Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Be a Truthteller. Advocate for Museums.

Today Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied, Vice President for Government Relations & Communications here at the Alliance, can help rebuild an appreciation for facts in a year awash in fake news.

There are dozens of reasons to be part of Museums Advocacy Day in February, but this year, there’s a critical new message to carry to lawmakers: the role of museums as truthtellers in a “post-truth” world.

A decade after comedian Stephen Colbert introduced ‘truthiness’ into the American lexicon, Oxford dictionaries selected “post-truth”—defined as objective facts being less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief—as its 2016 word of the year.

The word of the year is meant to be one that captures the “ethos, mood or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.” Post-truth was selected because of its increased usage related to the Brexit vote in the UK and, of course, the 2016 presidential election, during which the Washington Post blog Fact Checker (which rates political claims on a scale of 0-4 Pinocchios) reported on 314 mostly false claims by presidential candidates. An ally of one presidential campaign was even quoted as saying, “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts.”

Over time, surveys have tracked the public’s loss of confidence in government, the criminal justice system, banks, corporations, organized religion, public schools, and the traditional media. And 2016 made things a whole lot worse for those in the media: more than 200 websites routinely shared fake news that was viewed 213 million times during the 2016 campaign.

So what can be done to disrupt the pattern of fake news, restore trust in public entities, and bring about more civil discourse?

Enter museums.

Americans view museums as one of the most important resources for educating our children and as one of the most trustworthy sources of objective information, according to AAM’s public opinion polling. Reach Advisors found that museums rated higher in trustworthiness than any other set of institutions measured, including Wikipedia, local newspapers, and even academic researchers.

The Organization of American Historians study found that museums are considered a more reliable source of historical information than books, teachers, or even personal accounts by relatives. (Sorry, grandpa!)

So museums not only have amazing stories to tell—about their work with schools, teachers, veterans, seniors, persons with disabilities, and underserved communities—and important collections to protect, they can also boast about public trust. Museums are credible, respected, and beloved; what lawmaker wouldn’t want to be associated with those qualities? But if we are not at the table, no doubt museums will be on the table when Congress makes critical budget decisions.

Make the case that federal support is a worthwhile investment—and that the charitable deduction is a financial lifeline for museums—by participating in Museums Advocacy Day, February 27-28 in Washington, DC.

What else can museums do?

Jeffrey Herbst, president and CEO of the Newseum, argues that the way to address fake news is not by addressing the supply of it, but the demand for it. He notes that to lessen the demand for fake news requires real news and information becoming available to more people in a more engaging format. And museums do this beautifully, spending $2 billion each year on education, three-quarters of which is spent on K-12 students, often tailored to the state, local, or core curriculum. One example is the Newseum teaching media literacy—discerning what is true and what is not by analyzing sources and evidence—to millions of students through the free online NewseumED program.

Museums can also follow the model of the philanthropic sector.

Writing about “the pervasive loss of trust in major institutions of government and society,” MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch recently said, “To be effective, philanthropy as a sector must facilitate, and operate in, an environment of trust and goodwill…We must listen more, be more flexible and inclusive, and allow those who experience directly the problems we seek to address even more room to participate fully and lead. We cannot take trust for granted; it must be earned in all we do, every day.”

In this “post-truth” world, museums have an opportunity to demonstrate their immense value by continuing to open their doors, share knowledge, engage new and diverse audiences, foster innovation, and retell the stories from our history.

Join us in staking out museums’ rightful place as truthtellers. We invite you to share your story at Museums Advocacy Day. AAM members—and members of our key partnering organizations—register for free. See you in Washington, DC!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Benthic Museology

@museoatlantico #newmuseum #climatechange  

Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Neurodiversifying the Museum

One topic I’ve explored here on the Blog is how museums such as the Pacific Science Center are making themselves more accessible to visitors with autism. And with ACLS Fellow Nicole Ivy, I’ve examined efforts to diversify the museum workforce. Today’s guest post by Meredith Gregory, special education and access coordinator at the New York Transit Museum, explores the intersection of these two issues: integrating employees with autism into the museum workplace.

In 2014, I attended a Museum Access Consortium workshop that included a breakout session about the benefits of hiring adults with autism. Here’s what I learned: The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 10.7%, two times higher than the rate for those without a disability. And within that statistic, people with autism have the lowest employment rates compared to other people with disabilities (http://www.bls.gov/cps/, 2016).

