Most of us agree that inclusion is important. However, we might be unsure how to activate this positive ideal in our daily professional practices. Where to begin when so much change and transformation seems needed? This week, we are excited to feature the Welcoming Guidelines that the LGBTQ Alliance, a professional network of the American Alliance of Museum (AAM), has been developing over the last couple years. These guidelines can certainly inform and help facilitate action. Thank you to Renae Youngs for introducing Incluseum readers to these guidelines that have been gathered in this document.
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Over the past two years, an AAM professional network has been developing a broad set of Welcoming Guidelines to help museums be more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer staff and visitors. The Guidelines touch on all areas of museum work, are available for free online, and launched at
Written by Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Co-Editor of ArtMuseumTeaching and Curator of Education, Palmer Museum of Art.
“Too Much of a Good Thing can be Wonderful.” –Hunter S. Thompson
I’m back from participating in the third meeting of the Art Museum Education Consortium (AMECO) in Seattle, WA, where a group of representatives from various organizations discussed, deliberated, and strategized the current state and future directions of our field in the tranquil setting of the Frye Art Museum. The participants were thoughtful and forthright as they shared insights, resources, and professional opinions about where we have been and, more importantly, where we could and should be going. Although the group was not unanimous in their thoughts on nearly any one topic, a clear exception is the opportunity that technology and social media offer for professional development, communication, and praxis for art museum educators. (see graphic representation of the AMECO proceedings near the bottom of this post)
Throughout the meeting, I kept returning in my own mind to two things:
The number of resources that currently exist for art museum educators. When I began my graduate work in the field in 1995, I struggled to find excellent sources for inspiration and professional development. The situation is far, far different now—there is so much exciting work being done.
The ways in which ArtMuseumTeaching.com, as a digital community of practice, can support and encourage the progress and evolution of our field in ways that are both powerful and palatable. We are all incredibly busy, but somehow we make time for a source of information that is powerful, well-curated, social, and welcoming.
To that end, I would like to share the myriad professional resources offered by the groups represented at the meeting. Take a few moments over your lunch break (yes, I know . . . what lunch break?) and click the following links to see the good work being done in and on behalf of the field of museum education:
ArtMuseumTeaching.com is a digital community and collaborative online forum for reflecting on issues of teaching, learning, and experimental practice in the field of art museum education. It is the goal of this site to connect educators, ideas, and resources around a dialogue about what we do in our practice of teaching and learning.
Canadian Art Gallery Educators (CAGE) is a non-profit association of educators and museums across Canada. Formed in 1989, CAGE has a long history of providing support for gallery and museum educators.
Committee for Education and Cultural Action (CECA) is one of the oldest international committees of ICOM, and as such it achieves the major objectives of ICOM: the exchange of scientific information at an international level, the development of professional standards, the adoption of rules and recommendations, and the realization of collaborative projects.
Engage.org engage is a membership organization representing gallery, art, and education professionals in the United Kingdom and over 20 countries worldwide. engage promotes access to, enjoyment, and understanding of the visual arts through gallery education.
George Washington University Museum Education: Master of Arts in Teaching. The George Washington University developed its master of arts in teaching in museum education in consultation with the museum community. The interdisciplinary curriculum balances academic study with carefully supervised fieldwork, preparing practitioners with the range of knowledge and competencies requisite to leading the profession
Group for Education in Museums(GEM) is a European organization that champions excellence in heritage learning to improve the education health, and well-being of the general public.
Samuel H. Kress Foundation supports the work of individuals and institutions engaged with the appreciation, interpretation, preservation, study, and teaching of the history of European art and architecture from antiquity to the dawn of the modern era. Among their broad support for art museums, the Kress Interpretive Fellowship provides a new kind of mentored professional development opportunity intended to encourage students to explore interpretive careers in art museums, whether as future museum educators or curators; to strengthen the profession of museum educator within the art museum community; to strengthen ties between museum educators and curators in the shared task of interpretive programming in art museums; and to expand the range of promising career options available to students of art history and related fields.
