Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Museums: NYT Special Edition

Last week the New York Times released its annual special section on museums. I LOVE curling up with the print version of these stories for a good read. The NYT gives non-subscribers access to a limited number of content pieces (articles, videos etc.) per month, though if I understand their policy correctly, by clicking through via the links in this post you can read all these articles even if you exceed your monthly cap. (I recommend you subscribe in any case, if not to the NYT then to the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor or other quality news of your choice—serious long form journalism needs our support!) I’ve provided summaries of some of my favorite stories below. I hope you click through to read the articles in depth. Enjoy!

John Hanc profiles the small but growing number of museums that focus on challenging concepts and operate without a permanent physical site. I was tickled to be interviewed for this story, and to share some of my favorite museums in this category with John. Features the Museum of Homelessness (London), the Street Art Museum (Amsterdam), the Museum of Joy (San Francisco), and the Empathy Museum (which has traveled around the globe).

This article by Graham Bowley documents how some museums are directly engaging with current political events such as recent executive orders banning travel from some majority-Muslim nations. Bowley also interviews museum leaders who feel it is more appropriate for their organizations to take a longer view and wait for events to be filtered through the lens of history or art. Features the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, the Museum of the City of New York, the National Museum of American History, The National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the New-York Historical Society. On a related note, see Jane Levere’s article A Guide to Museums Getting Political This Year.

Alina Tugend charts how museums are “seeking more novel ways to make themselves relevant to an adolescent audience.” Having included failure as a topic in CFM’s recently released TrendsWatch 2017, I was particularly delighted by the description of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver’s Failure Lab, a leadership program that pairs teens with professional artists. Kate Baie, the museum’s director of programming, is quoted as saying “There’s all this pressure to succeed in the world, and we wanted to let them fail, and fail spectacularly.” The article also features the Pérez Art Museum Miami’s Art Detective programs, building bridges between youth and police; the Minnesota Historical Society’s Wariyaa program for Somali youth; as well as teen programs run by the Museum of the City of New York and the Museum of Modern Art. Tugend summarizes the results of the IMLS funded report Room to Rise: The Lasting Impact of Intensive Teen Programs in Art Museums, which documents the impact of long-term teen programs at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

I’m a sucker for robots, and have tracked robotic inroads into museums since featuring this topic in TrendsWatch 2014. In this article Doreen Carvajal reports on telepresence robots working at the Musée de la Grande Guerre in Meaux, France, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, as well as recapping the exploits of nocturnal robots roaming the Tate Britain. Quai Branly’s robotic art critic (featured TrendsWatch 2017's chapter on artificial intelligence) makes an appearance as well.

I’ve provided links, below, to the other stories in the special museum section. Which are your favorites? Share in the comment section here on the Blog or share them via Twitter. Tag @futureofmuseums and I will retweet! I bet @nytimesarts would love it if you tag them, too.

Museum Expansions That Think Inside the Footprint

Thursday, March 16, 2017

FutureLab: Hiring Bias

Since the start of my fellowship over 18 months ago—and certainly before that--the Center for the Future of Museums has been exploring new hiring practices and thinking about how companies are disrupting the hiring process to create more equitable workforces. Traditional measures of hiring for “cultural fit” have resulted in homogenous staffs, where “like hires like.” This language of fit is, of course, not always intended to exclude. The interview process, traditionally, has prioritized making sure that new employees fit into existing workplace cultures. Conventional wisdom holds that fit should ensure team cohesion, reduce friction, and increase productivity. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Studies show that diverse teams are more creative, more resilient. Diverse companies “out-perform non-diverse companies by 35%.” This business case for diversity is compelling; the evidence abounds.

But, the question of how to create diversity in the workplace abounds, too.  Taking our cues from innovations in the tech sector, CFM is proud to partner with GapJumpers in our pilot program, FutureLab: Hiring Bias. This project will bring a cohort of museums together to undergo GapJumpers’ full challenge-based blind hiring process. GapJumpers has discounted the cost of their regular process by thirty percent. The American Alliance of Museums is covering another twenty percent of the cost to offer participating museums a total discount of 50% of the regular fee-for-service. Participants will work with GapJumpers to tailor a challenge-based hiring experience to their own staffing needs. We are accepting applications for the first cohort of participants through Friday, April 21, 2017. The project will run from May 1 through September 1, 2017. Participating museums will share their experiences with the field through blog posts and testimonials.
How does it work?

