Tag Archives: blogging

When Bloggers Collide

I recently was invited to participate in a panel session on museum blogging at the 2012 Museum Computer Network (MCN) conference, which was luckily hosted in nearby Seattle. The session was pulled together by power blogger Ed Rodley (aka Senior Exhibit Developer at the Museum of Science in Boston) and moderated by what I would now consider the new James Brown of museum technology, Koven Smith (aka Director of Technology at the Denver Art Museum).  It was my first time attending MCN — which I had followed closely via Twitter during their last conference — and I was blown away at the energy and passion of this group of museum professionals that represented so many areas of museum work.

Since this conference has sparked a lot of thinking for me, I may end up writing a few MCN-related posts in the next week or so, but for now I wanted to focus on the reason I was there in Seattle this past week — the bringing together of a diverse group of active bloggers to dissect the how, why, and who of museum blogging.  For me, this was the first time meeting these other bloggers “in the flesh” or face-to-face — what would happen?  I could not help thinking about my favorite lines from the 1984 classic film Ghostbusters:

Egon: There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.
Peter: What?
Egon: Don’t cross the streams.
Peter: Why?
Egon: It would be bad.
Peter: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?
Egon: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

Luckily, just as in the movie, that’s not what happened at all.  It turns out, when bloggers collide, you get some productive conversations about professional and personal (or offline and online) identity, the complex networks that these blogs build online, and the ways in which these online entities may even push museum thinking forward.  In this post, I would simply like to introduce those who came together for this MCN session, and then lay out three questions that I spent time thinking about before participating in the panel (and that we grappled with a bit during our conversations).

The Blog Roll

Here is a quick run down of the other bloggers/blogs represented at this exciting MCN session:

Ed Rodley, Eric Siegel, Me, & Suse Cairns

Suse Cairns blogs at Museum Geek, and is also currently a PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle, Australia. She holds a unique position as an emerging museum professional without a museum institutional affiliation, perhaps permitting her to strike up a bit more of a disruptive conversation (or maybe that’s her indie rockstar background). She contributed a guest post to ArtMuseumTeaching.com about “Getting Uncomfortable in Museums.”

Ed Rodley blogs at Thinking About Museums, and currently works as Senior Exhibit Developer for the Museum of Science, Boston. He also coordinates a series of conversations & explorations among the Boston museum community that he has dubbed “Drinking About Museums,” posted to his blog regularly (here is the most recent installment). Ed and I are in a similar boat in which we blog independently of the institutions we work for — making for a slightly more complex situation when it comes to our more ‘rebellious’ ideas or questions. I’m grateful that he pulled this panel together for MCN.

Eric Siegel blogs at The Works, a New York Hall of Science blog, and is currently that institution’s Director and Chief Content Officer. With 30 years of experience in museums, Eric writes about challenging aspects of innovative projects in exhibition, technology, and education as well as collaborations and current thinking in museum work. One of his great recent posts discusses the ReGeneration exhibition being developed at the New York Hall of Science that will bring together contemporary art and science. Not only does Eric blog about projects like this, but he also supports his staff creating their own blog content across the institution — see SciSpotlight.

Session Attendees — OK, this was the real fire power at the session. Almost everyone who attended the panel also blogs themselves, and some for longer than the entire panel combined.  During the session, we asked how many of them had their own blogs, and the photo on the right shows the sea of hands (as good as an iPhone can show it). In hindsight, we should have really thrown more questions out to the “audience” and had a richer conversation about blogging — and not just our blogs.  I wanted to give a shout out to everyone who submitted their blogs to our session’s Twitter feed, but I know there are more.

So that gives the long and short of who was there for the session, and it might also help many of you connect with more of the museum blogging community.  Now I wanted to quickly frame some of the issues I brought to the table during the session, and then I invite your feedback and comments below.

Museum Blogging Issue #1: Who Reads This Stuff?

