Tag: Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Proposed Funding Cuts & the Impact on Small and Rural Museums

Mr. Trump’s draft budget blueprint eliminates many environmental, cultural, human services, and science based programs.  I will address two of the programs with which I have direct experience – the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In 2007 I was hired as the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a small prehistoric venue in Southwest Memphis, Tennessee.  The Museum had fallen on “hard times” as it were.  In essence, my assigned task was to rejuvenate the place or the Museum would likely be shut down.  Over my nine-year tenure, we eliminated the Museum’s operating deficit and made up past deficits.  Also, the annual attendance doubled.  The C.H. Nash Museum began to play a critical role as a cultural heritage venue in Southwest Memphis, became an integral educational resource for the University of Memphis, and a national model for co-creating with a local community whose tax dollars supported the Museum.  Both the IMLS and CNCS were critical to that process.  Simply put, the successes of the Museum would not have occurred without the support of these two institutions.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services

The C.H. Nash Museum was able to take advantage of several services offered by the IMLS:

  • Connecting to Collections, of which IMLS is a founding partner, awarded the C.H. Nash Museum a set of books valued at over $1500.00 to help us become better informed on the best practices necessary for curating our 50 years worth of collections, many of which had not been properly cared for in decades.  The book award is no longer offered because now the IMLS provides that scope of resources online, a more cost-effective means for distributing the information.  Connecting to Collections also hosts regular webinars on a diverse range of issues.  All Connecting to Collections services are provided free to museums.  This service is absolutely critical to small museums throughout the U.S. that are operated by either volunteer or small staffs.  Specifically, small museums such as Chucalissa do not have access to funds to hire consultants with the expertise needed to conserve, preserve, and present the cultural heritage they curate.
  • The IMLS’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP) proved absolutely critical to our Museum’s turn around.  The C.H. Nash Museum was founded in 1956, but there was limited attention paid to its maintenance or upgrades over the years.  For example, in 2007, no museum exhibit was upgraded for nearly 30 years and many of the collections were not properly curated.  The MAP program consisted of a period of intensive self-study followed by a peer review from a nationally recognized museum professional matched specifically to our institutional needs.  The reviewer provided a series of recommendations grouped by duration (short-term, medium-term, and long-term) and cost (no expense, modest expense, or major expense).  Of importance to our governing authority, the peer reviewer’s recommendations came with the credibility of the nationally recognized leaders in the field – IMLS and the American Alliance of Museums.  The recommendations provided leverage for our Museum and were integral to our strategic plan developments.  Our Museum simply did not have the 15-20 thousand dollars necessary to hire a private consultant to perform these services.  Our total cost for the program was $400.00.

As the recently retired Director of a small museum along with my years of service on small museum boards and professional organizations, without question, the small institution, often in a  rural location will be most directly and negatively affected in eliminating the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Corporation for National and Community Service – AmeriCorps

To the extent IMLS allowed us to strategically reorient our Museum, AmeriCorps allowed us to carry out those changes.  NCCC AmeriCorps is the legacy of the 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps and is composed of youth between the ages of 18-25 who give one year of community service.  At the C.H. Nash Museum, we hosted six AmeriCorps teams over a four-year period.  These teams were integral to our ability to serve and engage with our neighboring community.  We devised a unique partnership where each 8-week AmeriCorps team spent 1/3 of their rotation working on each of three separate components: the C.H. Nash Museum, the surrounding community, and the T.O. Fuller State Park as follows:

  • Teams working in the surrounding community focused on minor to moderate repair and landscaping work on the homes of elderly veterans in the 95% African-American working class community that surrounds the C.H. Nash Museum.¹ In addition, team members served as mentors to neighborhood youth in this underserved community and leveraged corporate support for their projects. ²
  • Teams working at the C.H. Nash Museum developed skills and performed structural improvements to the site including creating gardens, lab exhibits, rain shelters, refurbished onsite housing and much more.
  • Teams working at the T.O. Fuller State Park completed maintenance projects such as refurbishment of picnic shelters and trail maintenance.  The T.O. Fuller State Park is particularly significant in Memphis history as the only such recreation facility available for the African-American community during the era of Jim Crow segregation.

Both IMLS and AmeriCorps teams led to building relationships and leveraging assets to bring additional resources into play that would not have been otherwise available.  For example:

  • The IMLS Connecting to Collections resources allowed Museum staff to generate the types of data based proposals to generate additional economic support from the governing authority.
  • Similarly, the IMLS MAP program help to demonstrate the fiduciary responsibility of the governing authority to the collections and infrastructure of the Museum, leading to additional economic support in the form of staff and material support.
  • The AmeriCorps Teams strengthened community connections that today allow the C.H. Nash Museum to host the community’s Annual Veterans Day event, the annual Black History Month Celebration, provide space and resources for a community garden, provide internships for local high school students, to name just a few.

