Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Building the Future of Museum Labor Requires Sound Data

This is an unabashed plea for you to make sure your museum answers the National Comparative Museum Salary Survey that’s now in the field.

Here are just a few of the significant labor policy issues facing museums:
  • Gender equity in pay
  • Living wages
  • CEO pay ratio
  • Building a diverse workforce

Baseline data on museum salaries is a crucial component of the information we need to inform our discussion of these issues.

To meet this need, the Alliance is partnering with all the US regional museum associations and several state associations to conduct the third national survey of how museums compensate their employees. The survey results are used by:
  • the field to understand regional similarities and differences, how the various disciplines handle compensation, and trends in employee benefits;
  • museums to help determine appropriate compensation;
  • museum workers to assess job offers and negotiate pay.

The survey launched on November 14 via email to directors and human resource staff of museums in the partner associations’ databases. This is an institutional survey: each museum should only respond once, providing data for the whole organization. Ask your director or HR staff whether your museum is in the process of responding—If not, your museum can access instructions and a link to the online survey here.

Data collection closes on December 19th—please ensure your museum is represented!

If you have questions about the survey, or need assistance, contact ebaker (at) aam-us.org









Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Give Me Shelter

@DesignMuseum #refugees @Better_Shelter @Ikea
#MuseumsforGood
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, November 22, 2016

The CFM Future of Education Tour starts in 2017 in the Southeast!

This week we are pleased to share our own bit of good news: CFM Fellows Sage Morgan-Hubbard and Nicole Ivy announce they are taking their work on the road with The Future of Education Tour. In January 2017, they will set out on the first of a series of expeditions to explore the good work museums are doing in the fields of education and labor. Their first route takes them through the Southeast—if you are interested in hosting Nicole and Sage at your museum, read the post below and send them an invitation. 

These are so many questions floating around in our heads lately: How do we reconnect face to face in these divided times? How do we highlight museums across the country that are seldom heard from? Can we offer up museums as potential sites of reconciliation? We begin by honoring the strengths of museums, building upon their unique ability to gather and guide very diverse groups of people to share our collective treasures. And we actively incorporate new media modalities into our work, experimenting with a multiplicity of voices, meditating varying concepts of the future of education, as our country rapidly shapeshifts before our very eyes (ears, noses, and other senses). In order to sustain the victories of the Civil Rights Movement over the past 50 years, and to search for new identities, what could be more “American” than a road trip? Perhaps the South can teach us at this present moment in particular how to ameliorate the many economic and social inequalities of the past so that past discord does not spillover our future.

With all these questions in mind and more, The Center for the Future of Museums (CFM) has started a project to visit museums across the United States and bring together museums, educators, and community members to record and share their most promising practices for P–12 education. CFM Fellows Sage Morgan-Hubbard and Nicole Ivy will begin their journey through the Southeast United States— from DC to New Orleans—on January 9 through January 20, 2017, making a special note of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., whose holiday that falls during this time. We plan on stopping in eight cities: Richmond, Virginia, Charlotte, North Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, Birmingham, Alabama, Memphis, Tennessee, Jackson, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

During the course of her fellowship, Sage Morgan-Hubbard eventually will travel to all six US regions in a series of 10-day road trips. This laboratory-on-wheels also will be shared at an interactive panel and showcased in the exhibit hall at AAM’s 2017 Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo in St. Louis. We are excited that our Center for the Future of Museums has an active following online and at the same time we hope to establish more points of engagement to stimulate in-person dialogue and critical discussions with member museums, visionary educators, engaged parents, concerned youth and thought leaders through interventions that challenge and disrupt failing systems of education through dynamic, healthy, vibrant and participatory learning. An objective of this trip is to more deeply connect with museum educators, activists and innovators to highlight oft neglected, disengaged and underrepresented community voices. We want to uncover and expose overlooked disruptive and stimulating new practices and ideas lurking within P-12 education in museums, schools, unschooling communities and community based organizations. The Future of Education tour will bring us intimately and personally and perhaps even uncomfortably face to face with members to learn what we can and to demonstrate AAM’s strategic goals.  They include: increasing our engagement with P-12 education everywhere, and 2) highlighting radical approaches to diversity, accessibility, equity, and inclusion by sharing case studies and stories from inside and outside of the museum field. In this exploration of how each region of the United States, we will specifically feature the similarities and divergent ways the nation thinks about and practices education on the ground today, and to find what the field can learn from each of these important regional interactions and discoveries.

