Monday, December 30, 2019

Changes for 2020: Mentoring and Take 5


Seven years ago, I posted my first call offering an annual mentorship.  I decided to do so because I wanted some control over any influence I could have in the future of the field.  I'd gotten several conference session proposals rejected--ones I thought were great--and I came up with the idea and thought I'd float it and see what would happen.

The result:  over those seven years, hundreds of you have applied, and I've had the chance to spend time each year working with one or two incredible colleagues at different stages in their careers.  I always felt I learned as much--if not more-- from our monthly calls as the mentees did.  Here's looking at all of you--I have loved talking with you once a month,  meeting you in person when I can, hearing your career updates--every bit of it!  Giant bouquets of flowers to Alicia, Tania, Catherine, Claire, Megan, Tadia, Amanda, Susan, Shakia, Doreen, Hannah, and David for your enthusiasm, commitment and energy.  Some mentees dropped away, and that's okay too (aside from the ghosting thing)--our lives are all complicated and it may have been not the right thing.

But I've decided to not do a mentorship call for 2020.  As all of you may have noticed, I blog much less these days--and that's partly because my job at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience is consuming in all good ways, but leaves me less band-width for other things.  I'll be back, I hope, in 2021 looking for new mentees to connect with.

At the same time, there are also changes coming to Take 5, the monthly newsletter of ideas produced by our Gang of Five, five colleagues who initially came together to share and support our own work.  The years together have been so important as sources of support and inspiration. Again, it's primarily a question of time for me, and I'm so pleased to announce that the incredible Anne Ackerson will continue to produce it--so if you don't receive it already, do subscribe here!

My first 2020 goal?  Catching up on blog posts about museum visits in 2019.  And after that, to blog more regularly. Stay tuned. 

My second goal?  Convincing more of you to be mentors.  The Getty Leadership Institute will soon be launching Polaris, described as "a new online mentoring program that will be available to museum professionals across the U.S. Those working in or with museums can develop leadership skills and collegial relationships by being mentored or by mentoring others," supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. 

My third goal?  to continue to connect with and learn from museum colleagues, social justice activists, artists, and everyone working to make a better world.  If you're any of those type of people and want to have an informal conversation about those issues--be in touch.  I do love, to be honest, random conversations.

I'll end this post with deep gratitude to my Take 5 gang: Anne, Marianne, Carolyn, and Gwen (and another member of the original group, Christopher) and all my mentees.  You're the best!


Sunday, December 8, 2019

Museum Catch-Up #2: Rethinking in Amsterdam


I got to spend a very quick weekend in Amsterdam this fall, and saw two museums rethinking in big ways. The Amsterdam Museum's decision to remove the name "Golden Age" from its description of the Netherlands got lots of press around the world.  Thanks to my friend Annemarie de Wildt, a curator at the museum, I got to attend the opening of Dutch Masters Revisited, an installation within the permanent collection at Hermitage Amsterdam.   The permanent exhibit is a huge hall of group Dutch portraits--and the temporary installation is 17 portraits of prominent Dutch citizens depicting a diverse group of people who, based on historical research, are known to have lived in 17th- and 18th-century Netherlands.   Curator J├Ârgen Tjon A Fong of Urban Myth brought the group of photographers and citizens together for meticulously created shoots. There was a great deal to appreciate (warning:  many label images ahead!)


  • the museum explains what it's doing and why.
  • the contemporary portraits are really integrated into the gallery itself.  They're not off in another room or small scale.  They have the same grandeur and importance of the historical works

  • the museum connects past to present in numerous ways. Although I didn't necessarily love the hallway portraits of today's civic organizations, I did appreciate, that within the exhibit, you were encouraged to donate.


  • Labels had provocative titles, asked good questions, asked you to reflect, and provided some surprising info about Amsterdam--without being overlong or info-loaded.

At the opening reception, Margriet Schavemaker, artistic director of the museum, noted publicly that she had recently returned from ICOM in Kyoto, and reaffirmed that although the new museum definition was not approved, it would be the way the Amsterdam Museum is working and will continue to work (for more on that conversation, see this blog post).

Probably five or six years ago I had visited the Tropenmuseum and found it a bit sleepy--a sort of old-fashioned ethnographic museum.  But on this visit, I found it transformed--in approach, in look, in a serious rethinking of their work.  Such a pleasure!  Just a few examples grabbed in a quick visit are below.

Their permanent exhibition, Things that Matter, connected material from around the world with a wide range of contemporary issues--from migration to climate change to the use and misuse of traditional culture by others.  All the issues were framed as questions:

  • When do you feel at home?
  • When is culture yours?
  • What do you believe in?
  • What brings back happy memories?
  • Is the climate changing your culture?

It was fun to dip in and out, and the large scale video installations really worked in the big space.








I was particularly interested in the exhibit Afterlives of Slavery, described as "an exhibition with a discussion platform that places the stories of the enslaved and their descendants centre stage."  The exhibit looks at both the history of enslaved peoples, but also, how those histories continue to impact the Netherlands today (see ongoing examples of controversy around Zwarte Piet).   I liked the feel of the exhibit, as if it really was an ongoing discussion.






I did wonder though, about the emphasis on the history of enslaved peoples in the Caribbean, as related to the Dutch, and why nothing about the history of the Dutch and slavery in what is now New York State was mentioned.  I'd love to see those connections made.

In both these exhibits, I felt like there must have been many many meetings -- and some prototyping--of questions for visitors.  I loved that these were big questions, without single answers.  They were ones that would encourage conversation among visitors.

At both museums in Amsterdam, I felt a kind of courage paired with necessity:  a sense that it has taken museums far too long to address these issues, and the importance of making change.  Although every museum may not be able to afford beautiful portraits or large-screen videos--it's the thinking that matters here.  And that, of course, comes for free!

What else did I do in Amsterdam in a single weekend?  Why of course, ride a bright red bike with AnneMarie and explore the city!  What could be better than exploring a city with a city museum curator?