Friday, April 28, 2017

Futurist Friday: Cognitive Couture

This new installation at The Henry Ford is a marvelous mashup of some of my favorite technologies: artificial intelligence, wearable technology, and emotional cartography. In this case, IBM Watson technology examines tweets tagged #TheHenryFord #innovation or #technology, interprets the emotions behind the language of the twee and maps the results onto a dress by changing the colors of LED lights embedded in the fabric.

Visitors not equipped with smart phones can use an iPad in the exhibit to contribute to the Twitter stream programming the dress.

Now if only I could try it on....

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Museums and Well Being

Our next annual meeting guest post previews a session I’m particularly excited about. Rainey Tisdale has assembled a panel of researchers and museum practitioners studying how museums can contribute to our individual and collective well being. Regular readers of this Blog know that I’m an advocate for the kind of large scale, long term longitudinal study that could tease out the small, subtle but cumulatively transformative impact of our field. In this session, Rainey pulls together some of the threads that may, in time, form the weft of this tapestry of data.
Carol Ryff, professor of psychology
University of Wisconsin

Meet Carol Ryff. She’s a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin who studies well being in the general public. She is best known for developing quantitative methods for assessing individual levels of well being; her measures of Psychological Well Being (which involve six dimensions: self acceptance, personal growth, purpose in life, positive relations with others, environmental mastery, and autonomy) have been translated into 30 languages, resulting in more than 500 publications. As Director of the Institute of Aging at the University of Wisconsin, she leads Midlife in the United States (MIDUS), an interdisciplinary, longitudinal study of health and well being from early adulthood through old age.

What does Carol have to do with the future of museums? After years of studying factors that negatively or positively affect well being across gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and life stage, Carol has formulated a hypothesis that participation in arts & culture, including visiting museums, plays a significant role in improving lifelong health and well being. Building a body of evidence around this hypothesis is a new priority in her research. In Carol’s version of the future of museums, she imagines institutions that help young children connect with the tools and resources they need for self acceptance, personal growth, purpose in life, positive relations with others, environmental mastery, and autonomy; and then support them with a lifetime of self development experiences, in the process reducing their risk of major disease and mental illness, and increasing their quality of life as well as their life expectancy.

I myself have come to know Carol—and to share her vision for museums—through my participation in an international working group she convened to catalyze new research on the role of arts and culture in promoting human betterment. This group includes academics and practitioners from fields as varied as public health, population studies, medicine, architecture, comparative literature, poetry, and yes, museums. Our goal is to build on promising sparks of existing research (like this Happy Museum Project report; Chatterjee and Noble’s 2013 book Museums, Health & Well Being; and Bygren, Konlaan, and Johansson’s longitudinal study of the relationship between cultural participation and longevity, summarized here) to develop a robust and comprehensive body of evidence about cultural participation and well being across multiple social factors and types of engagement.

Those of us who work in this field may intuitively understand how museums contribute to well being. In fact, that may be one of the reasons we chose this profession—we ourselves have personally experienced the ways museums make life better. But we need to prove this point to the general public. And we need to see how far we can take it. For example, can museum visits reduce your blood pressure? Can they increase your self esteem? If so, are certain types of museum experiences more effective at such outcomes than others? Can museums support well being across all socio-economic levels and stages of the life cycle, or do certain groups benefit more than others? What is the impact of cultural participation in well populations versus sick populations (i.e. does it have both preventative and therapeutic value)? And how does health and well being map in relation to other public goods that museums care about—inclusion, curiosity, informal learning, civic engagement, and creativity?

This is where Carol and other social scientists like her come in. They can help us study museums and document their impact in a way that matters outside the confines of our own, often isolated field. Not to knock the hard work and dedication of museum evaluators, but it’s not enough to publish audience studies in museum journals that are only read by museum workers. To make a stronger case for the role museums play in society, we need more research about museums published in peer-reviewed journals in social science and biomedical fields.