Through the Future of Education Tour, Sage and Nicole will explicitly invite individuals from partner museums, educational sites, and local communities to engage them through public lectures and interactive conversations designed to incite dialogue, foster empathy, and share innovative tactics across disciplines. Since Sage and Nicole are both poets, some of these interactions might entail spoken word and poetic creations. The project also will feature:

• a series of porch-side chats with museum professionals
• a “Faces from the Field” video series
• Instagram feeds of photographs from the trek
• multimedia maps and a recording booth
• live video and “poetry cam” from the road to show the project and poetry in process

Promising practices and educational resources will be shared on AAM’s Future of Education website via blog posts, videos, photographs, online discussions, live-streamed events, and more.


Secretary of Education John King (center) on his recent Department of Education #OpportunityTour
The concept of this tour emerges from important antecedents, including the success and popularity of mobile museums, the Department of Education’s recent bus #OpportunityTour from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans in the fall of 2016, MTV’s Road Rules series, the legacy of the 1961 Freedom rides, and the cannon of iconic American road trips literature and curricula.

Please note that we are still planning our itinerary and are very open to your suggestions and requests. To determine which museums we will visit and which routes to follow, the team will closely collaborate with AAM’s Education Committee and crowdsource recommendations from you, our constituents. To invite Nicole Ivy and Sage Morgan-Hubbard to visit, please contact smorganhubbard@aam-us.org or, on Twitter, @MuseumsP12.

We look forward to hearing from you and visiting you soon!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Mapping the Results

#Election2016 #analysis #demographics @BBC 
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, November 15, 2016

Crafting courageous truths: The creation and philosophy of MASS Action: Museum As Site for Social Action

Today, Porchia Moore, Aletheia Wittman, Elisabeth Callihan, nikhil trivedi, Janeen Bryant, and Sage Morgan-Hubbard share thoughts on the recent MASS Action convening. Here they outline the vision for the three-year project and describe the need for museums to work toward equity and social justice.

MASS Action Attendees


People are hesitant to engage in difficult conversations and that is what cultural institutions exist to offer in an array of forms... From the Smithsonian Institution to the public library in Ferguson, Missouri, libraries and museums share an idea to address: the need to stimulate the capacity of public thought. If each of us is required to craft truths for ourselves, it is the fearless mind that moves with greatest success. That kind of courage is part of the democratic motive as well. There is an unspoken link between curiosity and courage, as many lives of discovery can demonstrate.   We need to speak about this link. ----David Carr (Smithsonian Libraries Unbound)

Now more than ever, we need to be talking about and working towards social justice and equity within our museums. In the spirit of fearlessness and courage, the Minneapolis Institute of Art provided the space for museum professionals across the country to craft a vision for 21st century museums, their workers, and their visitors. The vision is encapsulated by a project called Museum As Site for Social Action, or MASS Action. The goal of this three year project is to create an immersive, action-oriented, living toolkit for radical museum praxis. We aim to promote new ways of framing museum work with decolonization, anti-oppression, community-building, social justice, and shared authority as our guiding principles..

MASS Action is dedicated to eradicating the fallacy that museums are or have ever been neutral spaces. We believe museums can either choose to engage the social, political and economic realities that impact every aspect of life for the communities they serve, or let their silence implicate them in their complacency. If museums choose to engage, there may be work to be done to enter into the conversation authentically:

  • Reconciling with communities for past injustices
  • Creating pathways for communities to lead museum acts of engagement at every level
  • Instituting fair labor/wage standards for communities and individuals that support museums in this work
  • Understanding coded words and concepts that hinder change and reinscribe inequities to the benefit of museums
  • Training for staff and board that leads to awareness raising for the ways oppressions operate at an institutional level

IMG_0641.JPG

The project is designed as follows:

YEAR 1: 52 museum professionals from across the country gathered in Fall 2016 to dreamscape and envision museum work centered on social justice and decolonization. The team laid the framework and organization for the living toolkit. A Beta version of the toolkit will be made available to the museum field in summer 2017.

YEAR 2: A call for applications will open to attend a 2017 summit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Museums invested in becoming a site for social action should apply. Each participating museum will be asked to send one senior level museum professional and one emerging or mid-career professional to attend the summit. The summit will provide toolkit training, community and network building opportunities, and the chance to model leadership in the field.

