This week, 16 graduate students clicked open their courses in the Museum Studies Program online at Johns Hopkins University and found that they'll be getting to know museums in these five places around the globe. Those students, five museums and I are embarked on a course I'm teaching called International Experiments in Community Engagement. In the course I hope we'll explore the how and why of community engagement but also gain deeper understandings about working collaboratively across cultures (and time zones!) in creative ways. I hope to share our learning with you here during this semester.
I get asked often about international work and definitely my own international path is a bit unusual, but I've learned a few lessons in addition to becoming a skilled suitcase packer. The first one is about the importance of connecting. It's definitely a bonus that colleagues anywhere can find me here, or on Twitter, or LinkedIn. But those initial connections are only a start--it's the building of them that matters. So, to begin my own reflection on this experiment, I thought I'd share how I came to meet the five great colleagues and their museums that are joining in.
Eugene Chervony, National Museum of Folk Architecture and Life, L'viv, Ukraine. Regular readers of the blog have probably already met Eugene here and seen his museum, which I most recently visited this spring. I meet Eugene in 2010 when he came to a two day workshop on visitor-friendly museums I did in his city; after the first day he admits thinking I was nuts, but he returned the next day, and we've been friends and colleagues ever since, doing everything from cheese-maker visits in the Carpathians to speaking at AAM in Seattle.
Jane Severs, Colony of Avalon, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. I met Jane when I somewhat randomly submitted a bid to the Association of Heritage Industries in Newfoundland and Labrador to do a series of workshops, mostly because I thought it would be great to get to know Newfoundland. I got the bid, did the workshops, have presented at NCPH with Jane and most recently, had dinner with her just a few weeks ago. Jane's a board member of the Colony, but also an interpretive planner and we always have much to talk about! We're even hatching a new project.
Lisa Gay Bostwick, Midt-Troms Museum, Norway. Lisa found me. She's an American working in far north (above the Arctic Circle) Norway and responded to a post seeking participants on Facebook. She's been a commenter and liker of FB posts so she and her museums' work was a bit familiar to me. It was exciting to have her volunteer!
Marco Columbier, Casa de la Literatura Peruana, Lima, Peru. I wanted to have museums from everywhere, not just Europe, but my own connections weren't strong in several parts of the world. My own Facebook feed showed that Fabiana Chiu-Rinaldi, a New York colleague and friend had just finished facilitating some of the presentations at the Peruvian parts of this year's Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She must have connections, I thought, and she did--introducing me via email to Marco and his museum.
Kenji Saitome, Suita City Museum, Japan. Interestingly, the connection to Kenji came from two different directions. I reached out to AAM for connections and Adam Johnson of their international programs reached out to ICOM-Japan for me, and at the same time, I asked Katrin Hieke of Germany, active in ICOM for suggestions and she also suggested Kenji. (for those of you who believe social media produces only weak ties, Katrin and I first met when I responded to a tweet, which has resulted in many great conversations, in person and online!)
What are the take-aways from creating our far-flung experiment? First, seek out opportunities. I met Eugene because I applied for a Fulbright to come to Ukraine; I met Jane because I submitted a long-shot bid. Second, maintain those connections. It's really easy to say, oh, I don't have time to be on email or Facebook or whatever. For me, I make that time. I try to keep up on the news (both museum news and generally) from Newfoundland and Ukraine (and lots of other places) and to connect directly on a semi-regular basis. Next, be generous. If someone asks for advice or a connection, I do my best to make that happen. And I always appreciate the generosity of others (these five particularly!) Lastly, remember that connections are always a broadening circle. (if in doubt, remember Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon). That broadening circle now also includes those 16 students, who bring their own knowledge, communities and expertise to the experiment. Special thanks also go to Phyllis Hecht and Sarah Chicone of JHU for their advice, help, and willingness to move this experiment forward as a course. So we begin!