Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Leave Your Desk Behind: Thoughts on Outdoor Exhibits
I collaborated on the outdoor exhibit of Borderlands, a project of fellow Fulbrighter Olga Trusova. The exhibit, supported by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, was mounted in Shevchenko Park, a beautiful park in the center of the city. Borderlands is a comic book that tells 7 stories of human trafficking--you can read more here. The use of the comic book format (drawn by Dan Archer) is an unusual way to tell compelling, important human stories, and equally unusual to then convert it to an exhibit.
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud as a great way to expand thinking about exhibits and what we do). I'm enough of a museum nerd that I find it incredibly exciting to watch people stop and read and think about what we do.
Institute for Museum and Library Services, I've worked with the Montgomery County Historical Society in Rockville, MD on a project that also got history out into the community. Montgomery Connections uses banners, bus stop ads, and a website to engage, in three different languages, non-yet museum visitors in the history of the county. Using the tag line, Did You Ever Wonder? the print materials introduced visitors to authentic characters from county history and invited them to call a phone number to learn a bit more. In our formative evaluation, we learned some surprising things about what interested who.
But a voice message (after listening to the audio, callers were invited to leave a comment) reinforced for me how important it is that we get out of our offices, out of our museums, and out into the community. After listening to an audio about the first Chinese immigrant to the county in the early 20th century, a Spanish-speaking listener commented (this is a rough paraphrase) "I am here in this country alone--and listening to this has given me hope for my future."
Think history doesn't matter? Think again.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
What's the Story? A Straight Line?
The photo at the top of the post, a bas-relief as you enter the museum, reminded me of a long-ago comment to a museum colleague. In teaching fourth graders about primary sources she asked them how they would find out about what something in the past was like. "I'd go to the historical society," said one. "How would they find it out?" she asked. The student's reply, "They look it up in a big book in the back." To me, this exhibit represents the big book approach to museum-story telling with a straight line narrative that brooks few doubts or questions.
Serge Lifar, one of the great male ballet dancers of the 20th century. I hadn't known anything about him, but this small exhibition just had so much life to it in ways that were hard to explain. Dancing shoes, tiny models of ballet sets, wings, drawings of connections--he felt alive in the room.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Marketing is Not a Dirty Word
In a post last month about creating change, I wrote that marketing was not the answer. And marketing has continued in my thoughts. Jasper Visser commented in response to that post, "Marketing might be the first step, but then marketing in the sense of building tribes, keeping promises, not in the sense of more flyers and noise (which is not really marketing)."
And at another workshop here in Kyiv, Vlad Pioro, director of the Ukrainian Center for Museum Development commented, "Marketing is not a dirty word," as he introduced the Ukrainian version of Museum Strategy and Marketing : Designing Missions, Building Audiences, Generating Revenue and Resources by Neil, Philip and Wendy Kotler. Marketing is particularly problematic in a post-Soviet society: even the words consumers, marketing, branding, all smack of capitalism (though of course the Soviets did a pretty good job at staying on message, in the broadest sense). And although there's plenty of advertising everywhere here, old habits die hard.
Vlad's comment came on the heels of my presentation about voluntary museum standards in which I referenced both AAM's Standards of Excellence and AASLH's StEPs program and asked my museum colleagues here to consider whether such standards would be useful for Ukrainian museums. Among the questions and comments that ensured in an open discussion.
- But we have laws on museums here in Ukraine!
- But the laws don't work!
- Preserving collections is our only work, the most important.
- Why is that function (preserving collections) only one among many in these U.S. standards?
- We have particular issues here.
- Who would write them? How could we agree?
- We need to change, to look at our museums in the way that the rest of the world looks at theirs.
It may be "the government" who is responsible for museums here in Ukraine, but in fact, the museums, their collections, and their activities belong to the Ukrainian people, who, as in any country or culture, have a right to access, information, and even sometimes, a little fun when they visit!
Top by Ky_Olsen on Flickr
Bottom by Pawel Loj on Flickr
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