations statewide. In the CNfC phase that I helped to oversee, we brought museum thought leaders together to create three different curricula for studies focusing on engagement strategies, audience research, and accessibility. CAM and CNfC project partners then activated their professional networks across the state to bring together multiple study groups, or what we called “Learning Collaboratives”, around these three topics. In this, we were piloting how to leverage multiple, informal networks around a focused endeavor as well as we were testing a model for professional development based on the concept of collaborative learning.
With CNfC Learning Collaboratives we sought to provide more collaborative experiences for participants than what might be expected of the traditional study group or professional development experience. This chart, originally created by consultant Marsha Rhea, compares the two learning environments:
Learning Collaboratives
Study Groups
Knowledge co-creation focuses on participant meaning making
Knowledge transfer focuses on participant comprehension
The atmosphere is social and organic
The atmosphere is more structured and predefined
Participant experience is interactive –
“Ask me!”
Participant experience is more passive –
“Feed me.”
Context rich
Content rich
Driven by participant interests
Driven by facilitator’s (or expert’s) interests

With this, imagine groups of museum and arts & culture professionals (anywhere from 5 to 16 people, including the regional facilitator) coming together in different regions throughout California for a six-month period...Each group met together in real life once a month and also had the opportunity to connect in a social networking forum between meetings, had access to live, monthly webinars with museum thought leaders, and were provided with a curated list of recommended readings and optional activities to also peruse outside of meeting.
The in-person meetings tended to be the most important anchor for the Learning Collaborative experience. These often included a number of different interactive protocols for a diversity of spoken and written interactions to help construct shared learning.

In fact, some of the protocols used in the Learning Collaborative meetings were sourced from Linda’s (and Rainey Tisdale’s) book, Creativity in Museum Practice, such as mind mapping (p.38), brainwriting (p. 136), and the butterfly test (p. 137). (And, what’s more, the CNfC project is mentioned in the publication! See page 159.) With all of these different activities for exchanging and cultivating ideas, you better believe the Learning Collaborative groups came up with some great insights to apply to museum practice!
Each group worked together collaboratively to document their most salient takeaways at the conclusion of their studies. These takeaways – what we called “knowledge products”– took on many different forms from pocket checklists to interactive Prezi presentations, to games and annotated bibliographies. Any form, really, that the Learning Collaborative thought would be best to convey their findings. You can access all 37 of the CNfC Learning Collaborative knowledge products here
Stay tuned for Part 2, featuring some of Ivy's favorite Knowledge Products and be sure to share your thoughts on collaboration in the comments.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

2017's Baker's Dozen of Memorable Museum Experiences

Like 2016, 2017 brought me many memorable museum experiences--that's memorable in a good way. Of course, there were a couple that were memorable in the "oh, no" kind of way, but in a spirit of generosity, here's what I saw, experienced and felt last year that I find myself sharing with friends and colleagues. As I went through selecting photos, I realized there were many more places I could have included on this list. It's encouraging to see how many museums and historic sites are working hard to push boundaries, to think more deeply.

American-Swedish Institute, Minneapolis, MN
Last January, I spent a few days at the American Swedish Institute, helping them jumpstart an interpretive planning process.  This wasn't necessarily memorable because of exhibits I saw, but rather because of the commitment of board, staff leadership and staff.  They embraced new ideas, did all their advance reading (!) and took a memorable field trip off to a local global market to see what they could learn. They're a great example of building a learning culture inside a museum, for staff, not just for visitors.

Torbay History House, Torbay, Newfoundland, Canada
A tiny museum-to-be in Newfoundland, Canada reminded me of the vital place museums can play in communities. I conducted focus groups last winter with students, scouts, parents at the library and the community at large. Everyone had ideas for exhibits, programs, and ways to use a new building for the museum. When the plans had their public meeting this fall, it was one of the liveliest, in the very best way, discussions.  "Could we do this?"  "Oh, I like that," "What will happen here?"  A case study for how opening up a planning process from the start can lead to greater buy-in.

Museum of European Cultures, Berlin, Germany
German colleague and friend Katrin Hieke met me in Berlin for a whirlwind weekend of museum-going. I envisioned the Museum of European Cultures as a dusty place, but far from it.  We took a Tandem (two languages, but actually closer to four) tour with a curator and a refugee artist of the exhibit da Heim: Glances into Fugitive Lives. Read my full post to understand why it was so meaningful, important, and deeply emotional.  It was the kind of exhibit and community collaboration I wish we could all strive for.