Together with the individual museum, GapJumpers will craft a Blind Skills Audition, part of their proprietary process that replaces the resume with examples of their job skills. Instead of submitting resumes, applicants submit their responses to a specific challenge assignment. The individual challenges are designed by GapJumpers with the input of the museum using natural language processing software. Applicants submit their answers in a digital format and are assessed by GapJumpers according to a rubric developed in partnership with the museum’s hiring manager. The hiring manager only receives an applicant pool comprised of persons who have met the standards of the assessment for review.

Why blind hiring?

Unconscious or implicit bias refers to the preferences, aversions and overall beliefs about individual or group difference that we aren't actively aware of. We all have them. Factors like non-white-sounding names and shared academic pedigree can engender unintended bias responses in the interview process. Even things like shared extracurricular activities can create implicit class bias, as interests like sailing, polo, and classical musical performance can signal subtle cues about taste and and access to wealth.
Quintessence Magazine, Autumn 2014

Several industries and fields have applied various strategies for reducing the impact of this bias in the hiring process. The Boston Symphony Orchestra famously inaugurated identity-blind auditions in 1952 to increase gender diversity in their overwhelmingly male ranks. Performers were asked to audition behind a screen with their shoes removed. This produced great results: women made nearly half of the candidates who advanced beyond the first round in the process. Today, the tech sector is applying software innovations including natural language processing and artificial intelligence to address the issue of unconscious bias in the hiring process. Companies like Textio use algorithms to assess gendered and age-ist language in the position descriptions. In addition to addressing diversity issues in the training pipeline, Silicon Valley is also looking to software to help make the application review process more equitable. In the spirit of experimenting together, CFM is partnering with GapJumpers to help museums address unintended bias in our field. I believe that the future of museum work depends on the future of museum workers--and that future must be an equitable one.

How do I sign up?

If you are interested in being part of this project, please let me know in the comment box below or email me at nivy (@) We still have a few more openings for the first cohort and are also signing museums up for the second round of the project, to be tentatively launched in the fall. I will respond directly to you off-line with more specifics and a scope of work. I look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dealing With Disruption

Each year I look forward to Museums Advocacy Day as an opportunity to focus my futurist lens on political trends. In the past, I’ve invited attendees to consider the future of nonprofit status in the US, the future of education, and even what advocacy itself might look like in 2026. 

This year Gail Ravnitsky Silberglied, the Alliance’s VP for Government Relations and Communications, invited me to share what futures studies has to tell us about dealing with disruptive events. In today’s post I’m summarizing that talk, delivered to our museum advocates last month. I offered some advice about how to filter and prioritize the deluge of news, and channel time and attention to responding to the most important challenges.

As regular readers of this Blog will know, the role of futures studies isn’t to predict what the future will be, but to help us imaging the many different futures that exist within the Cone of Plausibility. Three main forces shape our path through time:
Trends, which proceed in a given direction, at a given speed.

 Trends may speed up or slow down, even reverse direction, but their directionality supports forecasts—estimates of where we may be in the future.

Events are specific things that happen with notable results. They are often referred to as “disruptive” events because they only become significant in foresight when their impact is large enough to knock a trend, or trends, off course. 

Not all disruptions are bad, of course—think about medical breakthroughs that save lives, or the passage of legislation that protects human rights—but we tend to obsess about the worst possible outcomes.

The third major agent of change is choice—the actions taken by individuals and organizations (for example, participating in Advocacy Day) that influence the future.

The election of the current administration constituted an overarching disruptive event that has in turn spawned a series of disruptions in areas as diverse as education, environmental protection, and immigration policy. For example: bipartisan support for criminal justice reform has been growing in recent years. However, the Trump administration has signaled it is pulling back from many of these reforms (such as the de-privatization of prisons).

Because there are so many disruptions clamoring for our attention in the daily news, we need strong filters to help identify where to take action. I suggested to the advocates audience that they cultivate a habit of sorting potential or actual disruptions by probability and impact.

When I run workshops on foresight and invite participants to brainstorm disruptive events, some wag invariably suggests a large asteroid striking the earth. I confess that asteroids seemed like a silly example to me, but it turns out the US government actually does assess and plan for managing this risk by detecting and deflecting what they call Potentially Hazardous Near Earth Objects (NEOs). (And yes, the resulting plans do read like the script for a bad science fiction movie.) Estimates are that we will experience a strike of a NEO:
  • 50 meters in diameter, producing local damage, every 2000 years
  • 1 kilometer in diameter, resulting in possible global catastrophe, every 700k years
  • 10 kilometer in diameter, causing mass extinction, every 100 million years

Something a little less dramatic, and more relevant to museums, is flood risk. Annapolis, Maryland and its museums experience nuisance flood days of up to 40/year. That represents a 935% increase in flood days in the last 50 years—and therefore a trend towards frequent disruptive events! Other risks sneak in under the radar because they are so small, and constant, that we may cease to notice them: for example, the constant small disruptions caused by temperature and humidity fluctuations.

