Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Ballsy Blog for Your Reading List

Hello all. I like to kick off July with a review and refresh of my “scanning list” to ensure I’m fueling my foresight with diverse voices and perspectives.  This is a plug for you to do the same. In the coming month I will make a few recommendations for sources that may not yet be on your radar. Please reciprocate with recommendations of your own in the comments section below.

First up, Nonprofit with Balls—a sly, humorous and dead-on look at the nonprofit world from Vu Le, director of Rainier Valley Corps in Seattle. I’m not going to explain the name of this blog (you can see what Vu himself has to say about that), but I will point to a few of my favorite recent posts:

Vu Le
So, you don’t think you directly benefit from nonprofits—in which Vu goes on an awesome rant making the case that everyone benefits from the work of nonprofits. To quote one of his best bits: “Just because you can’t hold or see something does not mean you do not benefit from it. All of us benefit more from nonprofits’ work than we’ll ever know. If you feel safe walking down the street, it’s probably because there are nonprofits working on neighborhood safety and providing services to those who need help. If you appreciate all the free art and music all around you, it’s probably because there are nonprofits supporting kick-ass artists and musicians in the community.”  What provoked the rant? His observation  that “this philosophy of “we don’t benefit directly from the work of nonprofits” seems to be prevalent in our society, and it’s been leading to no-good, very-bad things like restricted funding and fear of overhead and unwillingness to pay for nonprofit professionals’ salaries.” I agree, and add that this attitude seems to be spreading. We can't settle for documenting direct impact (which is hard enough). Nonprofits as a sector, including museums, need to show we make the world a better place even for people who never visit museums.

As a third fav, I’ll tag Are you or your org guilty of Trickle-Down Community Engagement? Vu defines TDCE as “when we [nonprofits] bypass the people who are most affected by issues, engage and fund larger organizations to tackle these issues, and hope that miraculously the people most affected will help out in the effort, usually for free.” He does a great job deconstructing the causes and the effects of TDCE, and offers some advice to funders, donors, mainstream (e.g., big) nonprofits organizations and those led by marginalized communities. The advice that resonates most strongly for me is directed at nonprofits, whether mainstream or marginalized: if you are mainstream, offer, and if you are marginalized, hold out for, strategic, equitable partnerships that help smaller organizations build capacity to do their own good work.

Katherine McNamee, AAM’s HR director, heard Vu speak at the Nonprofit HR Talent Summit in April, and reports that he rocked the podium, so if you are a conference organizer, maybe keep that in mind as well. And then let me know he’s on your program, so I can come listen as well. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Futurist Friday: Deep Brain Stimulation and Memory Implants

Are you a cyborg? Before you reply with a reflexive "no," consider this list of technologies many people welcome into their bodies:

  • Contact lenses
  • Pacemakers
  • Insulin pumps
  • Artificial heart valves
  • Replacement joints (hip, knee)
  • Various birth control methods (IUD, subdural implants)
One emerging technology--neuroprosthetics--aims to compensate for disease or injury to the brain. 

Your Futurist Friday assignment, watch the video below, in which AJ demonstrates how electrodes implanted in his brain suppress the tremors caused by Parkinson's Disease.

In a session at the AAM annual meeting last month, panelists helped me explore the eroding  boundary between assistive and augmentive techologies, between medically prescribed correctives and elective experimentation. Implants to improve memory, for example, might mitigate the effects of Alzheimer's or traumatic brain injuries, or they might be adopted by "neurotypical" humans who want to enhance their abilities. 

After watching  AJ demonstrate his implants, ask yourself
  • What kinds of assistive implants would you accept or reject to manage medical issues or physical limitations?
  • What kinds of augmentive implants would you elect to adopt to enhance your abilities--physical, sensory or cognitive? 
Tim Cannon, co-founder and CIO of Grindhouse Wetware, a biohacking collective & technology startup in Pittsburgh, was one of my panelists at the conference session. Tim himself has experimented with a number of cybernetic implants because, as he shared with the audience, why wouldn't he choose to be all that he can be? Food for thought, as we begin a century in which augmentive technology will be more common, safe, and affordable.

If you are intrigued by this topic, you may want to listen to a recording of the conference session on The Future of Ability, Disability and Accessibility (code 3336), where I was joined by Elizabeth Ziebarth (Smithsonian Institution), Day al-Mohamed (Department of Labor) as well as Ryan O'Shea and Tim Cannon of Grindhouse Wetware. Attendees were sent an free access code via email after the conference, and non-attendees can purchase recordings here

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Future of Museums (According to One Woman)

 I was delighted to be interviewed for an issue of MISC Journal devoted to The Future According to Women. As the introduction notes, “The future we read about is made up of recycled bits of interviews curated from the minds of a few great men innovating in Silicon Valley.” To counterbalance this bias, the editors decided to explore what would happen if they “purposefully built a view of the future curated entirely from the perspective of women.” The resulting essays, available as a free download, explore a range of topics from the future of gender and identity to the future of war. Museums are represented via a brief quote from me, and MISC published the full text of that interview to the web. With their permission, I’m reposting it here on CFM. MISC is a journal devoted to strategic insight and foresight, and it would be a great addition to any museumer’s scanning feed.

