Tag: American Association of Museums

Learning Through the Museum Assessment Program

In this week’s post, I want to highlight one of the most effective museum review processes around –  the American Association of Museum’s (AAM) Museum Assessment Program (MAP).  If you are not affiliated with a museum, the MAP model of mentoring is an ideal for other nonprofits to support their base constituencies.  The MAP process first guides an institution through an intensive period of self-study.  Next, the self-study documentation is assigned to an external peer reviewer, who then visits the institution for an onsite review.  Finally, the reviewer produces a report that is delivered to the institution with recommendations to help guide the museum through its short and long-term tasks for best practices.  Over the past two years at the C.H. Nash Museum, we completed two separate MAP reviews – one that considered our entire institutional operation and a second that focused on our collections.  As a reasonably small museum, we found this process extremely helpful.

Here are our major takeaways from the process:

  • During our weekly meetings for the self-study period, all staff, including our graduate assistants met and discussed specific questions in the MAP review.  The decision to engage the entire staff in the study allowed us to build a solid foundation for both the peer review and the final report.  Through the self-study,I learned a great deal about aspects of our operation that are not part of my day-to-day experience at the museum.  The self-study is structured such that it produces a truly holistic assessment of the museum operation.
  • Both of our MAP final reports produced superb analyses and recommendations for our museum operation.  The recommendations were organized as short, middle, and long-term goals and further ranked by cost to carry out.  The final report also included resources to guide the implementation of the recommendations.
  • Carry the prestige and authority of the AAM, our governing authority and board were very receptive to the final report recommendations.  As a  small institution with perhaps too many pokers in the fire, the MAP process formed a basis for us to strategically reassess our process for the coming years.
  • I also appreciate that the MAP program does not end with the final report.  Both of our AAM reviewers extended an open invitation to remain in dialogue as we work through the report recommendations.

As well, MAP now provides a resource for digital interaction with a newly launched on-line community for MAP participants.  Some of the on-line resources include:

  • a guide for using completed MAP reports to leverage funding for museum projects and needs
  • a set of links for museum best practices
  • a series of webinars on a range of museum practices
  • and a recently launched blog that will hopefully continue to grow

The MAP program is an excellent resource particularly for the small to mid-sized museums that need to step back and take a fresh look at their total operation in general or as a first step toward AAM accreditation.  The MAP process is a very useful tool as we move into the new realities of sustainable, engaged, and socially relevant museum operations.

Have you benefited from a MAP or similar type of experience?

Visit the MAP weblink for more information about applying for the program.

Wellness and Museums

With a quadrupling of childhood obesity in the last 40 years, food and wellness seem to be all over the museum world of late.

  • A recent blog post at the Center for the Future of Museums by David Curry reports on last month’s Feeding the Spirit: Museums, Food and Community held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.   The meeting was organized through a collaboration of institutions ranging from the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden to the Association of Children’s Museums.  Curry notes that his “. . . key observation (which I am still reflecting on) is about how rich the collaborative networks were that underpinned all these projects.”
  • The current issue of Museums & Social Issues addresses Pursuing Wellness.  The volume draws on museums focused in science, art, health care, agriculture, and outreach projects such as the Field Museum’s Division of Environment, Culture and Conservation.
  • The Institute of Museums and Library Services’s  Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens initiative dovetails with the program sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama.  The Let’s Move’s October 2011 newsletter lists nearly 500 institutions that launched activities around the initiative. Twenty-five percent of those  institutions are Children or Youth Museums.
  • The Dallas Crow Collection now hosts a Yoga for Youth activity to “provide family programming using original art, stories, music, and sensory integrated activities to align healthy Minds, Bodies, Hearts through Art.”
  • The Museums Association in the UK calls for the integration of museum visits into the measures of “wellbeing” from the Office of National Statistics.

The wellbeing theme flows directly from the American Association of Museum‘s 2002 publication Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums.   In that volume Ellen Hirzy (2002:9) considers civic engagement to mean “ . . . when the museum and community intersect – in a subtle and overt way, over time, and as an accepted and natural way of doing business.”  She also argues (2002:16) that “Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough. What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations.”

A key part in this discussion harkens back to Robert Janes’ call for museums to be relevant in the lives of the public they serve.  I am struck that if that relevance does not draw on a museum’s mission and collections then the relationship is unsustainable and will simply become another piece of baggage to weigh the institution down.  A quick scan of the October 2011 Newsletter of the Let’s Move initiative shows how this relevance occurs at the many reporting institutions.