YEAR 3: Participating museums and professionals will gather together, either virtually or in-person, to share lessons learned, present case studies, and strengthen the vision for a future where museums are sites of social action.
IMG_0634.JPG
Scenes from the convening
We recognize that we need to work together to catalyze the scale of change we envision for the future of museums. MASS Action is dedicated to supporting museums that want to build their capacity for authentic, sincere social action. To learn more about the Minneapolis Institute of Art and MASS Action, please visit: http://new.artsmia.org/discover/community-arts/mass-action/

Porchia Moore is a PhD Candidate at the University of South Carolina and the McKissick Museum Management Program. She is a curator and museum inclusion consultant. She co-founded the Visitors of Color Project with nikhil trivedi and is a regular contributing writer for the Incluseum.

Sage Morgan-Hubbard is the Ford W. Bell Fellow in P-12 Education at the American Alliance of Museums.

Aletheia Wittman co-founded The Incluseum, currently teaches with the University of Washington Museology Program and is a freelance museum consultant.

Elisabeth Callihan is the Head of Multi-Generational Learning at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Janeen Bryant is an is an inter-sectional educator, facilitator and community engagement consultant. She has been an advocate and catalyst for building community capacity since 2000.

nikhil trivedi is a web developer at a museum in Chicago developing web-based software in Java, PHP and Drupal. He co-founded the Visitors of Color Project with Porchia Moore, is a regular contributor at The Incluseum, and his writing has been featured in Model View Culture and Fwd: Museums.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Healing the Partisan Divide

 I want to share some thoughts, post-election, about diversity, inclusion and healing. But maybe not the thoughts you expect.

As I listen to museum colleagues talking about the election, I hear over and over again phrases like “I was living in a bubble,” “I wasn’t listening” “I didn’t know anybody who supported Donald Trump, so I was gobsmacked when he won.” Why the surprise? I suspect that in large part it’s because, as a field, we’re pretty homogeneous when it comes to politics. 

Take a look at this interactive graphic by Verdant Labs that looks at occupations by political affiliation, identified by campaign contribution data from the Federal Election Commission. The occupations don’t map directly to museums writ large, but you can find some museum-specific data, under the Arts Management category: 
  • Museum Directors: 89 Democrats for every 11 Republicans
  • Museum Curators: 94 Democrats for every 6 Republicans
  • Art Conservators: 100% Democrats

Screen shot from Democratic vs.Republican Occupations, Verdant Labs 
Other occupations reflect fields that many museum staff come from, even if museum folk don’t constitute the majority of the larger field:
  • Archaeologists: 94 Democrats for every 6 Republicans
  • Historians: 88 Democrats for every 12 Republicans
  • Scientists: 87 Democrats for every 13 Republicans
  • Security Guards: 60 Democrats for every 40 Republicans


These data support my general impression, from years of working in and around museums, that our field leans largely liberal & Democratic. That being so, we don’t necessarily create a very friendly work environment for people who don’t share a liberal, Democratic world view. Look at the conversations taking place among museum folk on social media this week, or listen to the conversations in your own office. In the midst of what sounds like a universal outpouring of grief at the election of Donald Trump, how comfortable would a colleague feel admitting that he or she voted for him? Micro (or macro) aggressions can be directed at political views just as they are used to marginalize people for race, weight or gender.

If museums have a mandate for our staff to reflect our communities, shouldn’t that encompass political outlook as well? And if we don’t encompass political diversity, with all the perspectives about values, priorities and policy that go with that very important form of self-identification, doesn’t that leave us vulnerable to being out of step with a huge segment of the public we, as nonprofits, have pledged to serve?

Political affiliation isn’t the only personal attribute omitted from museums’ commitment to inclusion. Our field is often selective when it comes to embracing some kinds of religious diversity as well. We consider it right and appropriate for natural history museums, for example, to respect and acknowledge Native American creation narratives in exhibits otherwise devoted to scientific explanations of evolution. But one of the most frequent questions I received about Accreditation, when I ran the Excellence programs here at AAM, was “will AAM accredit the Creation Museum if they apply?” The questioners were uniformly horrified at the thought that we would validate a museum presenting a fundamentalist Christian world view.