To help manage mental time and effort, I recommended mapping disruptions against the following chart:
(Screen snip from MAD Prezi, White House
blueprint in the background)
Events that fall in the bottom left quadrant (low probability, low impact) you can safely ignore. Events that fall into the upper left hand quadrant (high probability, low impact) call for procedures that help you manage them on a regular basis. (For example, installing an HVAC system to deal with temperature and humidity fluctuations). Events that fall into the lower right corner (high impact low probability) are covered by contingency plans such as disaster preparedness manuals. And events that are high impact, high probability, may require an all-out effort to prepare for the fallout.

Right now a lot of high impact policy decisions seem to be increasingly probable, pushing them up and to the right in our chart. How will museums respond if funding for NEA, NEH and IMLS is eliminated or drastically reduced? White House budget planning documents have called for a $54 billion cut in domestic spending. The budget is said to have been influenced by a Heritage Foundation report that calls for elimination of NEA and NEH. Or what would be the impact of repealing the Johnson Amendment—a provision in the US tax code that prohibits all 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates?

Once you’ve identified probable high impact disruptions, try feeding them into what futurists call and implications wheel to map potential consequences and begin to think about how you might respond.

(You can revisit an earlier post from this Blog about the implications wheel here.)

Put the event your focusing on in the middle, and populate the next orbit of circles by completing the statement “if [x event] happens, then [this] could happen next.” Build out each of these implications to identify secondary effects, and so on as far out as you can or need to explore the ripple effects of the initial event.

Here is an implications wheel that asked what would happen if the US used a biological weapon.

Possible long-term consequences envisioned by the creators of this wheel include the creation of a global federation, ostracism of the US, or the extinction of the human species.

OK, so the consequences of this scenario are more catastrophic than loss of funding, but attendees identified some pretty dire “if...then” statements that would populate a wheel exploring around the elimination of federal agencies devoted to arts and culture. The need to raise more revenue from non-Federal sources, for example. Another person pointed to the potentially crippling effect on international loans resulting from the loss of the federal indemnity program. Perhaps the bleakest outcome, voiced after the talk by one attendee, could be a future in which museums per se become a partisan political issue, identified with particular social and economic platforms rather treated than as a shared public good. But this disruption could pose opportunities as well, for example, the potential for wealthy supporters of arts and humanities to create a private fund to fill the gap left in federal support. That scenario leads to branching implications as well. As another attendee pointed out, the creation of a major private funder might fuel arguments that federal support for museums isn’t necessary. But in the best possible future, NEA and NEH are restored under a future president, and we have both federal and private centralized sources of funding.

As you read the news and draw your wheels, I want you to focus on that third force shaping the future: choice. The choices you make, the actions you take, can help you navigate the tangled web of implications around the current disruptions and hopefully map your way to the brightest outcome.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Museum Work as Socially Engaged Art

Hi, Nicole here! During January's inaugural leg of the Future of Education Road Trip, my fellow fellow Sage Morgan-Hubbard and I were wowed (and not a little moved) by our meeting with Socially Engaged Artist daniel johnson at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, MS. In 2014, daniel was hired as Director of Engagement and Learning under the leadership of the museum's Director, Betsy Bradley. daniel enacts a socially engaged art practice in his professional capacity in the museum in a profoundly unique way: he views his work as performance art. Intrigued by the possibility of thinking museum work itself as art, I reached out to daniel for more insight on his approach. He graciously responded. daniel writes, "What follows is a dialog between the two on the thinking and hopes which prompted the decision, and the benefits and challenges which have arisen since."