Here’s what else I learned: There tends to be a lower turnover rate for employees with disabilities, employees with autism can be reliable employees (on time and rarely absent), and they excel at tasks that others might find monotonous. This prompted me to think about opportunities in my own workplace, the New York Transit Museum.

Brooklyn Union Elevated Car on the Museum’s platform level,
Photograph by Black Paw Photo
The New York Transit Museum is located in a decommissioned subway station in downtown Brooklyn and is home to dozens of vintage subway train cars and other transportation objects. We see a large number of visitors with autism, youth and adults. We wanted to deepen our commitment to accessibility by having our workplace better reflect the diversity we see in the Museum. With the support of the education manager, Elyse Newman, I met with various departments such as retail and facilities and learned that one of the greatest needs for staffing was within education. Our department needed a dedicated person to keep track of education supply inventory and prepare art materials for hundreds of school children who visit the Museum each day on field trips. We thought this could be a perfect opportunity for someone with autism.

Luckily, one of our funders, the FAR Fund, was interested in funding a position for an adult with autism. Because this was a new initiative we thought it would be good to partner with an organization that offers resources for adults with autism including a job training program. The FAR Fund supports Birch Family Services, a local service organization that seemed like a natural partner for us- as they had a pool of candidates who had been through at least 6 months of job training, and they provided a job coach who would help the employee transition to their new work environment.

Now it was time to get buy-in from some senior staff including our Executive Director at the time, Gabrielle Shubert through several meetings. Our Director supported the creation of a new position because we were able to establish the need for the position, the importance of a diverse work environment, and the exciting prospect of being a leader in the museum field. I wrote the description for the newly named Inventory Associate position with the help of Kristin Fields, the Museum’s education coordinator and supervisor of the future position.

Finally, it was time to start interviewing! Birch Family Services was instrumental in ensuring that our hiring process was as accessible to people with autism as possible. Here are some of the recommendations we implemented:
Jason preparing art materials for a school group 
in the Museum’s education center, 
Photograph by Meredith Gregory
  • Give the candidate questions in advance so that they know what to expect. Social interactions can be hard for someone with autism so interviews might be challenging. In addition to giving questions in advance so they know what to expect, also offer to have the first interview over the phone, in-person, or on Skype so that the candidate can choose whichever option makes them most comfortable.
  • Describe the work environment in the job description. Will this person be working alone in a room or with 20 people rushing around them? It’s important to note this in advance. Someone who does not like noise should not be applying to a job where they will be required to work in, for example, a busy lobby.
  • Have a second interview where the candidate can show off their skills. They may not excel at conversation, but their skill level may shine through when they’re performing tasks related to the job.

One of the most important things I learned during the interview process was not to hire someone just because they have autism. Really make sure they’re a good fit for the position so that the employee can succeed in their work and contribute positively to the Museum.

After interviewing several candidates, we decided to hire Jason. In the interview, Jason seemed eager to work at the Museum, had previous experience working in inventory and did not mind working in a busy education space.

Jason at his desk getting supplies ready for the upcoming week
Jason worked with his job coach for two weeks at the Museum when he started in November 2015 to help him learn tasks and get acclimated to a new work environment. Since then, he has excelled at his work, especially preparing materials for school groups. Jason says, “I like making boxes [for the bus making art workshop] because it’s easy to do and quiet when I do that. The special events like family nights are also fun to work”. With the help of the job coach, Jason’s supervisor at the Museum was able to put several supports in place to help Jason be successful including: 

-A checklist on the inside of each art supply cabinet
-A list of how many art materials he need to prep each week
-Having Jason’s job coach return to the Museum any time he’s learning a new task.

Jason has added a new level to positivity to our workplace. He engages colleagues in conversation about sports, food, and trains, brings a sense of humor to the daily staff meetings, and has a strong work ethic. What’s his advice for someone with autism looking for a career in museums? “Find a job you like and a place you like working at. I like working here.”

Museums have an opportunity to not only give people with autism meaningful work experiences, but have a chance to impact the mindset of employees by diversifying the workplace. For more information on hiring adults with autism, visit www.museumaccessconsortium.org/resources

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Future of Education Road Trip Begins!

Hi, Nicole here! We are excited to begin this new year with a new project at CFM. My colleague, Sage Morgan-Hubbard (Ford W. Bell Fellow in Museums and P-12 Education) and I are preparing to start the first leg of the Future of Education Road Trip—in the Southeastern US. Our trip kicks off in Washington DC this Saturday, January 7. We’ll be heading first to Raleigh, NC then to Charlotte, NC and will conclude our trip in New Orleans, LA on January 20. The primary purpose of this road-trip is to think locally with educators, museum professionals, students, artists, and community leaders about how they are envisioning—and creating--the future of education. In doing so, we also seek to engage the field around their visions for how museum work will change and to highlight the innovations that Southeastern museums are making around labor practices.