Yesterday I listened to an episode of the podcast On The Media recorded the morning after the election, in which the hosts, Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield, talked through how they were feeling and about the future direction of the show during the Trump presidency. Brooke felt that the outcome of the election took them by surprise because they had not done a good enough job listening to people from outside their own echo chamber. She felt that the best response, over the next four years, was to invite a more politically diverse set of people into the recording booth, and to “pull back somewhat from commentary.” Bob, on the other hand, thought it was imperative to take a stand, to make people more aware of the insidious rise of demagoguery in politics, and of the immense harm this may do to our country. (They actually were kind of yelling at each other by the end of the episode.)

I think museums face the same choices, and with many of the same (unstated) consequences. Do we concentrate on being safe, neutral places for dialog, and work to bring in people with a conservative world view, just as we might work to bring in people of color or recent immigrants? Or do we double down on activism, fighting what we see to be the good fight but perhaps in ways that make people who believe in small government, self-reliance and personal responsibility feel even more strongly that we aren’t for them.

No one is saying museums ought to countenance hate, bigotry, or violence. But if we talk as if everyone who voted for “the other guy” is in favor of those things, we write off half the American public. The public we supposedly serve. And, not incidentally, the public that supports us with their tax dollars. Government funding for our institutions has been declining for 40 years—and that’s only counting direct support, not the significant subsidy provided via tax-exempt status. If museums, individually or collectively, act in ways that are perceived as partisan, we had better be ready to adopt new financial models sooner rather than later.

But really, the financial argument is only a proxy for the underlying issue: are we museum people willing to expand our commitment to diversity and inclusion to encompass people with whose beliefs and values may make us profoundly uncomfortable?








Thursday, November 10, 2016

Worldwide applause for museums and their role in addressing climate change!

 I often rely on far-flung correspondents to cover events Alliance staff can’t attend. On learning that Sarah Sutton, former chair of the Alliance’s Green Professional Network, and principal of Sustainable Museums, recently relocated to Hawai’i, I gleefully issued her official CFM “press credentials” to attend the recent World Conservation Congress. In today’s guest post, Sarah reports back from that international gathering.
 