After writing for and managing this blog for over 9 months, I have come to be quite fascinated by blog readership … or clicker-ship, as I’d rather call it (mostly because I can measure how many people click on the blog, but I can’t measure how closely they read it).  First of all, there is the actual number of people that museum blogs reach.  I estimate that across a few dozen museum blogs (17 of them are listed above), there are approximately 1-2 million people accessing these sites each year.  And I don’t think this figure is exaggerated — I recently met an art blogger who gets about 1.25 million hits a year, showing how widespread the reach of this form of content can be.  And I want to be clear here: I am not associating the number of hits or clicks with the value of a blog’s content or the blogger.  I frankly don’t care whether a blog gets 1 million hits a year, or 100 hits a year — if they both have thoughtful, quality content, then they both serve an important role in this online thinking space.

Beyond the sheer number of hits or clicks, I am way more interested in the organic web of interactions that can take place online after a blog post is published.  For example, a blogger can share their post via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, and their own circles of colleagues and peers.  Then, others share or retweet the post, and the ideas start to spread in unpredictable ways.  Search engines also direct people to the blog from Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. Then, people from across the world have the chance to add their thoughts and comments on the blog itself, or on Twitter and Facebook, and the conversation grows beyond the blog.  Furthermore, other bloggers can respond to your ideas through their own posts.  For instance, my recent post on teen engagement in museums has pingbacks from 4 other blogs — and each of those blogs has its own social media networks and clicker-ship.  The term ‘blog’ often seems so two-dimensional and self-directed when you consider the three-dimensional interactions, relationships, and ideating that can potentially ripple out from each post.  After hearing a great “Ignite” presentation at MCN from Lori Byrd Phillips on “open authority,” I think I am going with the term “BAZAAR” instead.  More to come on that idea in a future post.

Museum Blogging Issue #2: Do Blogs Really Have the Power to Create Communities?

Sometimes people can get quite cynical about blogs, thinking that it is just a bunch of people talking to themselves. Can these sites really create relationships among people and professionals?  Are blogs really a way for people to collaborate online and share ideas, questions, and processes?  Well, I would not have created this online forum (now with 14 authors) if I didn’t think that it had the potential to create an online community of practice in the field of art museum education. My experience thus far proves that people really do come together through a blog to exchange ideas, ask questions, and challenge each other.  Since us art museum educators only come together a couple times a year at conferences (and most museum educators are not able to even attend these conferences), I do find that online communities are finding a new role in the professional field. There is certainly more that sites like ArtMuseumTeaching could be doing to enhance peer engagement, and I hope to explore some of these in the upcoming months.

This whole question of how we build online communities is something that really interests me, and I will be partnering with some amazing colleagues (Dana Carlisle Kletchka and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl) to explore this through a session at next year’s National Art Education Association conference — a session that will have a rich online, digital presence before, during, and after the conference.  So I leave these questions open: how do we build communities of practice online, and what does that mean in terms of the way we work, interact, and play together?

Museum Blogging Issue #3: How Well Do We Play With Others?

My final thought simply opens up more questions about how we develop expansive, boundary-crossing communities online.  As bloggers, how well do we play with each other?  If you have your own museum blog, how many times have you invited other museum bloggers to write a guest post, commented on their blog, or added a link to their blog on your site?  Do bloggers reach out to make connections with other bloggers outside of their own national and cultural boundaries?  What about across types of museums and academic disciplines?  Even outside of the blogging circles — how well do we connect with other existing forms of online interaction (Google Hangout, Blog Talk Radio, or other online communities such as Digital Is)?  I, myself, have a lot of work to do in many of these categories, but I wanted to lay out these questions so that we can be thinking of them as we push forward in the blogosphere.


So, I really enjoyed attending MCN, and it sparked all kinds of questions and thoughts in my mind about this site as well as large areas of my professional work.  I invite your thoughts and perspectives below, and I am open to all suggestions as to how to grow the community already forming around this online “bazaar” I call ArtMuseumTeaching.com.

During the conference, MCN publicized Twitter hashtags for each session, so I wanted to make available an archive of all of the tweets up to this point that used our hashtag: #mcn2012tale.  Here it is in PDF form, with lots of great questions and thoughts from those attending the session and beyond: TweetArchive_#mcn2012tale

Getting Uncomfortable in Museums

Guest post by Suse Cairns, doctoral candidate in the PhD Fine Art program at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and blogger at http://museumgeek.wordpress.com.