LEM: The Learning Museum Network Projectis a permanent network of museums and cultural heritage organizations to ensure that that can play an active role with regard to lifelong learning and to raise awareness among decision makers at a European level.
Museum Education Monitortracks and records research and resources in museum education worldwide. The aim of MEM is to help create a “road map” to new and current learning in museum education. Its goal is to enhance the development of theory and practice in the field by both academics and museum workers.
Museum Education Roundtable fosters professionalism among museum educators by encouraging leadership, scholarship, and research in museum-based learning. MER also publishes the Journal of Museum Education, the only journal printed in the United States devoted to the theory and practice of museum education.
Museum-Ed strives to meet the needs of museum educators by providing tools and resources by and for the museum education community. Museum-Ed is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing museum educators opportunities to ask questions, to exchange ideas, to explore current issues, to share resources, to reflect on experiences, and to inspire new directions in museum education. Museum-Ed is not a membership organization. All of the resources on the Museum-Ed Web site are free and available to educators in any type of museum, and anyone interested in the field of museum education.
National Art Education Association’s Museum Education Division advances the mission and vision of NAEA, advocating for the value of art museum education in lifelong learning, as well as promoting the needs of educators and the diverse audiences museums engage. The division builds community and develops leadership, advances research and knowledge, and fosters a culture of learning in the field.
Many thanks to Kris Wetterlund and Scott Sayre of Museum-Ed for endeavoring to bring this meeting to fruition while being the most gracious of hosts; to the Kress Foundation for supporting and and participating in this significant event; and to Maketa Wilborn for his ability to summarize, understand, and represent complex issues and ideas.
AMECO hosts: Museum-Ed and Frye Art Museum; sponsored by the Kress Foundation
Participating Organizations: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Art Museum Teaching, Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts (MIDEA), Bank Street College, George Washington University, Museum Education Roundtable, Kress Foundation, University of Texas at Austin, Canadian Art Gallery Educators (CAGE), EdCOM/American Alliance of Museums, The Learning Project, Engage.org, Group in Education (GEM), Museum Education Division/National Art Education Association, and International Council on Museums/Committee for Education and Cultural Action (CECA).
“The purpose of strategic foresight is to prime your imagination to envision different futures — some of the many ways that the world could evolve into more than an amped-up version of today.” – Elizabeth Merritt
What does the future hold for museums? What are museums (or, more accurately, the people working in museums) doing right now that deserves to be shared, examined, and reflected upon? How can museums think more critically about their role in the transforming landscape of education — now and in the years ahead? We all have these questions floating through our minds, but may not often have the time and space to chew on them or hear others’ thoughts. I, myself, have a pile of printed reports, trend watches, and ‘future of museums’ readings sitting on my desk, and every once in a while I glare at it and wish that I could absorb it all in a few minutes like Neo in the film The Matrix. Without superhuman powers, though, I decided to dive into that pile this week.
“… museums will thrive, using challenges as opportunities to test new business and engagement models, and, in doing so, meeting the future head on.”
So it’s in that spirit that I wanted to bring together and share a group of resources from the past 6 months that present and analyze trends, future thinking, and ‘next’ practices in museums and education that help us meet the future head on. I hope that you find this list useful, and please add additional resources, links, and ideas to the Comments section below — allowing this to become a more organic resource. Let’s dive in, shall we…
Intended to take us beyond “best practices,” Next Practices in Art Museum Educationis a new compilation of information from the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) member museums and their innovative approaches to engaging the public with the arts through diverse learning opportunities. Next Practices incorporates 100 case studies of the recent and ongoing educational programming that its member museums have designed and implemented.
The resource underscores the many forms art museum education can take, and provides practical and inspiring ideas for future programming at institutions worldwide. The resource represents a much-needed survey of the exceptional educational practices happening in art museums across the country, and ranges across ages and types of engagement & learning.