At the C.H. Nash Museum, the visiting public was way ahead of our own work in this area.  We were quite surprised, or at least I was, that 60% of the respondents to a spring of 2011 visitor survey asked that we expand our programming to include more of our 100 acre wooded natural environment.  We have a good response to our calls for volunteers to help with our herb garden, arboretum, sweetgrass bed, and  as we go about launching the next phase of the Traditional Medicinal Plant Sanctuary along our nature trail.  After our volunteer activities on November 19th, Graduate Assistants Megan Keener and Mallory Bader will host a tea tasting made from plants grown in our herb garden, along with snacks inspired by the traditional foods of the Chickasaw Nation.

How can your institution promote a healthy lifestyle for visitors?

Are Museum Ethics Changing?

One of the student assignments in the Museum Studies graduate seminar I lead each fall semester at the University of Memphis is to provide annotated references each week on the seminar topic.  I enjoy the diverse responses from graduate students in Art History, Earth Science, Anthropology, History and other disciplines.  That diversity allows me to think outside of my worldview as the director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  One of my intents with the assignment is build a database of resources to share on the range of Museum Practices issues.  In the coming weeks, I will occasionally feature selections of those resources on this blog, especially as they relate to public engagement of museums and archaeology.

Early in the seminar we take up the issue of Museum Ethics.  Here are some of those resources:

  • Treatment and Repatriation of Human Remains – Katherine Broome wrote about the website set up by family members and first responders of the September 11, 2001 disaster at the World Trade Center.  The group’s function is to galvanize opposition to the placement of human remains in any memorial museum at the site.  The May 2011 issue of Anthropology Today, has an update by the advisors to the group.  Within the U.S., for the last 25 years museum questions about human remains have principally focused on those of Native Americans as a result of the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  Here is a link to an updated scholarly treatment on the impacts of NAGPRA.  Cori Ogleton came across a statement from the Pitt Rivers Museum in the UK about the exhibiting of human remains.  The governing policy of the Museum on the treatment and repatriation of human remains is also available.  A primary difference between the U.S. and U.K. policies is the formal legislation in the U.S. compared to less structured guidelines in the U.K.  As well, the role of the relative or descendent voices of the human remains held in the U.K. seems considerably less in the U.S.  The treatment and repatriation of human remains is a critical issue in public outreach in both archaeology and museums today.  In the U.S., our institutions are now directly accountable to the citizens whose collections they curate.
  • Treatment and Repatriation of Cultural Materials – The Elgin Marbles have long been a touchstone for discussing the repatriation of cultural materials.  That horizon has broadened considerably   Katie Maish found a formal discussion between Malcolm Bell III who notes the loss of context when art is taken from its original setting and James Cuno who promotes the cause of the Universalist Museum approach.  Noteworthy is that only Western Institutions signed the 2002 Declaration of Importance and Value of Universal Museums.  Alex Pearson came across an excellent blog that discusses the generalities and specific instances of looting and museums ethical responsibility.  The repatriation and exhibition of a cultural materials will continue to be a substantive issue that faces archaeologists and museums in their very ability to conduct public outreach.  Does the public’s desire to view prehistoric ceramic vessels override the objections of those descendent voices, also a part of that public, who wish for the objects to be kept from public view?  If the public’s desire to view these objects is considered paramount, why are they for the most part locked away in repositories away from public view?
  • And in General – The American Association of Museums (AAM), the International Council of Museums, the Society for American Archaeology, and most other national organizations make their code of ethics available on-line.  Megan Keener reported an interesting project from the Center for the Future of Museums of the American Association of Museums.  The project invited practitioners from a diversity of museum settings to consider the needs for amending the AAM’s current code of ethics.  The discussion notes that codes need constant updating to address the evolving and dynamic pace of world events.  Here is an example of the project’s discussion.  The Institute of Museum Ethics at Seton Hall University also has abundant resources on the subject.

The accountability demanded of archaeologists and museum professionals by the very voices whose materials cultural they curate is rightfully on the rise and will continue to grow.  As well, as archaeologists and museum professionals are employed in nonprofit and publicly financed institutions, in an era of decreasing discretionary dollars, institutions that are unable to explain their relevancy to the public likely will not, and should not, survive.  In this capacity, ethics takes on an increased role.