Creativity Workshop with local museums, Lutsk, Ukraine
This spring, Rainey Tisdale and I made a week-long, fast-paced trip to several Ukrainian cities to celebrate the Ukrainian publication of Creativity in Museum Practice.  As always, it was great to see friends and colleagues, but the time I particularly remember is at a museum in Lutsk, in western Ukraine, where museum workers and students jammed into a too-small room as enthusiastic workshop participants to learn how to build their own creative practice.  Their team efforts on developing exhibits on some social aspect of Soviet life, for an audience of teenagers, were judged by university students.  The combination of laughter and nostalgia combined with remembered fears and uncertainty was quite astonishing (and surprising to our Ukrainian colleagues as well). My relationship with Ukraine now goes back 8  years, and I continue to appreciate colleagues' progress in still-challenging times. A reminder that change is always possible.

Kigali and Murambi Genocide Memorials, Rwanda
I think about the day of these visits often. Rwanda is a spectacularly beautiful country and so the 1994 genocide seems almost unimaginable.  They tell a recent, still unresolved story, and in both cases, also serve as the final resting place of thousands of Rwandans killed by their neighbors. It challenged my ability to do my work (how can I make a real difference?) but at the same time, reinforced the importance of the work of Coalition members, and that a starting point for real change is empathy.

This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal exhibit at Morgan Library, New York, NY
In this exhibit, words, rightly so, took center stage.  Thoreau's words felt fully contemporary.  The thoughtful design and curation really made the objects, including those journals, matter.  I found deep resonance in his words with my work at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience this year.

Tea Plantation Workers Museum, Kandy, Sri Lanka
This museum is up a long, long way into the Sri Lankan highlands, deep into the tea plantations. One of the great gifts of my travel, particularly this year, is to learn about histories I knew nothing about. The Tea Workers story is one of colonialism, of identity, of nationalism, of persistence, and of family--and I found it all in this tiny museum.  The lesson from here?  Seek out tiny museums to learn about the people and places you're in--go beyond being just a tourist visiting the hot spots.

Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo Museum, Mexico City
A number of years ago, I heard someone from this museum speak at an AAM meeting, and I've been interested in going ever since I got the chance. It was worth the wait and lived up to my expectations. First, it's a really beautiful and spectacular place, full of amazing objects that provide deep sense of Kahlo and her work; second, we visited on Day of the Dead weekend, so it was even  more thrilling with a huge altar installation; third, the way the house integrates inside and outside felt calm, even on a crowded day.  And lastly, the visit also included a fascinating exhibition on Kahlo's clothes tocusing on how she used clothing to both hide and step forward.

Museum of Popular Art, Mexico City
I actually didn't get to see very much of this museum, as we were only at a reception there. But there was a spectacular addition to the reception:  illuminated walking hand-made giant creatures making their way through the park to the museum. I had done a session on getting out of your comfort zone at the CAMOC conference, inspired by Annemarie de Wildt's ever-active Facebook page; and she demonstrated the value of that notion immediately, as she waded into great conversations in bits of English, Spanish and French, with the makers.  Creativity and curiosity flourished together in a memorable evening.  How can you inspire the same in your visitors to get them outside their comfort zones?

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (Municipal Museum), the Hague, the Netherlands
I approach technology in museums with some skepticism.  I know, that's a blanket statement, but I want to technology to be a tool, not the means, and that doesn't happen often enough.  My dear friend Irina Leonenko, her son Nikolai, and I bicycled off to this museum and I found a total surprise. In the museum's Wonderkammer you receive an iPad to explore a whole series of rooms, answering clues and collecting objects.

Several things I really liked: the tablet was just the activator and each room encouraged different kinds of learning and participation.  We danced in time to a Mondrian painting, learned about glass making and identified tools, listened to tales of dragons and digitally put ourselves in historic costume.  But then, in a way hard to explain, we found ourselves in the large center gallery space, with tiny objects, and we used the objects we'd collected to design our own exhibition and digitally, our tiny selves entered the gallery, cut a ribbon and enjoyed the space.  I can imagine going back again and again, as every time the experience would be different.

We Have a Dream exhibition, Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
It was pouring rain in Amsterdam, and as I crossed a street, I saw giant images of Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King.  Curious (and wet), I ducked into the Nieuwe Kirk, a spectacular space, to find an exhibit that looked at three giant figures of the 20th century.  The exhibit had few objects (although I appreciated Gandhi's bicycle in this cycling city) but the graphics, including text, were eye-catching and direct. The exhibit encouraged us to think about these men as not just historical figures, but as people who continue to inspire, even including contemporary heirs, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.