This post has been a long time coming. When Mike first contacted me about the possibility of doing a guest post for Art Museum Teaching many weeks ago, I was too busy to immediately do so. I thought it was just a lack of time and clear head space. But even after the deadline driven urgency of that time had passed, I still hesitated and put off writing. Why? I was writing amply on other things, so it was no longer time that was the problem, nor general inspiration. So what was it? What was preventing me from starting this project?

It turns out that my problem was one of elasticity, or more accurately, a lack thereof. I was feeling stretched, and my avoidance of writing this post was a tactic to avoid the discomfort that brought.

Photo by Redfishingboat

Let me explain. When I write for my own blog, I have a very definite comfort zone. I have defined the intellectual space, and I know intimately its boundaries.  In fact, its boundaries are my boundaries. I can stretch or push them, I can expand them as far as I am comfortable, and still exist within a very safe space. I recognise the likely readers and know their vocabularies and topical touch points. I know intimately what’s been covered before and what people have responded to, because it has all been within my own domain. The community of readers is my community; the space is my environment. Even when I am exploring ideas that are at times uncomfortable and that push me to consider things that I have not previously, I still retain a certain level of control.

But I don’t have the same sense of easy intimacy with the Art Museum Teaching website or audience. I know less who reads this site, and the sorts of topics and ideas they will respond to. I have not worked as a museum educator myself, and was uncertain what I could contribute that would be of interest to those who are.

So even though I was undertaking an act that I do regularly (writing), I was on edge. Unnerved. Stretched.

Such feelings, then, seem to resonate with two concepts that are at the very focus of the current investigations here on Art Museum Teaching.

The first of those is of art museum education itself.  When students come into a museum, or come into contact with art – sometimes for the first time – they may be out of their own comfort zones. That sensation can be in response to the physical space of the museum, where students might not know the rules or customs of the space; and it can be intellectual, when students have not encountered or don’t know about art and may not understand its language or how the art world is constructed. In many cases, students will feel both these sensations – out of place and uncertain of the context in which they find themselves.

The second way this sense of being stretched beyond comfort resonates is in the professional space of the museum, when ideas like the Elastic Manifesto that push for experimentation require that the museum itself, and its staff, make themselves deliberately uncomfortable.

Innovation and learning both require a certain amount of discomfort. They need a step into unknown territory, which will often be accompanied by a reciprocal jolt of fear. For some people who crave the new and who yearn to explore new spaces, this will be a great sensation. Such natural adventurers will likely thrive from these conditions. But there are many who will find such sensations stressful and do what they can to avoid them.

Henry Kissinger said that “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” It is a useful angle for conceiving of the role of both art museum educators, and advocates for change and experimentation in the museum.

Visitor interacting with Doris Salcedo’s “Shibboleth” at the Tate Modern. Photo by truu.

Getting uncomfortable is important for growth, but mitigating that discomfort to keep it at an acceptable level is also useful. How can we provide scaffolding for that process, so that those who embark on the journey to somewhere new have the tools and permission to explore and accomplish, without fear that making an error will be cataclysmic? How can we make the museum space a safe environment for exploration and unknowning, both for students and staff?

I’d argue that one step in this process is for those who advocate for change in others spend a little time getting uncomfortable themselves, to remember the mildly unpleasant sensations the process can evoke. Stretching yourself, reaching beyond your normal boundaries can remind you that even small moves into unfamiliar territory can be challenging. Even writing this post, beyond my own ‘normal’ space, has required that I extend and stretch myself to find a creative solution. It has been a thoroughly rewarding process, but was neither easy nor fast. It required getting uncomfortable, and living in that state for an extended period of time. Being aware of such things is useful.

What do you think? How can we as museum professionals make sure that the museum is a safe space to get a little uncomfortable? How can we scaffold the process of experimentation, innovation, and learning, to draw out creativity and productivity, whilst mitigating the pain of the unknown?

(And if you don’t normally comment on posts, feel free to use this as an opportunity to get a little uncomfortable and step beyond your own safe space.)