What is Museum Hack?

14 comments

  1. Rachel Ropeik

    I’m sorry I won’t be able to join in on the Google Hangout convo, because I love you crazy kids and what you’re up to with Museum Hack.

    Here’s a question I’ve been pondering to toss out there for discussion: How is museum hacking different from the kind of good, solid, engaging museum education so many of us do? I definitely agree that museum skeptics may be won over by some alternative ways of enjoying the museum experience, but we’re a creative bunch, museum educators, and we use a lot of those alternative techniques in our teaching. Storytelling and inquiry and sass and hands-on stuff and behind the scenes info are our bread and butter in a lot of cases.

    Is there something different about your concept of hacking the museum? Or perhaps, does what good museum educators do (like so much of Jen’s work that I’ve seen) fit under the umbrella of museum hacking? And then, if it’s what’s being done by the folks working for museums, do we become hackers from the inside? Can one hack a system while being part of it? I guess the Matrix sort of proved that we can.

    Anyway, I’m sorry I can’t join in on the Hangout, but if others are interested in some of these questions, I add them to the conversation topics.

    • Hi Rachel!

      I actually agree with you regarding museum educators having a lot of sass and creativity – I think some of the differences that were not explicitly mentioned might add to the conversation:

      A lot of times we are dealing with adults. Not ones that have gone through the tours and inquiry of our creative museum educator minds – ones that grew up with museums being the quiet, contemplative spaces with rights and wrongs. The work we are doing as museum educators completely influences this for me – I’m getting to do what I love so much in ed programs with adults.

      The age is a big difference for me, but I’m really lucky to always have worked at institutions that are supportive and inspirational. From traveling with my company, I’ve realized just HOW lucky we are in NYC to have such an open mind concerning museum ed. It’s not like that everywhere, and I dare bring up the articles like this CNN piece: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/22/travel/opinion-why-i-hate-museums/

      to say that not all programs are the same.

      That’s a great question regarding the Hack from the inside. The word Hack itself is a complex thing – it reminds me of the word ‘engagement’ and a wordle a fellow educator sent me when I was brainstorming names for my company. (Look it up, it made me laugh) What does a Hack mean to you?

      I’ve written a lot, I’ll let Mark chime in!

      Jen

  2. Congratulations on this insightful work and the successes you’ve shared regarding the program. Mark brought up a good point when he stated, ” There have been a few times I’ve been shushed, but I’ve also been shushed in museums that employ me.”

    I think perhaps some of the success with the hack concept is that the hacker is an independent freelance educator (not being affiliated with the Met). Art museum educators often find themselves spending substantial time on documenting and evaluating program successes and failures to key funding sources. Under this model, the hacker has total latitude and freedom to customize the tour to the given audience. The hacker is freed from the administrative tasks that face “in house” museum educators.

    One question / consideration: What are the future direct impacts to the field of art museum education (e.g. professionalism / best practices), if we see an continued increase in the privatization of the professional art museum teacher role?

    • Hi Jason!

      Was actually me who has been shushed ;) And I’ll be transparent, it was by other visitors (at my other institutions), NOT staff. I’m really lucky to work for incredibly supportive and progressive museum education departments.

      I also have to disagree with you regarding substantial time documenting/evaluating. At least in NYC, many educators work on a freelance basis: I (thankfully) don’t touch admin.

      As I mentioned earlier, a large part of my WHY is the difference audience. The word accessible is overused, but I really feel we make the museum accessible on so many levels. A person is interested in money (re:cost) and acquisition stories? Got it. Someone wants the highlights, but with a twist? Done. Group size is so small that you can easily spend time with each person and find out what resonates with them in the museum vs a large group dynamic. Also the adults vs students I mentioned earlier in my response to Rachel.

      And wow, good question! I think few institutions allow private group tours – if this continues will they all? Will they do away with it? And how can we confirm the material being dispersed is correct? We are pretty serious about research and how things are presented at MH – as zany as we are, we are nerds and art history buffs at heart. Will everyone take it as seriously?

  3. Like Rachel, I’m sorry to have to miss the Google Hangout as it seems a fascinating discussion. But to follow up Jen, on your observation about age being one big difference. I think of museum educators as people who are able to deal with all ages and interests of visitors, not just school kids. I think one difference might be that big museum education departments have specialists, so they can just deal with school kids, or adult public programming. But for the vast majority of museums, there’s a tiny education staff dealing with the whole package of audience and community engagement. And in a small bit of shameless self-promotion, I hope readers will take a look at Creativity in Museum Practice (http://creativityinmuseumpractice.wordpress.com/) the new book by Rainey Tisdale and I from Left Coast Press, that takes a broad look at how each of us can make creative efforts like Museum Hack flourish in museum settings (whether we’re independent professionals or staff)

    • Hi Linda!

      Thanks for your comment!

      I agree with you that educators should be able to deal with all ages and interests, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. Some friends of mine who are educators admittedly are uncomfortable giving tours for peers or adults. I think the stereotype of a museum tour for adults is an essential dump of information, a highlights exploration.

      That model is true in large and small museum education departments – adult tours can become vehicles for massive amounts of information vs activity and inquiry – and it can be incredibly overwhelming for the visitor. The ‘spray and pray’ mentality we are trying to get away from happens in all kinds of institutions. Speaking from my own experience, in larger institutions, I think the educators that deal with school and family programs tend to get paid for the work they do vs a volunteer basis for adult educators.

      But that is just my experience – is that the case in other museums/cities?

      I’m curious, outside of our museum-centric bubble, to ask visitors what they think adult tours should include?

  4. Great post, and awesome discussion! When I first heard about Museum Hack, I was so fascinated that something like this could live within the walls of an ‘authoritative’ institution like the Met. I wondered — what do they think about this? Are they, the institution, going to let this continue? How does this affect docents and other tours/programs happening at the Met?

    Then I realized that this collision (or confluence) of museum experiences is quite inspiring, and I became instantly impressed with the Met. The museum is letting go of controlling the visitor experience and allowing a diverse range of creative experiences to happen within its walls. And the concept of hacking is certainly nothing totally new to the Met — they did, after all, host the first art museum 3D printing Hackathon (learn more: http://bit.ly/1bByriq) and their staff continue to be among those in this country who push that form of experimentation in new directions. I also know that in their school and teacher programs area, adult programs, and gallery & studio programs, the Education staff at the Met have been ‘hacking’ from the inside for years. They are working to rethink the relationship that museums build with teachers and schools; they have a history of some truly incredible adult in-gallery teaching experiences; and they recently began a new Public Practice fellowship position to allow artists a way to rethink museum experiences and forms of public engagement (http://bit.ly/1h6Wb3y).

    Hacking the Met from the outside, like Museum Hack is doing, seems only so fitting at an institution that currently is quite good at letting go, allowing for unexpected experiences, and being open to unplanned directions. And I hope more institutions can begin to think more broadly about the types of experiences that can happen inside their walls. Would your museum allow Museum Hack to lead tours there?

    I’m so glad that we have the Google Hangout coming up on Tuesday to unpack some of these questions and ideas. Continue posting your comments and questions here, and we’ll wrap those into our Hangout conversation.

    • AWESOME questions Mike! And the Met really is fantastic for letting us do what we do – I’m curious if other museums would let it happen as well?

      • Rachel Ropeik

        This is something else I’m interested to see as Museum Hack goes forward: how will institutions respond. I agree, the Met has been great, and the Museum Hack Powers That Be have done a good job walking the line between unaffiliated independence and respect for the museum’s policies.

        I think one of the risks Museum Hack runs is defensive museums and defensive educators. Jen, your comments above are spot on about how many museums’ adult tour experiences are some of their least creative offerings. However, that’s definitely not true for all institutions, and it definitely leaves a bad taste in museum education staff mouths to admit to it. No one wants to admit that what they do isn’t terribly interesting, and I imagine a lot of institutions and educators/programmers might not be best pleased at the idea of someone independent and unaffiliated coming in and doing something new and more exciting.

        (Also, I’ll put in a plug for some of those “standard format” adult tours being engagingly presented by good, solid educators without employing all the interactive, playful elements that make up Museum Hack tours. Certainly not true of all, or even most, adult tours, but just as certainly true of some. There’s a reason that format is tried and true and has lasted so well for as long as it has.)

  5. This conversation has brought up some really interesting questions, it has also highlighted some museum stereotypes.

    I completely agree that educators might not be best pleased about a group of unaffiliated educators coming in to do something new. But I would really love to see this initial reaction turn into a conversation about sharing information and possible collaborations working along Hub lines to foster best practice. It would of course be counter-productive for Museum Hack to take such an us vs them approach.

    Just putting in my two pennies worth, that the “standard format” is tried and tested can also suggest that it appeals to a very loyal (but select type of) audience. A museum’s mission (from an educator’s point of view at least) should be to strive to bring in new audiences and make collections accessible. The standard format has lasted so long but as we move forward it’s important to always strive to push boundaries to see what new ways we can both engage our audiences and prove to them that museums are relevant to them.

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