At the AAM conference in St. Louis next month, Carol will be sharing her research, and its implication for museums, as part of a session on Museums & Well Being that will take place on Monday, May 8 from 8:45 to 10:00. Our panel will also include two amazing Danish museum professionals: Karen Grøn and Line Chayder. Karen is Director of the Trapholt Museum of Modern Art and Design in Kolding, Denmark. Under her leadership, the Trapholt has been developing multiple initiatives to explore health & well being, including adapting Carol's measures of Psychological Well Being for use in museum evaluation and a “cultural prescription” program where doctors prescribe visits to the museum to improve their patients’ health. Line is Art Educator at the Louisiana Museum in Humlebæk, Denmark. Her project “Traveling with Art,” which works with refugee teens from Red Cross Schools to strengthen resilience, social connections, and identity through creative expression, won an ICOM Committee for Education and Cultural Action 2016 Best Practice Award.

During the session, we’ll look at what we know and what we still need to learn about museums and well being. We’ll also explore the practice side: if you want to experiment with projects that support well being at your museum, where do you start? We will discuss strengthening collaborations between museums and social scientists, and will try to synthesize it all into some larger understandings and takeaways about the future potential for museums and well being. Please join us.

Rainey Tisdale (@raineytisdale) is an independent museum professional who leads for change on a number of field-wide issues, including place-based interpretation, creative practice, collections stewardship, and museums & well being. With Linda Norris she is the author of Creativity in Museum Practice, and with colleagues Trevor Jones and Elee Wood she is a founder of Active Collections, a national effort to re-envision American museum collections stewardship. Her work on #BostonBetter, a partnership by 25 cultural institutions in response to the Boston Marathon bombing, has led her to further exploration of the role of museums in lifelong well being & resilience. She is currently collaborating with Boston colleagues—both museum educators and social scientists—to develop a local community of practice around these issues.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Check, Mate

#AAM2017 #StLouis @WorldChessHOF
You can still register!
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, April 25, 2017

Serving Incarcerated Youth

Next up in our #AAM2017 guest posts, Megan Bednarz previews the case study she will present on Sunday, May 7, from 1:45 – 2:15 pm. If you haven’t registered for the conference yet—this series of sneak peeks might just convince you to join us in St. Louis!

I work as an educator at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, a nonprofit in New York City that promotes the awareness and understanding of history, science and service. The Museum is centered on the aircraft carrier Intrepid, and my job is to bring content off-site to New Yorkers who are unable to visit. I developed Sketching It Up, a weeklong 3D design workshop for students ages 16–17 who are incarcerated on Rikers Island. The workshop, funded by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and created in partnership with the NYC Department of Correction, began in 2014. My work with these students relates to two TrendsWatch 2017 themes: empathy and criminal justice reform.

There are strict rules about what materials I carry in and out of jail, so I realized that success off-site would look different than success on-site. This is especially true for audiences who do not feel represented in museums. To connect the Museum’s aircraft collection to students’ lives, I encourage them to see themselves as the aircraft designers. My audience is transient, so I designed the program to fit this objective into one week.

On Monday, we examine and compare aircraft diagrams from the Museum’s collection. On Tuesday, students draw scale diagrams of their own aircraft. On Wednesday, we turn these drawings into models using 123D Design. On Thursday night, using the Museum’s 3D printers, I print each model so that students can hold an artifact of their own creation. I collect addresses from each student and send their model to a loved one. It is heartwarming to see the students buzzing with creativity, feeling proud and calling home to talk about their work.

On Friday, my students receive copies of their drawings, screenshots of their models, certificates of completion, and letters recounting the skills they used, the good behaviors they showed and an invitation to visit the Museum when they are released. I also give them time to reflect.

Sketching It Up took two years of piloting, researching and networking. It was important to be clear about my intentions, to put the students’ needs first, to think realistically about the service I could provide, and to deepen my empathy so that I could better understand the challenges my students face. Talking to professionals who do similar work and to young people who’ve been through traumatic experiences was crucial.

I drew inspiration from all around me. I attended local lectures, panels and events; signed up for professional development at the Youth Development Institute; observed a friend teach at Doe Fund and asked her students what teaching styles they preferred; interviewed the founder of Voices Unbroken;brainstormed with peers at Children’s Museum of the Arts; set up conference calls with teachers at Rikers; and read about total strangers, like this one.