We will be hosting round-table discussions along the way in Charleston, SC and New Orleans, LA to involve the broadest audience possible in exploring these connections. Be sure to follow Sage (@Museumsp12) and me (@nicotron3000) on Twitter for more details about these meet-ups and for updates from the road in real-time (We make no promises that there won’t be car karaoke)! As museum professionals, Sage and I are both deeply interested in the connections communities make between teaching, learning, and the power of their local stories. Also, follow us on Twitter and Facebook at #AAMroadtrip and share your thoughts, questions, and recommendations of must-see things to see and do and eat!

Our Itinerary

Southern states are large, and broad, and storied. We cannot possibly capture the diversity of the Southeast in one fell swoop. Our travel plans are necessarily limited by our own capacity as drivers and by the sheer amount of time it takes to travel across the region. With that in mind, we’ve put together a travel plan that brings us to major cities and smaller towns that also maps onto histories of African-American migration and civil rights activism. We will be on the road as many museums across the country are gearing up for celebrations of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. For many of the places we’ll visit, these busy King Day events will roll into February programming around Black History Month. Sage and I and our collaborators have kept this top-of-mind as we developed our itinerary:

Map of Our Road Trip

Raleigh, NC
Charlotte, NC
Florence, SC
Marion, SC
Charleston, SC
Atlanta, GA
Montgomery, AL
Birmingham, AL
Memphis, TN
Jackson, MS
New Orleans, LA

A Collaborative Effort

This roster of stops on our trip was made possible with the help of so many people who modeled this traveling work for us—and who offered their on-the-ground connections and expertise so generously to us. Many of you reached out to us via phone, social media, and email to invite us to your cities. And the invitations are still coming! For this, we are deeply grateful and honored. Today, we want to highlight a few of the collaborators who each gave us a different perspective around labor, education, civil rights and social justice as we prepared for this trip.  Dr. fari nzinga, Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, and Porchia Moore of New Orleans, Raleigh-Durham, and Columbia, SC, respectively, each helped shape our thinking on museums, public engagement and art as social practice. We learned, too, from Mia Henry, Executive Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College, whose FreedomLifted initiative hosts personalized, affordable Civil RIghts tours, with particular focus on Alabama and Mississippi.

Dr. fari nzinga, cultural anthropologist, American Council of Learned Societies Public Fellowship alum, and professor at the Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO), worked with us to  develop a round-table in New Orleans exploring the future of museum, work, and public engagement. She reminded us of the links between academia, public practice, and museum accessibility. Porchia Moore, curator, information specialist, and co-founder of the Visitors of Color Project, has been profoundly generous in her thinking and in helping us organize the Charleston round-table. Among the many things we learned from her, I am especially grateful for the lesson that individual museums make sometimes-competing claims as they work to tell the local stories. She reminds us that tracing histories through objects is a process that calls for debate and listening. Dr. Alexis Gumbs’s Mobile Homecoming Project remains a model. She and her partner, Julia Sangodare Wallace, created an intentionally intergenerational space as they interviewed queer black elders throughout the country. From Dr. Gumbs, we learned the value of personalized experience in a road trip such as this. She stressed the importance of developing rituals of self-care and of practicing intentionality in everything we do—from how we communicate to people to how we take notes and document and give back to our participants.

The Questions

Sage and I developed a list of several questions that we’ll be asking interviewees along the way. They are:

  • What trends do you see in (museum) education?
  • What is your vision for the future of education?
  • What would an ideal museum-school partnership look like?
  • What is a best practice or thing that you are most proud of within your work within education that you want to share?
  • What is one challenge that you see within (museum) education that you would like to see improved?
  • What trends do you see in the nature of work (or in the museum workforce)?
  • What do you want people to know about your vision for the future of work? What does the future of labor look like to you?
  • What do you wish the rest of the country knew about work in your city, state, or region?