[The originaltext of this interview appeared in MISC Journal online on June 22, 2016]

While the next era of education might seem uncertain for some, women like Elizabeth Merritt have a clear cut idea of what it will look like. Elizabeth is VP Strategic Foresight and Founding Director at the Center for the Future of Museums. She views museums as playing a vital role in the learning landscape, and foresees them becoming increasingly interactive over time. Not only will museums extend beyond their physical confines and continue to develop compelling digital content, but, by 2050, Elizabeth envisions museums to become technologically advanced sites where children will be able to participate in the history they’re learning. “You think some kids are dinosaur-obsessed now? Wait until they can spend their play time helping a curator on her latest paleo dig in Outer Mongolia, or 3-D print the most recently catalogued species!”

What role do you imagine the museum will play in 2030? What about 2100?
I think museums, collectively, will play a lot of different roles, just as they do now: repositories of art, history, and science; places of reflection and remembrance; community hubs; social spaces and catalysts in the creative economy.

There seems to be a consensus, among both futurists and educational reformers, that we are on the cusp of transformative change in the US educational system, particularly in what is now tagged as P-12. (Though note that age-based “grades” are one of the many elements of the current system being called into question). No one knows exactly what the next era of education will look like, but when you ask people to characterize the direction we’re moving in, certain descriptors come up repeatedly: passion-based, self-directed, personalized, hands-on, experiential. Well guess what? Those adjectives describe the kind of learning experiences museums provide now. I imagine that by the turn of the next century, we may have moved towards a distributed learning system – one in which children have a lot of options for when, where and how they learn, drawing on a network of learning resource embedded in their communities and via the web. And museums will be vital parts of the learning landscape – both as physical spaces and as providers of compelling digital content.

Will the museum of the future vary across the globe?
Given that museums in different countries are starting from such different baselines today, I think the answer is most likely yes. Here in the US, anyone can start a nonprofit museum (and many, many people do). At this same point in time, you have Saudi Arabia working to open what I believe is the first museum and the first public library, in that country. How do you explain to people from a culture that has not traditionally had museums (or public libraries) what these entities are, and what they do? Much of what museums do is shaped by their funding, and in many countries, they are almost entirely funded by the government.  In these countries, museums, especially national museums, are principally seen as agents of the state, delivering an official version of history and culture. In the US, where funding is much more varied, many museums are inherently subversive – using a public, nonprofit platform to challenge the dominant cultural paradigm, and explore hidden or underrepresented aspects of society. Many large museums are currently pushing to make their collections and other resources freely available as digital open content. Other museums are starting as purely online institutions. These museums (or their digital reflections) can be truly global in reach. So one issue for the future is access – will there be countries that prevent their citizens from engaging with museums as online forums for learning and exchange?

Will we experience art differently in 2030? 2100? What will be the role of the artist in the future?
One of the trends I’ve been keeping my eye on is the rise of augmentative technology, whether in the form of wearable devices or cybernetic implants. Self-described cyborg Neil Harbisson, for example, helped invent an antennae that is implanted in his skull, enabling him to “hear” light in the visible and non-visible spectra through bone conduction. Neil gave a TED talk in which he describes what it is like to visit an art museum and “hear” the paintings.

How will artists, and museums, adapt to audiences that experience the world in ways formerly outside the spectrum of human ability? As with any world-changing trend, one of the roles for museums today is to introduce new concepts to people, help them explore new technologies in a safe, trusted environment, and to foster hard discussions about how societal norms should change over time.

How did the funding model change for the art ecosystem (e.g. artist, museums, galleries)?
The traditional sources of museum funding are pretty narrow: earned income through admissions, retail, food service, space rentals etc.; contributions from individuals, corporations or foundations; government funding, whether local, state or federal; and income from the endowment (if the museum is lucky enough to have an endowment). All of these revenue streams are under threat: government funding in particular declined steadily over the past few decades, and dropped precipitously as the tax base crashed during in 2008/2009. I think that in coming decades museums are going to build new sources of income that integrate mission-delivery with earned income. We can see bits of this future now. For example, a handful of art museums have created business accelerators-cum-co-working spaces that support the local arts/tech entrepreneurial community. They are both helping to grow the local economy and building their own sustainable business model around some of the profits generated by this activity. Philanthropy and government support is changing as well, as donors and government funders begin to expect measurable proof of the impact of their support. Increasingly, private donors and foundations want evidence of how a museum improved educational outcomes, contributes to wellbeing or otherwise advances the patron’s goals. In coming decades, social impact bond funding for government services may become more common. Rather than receiving support as de facto social benefits, museums may be invited to prove they are saving local or state governments money by reducing recidivism, boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancies, or improving public health. On the other hand, in an era of rising income inequality, we will see some museums relying more on individual wealthy patrons. These museums, characterizing what some have called the New Gilded Age, will have more freedom to operate higher up Maslow’s pyramid of human needs. But, this support may have the side effect of making them less responsive to the needs or desires of the broader population.

Describe the museum experience you would want to create in 2050.
The museum experience I envision for 2050 isn’t confined within the walls of a building. It is ubiquitous, distributed, and integrated into daily life. Most children growing up in 2050 have personal AI tutors (for the youngest, these may be channeled through favorite plush animals. Older kids synch them through the latest hip wearable devices). And those AIs draw heavily on the vast collective museum databases. You think some kids are dinosaur-obsessed now? Wait until they can spend their play time helping a curator at her latest paleo dig in Outer Mongolia, or 3-D print the most recently catalogued species. Of course, learning is not all dependent on AI, either. The (human) Personal Learning Agents tasked with helping children assemble their educational experiences know that museums are some of the best places to match students with mentors, hands-on projects, up to including original research and publication.

