Saturday, February 1, 2014

Practical Dreaming: 2014 Mentorships

I'm very pleased to announce my 2014 mentees, but first a bit about the process.  Although I had fewer applications than last year, the process didn't get any easier for me.  This year I had more people further along in their career, and my final two selections reflected that.  (Don't worry, emerging museum professionals,  I may try an experience restriction next year!)  This year, all of the applicants were women and they came from four countries, including the US,  and came from history, science, and art museums;  along with a independent professional or two.  My choices were framed around two issues:  one, if I thought I could be helpful, and two, if the questions posed were also questions I was interested in exploring.

I've been touched, this year as last, by the clarity, depth, seriousness and humor of the applicants.  And this year I got a bonus!  Amanda Gustin of Vermont didn't apply for the mentorship but she shared her own answers to my questions on her blog Amblering.  What's not to love about someone who impersonates an FBI agent as a child?
I can call up a dozen memories of imaginative play as a child - once, when a cousin of mine and I were grounded and stuck up in my bedroom for an afternoon, we snuck into my father's closet, dressed up in his suits, tied together bedsheets, shimmied out the second-story window, and circled back around to the front door, where we rang the doorbell and pretended to be government agents investigating cruelty toward the children living in the house. (I believe my mother laughed in our faces and sent us back up to my room.)
But on to this year's mentees:  Catherine Charlebois, Curator, Exhibitions and Collections at the Centre d'histoire de Montreal in Montreal, Canada, and Megan Wood, who begins her new position as Associate Vice President for Education and Visitor Experience at the Historic Ford Estates in Dearborn, Michigan this coming week.  They are each in transitions.  Catherine's museum is contemplating a major move and expansion and Megan of course, is embarking on a new job with new responsibilities and challenges.   And in both cases, they felt a professional voice outside their museum, might be a really helpful thing.  So I hope that's true, and here's some of the questions we'll be considering.  

Catherine's primary interests are in oral history and in exhibition development:
  • Oral history in museums. I want to discuss every aspect of it, but especially its use in exhibitions.
  • How to transform a museum to a participatory museum?
  • Where to look for cutting-edge museum initiatives (in all fields)?
  • Creating “user-friendly” museums
  • Teamwork
  • Inventive and/or unusual cross-disciplinary initiatives in museums 

And for Megan, the same combination of practicality and dreaming:
  • How should I build and effective department? 
  • Interpretive planning and long-range exhibit planning. including interpreting a historic property (and estate really) in a really new, dynamic, and engaging manner. 

I'm looking forward to our monthly conversations--and because each of the mentees will be contributing three blog posts over the course of 2014,  I hope our conversations will ripple out into your work as well.

And a few quick follow-ups from this process:
  • I'm pleased to share that Alicia Akins, my mentee, is a Spring 2014 Createquity Fellow. You'll be able to check out more of her writing over there.
  • It's been really lovely to hear how many of you have embraced the idea that forming your own Gang of Five can be useful in your career.   My own Gang continues to a source of inspiration, advice, and just plain fun.  If you haven't already, subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter, Take 5 for quick takes from us on everything from passion to leadership.
  • There's amazing creativity in so many of us--I could see it in all the applications.  We're interested in spreading the creativity word, so please share your creative problems and solutions with us over at our Creativity in Museum practice website.   And the problems of leadership can be solved with some creative brainpower--that's being reinforced as I read Anne Ackerson and Joan Baldwin's book, Leadership Matters. Well worth a read, no matter where you are in your career.


Amanda said...

Congrats on your new mentees!

And it's funny, my mother re-tells that story mostly to illustrate what a bratty child I could be, I'm glad to see that others might think it was positive!

Linda Norris said...

Oh, moms! I think I related because, in our neighborhood we didn't think we were FBI, but we did go ring doors saying we were selling underwear. That, along with circuses on the jungle gym, elaborate fairy forts, and rapidfire jumprope all inspired the creative spirit in me!

Alicia Akins said...

Yay! Congratulations on what looks like an interesting year of discussions ahead. I look forward to reading your new mentees posts!

KathieG said...

Congrats new mentees, and I really hope, Linda, that you will share some of the insights that your mentees find most useful, because Catherine Charlebois' list of primary interests sound just like mine. For instance, we have started integrating oral histories into our exhibits, either with small mp3 players or QR codes, but have many questions about best practices for getting people to use them and making it easy, and not at the same time distracting to others...

Michelle Moon said...

I find it really interesting that people who are more advanced in their careers were those seeking your work. To me, this makes a lot of sense. Many emerging professionals have benefitted from the increasing range of robust graduate museum studies (and related) programs, which were much rarer only a decade or so ago. Their faculty connections and peer networks are strong. But those who entered the field a bit earlier, but are ready to take on high levels of leadership, may have fewer people to turn to for the kinds of intellectual support and feedback you can offer. Those who preceded them (very few of them women, in fact) may represent a coming-of-professional-age in a very different operating environment. These are just some preliminary reactions, but I do think there is a need for midlevel mentorship aimed at creating change at director/executive levels, as well as encouragement for new professionals, which has improved greatly since I entered the field 15 years ago.

Linda Norris said...

Thanks Kathie and Michelle for your comments. Kathie, we'll definitely keep you posted--oral history particularly interests me as well. And Michelle, great observations. I think it's also partly a question of getting to a point in your career where you know what you don't know (as opposed to when I finished graduate school when I thought I knew everything!) and also, that someone outside your own organization might be helpful. I'm really looking forward to the year!