How has your institution been faced with new ethical considerations?

Museums, Archaeology & Mobile Apps

Got myself an iPad a couple of weeks ago so I am now learning about the mobile app business.  I have to confess that the biggest draw for me in taking the iPad plunge was to use a music/sound making app called Reactable.  At the same, I sufficiently rationalized the iPad’s portability and work applications as factors to justify the cost.  To dutifully follow-up on the rationalizations, I went to the App Store and searched on Anthropology, Archaeology, Museums to see what all was out there.  There is a good bit of cool stuff.  You can tour Roman-era London via the Londinium app produced by the Museum of London, explore the Please Touch the Exhibit app from the Melbourne Museum, view fine art in the Philips Collection multimedia app based in Washington D.C., and on and on . . .

There is a good bit of museum and archaeology app stuff out there.  But are these apps the latest fad, toys, or what?  As is often the case the American Association of Museum provides a good summary overview text on the subject.  Mobile Apps for Museums: The AAM Guide to Planning and Strategy edited by Nancy Proctor is a good place to start investigating the applicability of these new mobile applications.  Proctor is the Smithsonian’s Head of New Media Initiatives.

In 100 pages, the volume contains 12 brief overview essays on almost all phases of mobile apps from the technical to practical considerations.  An additional 12-page glossary interprets the jargon inherent in any such discussion.  Although a careful read of the entire volume is worthwhile, several essays stood out to me:

  •  Robert Stein’s essay “Mobile Content Strategies for Content Sharing and Long-Term Sustainability” deals with the compatibility of museum apps across time and space.  He reports on a paper he and Proctor co-authored at the 2011 Museums and the Web Conference that addresses this issue and references the TourML wiki as a source for ongoing dialogue.  The upshot of the article is recognizing the importance in the early stages of app development that there are industry standards to assure the production of quality and interactive products.
  • Kate Haley Goldman’s essay “Understanding Adoption of Mobile Technology with Museums” is an important first read for anyone considering mobile apps in museum settings.   Goldman astutely observes that “for institutions already using mobile interpretation, encouraging visitors to use the mobile interpretation was the largest challenge.  Yet for others – vendors and researchers, as well as those considering projects – attracting new visitors via mobile was a primary goal.  This disconnect represents a great opportunity for future research” (p. 67).  Goldman speculates that part of the disconnect comes from the validity and reliability of the visitor survey measures.  She argues for visitor based longitudinal studies to help clarify the issue.  This understanding echoes Clay Shirkey’s concern that internet technology must be relevant to existing behavior.
  • Jane Burton’s essay “Playful Apps” provides another layer of insights as the relationship of the museum user to museum apps. She notes that you can explore physics by playing Launchball from the Science Museum of London or learn about human origins by visiting Meanderthal from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  She cites Flurry, a San Francisco based smartphone analytics firm report, in noting that “studying the U.S. mobile gamer, we note that she earns over 50% more than the average American, is more than twice as likely to have earned a college bachelor’s degree, and is more like to be white or Asian” (p. 74).  Like Goldman, she finds that conventional wisdom on app adoption and use in museums might be suspect and counter the conventional wisdom of the typical app user.
The collection of essays provides an excellent starting point and balanced overview for anyone wishing to get beyond the immediate must have hype or the flip side of too quickly dismissing the use of mobile apps in museum or archaeology public engagement efforts.  However, except for an essay on mobile apps at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, no author in the volume considered in a substantive way whether the apps actually fit in with the mission of the museum or organization.  Proposals for adopting such new technology that are thoroughly enmeshed in the mission of the institution will allow justification of the high cost of app development and equipment often needed to operate the systems.  Otherwise, nay sayers (and funders) may argue that we are just jumping on to the latest interpretive fad.

What is your experience with mobile apps?

From Me to We – Part 2

Last week I reflected on applying Nina Simon’s “Me to We” concept to institutions.  Certainly, national organizations such as the American Association of Museums, regional variants like the Southeast Museum Conference, and on a statewide basis the Tennessee Association of Museums allow institutions to consider themselves from a we perspective.  However, I am thinking of something more organic to a museum’s very existence.