Museums help curate the world for grown-ups, too. There was a time, back at the turn of the 21st century, when local historical societies struggled to remain relevant. Now, a recent (2049) study from the Pew Internet and American Life researchers show that 60% of adults make regular use of history overlays in their augmented reality devices to explore both their own neighborhoods and new places when they travel. A study from Americans for the Arts documents that museums in 2050 are making significant contributions to both local and global economies, as artists and entrepreneurs use museum open data as the raw materials for their work. And museums provide the technical and content expertise to help people catalog and share more things than could ever make their way into museums’ own collections. The Internet of Things enabled global history collection has helped document and save archaeological sites and artifacts around the world. The IoT-powered global family archive means that historical documentation, and therefore historians, capture stories that would have been lost in the past.

But physical museums, from art museums to zoos, remain important as well. The Department of Education estimates that 25% of American born between 2035 and 2050 attended a preschool located in or associated with a museum – a form of early enrichment that has been particularly effective in boosting the academic performance and health and well-being of children from low socioeconomic status families. The NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts has documented an increase in public attendance at museums and galleries in every decade since 2020. And in the US, museums continue to be one of the top three forms of respite and retreat from everyday stress, digital overload and traumatic events. (Aided, no doubt, by the fact that a number of museums and historic sites have opted to go completely analog, going so far as to turn their buildings and grounds into wifi free zones to support people looking for some digital detox time.)

Do I think we’re on track to make this future real by 2050? You bet.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Access for All

#AllGender #AccessForAll @WorcesterArt 

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, June 21, 2016

Design Briefs: Art Museum as Innovation Incubator

One of the themes explored in Trendswatch 2014 is the rise of social entrepreneurship—the practice of linking profitable business models with socially beneficial outcomes. In the report, I pointed to the New Museum’s incubator space as an example of how art museums can themselves become entrepreneurs that “do well by doing good,” by serving as catalysts for the creative economy. In today’s post, Jon Carfagno (@jcarfagno25), Director of Learning and Audience Engagement at Grand Rapids Art Museum, shares another such example. GRAM’s Design Briefs, a pioneering collaboration with AIGA West Michigan’s Design For Good initiative, helps emerging, mission-driven start-ups work through challenges in their operating models and helps the museum achieve its strategic goals. Could the platform Jon describes be a model for how other museums can connect with social entrepreneurs?

A Human Centered Museum in West Michigan

Local entrepreneurs present their challenges
for feedback from a panel of experts.

 Photo Courtesy of Adam Bird Photography
As the world’s first LEED Gold Certified art museum, the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) can claim that innovation is literally built into the brick and mortar of our spectacular permanent home. When planning began in 2000, many questioned whether the unique constraints that define care and preservation of works of art could support an environmentally sustainable building. However, over the course of a seven-year construction project, West Michigan’s thought leadership applied its characteristic approach of design thinking and collaborative solution finding, to add GRAM to its ever-growing list of green architecture. Nestled in the heart of a vibrant creative economy fueled by giants like Steelcase and Amway, as well as a rich tech and start up community, it is not surprising that museum staff called on our forward thinking local friends for assistance in developing our Human Centered Strategic Plan. This document, adopted in 2013, was designed to position the museum for success today and in the future. It is available for review on GRAM’s website and in AAM’s online Sample Document Library (available to Tier 3 museum members.)

Putting the Strategic Plan into Action: Creating Design Briefs

Our examination of the strategic plan’s “stakeholder map” confirmed what we already knew: Given the strengths of our local community, the museum had a great opportunity to connect the themes in our exhibitions with the region’s flourishing creative class. Our charrette work for the plan sparked a groundbreaking partnership with AIGA West Michigan which resulted in the launch of Design Briefs in the summer of 2013. This first enactment of what is now a long-standing successful program coincided with the museum’s presentation of Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America. The show told the story of our state’s proud history of innovation by assembling artifacts that illustrated how empathy, iteration, and creative problem solving are drivers of successful enterprise. Our mission with Design Briefs was to position GRAM as a stage that would inspire application of these methods in a large-scale sharing of creative capital. Initially conceived as a one-off experiment, the program platform has scaled to repeat five times. It was also the subject of a global webinar, which inspired a presentation of Design Briefs by the Toledo Museum of Art and their local branch of AIGA.

Design Briefs consistently draws over 100 
creative professionals to the Grand Rapids Art Museum.
Photo Courtesy of Adam Bird Photography 

How Does it Work?
For each iteration of Design Briefs, AIGA West Michigan and GRAM explore the museum’s upcoming exhibitions and look for content strands that relate to aspects of the innovation economy. For instance, the ecological focus of Edward Burtynsky’s Water exhibition afforded the chance to explore West Michigan’s growing B-Corp movement. Working together we put out a call to local entrepreneurs in our networks who were interested in the triple bottom line business model. Through a series of conversations we helped the selected business owners identify a problem or choke point within their current operations that could be examined by a panel of experts. After this public event, the entire assembled crowd poured into the museum’s east court gallery to participate in design thinking mini-workshops led by Visual Hero, a well-respected strategy firm.

Why Does it Work?

Design Briefs works because it creates financial and mission-related benefits for both AIGA West Michigan and GRAM. An initiative of AIGA’s Design For Good Committee, whose purpose is “to unite creative professionals and empower them to give their time and talents to solve foundational challenges within our own community,” the program consistently brings together upwards of 100 creative professionals to catalyze the local economy by helping start-ups work through challenges. Fortunately our community has a wealth of entrepreneurs whose interests have supported progressive themes such as “Diversity in Technology,” “Innovation for Kids,” and the aforementioned “Focus on B-Corps.” The pitches have ranged from MegaMind Academy, a Khan Academy-inspired website where students teach their classmates to solve complex math problems, to a co-working space for textile artists called Blue Marble Threads, and their strengths have led to rich dialogue around socially motivated ideas.