Terezín Memorial, Terezín, Czech Republic
Terezín is one of the founding members of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience and was the site of our 2017 European members meeting so the site and the chance to meet our members are inextricably linked.  The entire site represents layers and layers of history--from an 18th century fort to a "model" detention camp for the Nazis to a museum and almost uninhabited town today.  The education staff at Memorial have created a number of programs for young people, for whom Nazism is distant history, to help them understand that those lessons carry forward to today.  We all felt warmly welcomed by all the staff, despite the site's cold and chilling history. It didn't require much imagination to see where those railroad tracks led; but at the same time, the creative spirit of those in the camp was very much in evidence.  The lesson for me here?  Embrace the complications.

Loja das Conservas, Lisbon, Portugal My last one is not actually a museum, but provided the best kind of museum-like experience.  Loja das Conservas is a store created by the canned fish association of Portugal and selling only canned  fish (conservas). If you're like me, white tuna in water is your idea of canned fish, you're in for a surprise.  But what made it like a museum?  Great graphics, and interpretive labels explaining each producer's work and history. We had a chance to sit down with a glass of wine and sample different products (as part of a great Context travel walk), with a very helpful staff member who explained the different types, and even got our non-fish eater to try a bit! I felt welcomed, had a great time,  learned something, and brought souvenirs home.  Just like a museum, right?

That was my year!  A shout-out to ICOM because my membership card provided free admission to many of these places.  I'm looking forward to another year full of big challenges, thoughtful museums, and incredible colleagues.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Headed Somewhere? Need a Mentor?

Wondering where you're headed next?  It's time for the 6th round of my own small mentor program.  For five years, I've virtually met once a month with one or two colleagues, for a year, to talk museums, careers, how larger issues affect our field and how to strategically navigate a workplace.  It's certainly been a year of change for me, shifting from full-time consulting to full-time work with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (and readers may have noticed, a decline in the frequency of blog posts, something I plan to make temporary). My new job has taken me everywhere from Leon Trotsky's house in Mexico City (above) and overlooking the World Heritage Site, the Island of Goree' in Senegal (below) and has really pushed my own thinking about the role museums can play.

This year, Tania Said and I met once a month--and even had a chance to meet in person at the AAM meeting. You might think mentorship is only for emerging professionals, but Tania, like several of my other mentees over the years, is a mid-career museum educator.  I asked her what she thought of the experience:
A fresh perspective is what I needed for a mid-career boost and Linda Norris’ mentoring helped me gain just that! She’s an excellent listener and has valuable years of experience to ask the right questions for reflecting on personal and professional growth.  
I continue to be in touch with mentees from prior years and I'm so pleased to regularly hear from them and catch up on their work. I'm even more pleased to report that many of them, including Tania, have become mentors themselves.  And as Tania said, about both being a mentor and a mentee, "There are more reasons to do it than you can possible imagine."

What's the Mentorship Look Like?
We'll schedule monthly Skype conversations at times convenient for us both, and you can apply no matter where you live or work or what stage of your career you're in. I'll expect you to be both a good listener and a good questioner--and be willing to look at your self deeply.

From you, I'll expect one or two blog posts over the year on deadlines we mutually set and of course, active participation and questioning when we talk.  In addition to the monthly conversations, I'll also provide feedback, introductions as I can, and loads and loads of opinions! 

If you want to know more about my work and my approach to the field. please read blog posts, check out my LinkedIn profile, follow me on Twitter or Instagram, and of course, check out Creativity in Museum Practice, co-written with the amazing Rainey Tisdale.
What Makes a Good Mentee?
I'm particularly interested in people who have entered the field from different directions and who bring different perspectives to the work.  At the moment as well, I'd love to hear from activists who see museum and archive work as a way to build a more just society.  Unfortunately, you must be an English speaker, but you can be from anywhere in the world because we can always work out the time zones!  I find that the quality of curiousity is a great bonus.

Okay, I'm In!  How do I Apply?
If you're interested, by January 8, 2018, send me an email with the subject line "mentorship" that includes two attachments: your resume and answers to the following questions:
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What questions would you like to discuss with me during the year?
  • What was an early creative act? (I mean, not in work, but early, as in childhood)
  • What change would you like to make in the museum field?
  • When did you fail and what did you learn?
  • What's the most interesting exhibit or program you saw in the last year?
How Do I Decide?

Because this is my own individual project, I get to make my own decisions, sometimes with the counsel of a few trusted colleagues.  Previous years' mentees have been in graduate school, emerging professionals or mid-career types. In other words, at any point in your career. I'm probably not very interested in you if your key questions are about becoming a consultant. Non-US applicants, you're particularly encouraged to apply.

I want to be challenged and intrigued, I don't care about your Meyers-Briggs type or your grades in graduate school. I appreciate people who don't take themselves too seriously. I want to get off that Skype call every month ready to think more about your work and my work and the ways we can make change. Museums have a larger role to play in this complex world--but only if we dig in and get at it.