Here are some thoughts from my institution, the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  We are a small Native American focused museum located on the grounds of a Mississippian (AD 1000 – 1500) temple mound complex.  We also interpret the historic African American cultural heritage of the site area.  As a small 50-year old venue in an isolated part of Southwest Memphis, Tennessee, over the past several years, we have aggressively grappled with the issues of identity and mission.  As an institution, in the past couple of years, we began to more intentionally move from me to we.

  • We are one of  fifteen or so prehistoric Native American venues located along the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri to Natchez, Mississippi.  There is no consortium to coördinate, cross-promote, or inform on these related museums.  Institutionally, through organizations such as the Tennessee Association of Museums there is more structure for Chucalissa to engage with other prehistoric venues six hours away in Manchester, Tennessee, than with the Parkin Archaeological Site a 45-minute drive west into Arkansas or the Wickliffe Mounds, a three-hour drive north near Paducah, Kentucky.  (Of note, even the very successful driving tours of prehistoric sites, such as in Louisiana, are limited by geo-political boundaries.)   Both Parkin and Wickliffe interpret prehistoric sites of the same time period as at Chucalissa.   We now find that through our informal collaboration with both Parkin and Wickliffe, we can effectively cross-promote.  Our intent this fall is to begin a regional presence of the prehistoric museum venues along the Mississippi River that transcends geo-political boundaries.  Such an approach is a good marketing tool to reach the regional traveler and inform local communities of opportunities of related interest in the immediate area.  However, I don’t think that marketing is the real goal . . .
  • Parkin and Chucalissa have actively engaged each other for the past couple of years on a host of products.  Parkin like Chucalissa interprets a substantial African American historic component at their predominately prehistoric Native American focused site.  Each February they host a week of African American cultural heritage activities.  My first thought was – that’s a great idea, we should do that too on our side of the Mississippi River at Chucalissa.  Parkin also had a couple of engaging and creative school programs that we adapted for our site as well.  Then we tried a different approach.  Had we continued on the copying trajectory, in terms of programs, Parkin and Chucalissa could have essentially become clones of each other.  Instead, and very intentionally, at Chucalissa we developed our strengths, but cross-promote those strengths with other institutions.  In this way, we move from ” two me’s” to a true “me to we” setting.
The above process has two benefits.  First, for the individual or group visitor there is a reason to visit both Parkin and Chucalissa.  They will not get the same programming at both sites.  But more importantly, the process allows the two museums to focus on and share their separate missions and strengths as distinct institutions.  I am excited to begin work this fall on a regional presence that crosses into a half-dozen states along the Mississippi River.  Such approaches seem to defy conventional practice.  However organizations from the regional Great River Road to the local Chicago Cultural Alliance are grappling with this process.

How are you moving from me to we with relevant institutions?

Museums: Online, Real-Time, or Both?

A couple of years ago there seemed to be a sharp divide between proponents of online vs. real-time museum experiences.  Now the online museum experience is accepted as here to stay.  I was surprised at the lack of hostility from the museum world toward the Google Art Project.  Having gotten past the knee-jerk position of taking sides in the online vs real-time debate, the discussion now focuses on how the two experiences complement each other.  Such is focus of All Together Now: Museums and Online Collaborative Learning by William B. Crow and Herminia Wei-hsin Din, published this year by the American Association of Museums (AAM).

The volume is typical of the AAM publications that offer a general introduction to an area, coupled with an abundance of resources for further study.  The basic premise is laid out in the Preface that states:

We see these changes and innovations as terrifically exciting – not as a celebration of the new media and technologies themselves, but for the possibilities they offer people.  As we shift from the Information Age to the Collaboration Age, these new technologies offer people the ability to work together in ways that simply weren’t possible even 15 years ago.  And, although museums draw strength from their unique physical collections and locations, they also now see themselves as digital collections and communities, located in an increasingly global world (p. 6).

The authors organize the presentation in four parts:

  • A basic discussion of online collaborative learning – the underlying theory, types, resources, and challenges
  • the conditions necessary for implementing online collaborative learning
  • the roles individuals play in the process
  • the tools for building the online collaborative community of practice
A highlight of the book is the substantive case studies that review the methods, successes, and challenges of the online collaborative process.  The case studies include the Smithsonian Commons project, San Diego’s Balboa Park Cultural Partnership of 26 institutions, and other projects both large and small.  The case studies are particularly valuable in that they give equal balance to what worked, what did not work, and future directions.

