Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On the Road with Nina Simon

By Leslie Howard

It’s not every day that Nina Simon comes to your area to do a workshop. Sure, you can see her present at the American Association of Museums Conference, if you’re lucky enough to be able to go, and you can read her blog and follow her on Twitter, but a workshop! Near you! Amazing. Last month, I had the privilege of attending the Nina Simon workshop presented by the Connecticut Humanities Council and hosted by the Connecticut Historical Society. Hoping to reach out to people in the Hartford area, my Young and Emerging Professionals (YEP) Co-chair, Kate Laurel Burgess-MacIntosh, and I decided to host a get together afterward the workshop.

Then Kate had the idea that turned our networking event from fun to awesome. We invited Nina Simon. And she said yes. She even RSVPed on the YEP Facebook page, so you KNOW it was official. But there was a catch. She had to be in Mystic, Connecticut later that night, as she was conducting a workshop for the folks at Mystic Seaport the next day. And that’s how Kate and I got to drive Nina Simon from Hartford to Mystic.

We were, of course, more than happy to drive her. How often do you get a chance like that? My friends and family outside the museum world didn’t quite get my excitement. But I knew it was something special.

The workshop was inspiring and enlightening, of course, but the real inspiration came from the car ride. During the drive, we heard more about her past, how she came to choose Worcester Polytechnic Institute as her college and her first museum jobs here in New England at the Museum of Science and The Discovery Museums. Kate and I heard more about Nina’s start and how she came to be Nina Simon. Simply, she had an idea and that idea turned into a blog in November 2006. She started a consulting firm, Museum 2.0, which took her across the country and around the world consulting with museums and presenting at conferences. She also published a book, The Participatory Museum. Ultimately, she has returned home again as the Director of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, California, but she is continuing the conversation and flow of ideas through her Museum 2.0 blog.

I am inspired by this because it is easy to become caught up in the day to day and forget the greater purpose of our museums. As Co-Chair of the YEP PAG, I listen to and advise emerging professionals about how to get started in the field and next steps they can take to advance their career. I hear the discouragement. But I also hear all kinds of incredible ideas about museums and their future and wonder if one of our YEPs will be the next Nina Simon, travelling the world and inspiring thousands of museum professionals. Everyone has to start somewhere. So, museum professionals, keep coming up with those ideas, no matter now outrageous or mundane. You never know where it might take you or who you might inspire! I’ll always be grateful to Kate for inviting Nina to our event, and to Nina, for accepting our invitation. In a gray Ford Focus on Connecticut Route 85, I was inspired.

The greatest achievements of men were, at first, nothing but dreams of the minds of men who knew that dreams are the seedlings of all achievements. A burning desire, to be and to do, is the starting point, from which the dreamer must take off. – Napoleon Hill

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