What questions would you like to ask of museum professionals in the Southeast? What questions do you have for us? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us your ideas. Find updates on our progress and perhaps a bit of poetry on-the-road on social media at #AAMroadtrip!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Bringing Taxidermy to Life

@CarnegieMNH @ashleycecil #ArtistsInResidence 
Follow the link in the photo caption to the associated story. You can find more glimpses of the future (and links) on CFM's Pinterest Boards.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Breaking the Cycle of Youth Incarceration: museums and alternative sentencing

Back in August, I shared a blog post describing how the Eastern State Penitentiary is moving “beyond neutrality” to tackle the injustice of mass incarceration. The massive interest in that post (it is, to date, the most highly read post ever published on this blog) encouraged me to search for more examples of museums engaging with criminal justice. In today’s post Ronna Tulgan Ostheimer, director of Adult, School and Community Programs at the Clark Art Institute, tells us how her museum is playing an active role in social justice reform in the Northern Berkshire County.
The rationale underlying the RAISE (Responding to Art Involves Self Expression) program at the Clark Art Institute shares the optimistic assumption of the Center for the Future of Museums – that “museums can change the world”. Our ten-year experience with this alternative sentencing program for kids in trouble with the law proves the validity of this claim and offers a model of how an art museum can make a difference in the lives of people and communities.
RAISE participants are sentenced to our program by the juvenile court system, literally mandated to spend time at the Clark engaging with art. The five-week program is hosted twice a year, meeting once a week for two hours, and involves gallery experiences as well as group discussions and self-awareness exercises. We work with kids, ages 12 – 18, and each program serves 8 – 12 students. RAISE is based on the premise that if art is an expression of human experience and/or imagination then engaging with art offers an opportunity for contemplating the human condition, both our own and others, throughout time and place. The goal of the program is to help kids to develop a more accurate and constructive sense of self (and other) and how they fit into the larger world. RAISE gives kids a chance to get away from the buzz of their everyday lives and gives them a space to think about who they are and who they want to be. 
The participants arrive the first week looking very uncomfortable. After quick introductions, we get right into the galleries and engage with the art. We set it up so the kids will experience the process as something they are good at, something that is interesting, and something that is fun. After the gallery talk, we go back to the boardroom and do a related activity designed to help the kids look at, think about and talk about their “crime” (the reason they were sentenced to the program) from multiple perspectives, as if it were a work of art. We shift the focus from shame to exploring the context and motivation for their behavior as a vehicle for greater self-understanding and ultimately greater self-control.
RAISE Program in the Clark’s boardroom
The second and fourth weeks are devoted to learning the skills of visual analysis and interpretation. Students spend independent time in the galleries as well as participating in group processing activities. We talk seriously and intelligently, trusting and validating the participants’ perspectives. During the third week we focus on portraits, personal presentation and identity, and the idea that “what you see may or may not be what you get.” This session includes a self-portrait drawing lesson taught by a Williams College studio art professor. With her help, all of the kids draw a quality representation of themselves that they can be proud of. For many, this activity is also an introduction to drawing, a new competency; for some, a celebration of a skill that few knew about. 
RAISE student in the galleries.
By the fifth week, the RAISE participants arrive with a very different posture than they held the first week and they can hardly be distinguished from our graduate students. We tend to run the program on Tuesdays and our Tuesday admissions desk volunteer has commented that she would never change her assigned day because it is so satisfying for her to witness the transformation during the five weeks of a RAISE program. At the final session, custodial adults and court and school personnel join the program and the participants act as their guides in the galleries, followed by a reception. At the reception, RAISE staff read letters they’ve written, sharing their observations about the strengths each participant has demonstrated throughout the program. This public celebration is the first time that the participants, their custodial adults and the court personnel have all been together since the time of sentencing. Weve learned to have plenty of tissues available.
The program has been tremendously successful on many levels. In 2011, the Clark contracted with a Williams College psychology professor to conduct a three-year program evaluation. The study includes three methods of evaluation, a pre and post self-analysis measure, post program feedback from participants, custodial adults and court personnel, and an observer rating of participant behavior in the program. This research documented some of the program‘s benefits.  As stated in the the executive summary:
“The subjective experiences of the student participants and their parents were overwhelmingly positive. The students’ own words suggest that they “got” the intended lessons about art and about themselves and their potential. The results from the more objective measures echoed these impressions. Specifically, students’ pre- and post-program self-reported ratings of their opinions about art and their opinions about themselves showed statistically significant increases. The increases were particularly strong for their opinions about art; for many, this was their first exposure to art. Outside observers’ ratings of the students’ behavior during the classes (engagement, participation, socially appropriate behavior, connecting with the art, etc.) also showed large and statistically significant increases from the first to the last session. Individual graphs for each student of changes in these ratings over the five sessions revealed considerable variability among students, and unique profiles for each of the four cohorts. In all, the findings suggest that the RAISE program is working to accomplish its stated goals.”