IUCN Exhibit hall –
made entirely of recyclable cardboard.
In September I joined conservationists, preservationists and resource managers in Hawai’i for the 25th meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress. Every four years the likes of World Wildlife Fund, UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, Global Environmental Finance, National Geographic, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, heads of states and of state and federal agencies, scientists, politicians, students, and a few humanities professionals gather to share their progress in protecting the global environment and to explore new approaches to address worsening planetary conditions.
Among the hundreds of sessions, workshops, impromptu talks, tours, and poster sessions two tracks stood out as perfect fits for the museum field: the Nature-Culture Track, and an informal strand advocating for partnerships with urban organizations, particularly zoos, gardens, and museums, for protecting and caring for the planet and its natural, cultural, and human resources. In both streams one theme was consistent: for the natural world to survive, the conservation movement must activate all available talents and resources; this includes cultural heritage and urban resources often overlooked when the focus is mega marine- and landscapes, and flora and fauna.
Over half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. Guess where you’ll find far more than half of the world’s museums, zoos, gardens and historic sites? That’s also where we’ll find the most learners, and where we have the greatest opportunity to raise awareness about caring for the environment and taking action.
As the health of the biosphere declines, so can social equity and harmony, the health of communities, and the security of culture and heritage. To protect human life, we must first care for the living systems that sustain life on this planet.
This track made the connection between caring for the planet, and the value of urban-serving informal learning institutions in connecting with the humans that live on it imperative that we engage all humans in changing individual behaviors and work collectively to change practices worldwide. The United Nation’s Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) presents a path for that collaborative work.
The Congress acknowledged that to protect biodiversity and the planet’s air, land, and water resources, conservation must not do its work primarily among peers and in far-off great spaces, but that it must partner with urban-serving organizations (such as museums) to raise awareness, teach skills, and create agency among as many of us as possible.
Finally! This is recognition that our field is critical to changing the planetary impact of billions of people.
The urban theme recognizes museums, zoos, and gardens as gateways to the interests and education of a huge portion of the world’s population. Our research and conservation programs are critical to understanding and protecting biodiversity and guiding conservation. Our physical spaces can contribute to the diversity of plant and animal systems, provide natural systems that help clean, absorb, and control water; cool, clean, and replenish the air; protect people and nature; and support mental and physical health of individuals.
Yellow-crested cockatoos are stuffed into
plastic bottles and smuggled as pets. Image
from "You Buy, They Die."
Among the many partnership examples discussed at the Congress, one stood out: “You Buy, They Die,” a powerful campaign created by the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) that focuses on changing local behaviors of collecting or consuming the products of endangered species. The zoo, bird park, and nocturnal animal and river animal safari parks that make up WRS have created partnerships with the IUCN, TRAFFIC, the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums to raise awareness of and fight wildlife trafficking. So how does this campaign connect to their visitors? Well, traffic in Yellow Cockatoos is destroying the wild population, and the greatest market is for attractive songbirds as cultural requisite for homes of any status. As long as there are buyers, there will be trappers.
Gerald Dick, Executive Director of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) highlighted the crisis of how illicit trade affects biodiversity, and reminded museums that some members of our audiences engage in illegal traffic. WAZA has an app to help travelers identify items that are or may include products from illegally obtained animals and plants, including llicit trade in cultural artifacts and ivory. Museums also have power on the purchasing end. Does your museum gift shop educate the public about the global costs of ivory trade? Does your café sell bird-friendly coffee – and highlight why? Do your exhibits talk about the pet trade and biodiversity loss? Does your message connect the visitor to the greater planet health concerns and the actions they can take outside the museum?
On October 4th, 2016, ICOM’s Committee for Museums and Collections of Natural History (ICOM-NATHIST) issued its White Paper, Natural History Museums and Wildlife Trafficking. The two stated reasons for the paper are to focus efforts of natural history museums’ staff and leadership on protecting their collections from thieves trafficking in illicit wildlife, and raising awareness among the public with hopes of stymieing the trade. The paper does not mention biodiversity as a reason for protecting wildlife, but does mention that awareness efforts of illegal trafficking would likely help build goodwill for, and the credibility of natural history museums.
Goodwill isn’t enough to help the biosphere, but establishing shared views and values is the first step in working collectively for change. We must work to move the public beyond protecting charismatic mammals such as an endangered rhinoceros, to farther-reaching commitments.
Actions like this matter. This is where urban resources such as ours can make a global impact. As consumer trends contribute to habitat and species loss that threatens biodiversity worldwide, our urban-serving institutions can educate significant numbers of consumers and build public support for change.
The World Conservation Congress accepted the motion that brings our sector on board with the global effort by “strongly requesting” the IUCN Director-General and Commissions  “encourage the promotion of cooperation among conservation agencies and museums, zoos, botanical gardens, and similar institutions in urban areas to introduce urban people to their region's natural heritage through public programming, community engagement and citizen science.”
This motion was greeted with great acclaim by the audience. Now let’s get to work with actual partnerships and activities that demonstrate we are ready to disrupt “business as usual.”


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Electing to value education within museums

In today's post,  Sage Morgan-Hubbard, the Alliance's Ford. W. Bell  Fellow for Museums & P-12 Education, announces the relaunch of our education web site, and the launch of a new blog dedicated to to exploring the future of learning.

I am not going to lie. Like many of us, I am suffering from election anxiety today. As a parent and educator, I see the glaring gaps in our fractured educational system and become
Sage Morgan-Hubbard
frustrated and pessimistic. At the same time, one of the reasons I work in the museum field is that I am constantly inspired by museums. I believe museums are among our most democratic spaces, fostering critical thinking and creativity among people of all ages and backgrounds, from the newly born to our seasoned retired population. Museums promote life-long, multi-partisan learning. At their best, museums are spa
ces where people who don’t usually interact with each other share space, question the world around them and, as a result, develop empathy, trust and hope for humanity. This is a difficult task for those museums that focus on the dark side of human nature, exploring subjects such as the Holocaust, but even these museums manage to offer inspirational stories that leave visitors more hopeful than when they entered.

This essential work of museums never ceases to amaze me. That is why I chose to relaunch the Alliance’s “Future of Education” website today here. The new site features a blog, twitter feed, and copious resources about education. It will also, in time, host another challenge inviting the field to envision potential futures through the lens of fiction. I have already issued many invitations to museum educators, PreK-12 teachers, leaders of museum schools, students and parents to guest post on this site, encouraging them to raise issues and start discussions they feel need to take place. My colleagues and I at the Alliance want this website to be the go-to place to broaden the thinking across the field. It isn’t just for my voice—it’s a place to share stories from our field’s powerful network of brilliant educators. I want to tell these stories with you and highlight your voices in your own words. This is my open invitation to you to contribute a guest post to this site. Reach out to me at @Museumsp12 on Twitter and via email at <<smorganhubbard (at) aam-us.org>>

I want this blog to be a place where we co-create and share our visions and forecasts for the future of museum education. Every election season, I revisit the poem “Let America Be America Again” by one of my favorite poets Langston Hughes. Hughes writes that we must “bring back our mighty dream again.”

“O, let America be America again—The land that never has been yet—And yet must be—the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again.”

While this election has its own particular issues and players, we have had similar debates
over the course of American history. Even as we struggle with the inequities and fear some of the changes shaping our formal education systems, how can we dream again, hope again and create new worlds for museum education? This Election Day is an important political and educational moment for our country. It comes at a time when our educational and museum systems are shifting. We should use our power to influence this shift, in order to transform the educational landscape into the vibrant learning grid we want to see in America. I want to praise deserving programs, learn best strategies for how to create sustainable programs, but also to write about the future that “never has been yet,” but could be if we devote enough  energy to the task of making it come true.

What are the museum programs you always wanted to see? What does your ideal educational future look like? How can we learn from your institution? What are the fascinating stories in the field that need to be told? What questions do you have for your colleagues? How have you failed forward and learned from that failure? Please visit our first blog posts exploring these questions and more at: http://futureofeducation.aam-us.org/

I look forward to visioning with you. Your work gives me and my growing family much needed hope.

Spark!Lab at the National Museum of
American History



Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Futuryst Look at the Museum of Tomorrow


I’ve been following the work of Futurist Stuart Candy since the inception of CFM. The Sceptical Futuryst—his blog dedicated to “how we might feel about tomorrow”-- is a staple of my scanning feed, and I’ve made good use of The Thing from the Future—an “imagination game” Stuart created with his colleague Jeff Watson. (“FutureThing” challenges players to create potential future objects, which is a perfect exercise for museum staff and museum studies students.) Stuart’s work recently collided with my world when he was selected as inaugural Fellow at the Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow) in Rio de Janeiro, where he spent a month this summer as an artist-in-residence. I asked Stuart to share a first-hand report of this new museum with CFM’s readers. [This post is adapted from one published at his own blog in August.]

Housed in a spectacular building from Spanish neofuturistic architect Santiago Calatrava, the Museu do Amanhã attracted over a million visitors within nine months of opening in December 02015. This institution has a resonant rationale and an intriguing approach to what a museum can be.

Photo via The Rio Times

Today I want to share a conversation with Luiz Alberto Oliveira, a physicist with a PhD in cosmology, a former lecturer in the history and philosophy of science, and the Chief Curator of Museu do Amanhã. The following is an edited transcript of a conversation we had in Rio on July 6th. I am grateful to the Museum for hosting me, and of course to Dr Oliveira for taking the time to speak.

+++

Stuart Candy: What attracted you to this project?

Luiz Alberto Oliveira: It was daring. It had none of the usual boundaries or limitations, and it could have very important consequences for the practice or diffusion of science in Brazil.

We wanted to develop something from scratch, to discuss how a new kind of science museum could be devised.

We wanted to bring to the Museum of Tomorrow a different concept of time: the idea that in the present, you prepare, you make a different path to different possible futures. It’s not a river in the sense that you have one source and one end. You have, in fact, a delta of possibilities.

This is the main concept of the Museum, that tomorrow is not a date on the calendar, tomorrow is not a place where you will arrive. Tomorrow is a construction. Tomorrow is open to be built.

Image via Museum Next


SC: And how does the organisation of the Museum impart this concept to visitors?

LAO: We settled on telling a story organised in five great areas. Why five? It is a dialogue with the architecture. Calatrava provides us with five roof undulations that roughly define the areas in which we set our museography.

So we came to the idea that the story should be made up of a sequence of great questions that mankind has always asked itself, so we could say in a very real sense that our content is questions.

Where do we come from?
Who are we?
Where are we?
Where are we heading?
How do we want to go; which values do we want to convey to the future?

This is the spinal column of the museum.

We use science content to illustrate these great questions, and the idea is that people come to realise that the future is not done, the future is in the making. It is in their hands, at least in part –– to collaborate in this future-building.

Image via Museum Next


SC: This idea of a museum that isn’t about the past but is about the future, about choice, about ethics, does it have any precedents or parallels elsewhere in the museum world?

LAO: As far as we know, no, it doesn’t.*

SC: You made a very deliberate choice in naming this institution, “The Museum of Tomorrow”. Can you speak to that?