The message of All Together Now is consistent with that of Clay Shirkey who notes that it is not the media or technology that drives the behavior but rather enables existing interests.  A distinct value of the book takes the collaborative process beyond the online experience to consider collaboration on an inter-institutional basis as well.

Those who are just beginning to explore collaborative online learning will find All Together Now a useful model within which to start their discussions.  For those who have already ventured down this road, the volume contains a framework to assess the efficiency of existing programs.  For all readers, the book has a wealth of online resources to investigate additional online collaborative opportunities.

The authors and case study contributors leave behind the debate of online vs real-time and instead embrace the collaborative reality that marks the current and future phase of museum outreach to the public we serve.  This focus is consistent with the AAM theme for the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Creative Community.

How are you moving your institution or practice toward online collaborative learning?

Advocacy & Museums: Not Just for Administrators Anymore

With shrinking support dollars, advocacy is more than ever a pressing and essential survival skill for public institutions.  The American Association of Museums‘ (AAM) 2011 book Speak Up For Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy by Gail Ravnitzky Siberglied is an excellent starting point for the discussion.  As AAM President Ford Bell notes in the volume’s Preface “We advocate for the value of our museums every time we open an exhibit, welcome a school group, send out a press release, meet with funders or hold a special event in the community.  Advocacy can be as simple and personal as chatting with a visitor” (p. xi).  Advocacy work with elected officials and policy makers is the focus of the volume.

Like many AAM publications, the scope of Speak Up For Museums is basic but comprehensive.  The volume covers the limitations in advocacy work for nonprofits, involvement of museum boards, advice from public officials and museum advocates, and a basic civics lesson on government structures and operations related to advocacy.

Two chapters stood out as particularly helpful to me.  First, Chapter 3, An Advocacy Inventory, contains step-by-step templates/guides for compiling institutional data (e.g., visitation demographics, elected and other public officials, and economic data) critical for successful advocacy.

Chapter 6, Start Advocating Today! A Week-by-Week Plan provides a list of 57 advocacy tasks.  The examples range from simple to complex and include adding all relevant elected (city, state, county, federal) officials to your mailing list and social media sites (and vice versa), updating a museum’s virtual presence on websites, Wikipedia and social media pages, and  joining with other area museums in advocacy efforts.

The AAM hosts a Speak Up For Museum webpage with many links and information on advocacy work.

The 125 page volume was a quick read and a ready reference for framing further advocacy work.  My takeaway points directly and indirectly from the book include:

  • Museums continue to move from being collections driven to centering on the visitor experience in the same way that archaeology now includes a public accountability component unheard of 50 years ago.  In this regard, all practitioners take on advocacy roles.  Advocacy is now embraced by the field archaeologist, the curator, and the research scientist, not just the administrators, educators and marketing departments.  Particularly with the advent of social media institutions no longer have the luxury of controlling the means and pace of their advocacy efforts.  Speak Up For Museums focuses on advocacy with public officials.   Although not explicitly stated, the public realm of advocacy also requires a full team effort.  Despite centralized press releases and lobbying efforts, all staff need to create their 3-minute elevator speech advocating for the institution.
  • I have a new appreciation that advocacy is a long-term process that starts with building a relationship today.  I often smile smugly at the Facebook entries from the institution that only posts for self-promotion or Kickstarter/Pepsi Challenge type fundraising efforts.  I suspect the public official feels the same way if they only hear from me when I need something but am not engaged as part of the broader solution.
  • Advocacy is not rocket science.  Advocacy can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and doing the next right thing.  Adding the email addresses of all relevant public officials to an e-newsletter list is pretty straightforward and can probably be achieved with a half-hour of Google search time.  In fact, Chapter 3 “An Advocacy Inventory” suggests that the template/guide tasks “can also be done as a case study for a graduate class in museum studies” (p. 16).  Hmm . . . sounds like Project 1 for my Museum Practices graduate seminar in the Museum Studies Certificate Program at the University of Memphis this fall semester – pick an area museum and develop an advocacy guide for them.

Speak Up For Museums is a great resource to start or further develop an institution’s advocacy work.  Although geared specifically toward museums, the application is adaptable to a range of nonprofit agencies.

What are your tools for advocacy?

Are Museums Missing Out on Social Media?

