Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Innovation Ignites: Announcing the 2012 Lab Museums


Cue fanfare! I am so happy to share with you the names of the museums that have been selected to participate in the inaugural round of Innovation Lab for Museums. AAM is bringing Innovation Lab to the museum field through a partnership between the Center for the Future of Museums and EmcArts, generously funded by a $500,000 grant from MetLife Foundation. I will use this post to introduce you to the three funded projects, as well as six others recognized by the panel for their excellence. 


However, I want to start by sharing some of my observations from studying all thirty-one applications to the Lab, and listening to the deliberations of the selection panel. Here are a few things leapt that out at me:
  • It seems that the biggest barrier to museum innovation isn’t financial, or logistic, or any lack of creative ideas: it is our own internal culture. Many of the applications said, in one way or another, “we have to find a way to break through existing mindsets, break down barriers between departmental silos. We have to give people an incentive to change, and get them on board.” There seemed to be a tendency for the proposals to originate in the education departments of the applicants, and often the source of resistance to change was identified as curatorial. Take that as you will.
  • Many museums either don’t know, or take for granted, their own histories of innovation and experimentation. Our knowledgeable, experienced selection panelists (who are listed in the press release) often seemed to know more about what the applicants had done in the past than was reflected in the narrative of the proposals. Did the applicants not know or not appreciate their own track records of creativity?  As we well know, those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. Even worse, (if they forget their successes) maybe they won’t repeat it.
  • Maybe caution and innovation are antithetical. Several interesting projects were set aside by the panel as being too timid, too small to effect real change in the organizational culture. Innovation = risk = willingness to fail. And we, as a field, don’t have a culture of being supportive of failure. Sure it is nice to hear about successes, but wouldn’t you like to avoid the mistakes others have made, as well? I think AAM need to find a way to celebrate great failures. I’m open to suggestions.  

It was a struggle for our selection panel to choose among many highly qualified projects, but I am pleased to tell you that the three projects chosen by MetLife Foundation for funding, based on the panel’s recommendations, are:

The Levine Museum of the New South, for their project The Latino New South, which addresses how history museums can play a role in integrating Latino immigrants into community life. The Levine wants to develop a model that can be used in other parts of the country.

The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art for the project Beyond Museum Quality, which asks, how do we move our organizations from overvaluing accuracy and undervaluing populist perspectives to one that values both equally? What does this shift mean for the role of the curator? As the proposal notes, “Art museums in particular, are struggling with moving beyond bursts of participatory acts, to an institutional goal of engagement that values visitor participation as an essential part of the museum experience.”

And the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts project Youth Arts: Present/Future will establish a new approach and pathway for youth education, one which goes beyond merely making art to enable young people to become  “creative thinkers” and “social changemakers.”

Faced with so many worthy projects, the selection panel recommended that AAM recognize an additional six proposals as “Innovation Projects of Excellence”. These are:
  • Tucson Museum of Art: The Museum as Sanctuary: Expanding Museum Communities with Programming for Refugee Populations

It’s AAM’s hope that these projects may still be implemented in some form, even if that has to be outside the Lab format, and I look forward to telling you more them in future posts!

Watch this Blog, Dispatches from the Future of Museums and AAM’s Aviso for announcements regarding future rounds of Innovation Lab for Museums.

Go forth and innovate…

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