Although the courts do not keep records of the recidivism rates for kids who have participated in RAISE, Berkshire County Juvenile Court personnel have lauded the program as “…one of the most effective and uplifting programs offered through the Berkshire County Juvenile Probation Department” and “a revelation of emotion, a moment of discovery that is as rewarding as anything I have experienced in my personal or professional life.”

RAISE has also had a positive impact on the Clark as an institution. The program has expanded our profile within the community by serving new audiences in ways we had never before imagined. Many museums in the USA and other countries have learned about the RAISE program at the Clark and are considering or have developed programs of their own for kids involved with the legal system. We are happy to share our experience with others and have developed a curriculum guide that we are glad to share as well. The RAISE program model has helped us realize new ways to make the museum relevant in our community.  Although we will always teach about our collections and exhibitions, RAISE has helped us to think in new ways about how we can meet community needs by teaching with our collection to provide relevant and maybe even transformational education programs.

If you would like to learn more about RAISE, and request a copy of the curriculum guide the Clark Art Institute has so generously offered to share, contact Ronna Tulgan Ostheimer RTULGAN (at) clarkart.edu.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Flexible pathways to graduation in Vermont energize museum-school partnerships

I gave a shout-out to Vermont museums last September, asking them “wassup” with new legislation in their state giving students the right to personal learning plans. Nina Ridhibhinyo wrote back offering to share how she and her colleagues at ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain are using the opportunities presented by Act 77. I look forward to hearing how other museums are becoming part of the flexible educational pathways offered to Vermont students, and I’m hopeful that other states will adopt similar legislation. This could be a major step towards a future in which museums play a major role in an extended learning landscape.

Here in Vermont the educational landscape is changing fast. The last few years have ushered in new standards in math, language arts, and science; consolidation of small school districts; and state-mandated flexible pathways to graduation (Act 77). Vermont has long been a bellwether of social reform, but Act 77 stands as a particularly remarkable piece of progressive policy with significant impacts for the museum community. Passed in 2013, Act 77 mandates that schools implement personalized learning plans for students that account for individual goals, learning styles, and abilities. These “flexible pathways” require the diversification of student learning opportunities, including receiving school credit for dual-enrollment and community-based experiences. Act 77 provides great opportunity for museums to activate their roles as community partners and to engage secondary school audiences that are often underserved through traditional programs models. At the same time, it poses a potential resource challenge as schools look more and more to informal education to support individual, rather than groups of, students.

ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain
In response to Act 77, our museum, ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, is increasing access to individualized experiences for secondary school students at the museum. This work is funded by a Museums for America: Community Anchors grant (MA-20-15-380) from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and is centered around better supplying, communicating, and supporting personalized learning. However, just like schools, this approach has required us to imagine experiences beyond our standard volunteer and teen explainer tracks. Each student's needs are different depending on her interests and school program. Some would like engage with the museum’s content or experts but cannot be on-site regularly while others require on-site internships several days a week. Therefore, much of our work has been around better scaffolding and documenting flexible student internships and supported independent studies. This has included developing intake interviews that assess students’ skills and interests, creating goals and deliverables pathways, as well as launching a digital portfolio system. The overarching goal is to ensure purposeful learning outcomes and documentation of program impact. These processes have not only allowed us to serve a diversity of new students but to better serve current student volunteers. However, this work is intensive and necessitates that each student works with an educator-mentor to guide her through her experience and does not fit into any existing fee-for-service models. As the field adapts to meet the needs of 21st century learners, we will need to strategize around sustainability of these services.

ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain
In addition to internship-style opportunities, we have also partnered with schools to co-offer personalized learning opportunities in the form of year-end studies. These are multiple week institutes, in which students take a deep dive into specialized topics based on their personal interests. This year, a group of 14 students spent two weeks with us learning about lake science and exhibit fabrication. They then constructed two public, outdoor exhibits with accompanying interpretation. All of this work has been concurrent with developing a shared understanding with schools around Act 77 and its curricular impacts. Toward this end, this summer, we hosted a week-long teacher institute in partnership with a bi-school working group focused on student-centered learning. The institute paired 15 teachers with ECHO educators to unpack Act 77 and integrate it into our respective curriculums. ECHO’s journey to becoming a 21st century museum that meets the needs of individualized learners is forever evolving, but we are thrilled that through Act 77 Vermont schools now share our path.   

Nina Ridhibhinyo is the Director of Programs & Exhibits at the ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. She has worked in informal science education for over a decade and envisions an America equally enthusiastic and enamored with science as it is with professional football. 

ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain