Saturday, May 25, 2013

Risk and Reward, Conference Edition

I didn't make it to Nina Simon and Kathy McLean's Risk and Reward session at AAM this year, but heard lots of talk, in person and across my twitter feed about it, so I've shaped my conference learning from this spring in the same vein.

  • Take some, history museums!  Several history museum colleagues and I talked about how there seemed to be a dearth of sessions framed around history museums at the AAM conference.  Is that because we're, as a part of the field, risk averse, still doing the same old same old?
  • Picking the right session seems increasingly risky--and I think the risk hasn't changed, but perusing my Twitter feed during a session makes me feel like I'm missing (a couple times due to crowding) the great one next door.  The answer, of course, is a simple one for me. Don't look at the feed during the session.
  • Take more risks in developing your sessions.  The real, not-real, who cares, kinesthetic, audience-driven session about objects really relied on the audience's willingness to play along, and of course, everyone welcomed the chance.
  • AAM program committee, I appreciated the risk you took last year in crowd-sourcing sessions, but you only went half way.  You never told us how you used the crowd's wisdom in your still opaque decision-making process.  You can--and should-- do better.
  • Take a risk and if you're submitting a session that talks about just one, or a few similar projects, invite someone entirely out of the box, unfamiliar with the project, to be a panel member critiquing and asking questions.  Take the risk of admitting those mistakes (and thanks to those who did the Mistakes were Made session!)
  • How can a conference retain some spontaneous feel within all the planning that goes into making it a success?  Drawing on an idea shared by a colleague, Rainey Tisdale and I decided to set up a little guerrilla table to encourage creative ways of thinking about name tags and  share some of our thoughts about museums and creative practice.  It was great to see those name tags spurring questions, conversations and a few bemused looks throughout the rest of the week.
  • It's the second year in a row I've been an Ambassador at AAMThis year it was great to spend some time with the staff from the incredible Casa Azul in Mexico City and with three young Ph.D students from Shanghai. 
  • Museums from around the world have a growing presence at AAM but I'd like to see their presentations more integrated into the program and some mentoring done prior to the conference to help in more innovative session development.  I think then the rewards will be much greater for all of us.
  • I did a quick fill-in in an international session--I was preceded by Silvia Alderoqui of Argentina.  Her description of her school museum's challenges and educational efforts had some moving connections with Ukrainian museums, and it's always an amazing reward to share my experiences in Ukraine with colleagues from around the world.
  • It was great to spend time with old friends (you all know who you are)  and get to know others who have been, until now, just a tiny Twitter photo.  Thanks,  Jamie Glavic, for gathering a group of museum bloggers for lunch;  and to newly met Suzanne Fischer for another great conversation over lunch--I hope all our conversations will continue in person and online.
  • Those conversations were great, but I'm wondering whether it's time to seek out a different conference to push me outside my comfort zone.  Suggestions?
  • We had almost 40 people at 7:30 AM for our Strategize Me career planning session.  Participants were at every stage in their careers and it's always thoughtful and inspiring to watch all of you consider what your next steps are. Risks and rewards abound.
  • Most memorable conversation?  The six brain scientists brought together by Reach Advisors to talk science and museums with us.  Passionate, committed, thoughtful--and in fact, one told us that it was pure folly to head down the entertainment road, to be, as he put it, "art crack," and that we should have the power of our convictions, understanding that we are, or can be, in the transcendence business.
And how about you?  Risks and rewards from your conference going?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Do You Age-Stereotype? A Small Rant

I've been in several conversations lately that really have me thinking about age stereotypes. Is it true that all those baby boomers still hanging on in those director's jobs are just doing nothing--just coasting towards retirement?  Are those Millenials just slackers who don't know how to work and are constantly just tweeting?  And what about those who fall in between those two generations--how do we characterize them?

I understand why these categories exist--it gives us a quick shorthand to understand our audiences or our colleagues.  But I've come to think they're not particularly useful--and in fact, may be particularly destructive in our efforts to work together.  Nina Simon's recent post about her museum's work in social bridging--bringing groups and people together--is something that we can all learn from.  And we might want to start that social bridging--that creative collaboration-- inside our own organizations.

Perhaps it's because I've spent my career either in small museums (where, as a young professional,  an ability to work with different generations wasn't ever optional) or as an independent professional, where coasting certainly isn't an option.

Do I know old fogeys of my own generation that are coasting towards retirement?  Absolutely.  Do I know young fogeys who are hiding in the basement coasting towards a fifty years from now retirement?  Yes, sad to say.  But at the same time, I know colleagues older than I am who are pushing towards new ideas and understandings and young colleagues who are elbowing their way into the field with new ideas in hand.  My own career has been enriched at every end of the spectrum--from senior citizen board members in my first director's job to my young colleagues in Ukraine who push museums forward despite some pretty serious hurdles.

So stop complaining about generations and get looking around.  Find the creative people in your organization or in your community and begin working with them--no matter what age.  Get going!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Changing the Perspective: The View from Underground

In my last post, I wrote about setting students in Donetsk to the weekend task of finding and interviewing miners.  Early Monday morning, we arrived at school to hear the results,  which were amazing!  Each group had found a miner to interview--and in addition, one group had asked if they could research one student's great-grandfather, as a way of memorializing him.  Each group had prepared a Power Point presentation, in English and one group even re-enacted the interview with one student reading his grandfather's answers while other students asked the questions.

What did I learn about miners in Donetsk?
Victor (above), who's been working for about 30 years in a mine and is an uncle of one of the students,  , said, 
Well, it’s a very hard work. The preparations and the transportation take a lot of time, so that we spend ten hours per hour in the mine. And besides physical burdens, our job is very risky.
You know, every time you're going down to the mine, you understand that you may not come back this evening. Of course, it is much better when you don't think about it, but it is really hard not to think of it in real life. You say "hello" to people and in an hour you understand that by this words you've already said "good bye". If you try to think detailed about this job you'll become more than scared.
In such conditions, which we have underground the friendship is highly valued, so our best friends are our workmates. 
P.F. Seregin was the great-grandfather of one of the students.  This group shared historic photos and archival material, including his workbook (below).  We were so pleased that they understood that these simple historic materials can enhance a historical story.
 The group that interviewed a grandfather learned about his different jobs at the mine:
At first I worked as a horse-driver. Until the 20th century, when there were no electric tubs, the coal could be delivered from beneath the earth to the surface only with help of horses. Then I became a lining-master. There is an arc lining inside the tunnels. Over the time such a lining is loosening under the rock’s pressure, so that even a tub can’t pass through the tunnel. So my work was to fix those linings. After that I worked as a tunneller for 16 years and as a miner in mine drifts, extracting coal for 6 years.
And what did your family think of your work?
They worried. But I had a high income, so it was totally worth it.
Accidents were--and are--common in the mines. 
You know, accidents happened frequently… I had been working for 20 years when I got under the rock collapse… I got a thorax injury. Sometimes, it would crumble on somebody… Such a mishap…
We learned a great deal about the miners of Donetsk--but we wanted to know what students had learned.  None of them had ever had any conversation with their family members about working in the mines, despite the fact that virtually every student had at least one family member who worked in one.  But these students, with their smartphones and bound for college are now far away from that world.  One said that he now realized that miners were like everyone else, that they worked for money, not for the glory of country (as was very much promoted in the Soviet Union).  Several students also said that they gained a measure of respect for workers they had tended to dismiss--and learned that all knowledge is not gained through books.

For me, the big takeaway is that there are many potential tremendous projects to be done in Donetsk related to the industrial history, but that the first step of many was this one, the simple act of a grandson sitting with a grandfather to learn about his life and sharing that story with others.  Thank you, members of the Polyglot Club, for reminding us all about the importance of stories.