Released in November 2013, the NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Museum Editionexamines key trends and technologies in the museum sector, as well as significant challenges that museums are faced with in adopting these technologies. The report hones in on six emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in education and interpretation within the museum environment:
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): given the increasing number of people who take their smartphones and other devices with them everywhere they go, the BYOD movement is an effort to move away from a top-down system of providing devices toward a practice that instead provides the networks and frameworks through which museum visitors interact with a range of content on their own devices.
Crowdsourcing: A method of gathering ideas, information, or content from a wider public community around a shared goal — capitalizing on the power of collective intelligence and public knowledge, as in the case of Wikipedia. Crowdsourcing strategies are being used by museums to curate exhibitions, gathering metadata around artworks or artifacts, promoting community engagement, and crowdfunding new projects.
Electronic publishing:Near and dear to my heart, electronic and digital media are continuing to redefine the publishing avenues of museums, tapping into modern digital workflows and social media activities to develop new forms of content and significantly extend the reach of that content beyond the limits of traditional print. Beyond making these electronic platforms available to anyone, the report identifies the next phase of electronic publishing as linking these platforms together to produce new types of content.
Location-based services: Enabled by WiFi access points, GPS, RFID tags, and crowdsourced positioning technologies, location-based services are now available to deliver up-to-the-moment information that is related to a particular spot — guiding visitors through spaces, directing them to exhibits and objects that match their preferences, and triggering information and content specific to the visitor’s exact location in the museum.
Natural user interfaces:While we are already familiar with technologies and devices that respond to the natural movements of gestures of the human body (taps, swipes, arm motions, and natural language), there are prototype technologies being developed that extend these capabilities and combine facial expression and gesture-sensing technology with voice recognition that could allow museum visitors to interact in an increasingly natural fashion.
Preservation and conservation technologies:While museums have always addressed issues of preserving and conserving cultural heritage, these practices are being challenged by questions around how to preserve and conserve via digital materials as well as working with digital and time-based media — requiring new approaches and new skills that bring in electronic and multi-disciplinary perspectives to digital preservation efforts.
I was fortunate to be part of the 44-member Advisory Board and the process that helped identify these technology trends currently affecting the practice of museum education, interpretation, and visitor experience, and I look forward to the next annual report in this NMC series.
Center for the Future of Museum’s annual forecasting report, TrendsWatch 2014, summarizes six emerging trends identified through CFM’s research and the Dispatches from the Future of Museums, CFM’s free e-newsletter. The report explores how each trend is playing out in the world, investigates what this means for society and for museums, shares examples of how museums are engaging with this trend, and suggests how museums might respond. Here are the six trends/topics that this report identifies:
“For Profit for Good: The rise of the social entrepreneurs”
“Synesthesia: Multisensory experiences for a multisensory world”
“A Geyser of Information: Tapping the big data oil boom”
“Privacy in a Watchful World: What have you got to hide?”
“What’s Mine Is Yours: The economy of collaborative consumption”
“Robots! Are Rosie, Volton, Bender and their kin finally coming into their own?”
The report’s author, Elizabeth Merritt, writes in her introduction:
“As you read about these six trends, think about how they will shape the world, what it would be like to live in the world they may create, and how you and your organization might respond…. Personally I think the most important and challenging question question is raised in ‘For Profit for Good’: How big an impact do museums want to have on the world, and how can we ensure that the good we do is good enough?”
A great read, and certainly a report to look forward to each year from CFM. And speaking of CFM, here are a few more resources and future thinking items from their realm.
Coming out of a convening organized in September 2013 by the American Alliance of Museums (AAMC) and The Henry Ford, the “Building the Future of Education: Museums and the Learning Ecosystem” report includes essays by educators, students, researchers and reformers that summarize and explore how leaders from the worlds of education and museums can work together to integrate the nation’s assets into what they call a ‘Vibrant Learning Grid.’ The convening and report asks the big question: How can museums and schools collaborate to create a new future for education?
