Thursday, May 17, 2012

AAM 2012: “Debaucherous Museuming” at its Best

Guest post by Zerah Jakub, Visitor Services and Program Assistant at Old South Meeting House

AAM’s Annual Meeting is akin to an initiation ceremony for museum professionals. Navigating the hundreds of sessions, numerous networking events, and ļ¬nding time to visit the cultural institutions of the host city requires shameful amounts of caffeine and true dedication to all things museums.

I arrived for AAM’s Annual Meeting with an impressive 18 point check-in on foursquare and my last paper of graduate school to write; luckily, I also arrived two days early and had plenty of time to finish that paper.  Over the next five days I attended 7 sessions, focused mostly on mobile interpretation; visited 6 museums; rode the roller coasters at the Mall of America; attended networking events all over Minneapolis; and even made it an old fashioned kegger and silent auction fundraiser hosted by the team at Museum-Ed.  It was a busy week and it took a few days to mentally get over the information overload upon my return to Boston.  When I finally sorted out the benefits of attending the conference a few key take-aways emerged:

“You Look Digitally Familiar” – Networking does not have to begin with a face to face interaction.  I started networking before I even showed up in Minneapolis using Facebook and Twitter.  This provided me with ample opportunities to have much more meaningful conversations with people I was meeting for the first time in person, but had interacted with digitally, and garner introductions to others which expanded my network tremendously.

Gustav, Paul, and Babe the Blue Ox – Every city has its must see museums and Minneapolis is no exception.  Along with finding my way to the Walker Art Center, Mill City Museum, Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, and the Minnesota History Center I also found time to go to a few out of the way places and it really paid off.  Both the American Swedish Institute and the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum (which required a road trip to Wisconsin) had amazing interactive exhibits ranging from a Dala Horse you could ride for a quarter to Paul Bunyan’s snack skillet you could grease with bacon “skates”.  The time spent away from the conference was just as effective as the time I spent sitting in sessions, and in some cases more so.

Platforms of Exchange – The conference as a whole was an experience in effectively exchanging ideas.  Whether this was done in a session, with a Tweet, in a museum, or over a pint at the local watering hole, the opportunity to speak to a wide array of museum professionals was an extraordinary way to find new approaches to what we do in the museum field.  I attended sessions armed with my iPhone, iPad, and an extra battery – no pen and paper for me.  My mode of communication was Twitter and I found the experience to be more immersive than passively taking notes.  Friends unable to attend sessions were able to participate in the conference in real time, and those in other sessions were able to connect themes they were hearing about to ones I was.

AAM’s Annual Meeting allowed me to expand my business card collection, gain 30 more followers on Twitter, and add 6 museums to my lifer list, so now what?  Maybe it’s time I write a proposal for next year’s AAM in Baltimore…..

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Guest post by Michelle Cheng, Director of Education, New Haven Historical Society
Once an innocuous sound, the click now conjures up images of computer mice, computer screens and websites. Our technology and world are constantly changing now, and so must our museums. Though adopting the newest technology is important, doing it well is of far greater importance. The question is: what does adopting new technology well look like? Right now, we are seeing how social media can build a community, how crowdsourcing can change fundraising and how digitized collections showcase an organization as a vital resource. This year’s NEMA conference theme, Pushing the Envelope: Innovation and the Future of Museums, furthers the discussion.

In an increasingly wirelessly connected world, we are driven more than ever to seek a sense of place, a sense of belonging, be it within a city, a historic site, or on social media. It’s just that we now have more ways of connecting. We seek a sense of place to ground ourselves, searching for connections through the built environment, art history and science, for example. The projects common now are ones that break down the walls of the museums, sometimes literally, as new structures like the Arts of the Americas wing at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Isabella Stewart Gardner’s new wing are built.

When the opportunity to be a part of the 2012 Conference Program Committee for NEMA, I couldn’t say no. I was humbled to be invited to be a part of a committee of esteemed individuals from the museum and art worlds.

With 98 proposals, the most ever, the theme for the 2012 NEMA conference clearly generated great interest within the museum community in New England. Some of the current hot topics include emergency planning, crowdsourcing, addressing audiences with special needs, from Alzheimer’s to autism to vision impairment, and developing a coherent plan for social media.

A full day of discussion about the session proposals was not only invigorating, but also very telling of the new ideas emerging within New England museum community. Though we may have some techniques that work well in our respective settings, there is always great interest in seeing what other organizations are doing. After all, change can be good. More importantly, we ask ourselves these questions: What are other organizations doing well? How are they doing it well? How can we adapt these to fit our cultural institution? With ever-changing technology, we are constantly going through the process of observation, adaptation, implementation and evaluation of strategies for teaching and learning, fundraising, and community engagement, just to name a few.

We are living in a truly exciting time, when innovation can mean the beginning of an entirely new way of living, playing, working, learning, teaching, making art and much more. I look forward to continuing to be a part of such a vibrant museum community, and I hope to learn more about what innovation means to you and your museum.

Pushing the Envelope: Innovation and the Future of Museums
November 7-9, 2012
Burlington, Vermont