Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Productive Exchange of Experiences

I haven't written about the professional development workshops I've presented here, but they have been an important focus of my work here. I've done lots of training in my time, but have continued to learn about Ukraine, about museums and about myself throughout this process. I've done four general workshops about Learning in Museums--in Kyiv, Lviv, Zaporizha and Donetsk, with one to go in Poltava. These have been two-day workshops, usually with a large audience the first day and a smaller one the second because many people cannot take two days away.

Not surprisingly, professional development is very different here than in the US. The majority of traditional training here seems to consist of someone standing up and reading a paper, with little or no audience feedback. The theoretical is stressed here, but I am very much a practitioner. And it seems like the audiences consist of people with widely varying interests, backgrounds, job titles and expertise. So it takes me a bit of time each time to gain my footing with the audience, and it takes them a bit of time to become familiar with my significantly more informal style of discussion--but in every case there have also been several English speakers in the audience who help out as needed. I think the translators get the biggest workout during a session as there's no daydreaming and translating two ways is an enormous task for which I'm forever grateful.

At the most in a two-day workshop, I can give a broad overview of ideas and some concrete examples. I've found a quiz based on Howard Gardner's work with multiple intelligences useful, as it brings forth the idea of different kinds of learners as they learn about themselves. I've used a Power Point presentation with an ever-changing group of images to talk about interactives, visitor feedback and more. Thanks to Flickr, this includes not just work I'm familiar with, but much more--keep posting those museum visits! The sort of interactive, small group work that is so much a part of my presenting in the US hasn't really worked here, though I keep trying to find a framework and approach that will be effective.

For me, it's also very challenging to think in terms of one-time workshops. I think the most effective training happens with mentors, or a chance to begin implementing ideas and then coming back together. MATRA, a Dutch partnership here, has spent three years providing training for museum staff here, including developing Ukrainian trainers. Many of the most active learners I've seen in workshops have been either participants in MATRA or in workshops sponsored by the US-based Fund for Arts and Culture. Now, I think the next steps are really to begin to put those ideas into practice at a wide variety of organizations here, establishing best practices here for museums and making resources for learning available in Ukrainian.

The whole shift to a visitor-centered focus is perhaps the most difficult, but but important concept that I strive to convey. The priority in Soviet-era museums was what is called, "scientific work," the research part of museum work, and whether anyone ever came was hardly a concern. Staff received their salaries and all was well in museums, all of which were part of the state system. The past twenty years have brought many changes, but at many places, senior staff were trained under the old system. However, the financial crisis of the last few months is drastically affecting museums. Many had limited heat this winter, and I've heard about already underpaid staffs who do not receive paychecks (but in a contrast to museums in the US, they still come to work, hoping to receive back pay at some point).

I'd say most museum workers here believe that the government will continue to support museums and that they will be able to continue their work relatively uninterrupted. It's the only way of museum work they've ever known. However, I approach this with much more skepticism. Ukraine's financial resources are strained, and the needs of this country are many. Unless museums begin to make a better case for their place in a civil society, I fear they will become increasing irrelevant and underfunded.

Needless to say, the financial crisis has heightened interest in grant-writing and corporate sponsorship. A handout based on Sarah Brophy's Is Your Museum Grant-Ready? and a downloadable Russian language PDF on proposal-writing from the Foundation Center have been extremely helpful. As the result of a workshop on grant-writing, I've been working with a small group of museum staff here in Kyiv on writing grant proposals and two grants are almost ready for submission to sponsors--a big step!

Another finance-related hit has been a presentation on free tools on the web. Technology (or lack of access to it) is a huge issue here for museums. So understanding blogs, Flickr, YouTube and more can be a great help. Ukraine has a huge diaspora, with immigrants and their descendants around the globe, and a web presence can help bring attention to many institutions.
Thanks to all my museum colleagues who place material on blogs and in other locations--I love showing some visitor-generated YouTube video from the Brooklyn Museum.

At any given workshop, I also find myself explaining a host of other issues in response to questions. What is federalism and how does it work? How many museums are there in the US and where does their money come from? (thanks AAM and MANY for the great stats) Why is Warren Buffett giving all his money away? How does any governmental budget process work? (and why, I ask myself, do I only know about dysfunctional New York State?) What is volunteering? Who actually owns museum objects? Is Barack Obama clever? Who makes decisions about museum budgets? Is YouTube really free? What, exactly are museum boards of directors and why would you want them?

And at every workshop, I look around the room and see a few people, madly scribbling notes, taking it all in. They come up after the presentation to copy my PowerPoints onto their jump drives, they ask questions, and they're just hungry for more information and ideas. Each one of them is the reason I take a deep breath and plunge right in each time I begin.

Top to Bottom:
Poster for my workshop at the Ivan Honchar Museum, Kyiv
Workshop participants view galleries at the Donetsk Regional Art Museum
Workshop participants in Zaporizha
Brainstorming ideas for interactives in the permanent exhibit at the Khortisa National Preserve
A very cold, but very beautiful room for the workshop in Lviv

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