National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C., USA

At the American Association of Museum meetings last month, multiple sessions made clear the growing use and importance of social media in museums’ day-to-day functioning and outreach efforts.  Many institutions are investing considerable resources in their social and virtual media presences.  My recent visit to Smithsonian Institution venues in Washington D.C. affirmed this direction.  For example, at the National Museum of American History website, one can spend hours blogging, interacting, and virtually roaming through collections not on exhibit in real-time.  The same is true of the National Museum of the American Indian’s website.

The internationally based New Media Consortium website contains Horizon Project reports on emerging technologies. One report is a 2010 shortlist for Museums that provides a good overview of potential of social media in museums along with case studies.

Museums increasingly rely on social media and other digital resources to deliver on their mission of public outreach and education.  The web abounds with evaluation tools including simple Facebook insights, Google analytics, and many more to assess the demographics and experiences of those who use the social media resources.

But are museums successful in actually reaching their intended audiences with social media tools?  A survey published by Museum Next provides some interesting data on this question.  I was particularly intrigued when looking at the results broken down by user age.  The table below draws on data from the Museum Next website.

Social Media Use Relative to Museum

Here is some of what stands out to me.  The breakdown by age of those individuals who use social media is not surprising, only confirming conventional wisdom: Young folks use social media a lot but older people do to.  The percentage of individuals who are actually fans, subscribe to, or “like” social media pages declines dramatically with increased age.  But here is where things get interesting.  A solid 70% or greater of all age categories report visiting museums or galleries, but only a small percentage of those people are aware of museums that have social media pages and even fewer follow those pages.  If all those individuals who

  • subscribe/like social media in general and also attend museums
  • were aware of museum specific social media pages
  • and subscribed at the same rate to museum social media pages as they do other social media pages
  • then the followers of museum social media pages would instantly increase by 400%.

I am not a statistician (nor do I play one on TV) and I realize that my assertion relies on a couple of assumptions, but the clear sign is that museums do not presently maximize the potential of social media for individuals who both now follow social media and visit museums.

We have a lot of work to do in connecting social media using visitors who come through our museum doors with the social media and virtual presence in which we are currently investing our resources.

How do you promote your social media resources to your visitors?

Evaluating Social Media and Museums

Along with a reported 5000 other individuals, this week I am attending the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Museums in Houston Texas.  The impact of social media in Outreach efforts is evident by the number of sessions devoted to the topic.

If the first session I attended on Sunday is any indication, then the Annual Meeting will prove well worth the 10-hour drive from the flooded Mississippi Delta at Memphis to the furnace of hot winds blowing in southeast Texas.  The session was We have 10,000 followers . . . Now What?  Evaluating Social Media’s Impact.  I suspect this title resonates with many folks in Museum and other nonprofit institutions.  For many, the aggressive Facebook or Twitter campaigns were launched, likes and followers signed on, and then came the “so what do we do now?”  Web tutorials on building social media platforms abound but there is considerably less discussion on the hows and whys of sustaining the presence.  The AAM session provided some great insights in filling this void.

The presenters were Elizabeth Bolander from the Cleveland Museum of Art,  Sarah Elizabeth Banks from the National Museum of Natural Hisotry (NMNH) at the Smithonian, Jay Geneske from Echo Green, and Ryan French from the Walker Art Center.

The discussion opened by challenging institutions to define their goals in using social media.  Too often museums only conceptualize social media as a seemingly cheap form of marketing to drive visitation to a museum or event.  Sarah Elizabeth Banks provided an alternative approach from the Smithsonian.  Social media at the NMNH is also viewed as a tool for engaging the public directly in research and then disseminating the research results.  For example, when NMNH scientists in Africa needed immediate assistance to identify  fish species.  They announced the project on Facebook, uploaded the images of the fish to Flickr, and via email sent out a call for participation.  As well, the Smithsonian blog reported the project that was also featured on the Smithsonian website. Ultimately the fish identification was a “Facebook Story of the Week for the NMNH.  With support from the virtual community the NMNH scientists completed the identifications in record time.  Instead of viewing social media as a marketing tool to drive visitation, the fish identification project demonstrated how a research project can be assisted through social media.

The session speakers all agreed that social media must flow from the museum’s mission.  As such, institutions need to incorporate social media into the forefront of activities and not as an afterthought.

The Walker Art Center uses YouTube videos to take visitors behind the scenes in exhibit construction.  The speakers also pointed to the power of memory when posting photographs to Flickr of past events and visitors.  Both the Walker Art Center and the Smithsonian actively invite the public to upload their photographs to these projects.