The report pulls together leading thinkers and related case studies that focus on this and other core, burning questions, addressing a range of issues that include:
investing in greater capacities to support and manage partnerships
strengthening family engagement and envisioning parents as co-learners
building open learning networks across community institutions
leveraging digital learning and collaborative technologies
The report ends with a powerful “Call to Action” that came out of the second day of the convening, with some practical suggestions for moving the conversation forward and enacting change. They share several ideas, including increasing awareness, sharing information, disrupting conventional thinking about the educational landscape, and implementing radical experiments that increase the role of museums in an expanded view of education.
For those of you heading to Seattle this weekend for the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), there are lots of great sessions, panels, and events to attend that bring together leading thinkers to discuss the future of museums as well as existing trends. The CFM’s Elizabeth Merritt shared her insights recently via the CFM blog, and I encourage you to take a look (even if, like me, you are not attending the AAM conference this year). You’ll find sessions discussing almost all of the reports I list above. If I were attending AAM this year, one of my top picks would be “Crowdsourcing to Community Sourcing: Engaging Visitor Input” with Jeff Inscho, Lori Phillips, Daniel Davis, and Petra Pankow.
Share Your Thoughts
What are some of your ideas about the future of museums, and the ‘next’ practices that will help museums thrive? And what are your thoughts about these types of reports and publications that spotlight ‘innovation’ and ‘future thinking’ — are they limited in their scope, or helpful as we all reflect on our own practice? What sources do you look toward when thinking about new ideas, experiments, and projects?
“Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you.”
This year’s American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Annual Meeting wrapped up in Baltimore last week, but I’m still wrapping my mind around some of the ideas that came up in sessions and lively discussion (in person and via the Twitter hashtag #aam2013). Although the official theme was “The Power of Story”, I walked away thinking that another fitting tagline could have been the above quote from that classic of children’s literature, The Velveteen Rabbit, shared as wisdom from the Skin Horse to the titular lagomorph.
The idea of realness and how that matters in a museum context was on people’s minds throughout the conference, enough that it had a whole session dedicated to it on the first day. “Is It Real? Who Cares?” brought together a group of museum professionals to engage the room in debate over some knotty questions. Before you get excited for a recap of that session, I’ll clarify that I wasn’t there. But they’ve set up a Tumblr that’ll give you some ideas of what you missed, and the handout includes some of the questions that may affect your thoughts about realness.
They ask some great, substantial doozies:
Does authenticity of objects matter more or less to different visitors?
Can display context render real objects fake or make fake objects seem real?
Is the object rendered more real because it’s rare or one-of-a-kind?
If I were feeling more academically-minded, here’s where I’d drop some quotes from Walter Benjamin’s seminal The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction about the aura that a real object has due to its very realness, but I’m only feeling academically-minded enough to use the word “seminal” and bring Benjamin up in the first place. Besides, he wasn’t speaking at AAM, so I’ll move on.
I’m sorry I missed “Is It Real? Who Cares?”, especially because it was the beginning of what became a thematic thread I followed throughout the rest of the conference. In Tuesday morning’s session, “Significant Objects”, Rob Walker talked with the Center for the Future of Museums’ Elizabeth Merritt about his project of the same name, which started out with Rob and Joshua Glenn collecting thrift store tchotchkes, inviting an array of creative writers to contribute fictional short stories about the objects, and then selling the objects+stories on eBay. You can probably guess the punchline. The $128.74 worth of knick-knacks sold for $3,612.51.
But did that make those knick-knacks more real? Would purchasers have paid more if the stories had been nonfiction documents of the objects’ histories (the kind of thing we love to include in museum labels), or was there something special about fiction that drove up the value?
As Elizabeth Merritt put it in that room, there are plenty of stories museums choose to tell about their objects that are factual, but not terribly enlivening or enlightening.