Kim Wolting, AIGA West Michigan’s Design for Good Director, notes that Design Briefs resonates so directly with the community that fundraising is not a problem. At each event, we find that the opportunity for people to experience the power of design thinking while helping others activates intrinsic motivation. As a result, people want to support and be associated with the program. Some vendors, such as Brewery Vivant and Malamiah Juice Bar, have even donated their products to fuel the innovation. Through sponsorship and profit-sharing AIGA West Michigan and GRAM have cultivated a modest income stream from Design Briefs, with the income channeled into sustaining the platform and bringing in internationally recognized thought leaders for select programs.

The museum has benefited in terms of staff development as well. A cross-functional group of GRAM employees (ranging from Guest Services, Marketing, and the Learning and Audience Engagement divisions) has worked with the committee members from AIGA to introduced new skill-sets and competencies that align directly with the institution’s strategic plan objective to “Integrate Innovation Skills.” The GRAM team has learned about everything from meeting management to digital marketing,, while creating a successful new program that engages an up-and-coming segment of our community at a time when audience diversification has never been more needed.

The museum's galleries are transformed into an
incubator space where participants collaborate to
solve problems using Human Centered Design methods.
Photo Courtesy of Adam Bird Photography
“One aspect that is so unique about Design Briefs,” Wolting remarks, “Is that it’s at the GRAM. Our audience did not know how to engage with an art museum before. Design Briefs opens up the space for us to do our thing in an environment that we could have never imagined.” Design Briefs, New Museum’s New Inc, and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s ACMIX all capitalize on the “cool” that comes with being a museum—an asset our field should leverage to the max as we seek new business models. 

The mechanics of Design Briefs have been outlined in several places. A playbook from our webinar can be downloaded here. I encourage any museum worker who is trying to increase participation and community impact to experiment with the Design Briefs platform. Hopefully, the resources and links provided here give enough information to try this out on your own. Twitter commentary from our events is tagged #DFGBriefs. Our team would be happy to help by answering your questions. And if enough interest is expressed, I’d be happy to organize a Design Briefs event in conjunction with the 2017 Annual Meeting in St. Louis—wade in using the comments section, below, if you would like to see this happen.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Futurist Friday: Author Author

Turing Test: Museum edition. Could a computer program write an exhibit label or an exhibit catalog that made visitors believe a human museum worker penned the text?

There's a lot of controversy right now over how many jobs, and which kinds, will be displaced by emerging technologies. The inroads made by robotics on manufacturing in the 20th century may be reprised in coming decades by artificial intelligence on white collar professions. As I discuss in the Labor 3.0 Chapter of TrendsWatch 2016, programs such as IBM Watson, combining the power of cognitive computing,machine learning & the ability to respond to natural language queries, have already disrupted key functions in law (researching & writing briefs) and medicine (reading medical images, diagnostics). The Associated Press uses software to generate stories on corporate earnings, and an increasing number of small local papers use news bots to report on local and youth sports competitions. Heck, you can even use a free writing bot to auto-generate your own content, if you can feed it data to work with. 

But law, medicine, sports results, corporate earnings--these are all, at their heart, factual. The resulting text needs to be accurate, even grammatical, but what about creative writing?

Which brings us to our Futurist Friday video short for the week: in the 9 minute film Sunspring, human actors perform a screenplay written by a "recurrent neural network" named Benjamin. (Originally "Jetson," but the program re-named itself.) Watch and see what you think: 

Incoherent? Well, yes. Though as this review points out, that may in part be a matter of the input Benjamin was working from. And before you snark too much, consider that Sunspring finished in the top 10 of the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge. 

Perhaps, in the future, any museum will be able to send a version of Benjamin or Watson to search for open data on any subject--history, art, science--analyze, synthesize and summarize its findings and generate label or catalog copy*. There are two components to this assignment: researching the background information and turning it into coherent, compelling text. The technology needed to conduct such automated research already exists. The second--good writing, with all that this entails, may be further on the horizon, but Benjamin and his digital kin are evolving pretty quickly. So two questions for your FF assignment:

  • How long do you think it will be before a research/writing bot available for anyone (students, writers, exhibit developers) to use in their work?
  • Is there an essentially "human" element of writing that an artificial intelligence, no matter how advanced, will be unable to replicate?

*You many be horrified by that suggestion, but remember, doctors were just as appalled by the prospect of Watson interpreting symptoms--until IBM demonstrated that the program is more accurate than most human MDs.)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Speaking with the Next Generation of Museum Workers

Did you create a museum in your room when you were a kid? Did you—like the Field Museum’s Bill Stanley—have a #butterflymoment when you realized working in a museum could be a real job? The more I wrestle with the challenge of building diversity in our field, the more convinced I am that the earliest intervention, and perhaps the most powerful, is to help kids from all backgrounds realize that they could grow up to be a registrar, security guard, exhibit designer, museum educator or a curator.