Here are some best practices I discovered along the way:
  • Identify the resources you have to offer.
  • Identify logistical challenges to work around.
  • Learn about and respect student stressors, boundaries and needs.
  • Adhere to clear, structured objectives that relate to the students’ lives.
  • Find advocates who can match your program with receptive participants.
  • When planning a lesson, build scenarios for students to practice healthy habits of mind.
  • When teaching, disconnect from your ego.
  • Maintain high expectations for student work and provide the support they need to meet those expectations.
  • Give students opportunities to be experts and to feel heard and seen.
  • Highlight student strengths through positive reinforcement.
  • Share hope and optimism by viewing students as museum-goers and lifelong learners.

If I ever begin to doubt the connection between cultural institutions and criminal justice reform, I think about what my students told me in their reflections and I remember to not give up and aim for great—because we are capable of stuff we never thought of. I hit my stride last summer, finally connecting everything I learned about my audience, myself and the social work of museums. This year, in addition to sharing this case study at the American Alliance of Museums Annual Meeting, I will be presenting at the 100Kin10 Annual Partner Summit,  and New York City Museum Educators Roundtable Annual Conference. If you attend any of these conferences, please come by and say hello!

Megan Bednarz
Museum Educator for Community Engagement
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum complex

Friday, April 21, 2017

TrendsWatch: Now Live On the Web

Each year there’s a fleeting instant when I’m more or less happy with TrendsWatch—the moment I hit “send” to transmit the text to my editor.

Then I open my news feed and see a great story related to one of TrendsWatch themes and IT’S TOO LATE TO SNEAK IT INTO THIS YEAR’S TEXT. #frustration.

I update my presentation about TrendsWatch before each new gig at a museum or conference, but that’s only partial comfort because most people consume the forecast through the PDF download or the print edition.

So I’m very happy that my talented digital colleagues at the Alliance (HT Liz Neely and Josh Morin) have created a web version of TrendsWatch to help you stay up-to-date with the trends as they play out across the year. This site supplements the print and PDF editions by aggregating content from across the Web—twitter feeds, blog posts, articles, breaking news. It enables you to be a digital reader over my shoulder, seeing stuff I discover in my daily scanning.

Some of you have already visited (or tried to visit) the TrendsWatch site because I shared the address——in the report itself. Jumped the gun on that a bit, I did. How convenient that one of the chapters this year is about the important of taking chances, rapid iteration, experimentation, and failure! I’m going to flaunt the development of TrendsWatch’s web version as an example of practicing what I preach. We came up with the idea of a web presence for TrendsWatch last year—we knew what we wanted it to do, and that it fit within our broader plan for experimenting with content on the web (it is a subset of the new Alliance Labs site). We had a general idea of how a web version would work, and committed to actually inventing it as we went along.

As it happened, some of our ideas were harder to implement than we anticipated. It wasn’t entirely obvious, for example, how make articles I tag in Diigo automatically feed into the site. And it took longer than expected to find a collection of Twitter feeds that I trust enough to show up in the site without human supervision. (A lot of promising feeds have a significant number of tweets that are personal, NSFW, or otherwise off topic.)

I know several hundred of you visited the site while it was in prep (we kept an eye on the traffic), but we waited until we were relatively happy with how it’s working to make a fuss over the launch. That would be now. Please, visit, browse, and tell us what you think! I would very much like to hear your opinion on its design and functionality. Would you rather read the text online, or do you prefer the downloadable PDF (or print edition) for consuming the report itself? We’ve packed a lot of content into each section—is that useful, or distracting? Are there things you would like to see on the web that aren’t there yet? Please give us your feedback via this short survey, and/or using the comment section, below. Thank you!