It strikes me that this is part of what’s behind projects like Amuseum Guides or MoMA Unadulterated, unofficial audio guides that offer quirky alternative angles on museums instead of straight facts. Discover forty-six ways you could be killed by the animals and places in the dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History. Hear what 3-10 year olds have to say about the art grown-ups like to dismiss with that tired chestnut, “A kid could make that.”
Lively! Fun! Encouraging people to see museums in a different way, much like the material shared in the alliteratively alluring AAM session called “Magnificent Masters of Museum Mysteries: Narrative Games in Museum Contexts.” Seema Rao from the Cleveland Museum of Art, Susan Edwards and Rebecca Edwards (no relation) from the J. Paul Getty Museum, and Georgina Bath Goodlander from the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum all shared games they’ve developed that ask players to use museum objects to help move through stories. The objects are central to the game experience (visual clues often help answer questions that lead to the next step), but the games aren’t designed to specifically teach the player about the objects.
There are lots of great examples of this kind of approach that privileges the visitor experience and makes museums fun (*gasp*). Amuseum Guides and MoMA Unadulterated do it. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Murder at the Met: An American Art Mystery does it, inserting museum visitors into a fictional story that requires looking closely at the museum’s objects and allows some leeway between the fact and fiction of the contextual, historical information about those objects. Visitor engagement and careful observation are the goals, not formal learning about the art. A true experience in the museum that doesn’t rely on real facts to make it so.
But how does this sort of true–though not altogether real–experience balance out with museums’ responsibility to offer audiences truthful information? A central question throughout these sessions, but nowhere more relevant than on the last morning at “Talking About Race: ‘Mining the Museum’ After 20 Years”. Here was a panel of educators, scholars, and curators talking about Fred Wilson’s 1993 exhibition, “Mining the Museum” at the Maryland Historical Society, where he re-curated displays to juxtapose objects like iron shackles with elaborate silver serving ware and highly finished wooden chairs drawn like an audience around a post once used to whip enslaved people.
Wilson himself joined the panel and spoke eloquently about what inspired the exhibition in the first place. He talked about being mad walking into museums and not seeing racially diverse stories represented. “It made the museum complicit in the evils of the past,” he said. The idea of provenance came up and was questioned. How is provenance determined, after all? Is it who owned a thing? Who cleaned a thing? Certainly in most museums, that first one trumps all. Ownership tells us one part of an object’s story, but it’s far from the whole story.
And so ended AAM with these unresolved issues floating through my head. What makes an object real? Who determines that realness? How important is that realness to a museum visitor? And, maybe most importantly to those of us in the museum field, how can a museum balance out the nebulous concept of realness with an authentic, true experience.
I started with a quote, so in the name of symmetry I’ll end with one. It’s from “Peter and Alice”, a new play by John Logan that I caught in London a few months ago, and it hits on that careful balance between real and true. The play imagines the conversation that might have happened between the people who inspired Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, and near the end there’s a scene where the real Peter (there’s that pesky word again) is remembering when he first saw Peter Pan performed onstage:
I remember the first time I saw the play. I thought it was all real. […]
After the performance Uncle Jim took us backstage. It was a mad bustle, even that was thrilling. I mean, I knew it wasn’t actually real, I knew they were all actors, and we were in a theater… But I needed to know if this place existed, if it were somehow true, even though it wasn’t real. So as the party was going on and everyone was celebrating I wandered onto the stage by myself. Just me… How large it was… I saw the painted backdrop of Neverland. The pirate ship… the wooden moon… And I closed my eyes and spread my arms… And it was true. […]
For a moment… Then I opened my eyes and heard the party, and Uncle Jim calling me, and my brothers laughing… And life went on.
I don’t have neat answers for these questions, but AAM certainly got my mental wheels turning. Do you have answers? Thoughts? Examples of how you find this balance of real and true in your own museum work?