For this reason, I’ve kept my eyes open for more stories about young people who start their own museums. Back in 2010, I invited Silvia Liu (then age 5) to write a guest post about the museum she had created in her family’s basement. Recently another “kid curated” museum—created by Maria and Miller Williams—has received a lot of attention in the press. I reconnected with Silvia and invited her to conduct a Skype video interview with these siblings about their collections. Maybe Silvia, Maria or Miller will work in a museum in the future—maybe they won’t. But at least they know it’s a possibility…

Silvia Liu
Today’s interviewees invite you to follow them on Facebook at Silvia’s Nature Museum and Tiny Natural History Museum.    

[Introductions and camera adjusting]
MARIA AND MILLER: So where is your museum?

SILVIA: In my basement.

Maria and Miller Williams

MARIA AND MILLER: OK, where do you live?

SILVIA: In Kansas. Lawrence, KS.

MARIA AND MILLER: Okay, want to see a tour of our museum?


MARIA AND MILLER: All right, well, this is our museum and we have a garden right here. Growing some plants: snake gourd is growing out of control. But, we have things like a cow pelvis shark jaw, barnacles. Lots of things, arrowheads over here. We have some feathers. And here’s our pets: fish, like a hermit crab and beta fish. Then some fossils: ammonites, dino poo, fossilized fish. We have some rocks: rock towers, geodes over here, some sedimentary rocks, gold ore.

SILVIA: Yeah, I can see it. That’s cool.

MARIA AND MILLER: Do you want to show us your museum?

Cow skull & polished cow horn
Silvia's Nature Museum
SILVIA: Well, the computer’s big and it’s downstairs. But I can tell you what I have in it. I have a few horseshoe crabs, which are really cool. And I have lots of different things. I think the biggest thing I have is a cow skull. It’s like [gestures with hands] pretty big. My grandpa sent it to me. Oh yeah, I have a Facebook page “Silvia’s Nature Museum”, so I have a few things of what I have in my museum there.

MARIA AND MILLER: So, I guess I can like it on Facebook and see what’s going on. So, the lady that organized this gave us a few questions to ask. Okay, uh, one second. Sorry, um. So, the first question is, why did you decide to start a museum in your home.

SILVIA: Yeah, that’s the same question she gave me. And I like to collect things, so I decided that it would be really fun. My first thing that I found and collected for my museum was a baby turtle. I still have it. It’s, like, mummified, kind of, because I found it on a walk to a nearby lake to my grandma’s house. We were on a walk and I found it next to the lake.

MARIA AND MILLER: That’s pretty cool. Like, petrified and stuff?

SILVIA: That was one of the reasons that I started. I was five or six and I decided that it was fun to collect things like that. So I collected more things for my museum.

MARIA AND MILLER: How many things do you have in your museum?

SILVIA: I’m not really sure. Like, a lot. It takes up one room of the basement. It has a little giftshop on top of a file cabinet and I have buttons and postcards there. And, I also have shelves, organized on the wall, on the other side from the gift shop. I have a plant life shelf, an ocean shelf, and fossils.

MARIA AND MILLER: We have a tiny little gift shop, too. Not much, but it’s a start. Second question, what do you think museums could be doing differently to be serving people your age?

SILVIA: I think they should make things a little shorter, because not all people are extremely tall.

MARIA AND MILLER: Yeah. I was sometimes at museums and there were these little kids saying “Can you lift me up? I can’t see the turtle.” Yeah.

SILVIA: Yeah, like maybe if they made a display that had, maybe if they couldn’t get it the right size [shorter], they could have a periscope for lower so you could see what’s in the higher display case. ‘Cause that’d be a good idea.

MARIA AND MILLER: I think a good thing they could do would be to have kids there, because some people have no idea how to talk to kids. They talk to them like they’re adults, and the kids are like, “What?” so they should have kids to help.

SILVIA: So, the third question is when you are 50 years old, in what ways do think museum will be the same that they are now and how do might they have changed?

MARIA AND MILLER: We think that they’d be more like you’d imagine they’d be, for example, invisibility cloaks or flying cars and stuff that you’d think would pop into your head.

SILVIA: Also, maybe more advanced technology.


SILVIA: Like, maybe a screen that made it look 3D so that you could move the object that you’re looking at. And you can zoom in on it so that you wouldn’t get too near the actual thing, in case it was rare or too damageable.

MARIA AND MILLER: How old are you?


MARIA AND MILLER: I’m 10 and I’m 9. Last question, do you see yourself working in museums when you grow up and in what role?

SILVIA: I think I might work in museums when I grow up. I like the idea of being around stuff that people can see and that are displayed to the public.

MARIA: If paleontology doesn’t work out, I’d like to be a docent in a museum.

MILLER: Yeah, like she said, if paleontology doesn’t work out, I’d be security, I guess.

SILVIA: Yeah, I think I’d like paleontology. I really wanted to be a paleontologist when I was little – really little. When all the other kids were like “I want to be a veterinarian. I want to be a teacher.” I was like “I want to be a paleontologist!” *giggles*

MARIA AND MILLER: Yeah! And like, “Whaaa?” *giggles*

Miller: What did you say when you were 3 years old?

MARIA: When dinosaurs walk on the earth, you’ll know it’s me who made that happen. I was watching videos about cloning stuff, and kind of got into a craze about that.

MARIA AND MILLER: What do you want to be when you grow up?

SILVIA: I’m not sure. I kind of want to be a teacher now, but I’m not sure exactly.

MARIA AND MILLER: You don’t really have to decide now.

SILVIA: I typed up a few more questions. What are your favorite objects in your museum.