LAO: In the common sense, the future is far away.

But tomorrow is always here. Somewhere, at this precise moment, the sun is rising in the east. All the time, it is tomorrow somewhere.

This idea that tomorrow is always inside every now was what convinced us that it’s a “museum of tomorrow”, not a “museum of the future”.

SC: A museum about things that haven’t happened yet faces certain challenges. What are those challenges from a curator’s standpoint?

LAO: We established some trends which will shape the future some decades ahead: what science tells us about the possible scenarios for the climate, the changing of biodiversity, the growth of the population, the number and complexity of cities.

From all these you can forecast some reasonable scenario. But what about the unexpected that this cannot and will not take into account?

We did not want to become a museum of prophecy. That was the greatest challenge, the greatest danger, because people would come here and say, “Well, you’re telling us that the future will be this.” That’s not what we want to do. We want you to understand that the present is this, and the future? Well, there are many. This is the point; the futures are plural.

SC: A museum of questions rather than a museum of answers.

LAO: Yes, yes, precisely.

Image via Museum Next


SC: When you talk about wanting to have a certain emotional impact on visitors, what’s the goal?

LAO: You want to take people away from their everyday perspective so they can understand that the world in which we live is much more complex, varied, surprising, full of wonderment, than everyday life which uses you, trains you, and tames you to become a useful citizen, a working citizen.

We want to provide a sort of entertainment; entertaining in the sense that it distracts you from your usual ways of thinking. To have different ideas, different perspectives. They just cannot become indifferent! If they leave the museum just as they came into it, we have failed completely. But if they are disturbed, well, that’s okay.

SC: What about the Brazilian context, and Rio in particular? Are there any special challenges or affordances for this project?

LAO: First, perhaps the fact that we are a museum open to the future, but we are sitting in the very heart of Rio de Janeiro’s history. You can see all the landmarks of centuries around us. This heart of the city was abandoned for decades. So we are in a way a flagship of this new moment, of this new period of the city’s story.

I think the Cariocas, the people of Rio, understood that. They took possession of the renewed plaza, because you know, it’s theirs.

On the other hand, we have the very difficult condition of the country at the moment. The legitimate government was overthrown by a parliamentary coup, and a bunch of gangsters took power for themselves. So we are in a struggle for democracy itself, the very core of democracy, which is election.

But many people tell us that the museum is a counterpoint to this situation. This is something inspiring. We wanted to inspire people––but I did not know that it would be in this sense, that we became a symbol of a better future for the country.

Image via Museum Next.


SC: The invitation to regard the future as shapable and as plural is a deeply political position.

LAO: Certainly. You cannot deal with conviviality, with living together, without politics. It’s impossible. So in fact, we are a political museum. We cannot say that as a slogan of the museum, because people would not understand in that sense. They would think that we are engaging in this or that political party, which is not our intention.

SC: I see vast potential not just in this institution, but in this category of institution, a kind of museum that is needed everywhere. There is a need for effective invitations to people, to draw out their vision for how things could be different.

LAO: I understand and I agree completely, because I think this is a path for renewing democracy itself.


* Stuart plans to revisit the question of the Museum of Tomorrow's conceptual cousins in posts to come. You can use the comments section, below, to suggest related museums he may want to include in that coverage.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Dream Big: the Alliance in an Age of Scale

I want to share with you the Alliance’s vision for how museums could play a major role in filling the need for high-quality, equitable early childhood education in the US.

Back in June I blogged about the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change Challenge, a competition that will award $100 million to a single proposal “designed to help solve a critical problem affecting people, places or the planet.”

In that post, I nudged museums to enter the challenge, using it as an opportunity to push your thinking and expand your ambitions. Too often the vision of our field is limited by what we see as a small and finite pool of resources. With $100 M in capital, how could museums make a significant dent in  climate changechildhood obesityfood deserts, the needs of people with dementia, improving STEM education or support for homeless families?

I hope you know by now that I try to practice what I preach, so after I wrote that post, my colleagues and I assembled a team of Alliance staff to tackle the 100&Change Challenge. CFM’s motto is “Because Museums Can Change the World,” and our bet was we could think of some great ways $100M could accelerate that change. Our CEO, Laura Lott, is on the team; as is our new EVP Rob Stein; our Bell Education Fellow Sage Morgan-Hubbard; Ben Kershaw, director of government relations; Kathy Dwyer Southern, AAM’s director of special initiatives; and Megan Lantz, who manages our global partnerships (including the Museums Connect program).  

From the start, we wanted to capitalize on our primary strength: the network of museums that together form the Alliance. Our goal was to present an inspiring vision of the benefits museums can provide to society, identify examples of how museums are already doing great work in small, fragmented ways, and show how the MacArthur funding could unify that work and take it to scale.

We explored a number of ideas: addressing the general decline in trust that is eroding civic discourse in the US; tackling the similar (and probably related) decline in empathy; disrupting the “school to prison pipeline” that commandeers too many of our young people.

In the end, we decided to target the USA’s lack of a comprehensive system of support for pre-school aged children. In 2012, the US ranked 35th out of 49 developed economies in formal early childhood educational enrollment. Abundant research demonstrates the benefits of high quality early education, and early-in-life inequalities have been shown to have lifelong impact on education, employment, earnings, health and overall well-being. But our existing patchwork of support is fundamentally inequitable, with fewer than half of children from families with low socioeconomic status attending preschool. In effect, our segregated early education system perpetuates a segregated society and exacerbates the growing class divide in the US.

Here’s Laura’s video pitch, which was part of our application for the Challenge:


In our application, we made the case that America’s museums can meet a significant portion of the need for high-quality early childhood education. There are many great examples of museums providing a variety of high-quality support for preschool age children and their caregivers. These enrichment opportunities include formal preschools sited in museums, close affiliations with neighboring preschools, infant/toddler friendly hours and infant/toddler friendly spaces and policies.

With over 33,000 museums in the US, distributed across every county of every state, there is huge potential for such high-quality services to serve a significant percentage of the preschool age population. It’s our belief that the greatest limitation of these programs to date has been that they are not financially self-sustaining, and have no mechanism for scaling and replicating to other institutions.

That’s where we had to get creative. Sure, $100M could fund a lot of great museum/preschool services over the six years of the grant. But what then? If we can’t answer that question, we will just add to the graveyard of great museum programs that stop when the funding runs out.

So our proposal is to use the grant funding to create a business incubator to select, mentor and launch over 300 new self-sustaining businesses that draw on museum resources to provide early childhood enrichment.

I’ve blogged here and written extensively in CFM’s TrendsWatch reports about emerging business models for supporting mission-based work. Social benefit corporations combine the strengths of for-profit and nonprofit structures. Social impact bonds provide a steady government income stream to nonprofits for delivering on social good. President Obama’s FY 2017 budget proposal estimated the combined state and federal cost of expanding high-quality early education to all 4-year-olds to be an additional $13 billion annually. Just a fraction of that income stream would enable museums to be ongoing, trusted providers of high quality early childhood education.

Is there a turnkey formula for creating sustainable businesses around museum preschool services? No—hence, the incubator program, which will provide training and mentoring on business practices to museum folk or entrepreneurs from other sectors ready to engage in this work. Data from the National Business Incubation Association shows that participation in incubator training programs raises the survival rate of new businesses from 44 percent to 87 percent. And we’ll be capturing and sharing data on all the programs launched through the incubator, enabling museums to learn from both the successes and the failures. At the very least, by the end of the grant period our 100&Change funding would have created dozens of projects that provide high quality experiences for many preschool age children, and generated good data about what does and doesn’t work. And if they are, indeed, financially self-sustaining, there will be ample incentive to replicate them in other museums.

But our ambitions go beyond that. We not only want to launch sustainable businesses, we want to use the MacArthur funding to build the know-how and experience that would enable the Alliance to continue this work. Our BHAG (Big, Hairy Audacious Goal) is to take what we learn from the work funded by 100&Change to create a social-impact seed fund that would enable us to continue to operate the business incubator, and spawn new projects. We feel we can harness the rise in social impact investment to create and manage a revolving fund that will continue to take the good work of museums to scale.

Sometime in early December we will find out whether we’ve made it past the first round of selection. If yes, we get to tell MacArthur more about our proposal (the initial application had very tight word limits!) If not…we regroup and figure out how to take this idea forward in any case. As Michael Edson has said, lecturing on the challenges facing museums in an age of scale, this is the kind of dream our sector needs to have.

And if your museum entered the Challenge—we’d like to know what big problem you propose to tackle, and how! Please do share via comments, below, or ping me at emerritt at aam-us.org.