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 

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry that I missed this conference. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on it with us, Michelle. I look forward to reading more about museum innovation in New England. I hope that NEMA runs some posts along these lines. I'd love to hear more about What other organizations are doing and how.