Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday's signpost

I liked this way of being open to customers: the managers' names and phone numbers are listed right above the desk.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Theme from the AAM conference in LA: affecting change in our world

This year's American Association of Museums conference offered me a series of inspiring moments. At the PR & Marketing Luncheon, a speaker from Participant Media showcased the amazing roster of films they've produced in their five years in existence, including the Oscar-winning documentaries The Cove and An Inconvenient Truth, Food, Inc., and The Soloist. They evaluate all projects on both commercial potential and the possibility for social change, something that makes sense for museums as well. Each film they do also has a campaign with NGOs, including web sites, social media, petitions, etc. The Soloist (starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr.) had a campaign to humanize homelessness and mental illness. Standard Operating Procedure was about the Abu Ghraib photos and how they were used as a weapon.

Their latest film, out this fall, is called Waiting for Superman, about the failure of the U.S. educational system. It's about kids in elementary schools who are in lotteries to get into the one decent middle/high school that will give them a way out of their neighborhoods. The preview was amazing and brutal. Museums who are working with inner city neighborhoods, schools, and literacy can visit this link to see how they can participate and help support this important film.

Next up was an Onsite Insight at the Museum of Tolerance. These are mini-field trips that AAM does and are often the best part of these conferences. This entire museum has the big hairy audacious goal of actively fighting intolerance throughout the world, not just commemorating the Holocaust. It's full of high-tech exhibits and covers the topics of genocide, hate speech, slavery, and child abuse. I found the technology at times to be overwhelming, and would have liked a stronger balance of hopeful stories and "what you can do" action points. It may be that teens (who the museum is targeted at) don't find it overwhelming. I also would like to see them invest in more take-home materials, putting a website link at the end of their video clips, curricula for teachers, etc.

At the end of our visit, we saw a personal testimony from Matthew Boger, a gay man who was assaulted in a hate crame when was 13 and left for dead. Years later he became a volunteer at the museum as part of his healing process, and eventually became friends with and now works with his attacker, also a museum volunteer. The short film they showed, From Hate to Hope, was amazing, but having him come out afterwards and talk about his story was goose-bump-raising. We didn't get to meet his former attacker Tim Zaal (normally they do the program together), but my entire experience of this museum was changed. Learn about their story here. They have first-person testimonies like this every day. That powerful first-person interpretation needs to be bottled somehow... it really does make or break an experience.

I also visited the Audubon Center at Debs Park and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, where I saw one of the most creative exhibits I've ever seen called Homelands: How Women Made the West. My full exhibit review is posted here.

Wednesday was a day of amazing speakers, beginning with travel writer Pico Iyer, author of The Global Soul. One forgets how powerful a good speaker (or "lecture") can be, in the age of bad PowerPoints. Iyer spoke with no slides (he claimed to be "powerless and pointless" but was just the opposite) for about 50 minutes. He talked about the new global citizens: children and young adults who are mixed backgrounds and have more in common with each other (around the world) than they do with their parents. He said that museums can be places of respite and recharging in our overcharged world, a centering space. In an age of images and media one image, one painting, one idea can have incredible impact. People who travel are constantly creating their identities, living like snails with their homes on their backs. He also said it's easy to assume that we're "all connected" because we have this spread of sameness. But every McDonald's around the world is totally different in his opinion, as they reflect their neighborhoods and culture. The way museums can stand out is to celebrate what makes them unique, find their local resonance. Even people who never travel must adapt, as this "new world" is coming to them in their neighbors and schools and workplaces. If museums can do a good job of letting in the world, and be fluid, mobile, and light on their feet, they can become havens for these new world citizens. Museums need to be places where people can learn to read, learn to look, learn to think... Keep up with the times by remaining timeless.

Author Amy Tan was also hilarious, and encouraged museums to bring out their personalities, leaving in the details that bring people there.

The last session I attended was called Three Transformations, and showed how three very different museums have transformed themselves to be community-focused and therefore relevant and vibrant. I'll write a separate post about that as well, as it was full of good ideas.

Thanks to everyone at AAM for putting together such an inspiring several days.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Book review: 101 Places You Gotta See Before You're 12

Guest blogger: Katherine Johnson

I bought this book at a children's museum bookstore. It lists a range of things that kids would like to experience: cultural events, museums, nature, man-made structures, work places, famous sites, and ordinary places. As an adult I found myself going page by page, noting which things I had done—as a child or adult—and recalling many pleasant experiences I have had in my life.

Some of the ideas will appeal to kids more than adults, or may be things you see in five minutes and move on, which isn't how adults normally plan experiences. Other suggestions involve traveling to a national monument or staying at a place for a while, like eating at an ethnic restaurant.

A few of the ideas turn ordinary experiences into something more remarkable. For example, going to a place to watch people or going to see a famous road are more about a mind set. Seeing these places requires you to think about where you are and what's going on around you rather than enjoying a spectacle created for you. One of the most amusing places a kid should see is a teacher's lounge.

The book comes with stickers that you can use to mark pages: "Awesome," "Wish list," "Boring," "Been There," and so forth, as well as pages for notes in the back so you can write about your experiences.

I brought the book home to my girls, ages 8 and 10, and they are devouring it. We now have a mental list of places they would like to go this summer. We all feel inspired to see as many things as we can. And so far, no fights over use of the stickers (fingers crossed!).

Essentially the book is a stunning endorsement for making the most of every experience.

My thanks to Katherine for sharing this terrific book with my blog readers. Katherine is the new Manager of Teacher and Student Programs at the Chicago Botanic Garden. She can be reached at kjthran [at]

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Social media strategy for museums: Webinar Wed. May 12, 2010

Join me and my guest Sorel Denholtz in the virtual classroom to learn the ins and outs of using social media in a strategic way for your museum. Click here to register. We have a no-refusal pricing policy. Contact us if you need a discount on the fee. A sliding scale is available for groups.

This 75-minute online class gives you the chance to chat live with Sorel Denholtz, a social media strategist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sorel is a dynamic speaker who was a hit at at the last CAM conference in San Jose.

Whether you are just getting started with social media or have been involved for a while, we'll offer you a structure to frame your social media efforts. Then Sorel will talk about her work at the California Academy of Sciences, including identifying, prioritizing and engaging with core audiences. She will share both the tactics and the results to date, as well as a brief glimpse into the future. Class registration closes at 5 pm on Tuesday, May 11 and the class size is limited to 50.