SILVIA: For me, it’s the baby turtle that I really like. It’s really small and it’s fun. I have a few other things. I have a coyote skull. My grandpa sends me skeletons every so often, and stuff, because he’s really nice and he works in a museum, too. So, for my birthday, it’s like “Oh, I got a skull in the mail.”

MARIA AND MILLER: Well, we have quite a few things. We have an alligator skull. It’s wired shut because it keeps falling open.

SILVIA: It’s really big. My cow skull’s pretty big, too. I have a fish fossil that’s in a little square chunk of limestone, or whatever it’s fossilized in, that I got. I had an opening at the museum and friends came over. One of my mom’s friends, for the giftshop they didn’t bring money but they brought a fossil, to donate and trade.

MARIA AND MILLER: Cool. Does it look like this? [shows fossil]

SILVIA: Yeah, kind of.
Mountain Lion skull
Tiny Natural History Museum

MARIA AND MILLER: How you got yours is pretty interesting. My brother got this, it’s a mountain lion skull. So we also got this, a snapping turtle skull.

SILVIA: It’s very large for a turtle.

MARIA AND MILLER: Yeah, we went to the Bell Museum and they had really tiny ones, and we thought our was bigger. It must have been a monster of its kind. Any other favorite items?

SILVIA: There’s a shell that my mom brought back from something. It’s really pretty. It has, like, little designs just naturally on it. It’s really nice. I have some big sand dollars and sea urchins.

MARIA AND MILLER: We have a sea urchin, too. We have a few that are painted. Do you listen to “Brains On”. It’s a podcast. It’s really good. It’s about science and these kids come up and ask questions and then they get answered. It’s through NPR.

SILVIA: [to her mom] Can you bring something up?

MARIA AND MILLER: I think you can just bring up a random fossil.

SILVIA: Yeah, like just bring something interesting. So, suggestions. I also have an emu egg in a jar.


SILVIA: It’s a large egg. I got it for Easter, the Easter Bunny brought it and left if in the chicken coop.

[Silvia reads the label] Okay, it says “Collected by Chris Bryan in Ft. Worth, TX. 14 October 2012. Everything is bigger in Texas.” It’s an acorn.

MARIA AND MILLER: Whoa! That’s big!

SILVIA: Here’s the turtle.

MARIA AND MILLER: Wow, poor thing. How old were you when you started the museum.

SILVIA: Well, the turtle says “Collected near Potters Lake May 2009”, so, ummm, I was 4 and we build the shelves that summer.

MARIA AND MILLER: So it’s been around a long time. A lot longer than ours.
Snake rattle
Tiny Natural History Museum

SILVIA: I also have a snake skin.

MARIA: Miller just brought a snake rattle.

SILVIA: Cool. You can see the head. And here’s the emu egg.

MARIA: Wow! I don’t think I’d like that to hatch.

SILVIA: “Donated by the Easter Bunny”. *giggles*


SILVIA: Oh yeah, these are my puppy’s. We had a puppy, she’s now a dog –ish, but she’s still really young acting, and these are teeth that she lost when she was little. They’re really tiny.

MARIA AND MILLER: Did you just find them sticking out of toys or the carpet?

SILVIA: Yeah, they were laying on the carpet and I found them. You could see them as little specks of white, ‘cause our carpet’s kind of gray.

MARIA AND MILLER: Our dog, Trixie, we’re glad we weren’t around when she was a puppy.

SILVIA: The acorn is really big. Here’s it compared to my hand. I have some crab shells, too. Papi John got them for me. They’re horseshoe crabs and they have a pointy tail. They’re flat, and have eyes on the side and look like they could be roaming around on the ground. I also recently got some baby crabs; they’re really tiny. Someone found them on a walk, walking their dog. And then they sent me a bunch of them.

Tiny Natural History Museum
MARIA: This is an ammonite I found in Lake Michigan. We also found some spine bones embedded in a big chunk of rock. I also have this big oyster shell, it’s fossilized.

SILVIA: When I was little I went to this daycare. On the playground they had a bunch of rocks, and sometimes there were fossils in the rocks. And, I’d pick them up and say “Oh, there are fossils and tiny little shell things in it.”

MARIA AND MILLER: I bet not many people did that. They’d be playing on the swings, and we’d be finding fossils.

SILVIA: Yeah. Looking at the rocks: “Rocks with fossils. They’re so tiny!”

MARIA AND MILLER: I bet the daycare didn’t even know the rocks had fossils. Pretty cool.

Cicada exoskeletons
Silvia's Nature Museum
SILVIA: Also I have a tarantula embedded in acrylic.

MARIA AND MILLER: Is it dead and curled up?

SILVIA: No, it was probably an art project that the plastic was poured in and its legs are stuck in it.

MARIA AND MILLER: So, like one of those bug marbles?

SILVIA: Kind of.

MARIA AND MILLER: Oh. I had a few bug marbles, but they got lost. But, tarantula, that would be a big marble.

SILVIA: Yeah. It’s in a clear plastic dish, and its body is sticking out when just its legs in there.

MARIA AND MILLER: So, the next thing I’m going to do is go on Facebook and like and look at your page for cool stuff. See if I can find the tarantula. Then maybe we can talk again. ‘Bye.


I encourage you to post about your own childhood museums, about the moment when—at any age—you became hooked on museums, or about a time when you helped a young person fall in love with our work. On Twitter, if you use the hashtag #butterflymoment, I can find and share your stories.  

Miller and Maria appearing as Guest Scientists at the
Bell Museum of Natural History

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Some Reflections on Museums and Labor at the Annual Meeting

Hi, Nicole here! This year’s CFM demo in the MuseumExpo during the AAM 2016 Annual Meeting was jam-packed with tough thinking and rich engagement on the issues of museums and labor. During the course of the programming from May 26-28, we hosted 21 facilitators, scores and scores (and scores!) of visitors to the booth, and gave away every single piece of swag we had! Some three weeks later, I’m still thinking with the wealth of information produced and shared during the demo and I hope you are, too!

Editing 'Recap of Museums and Labor CFM Demo' · Storify:
Attendees engaging at CFM Demo
I am deeply thankful to all our participants for their time and generosity in making this effort such a success! Many thanks, too, to the AAM staff who supported this work. I am also especially thankful to our Twitter hosts, who diligently helped us archive the conversations that took place.

Because I believe in both the power of both archives and foresight, I’m linking to the Storify of our demo. I encourage you to reminisce, scan the images, share or retweet things that make you think. Mostly, however, I hope that you use this Storify as a tool to prompt your own engagement with the ideas. The themes and questions raised during this year’s CFM sessions are big and broad. But, they aren’t without resolution. Review the archive and let us know what questions and ways forward come to mind for you!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Monday Musing: rethinking design at the opera

I'm devoting my brief musing today to a story from the Harvard Business Review that I included in "Dispatches from the Future of Museums" last week. In case you missed it, please do read "What Design Thinking is Doing for the San Francisco Opera," 

It describes how students from Stanford's Hasso Plattner School of Design worked with staff of the SFO to create a pop-up event called "Barely Opera" that upended most of the conventions around how opera. 

"Barely Opera" demonstrates the power of
  • taking risks
  • rapid prototyping
  • playfulness
  • humor
  • informality
  • participatory experiences
  • going to the community, rather than expecting the community to come to you
  • learning from outside your sector
  • swapping roles inside your organization
  • celebrating failure

SFO found that the biggest internal barrier to this rapid application of design thinking was the value their staff place on perfection, a trait their General Director describes as "our blessing in allowing us to produce moments of exquisite theater, and our curse in terms of not giving us the flexibility to adapt quickly.” Once staff overcome that barrier, the result (as you can see in the video below), was indeed messy, imperfect, and in a very meaningful way, a huge success. 

The good news? The pop-up audience loved the content--responding better to classical opera repertoire than to the few pop standards organizers threw into the mix. "The problem for younger audiences" the narrative concludes, "were some of the trappings and traditions that surrounded the art form – the feeling that there were lots of rules made for an intimidating experience." A lesson in there for museums, as well, I do believe. 

Anyway, here, see for yourself:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Futurist Friday: Inspiring the Next Generation

How many kids want to work in a museum when they grow up?

I suspect (unfortunately) very few. .

Museum folk talk a lot about the homogeneity of our field, and about what makes it hard to build a diverse staff: ossified job requirements, low pay, uncongenial work environments.

But the very first hurdle we face is inspiring kids to fall in love with the idea of working in a museum.

How do we do that? What kinds of experiences, big or small, fire the ambition of a child to one day be a curator, registrar, exhibit designer, educator or collections manager?

Your Futurist Friday assignment: watch the story of how one little boy fell in love. This 4 minute video animates the story of Bill Stanley's first intimidating and inspiring encounter with a curator. The video (which was recently honored with a 2016 MUSE award) is also a loving tribute to Bill, director of the Collections Center at the Field Museum, who died last year during a field expedition to Ethiopia. 

After you wipe your eyes (which I have to do every time I watch this video), spend a moment and think:
  • As a child, did you have the equivalent of Bill's "butterfly experience?"--a moment that set you on your personal evolutionary path?
  • When was the last time a child came to you with a discovery, or a question, that let your share your passion for what you do?
And lastly,
  • What can museums do to create such "butterfly moments"--personal, inspiring, evocative interactions --for kids from all kinds of families, neighborhoods and backgrounds? 
That is the first step in recruiting a more diverse workforce of the future.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

And the 2016 MUSE Awards Go To…

My biggest frustration at the annual meeting is that I can’t be everywhere at once (at least, not until we master cloning). I rely on a host of correspondents to fill me in on the great events I miss. This week Dacia Massengill, Communications Chair, AAM Media & Technology Professional Network and Digital Outreach Coordinator, National Gallery of Art, dishes on what happened at the MUSE awards—perhaps, the closest the museum field comes to our own Oscars—on Thursday evening of the conference.

After receiving nearly 200 applications from around the globe, the Media and Technology (M&T) Professional Network recognized fifty-five outstanding gallery, archive, library, and museum (GLAM) media and technology programs during the 27th annual MUSE Awards last month at AAM’s Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

Nearly 100 volunteers from around the globe divided into 14 juries, each of which reviewed and scored an award category. Jurors overcome their geographic distribution through use of a centralized MUSE awards data management system, good old fashioned email, and web-based meeting software. An enormous amount of time is dedicated to the careful consideration of MUSE Award-worth candidates. Without them, this program would not be possible.

The juries were looking for entries that demonstrated outstanding achievement in content, design, interface, technical merit, innovation, and audience utility and appeal. And now the big reveal! M&T is excited to announce that The Broad, Brooklyn Museum, El Paso Museum of History, Field Museum of Natural History, The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, J. Paul Getty Trust, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution Transcription Center, Sydvestjyske Museer, and The Tech Museum of Innovation all took home top honors.