Yours from the future,


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Failing Forward: Prototyping, Mistakes, and What We Learned

Our next annual meeting preview comes from Linda Norris, Danielle Steinmann, and Maura Hallisey. At their session “Failing Forward” (11:15 am on Wednesday, May 10) they will share stories about rapid prototyping from the perspective of two historic house museums—The Olde Manse and the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. If you’re still waffling over your schedule, this teaser may convince you to put this session on your conference dance card. (Registration is still open!)
Linda: At our session we’ll share prototyping tales from our experiences in the most conservative of museum places, historic houses, and with our most conservative of audiences, our fellow staff members, including guides. We promise, the way to learn rapid prototyping is to rapidly prototype. Danielle, can you give CFM’s readers a preview of the lessons you will share in St. Louis?  
Danielle: When faced with an unfamiliar challenge, I often hesitate before taking the plunge. Trying new things doesn’t come naturally to me. As a kid, I was called, “over-achiever” and “type-A” because I stuck to things I knew was good at. Later on, I started to realize that sticking to my comfort-zone was holding me back. An article in Psychology Today –The Trouble with Bright Girls—was a revelation for me.   Turns out, I’m not alone, and, in fact, my gender may have played a part in making me this way. In brief,
“…bright girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice…And because bright girls are particularly likely to see their abilities as innate and unchangeable, they grow up to be women who are far too hard on themselves...and give up way too soon.”
Trustees Chief Marketing Officer Matt Montgomery
shares his team's prototype for understanding
an Aeolian harp at The Old Manse.
Linda: I was never one of those perfectionists--and I’m still not. It might stem from growing up in a big family, trying new things. As an independent museum professional, I know that perfection is the sure path to never quite getting paid for the work I do.
Danielle: How does this relate to our work in museums? The most recent AAM Trendswatch had this to say in the article Failing Toward Success: “Museums, as a sector, share a culture of perfection that places large bets on getting a product…right the first time. Museums that decide to move away from dysfunctional perfectionism have to work consciously to change an organizational culture that discourages risk taking.”
That’s a tall order, especially for those of us who are not in top leadership positions. Such a profound shift in the culture requires a great deal of support and practice.
Participants in the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center's
first prototype:  front parlor conversation. 
Linda:  Early in my career, I worked at a children’s museum where we tried new things all the time.  Those lessons have stuck with me, but the urge for rapid-prototyping gets stronger all the time.  Maura, can you share our very first Harriet Beecher Stowe House prototype--along with our fears?
Maura: Our first prototype in 2014 kicked off a shift in our organizational culture where we began to try new things, make mistakes, and learn. Our tour had been a traditional house tour--deeply biographical, lacking an overall thesis, and the stories were dictated by the objects or rooms in the house. Internally, some staff, from interpreters up to executive leadership recognized that our tour failed to convey the mission of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center: to connect the past to the present and inspire social justice and positive change. But other staff thought any shift would threaten the historic integrity of our tour and not satisfy the public. We began prototyping in a divided house with some staff on board and others not. We tried anyway and introduced new elements to the tour that shifted away from traditional tour techniques.
Fear was a fundamental part of the process. For staff tasked with leading the prototyping, there was a fear that failure would derail any attempts to further re-imagine the tour and would cause all staff to lose confidence in the process. For staff tasked with selling/marketing and delivering the tour, there was a fear that failure would cause the public to lose confidence in us and be unsatisfied with their experience. Both of these fears I think do arise from a type of perfectionism. No one on staff wanted to be wrong, either in front of colleagues or in front of the public. 

Danielle: Inspired by Stowe and other innovative approaches we embarked on refreshing the interpretation at The Old Manse. It’s a site with layers of history. Over the years our tours had lost focus. For many staff, a big fear was letting go of particular stories and I tried to be sympathetic to that. Many had been there for a long time and had a great deal of ownership over those stories. They worried that visitors would miss out on something. It was difficult to honor that loyalty and passion while still moving forward.
Linda Norris is Global Networks Program Director at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (www.sitesofconscience.organd previously worked as an independent consultant focused on interpretive planning. Twitter and Instagram: @lindabnorris.  

Danielle Steinmann is Director of Visitor Interpretation at the Trustees. Twitter: @thetrustees.

Maura Hallisey is Priogram Coordinator at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center  @hbstowecenter.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wordless Wednesday: See You in St. Louis?

#AAM2017 #StLouis @LaumeierArtStL @tonytasset
You can still register!
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.