daniel: What led to hiring a Socially Engaged Artist at the Museum?
Betsy:  In 2011 and 2012, I was involved in two leadership development programs that opened my eyes to the ways I thought about organizational charts in museums; the Chief Executive Program of National Arts Strategies and the EmcArts’ Innovation Lab for Museums. Additionally, the Museum was awarded the IMLS National Medal for Service in 2010, which brought new attention to the quality and quantity of our community partnerships. The Museum was also experiencing a burst of energy from opening The Art Garden which had me reflecting on our participation goals and how to make our participant mix more reflective of our community.
Adam Farcus (l) and daniel johnson (r) 
I understood that true partnerships might well be the answer. I knew that true partnerships depended upon our using different language and different ways of developing projects with organizations that may be suspicious of the Museum because of historical barriers such as perceptions of institutional elitism.  So, I thought of hiring someone to develop a community advisory council, or work on community partnerships.   
When our EmcArts facilitator described an organization in California that had a full-time community activist on its staff, I knew that felt right for our museum, and this thinking found its way into our strategic plan developed in 2013. 

daniel: What benefits did you believe this would offer? 
Betsy:  I expected that person to challenge our staff.  We had all been moving towards more inclusive, relevant, and timely programming for a decade, but we still had significant control over the ways we interacted with other organizations and the quality of products that resulted.  A community activist would make us look at plans from perspectives of others, to listen more than we talked, and to let go of complete control.  We would be required to trust other groups and be worthy of their trust.

When we hired you to work in the education department, we had already re-framed that work as “Learning and Engagement”.  The fact that you were an artist as well as a community organizer was a bonus.  You have been teaching us how to keep art as the unifying force in all of this work.

Betsy: What has been the impact on your art practice? Have you seen a difference in the art that you create because of your work here? 

daniel:  I’m pretty inclusive about what I consider my art practice. I appreciate that you allow me to perform my role as Director of Engagement & Learning explicitly as a work of Socially Engaged Art.

My art has always been rooted in intimacy and conversation, often times facilitating that by creating spaces with a sense of timelessness and abundance. Applying my artistic considerations within a functioning workplace chugging along according to deadlines and budgets has really challenged me to consider what it means to maintain real human connection under the tension of constraints which seem far removed from the people involved and the matter at hand.

I do think it is absolutely necessary to engage this paradox and connect the real pressures of operating a museum with fostering interconnected, interpersonal interactions between staff, the public, and the art works. I think those lessons will be broadly applicable to larger societal systems.

Betsy: What has surprised you the most about working in a traditional 
            museum structure?
daniel:  The economy of purchasing, caring for, and exhibiting art demands so many 
            resources – the disparity between what must be consumed to maintain core 
            museum operations and what remains for meaningfully connecting 
            communities with the work is stunning.

The Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art
I think we are beginning to envision and realize ways to bring that into balance through making some exhibition development itself a dialog with history and community. However, there are more particular ways that organizations and affinity groups interact with the collection and institution which seem more difficult to channel resources toward.

daniel:  What have you seen in these first two years which have affirmed 
             your hopes and what was unexpected?
Betsy:  I have seen how your way of working with the community has also affected other staff members and their work.   Our plan called for us to work more seriously in internal, cross-departmental teams and I have appreciated how the languages used in marketing and engagement work begins to reflect and reinforce each other, attracting more diversified participation at the Museum. 
I have also learned that we can’t underestimate the power that language holds over us. The impact of generations of art historians and curators speaking one way absolutely reflects a way of thinking about their work, and about authority.  What perhaps has been more surprising to me is that community activists are also held under the power of their language which, to the person sitting in the middle of the table, is as strong-headed in its own authority as the more traditional curatorial voice is.  Mediating those voices to get to true understanding, acceptance, and progress is a daily part of my life, as the director. 

Betsy: What type of colleague has influenced you the most?
daniel: I must admit to retaining some sense of being an ‘agent’ of the public in line with the Museum’s Strategic Plan which makes me resistant to influence. I need to work on being more open to letting the Museum change me. I feel like I go through phases of surrendering only to realize I need to surrender more. I am also learning the ways we manifest agency as a team.

In many ways, I see people as fairly stable characters who bring influence to bear on projects. I am seeing staff exert more of their individual influence in development discussions even on projects outside of their departments. Seeing my colleagues’ voices grow in response to each other reinforces my commitment to surrendering in all but key moments.
Artful Afternoons program participants visiting DJ Young Venom

daniel:   What challenges have arisen and what would you suggest to other museums who may try a similar staffing strategy?
Betsy: It is definitely worth incorporating the work, language, goals, and passions of community activists into the work of museums that truly desire to matter to their communities, to be a place of increased understanding, a force for greater compassion, and a magnet for all types of people.  But one should take seriously both the opportunities and the challenges, not letting either traditional curators or activist artists give each other the virtual eye-roll.  Success depends upon people on a team being willing to be challenged by their colleagues, and being willing to change as a result of listening to a new perspective.