Speakers noted the tremendous resource drain social media can have on a staff.  For example, the Walker Art Center runs 10 separate Facebook pages, blogs, YouTube channels, Twitter feeds and more.   Out of the 150 attending this AAM session only one individual’s job responsibilities were full-time in social media.  Most attendees performed social media tasks as an added assignment.  The speakers expressed considerable variation in how their institutions controlled social media output.  However, the need for radical trust was a theme in all the presentations.

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, over the past couple of years, we have thrown a lot of virtual spaghetti at the social media wall.  A good bit has stuck.  We, like many or most other institutions now must sit back and soberly assess the impact, and strategically plan our next steps.  My ultimate takeaway from the session is that social media is moving to the forefront of all that we do in Museums and Outreach.  We need to be fully engaged, intentional, and mission driven with this tool as we move forward.

How are you evaluating your social media experiences as you plan for the future?

Why a Museum Advocacy Day?

For this week’s post, below is the op-ed I wrote for the March 1, 2011 edition of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.  The piece is based on the American Association of Museum’s Advocacy Day activities for 2011.

Museum Advocacy Day notes the essential contributions these institutions provide to education and our economy.

By Robert P. Connolly, Special to The Commercial Appeal

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

For Memphians, museums can be a source of learning, fun and inspiration. This is true regardless of the size of the institution, from the Pink Palace Family of Museums to the Fire Museum of Memphis. This is also true regardless of the institution’s focus, from art museums to children’s museums to those with a specialized emphasis, such as ornamental metals or guitars. According to the American Association of Museums, U.S. museums attract an estimated 850 million visits each year, more than all professional sporting events and theme parks combined.

Museums are also an essential part of our educational system. Tens of thousands of area students of all ages learn about the fine arts, Native American cultures and science through Memphis’ cultural institutions. Students in the University of Memphis Museum Studies graduate program are trained through internships at many of Memphis’ museums.

According to the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, museums annually provide more than 18 million instructional hours to American students and educators, ranging from professional development for teachers to the traditional school field trip. All told, museums annually invest more than $2 billion in educational programming. An estimated 55 million schoolchildren take part in museum field trips each year, despite cuts in school budgets.

Our local institutions are among those that have responded to the challenge of these tough economic times. The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa launched Family Day and in-school programs to help offset the impact of a reduction in the number of school field trips. Museums also take advantage of the Internet to make their offerings more accessible to all. For example, the National Civil Rights Museum provides many of its educational resources for teachers and students online.

Museums have adapted their educational programs to conform to the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, incorporating standards in math and reading, while also adapting educational offerings to state and local benchmarks in science, art, language arts, civics and government, economics and financial literacy. For example, all programming offered at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa is tied to the curriculum standards of schools in the tristate area.

For many students, museums provide the switch that makes the light bulb go on. Last summer when African-American students from Southwest Memphis toured the Davies Manor Plantation in Bartlett, several commented about the powerful experience of being in a home to which their ancestors would have been denied access. At a recent University of Memphis Art Museum exhibit on the work of architect Paul R. Williams, adjoining galleries featured work from university graduate students in architecture and models created by students from Coro Lake Elementary. Such hands-on learning provided by museums makes it easier for many young people to grasp concepts that seem irrelevant and obscure on the pages of a textbook.

Clearly, museums are engaged in critical work that contributes to the educational excellence of our communities. But as substantial as is the impact of museums on American education, their contribution goes much further. Museums are vital to our economy as well.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, America’s estimated 17,500 museums employ more than a half-million people and through direct expenditures alone inject some $20 billion into the American economy. This vitality is clearly visible in Memphis. From Graceland to the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis is viewed as a destination travel and tourism location because of its world-class museum venues. The Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau reports that in 2010 nearly 3 million tourists visited 60 area attractions, including museums.

The mission of museums is public service. That’s the message that will be carried to Congress today, on Museum Advocacy Day, when representatives of museums from across the country will come to Capitol Hill to convey to our elected officials the value museums bring to our nation.

As protectors, interpreters and exhibitors of our heritages — historic, cultural, natural and scientific — museums fulfill a crucial role in America. Join the museum advocacy effort by contacting our local officials to tell them what Memphis-area museums mean to you and your family.

Robert P. Connolly is director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Memphis.

%d bloggers like this: