Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Selling or Sharing?

Last week I spoke to students in a public history course at SUNY Delhi.  These students were not going to become public historians, rather it was an honors course for students majoring in subjects ranging from culinary arts to nursing.  They were a great group and had some really interesting questions about museums, about how history is presented and about my work as, essentially, a small businessperson.  One question has really stuck in my mind.

"In your business,"  said one student, "is it more selling or sharing?"   What an intriguing way to think about what I do.  Every museum consultant works differently and in reflecting on this question I realized how my own approach has evolved over time.  Of course I sell--every freelancer needs to persuade people to hire them.  I blog here, I'm on Linkedin,  I co-wrote a book, you can hear me talk at conferences,  check out my tweets.  That all can be perceived as selling.

But on the other hand, it's also sharing.  I love my work and I think there is potential in any and every museum.  I love sharing ideas from one place to another--I'm sort of a hunter/gatherer/forager of life.  Some of the most-read posts here are simply when I'v closely observed and reported on a visitor experience at museums like the Rosenbach or the Rijksmuseum.

All that blog writing, tweeting, conference-speaking sharing though, isn't what pays the bills.  But when I think about my work directly with museums and history organizations, it's also a process that can be described as sharing.  I believe that great work happens when there's a diversity of opinions and approaches at the table.  My job as a consultant is to find ways to bring great ideas out, experiment with them, fail, experiment again, and keep going.   When I asked one client about why they hired me they said, "You know, you were the one who proposed working with us, not just writing a report."  I'm the consultant with the questions, not with the answers.

But back to selling:  some of my absolutely favorite projects have come from random people emailing me and asking me to talk about a project they have in mind, or sending me an RFP that intrigues me.   If your museum is thinking about engaging communities, or creating an exhibit, or re-interpreting your historic site,  or encouraging your staff to think more creatively, you should be in touch.  And if you want to meet me in person, I'll be at AAM and I'd love to sit down for a chat.  

Selling or sharing?  Selling and sharing.

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