Read what the juries had to say about the Gold MUSE Award winners below and check out the full list of winners here.

The 2016 Jim Blackaby Memorial Award
Brooklyn Museum for ASK Brooklyn Museum

Jim Blackaby, a board member of the Media and Technology (M&T) Professional Network during its formative period in the 1990s, influenced the museum world with his innovative work in information services and internet strategies during the early years of digital media integration within museums. Conceived in his memory, and introduced in 2004, the Blackaby Award recognizes a project that exemplifies the power of creative imagination in the use of media and technology — a project that has a powerful effect on its audience and stands above the others in inventiveness and impact.  It is granted to an organization selected from a pool of nominees put forward by the MUSE Awards juries, and is awarded only if a single program rises to meet the criteria set forth by the award’s intent. The Blackaby was last given in 2012.

This year, Brooklyn Museum was presented this award for their outstanding ASK Brooklyn Museum program, thus becoming the only repeat winner of a Blackaby having captured it in 2008 and 2006 as well.

A visit to any museum is full of discovery and of many visitor questions asked, but often unanswered by media and information resources in an exhibition or permanent collection space. The ASK Brooklyn Museum app allows visitors to pose questions to content experts on duty during public hours. Answers come back in mere minutes providing a near-real-time dialog between staff and the public. Using iBeacon technology, the app only functions when the user’s mobile device is located within the museum. Use of standard iMessage technology allows for fluid, back-and-forth conversation. The program not only fills information gaps for visitors, it also engages museum staff with visitor interests in ways that can influence future public programming.

ASK Brooklyn Museum also took gold in the category Mobile Applications! As one jury member noted, “The Ask App allows each visitor to have a personalized experience with the museum by pursuing their own interest and curiosity. Eschewing high tech solutions in favor of direct personal connections between users and staff, the app does not compromise the user experience or production value. It exemplifies a creative and novel application with a simple feature set-- a laudable achievement in the museum vertical.”

Audio Tours and Podcasts
The Broad and Acoustiguide for Artists-on-Artists Audio Tour
“Music is used to set the tone and context for the work in an innovative way drawing the listener in. Having artists reflect on each other’s work is an excellent choice that really pays off. For example, you can listen to Barbara Kruger reflecting on Kara Walker's African't, John Baldessari describing Sherrie Levine's Fountain (Buddha), and Sterling Ruby positioning Christopher Wool's Untitled, 1990 in historical context, among many others. A truly exemplary production.”

Digital Communities
Smithsonian Institution for Smithsonian Institution Transcription Center
“The Smithsonian Institution Transcription Center is a volunteer-supported transcription website at a large scale. The website is smooth and easy to use, participation is rewarding, and the whole experience reflects well on the Smithsonian brand. The jury especially appreciates the way volunteers are made to feel special.”

Education and Outreach
Philadelphia Museum of Art for A Is for Art Museum
“The A is for Art Museum app is a clever, very user-friendly, and fun way to introduce families to the museum and the works featured in the book of the same name. The orientation of the app towards kids, through fun graphics and intuitive design, capitalizes on children’s interest and proficiency with technology and makes the museum come alive.”

Games and Augmented Reality
Sydvestjyske Museer, Aalborg University, and Intertisement ApS for Augmenting the Historic City: Trade and Merchants’ Life in Ribe
“This project offers an excellent example of the use of Artificial Reality (AR) to connect both exterior and interior spaces, integrating the museum’s knowledge about the history of the town and their collections to enliven the physical space. The project offers an adaptive way of providing museum content. The additional layer of doctoral research on the project shed light on the successes achieved thus far, and provided insight into where the project could go in the future.”

Interactive Kiosks
The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum and Second Story for Common Threads
“This interactive prompts visitors to consider the meaning they attribute to the clothing they wear. The in-gallery placement, participatory nature, and creative aspects of this interactive made it stand out in the field.”

Interpretive Interactive Installations
The Tech Museum of Innovation and Local Projects for Body Metrics
“This exhibit introduces visitors to wearable technologies, both current and new. Experiencing this exhibit with others increases the fun and engagement, allowing visitors to see what data is generated through various activities.”

(For more information about Body Metrics, see this guest post by curator/project director Romie Littrell.)

Multimedia Installations
El Paso Museum of History for DIGIE
“This large interactive outdoor touch screen makes an impact through its sheer size alone, but its sophistication, interactivity, and accessibility are the real heart of the project. By opening itself to input from the community, it meets the museum’s goals of community service and education in a spectacular and engaging fashion.”

Online Presence
The Metropolitan Museum of Art for The Artist Project
“This site is a lovely combination of experience and storytelling combined with well-crafted technology. The Artist Project wonderfully allows for multiple voices beyond just the museum’s, achieving a simple and compelling synergy between the videos and the site. The Met has raised the bar for what we can do, how we can do it, and for whom we do it.”

Public Outreach
J. Paul Getty Trust for #GettyInspired
“In #GettyInspired, the Getty has created a space for reciprocal communication and innovative interpretation of user-generated content. The core of the project is not the website but the campaign that seamlessly collects and integrates content through different activities and media.”

Video, Film, and Computer Animation
The Field Museum of Natural History, Spring Shoe Animation & Illustration, and Cleaver Studios for The Switch: A Bill Stanley Story
“A celebration of the work of museum professionals, this film shows how powerful, charismatic voices from inside the museum can be our strongest tools and can continue to inspire for generations to come. Through its charming animation, it both memorializes a beloved colleague and wonderfully conveys the magic of museums.”