In summary, elimination of the IMLS and the CNCS will also cut the potential for projects such as those noted above at the C.H. Nash Museum.  In 2012, the House of Representatives passed H.Con.Res.112 that called for eliminating the National Endowments for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts noting that “The activities and content funded by these agencies  . . . are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.”  My examples demonstrate such statements are erroneous.  In fact, as demonstrated in the case of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, the elimination of IMLS and CNCS will directly impact the small and particularly rural museums that serve as the cultural heritage hub for their communities and will not put “America first” an alleged goal of Mr. Trump’s budget.

An immediate and strong response must be sent to all legislators to counter proposals to eliminate these and similar programs that truly do put all of America first.

 

¹References for this work include the following: Making African American History Relevant through Co-Creation and Community Service Learning by Robert P. Connolly and Ana Rea; The C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa: Community Engagement at an Archaeological Site by Robert P. Connolly, Samantha Gibbs, and Mallory Bader; AmeriCorps Delta 5 – Unparalleled Community Service by Robert P. Connolly; AmeriCorps, Archaeology and Service by Robert P. Connolly; AmeriCorps Archaeology and Museums by Robert P. Connolly.

² AmeriCorps NCCC: The Best of the Millennial Generation by Ana Rea.

Museums as Community Assets

Newton

Brandi Newton

So we have gotten to that time of the year where in my museum studies classes I always ask students to respond to the question below.  In this semester’s undergraduate Introduction to Museums course, Brandi Newton, an art history major provided a particularly insightful and compelling response.  The question:

Put yourself in the position of John or Josephine Q. Public. In the current economic chaos, the bank is foreclosing on their home, they have lost their jobs, and the city just reduced their public services. In referring to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the House Budget Committee recently argued that “The activities and content funded by these agencies…are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.” Isn’t your research or the position you aspire to a museum professional just another example of this wealth transfer? What do John and Josephine Q. Public get for their tax dollars that fund your research/position?

Museums: Important Community Assets

 by Brandi Newton

In recent years The House Budget Committee stated that museums are essentially nothing more than a wealth transfer from the poor to the rich. If this wealth transfer were to exist then any professional working in a museum would be a participant in maintaining this transfer. In this paper however, I will argue that this wealth transfer either does not exist or is so small that it should not be counted as a loss. I will do this by illuminating the percentage of tax dollars actually used by museums and highlighting the missions of a handful of museums based on educating the public while supporting these claims through examples of funded programs designed to give back, often at not cost, to the community.

Greater than 93 percent of annual not for profit museum budgets are covered by either revenue or private donations leaving less than seven percent to be covered by a combination of local, state, and federal taxes (National Endowment for the Arts 2012). Based on these numbers one could actually argue the opposite of what The House Budget Committee stated. Since private donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals compose 38.2 percent of annual museum budgets, the wealthy are in fact transferring their wealth to the greater community not the other way around. To put this further in perspective, data from 2013 showed that “the $146 million budget of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) represents just 0.012% (about one one-hundredth of one percent) of federal discretionary spending” (National Endowment for the Arts 2013:1). This amount of money is a drop in the bucket for federal spending, yet despite their lack of financial support from the government, museums still find ways to give back to their communities.

As described in their mission statement, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee seeks to benefit its visitors and community by inspiring “participation in civil and human rights efforts globally, through [their] collections, exhibitions and educational programs” (Stokes-Casey 2014:2). This museum benefits its community by giving back in ways that lead to them exposing more people to what they have to offer; this also works to fulfill their mission statement. One way they accomplish this is by offering free admission days. This of course, allows access for those individuals who could otherwise not afford to attend the museums. Their website states that, “Tennessee residents with state-issued ID may visit the museum for free on Mondays from 3 p.m. until closing” (National Civil Rights Museum 2014).

Additionally, The National Civil Rights Museum’s Education Coordinator, Jody Stokes-Casey has been working with a local charter school to develop a program that teaches the values and history offered in the museum itself. This is a seven-week program that, except for one museum field trip, is actually brought to the school and presented to the students during their homeroom period. The stated goal of one of this program’s resources, which is titled Courage in the Civil Rights Movement is to “enrich their classrooms and to create a resource for teachers to facilitate discussion, encourage student dialogue, increase understanding, and promote courageous action” (Stokes-Casey 2014:4).

There are other ways museums can serve their communities; some do not even require attendance to the museum itself. For instance, The National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. says as a free service “We design and produce a wide variety of teacher professional development workshops and digital learning resources – from short YouTube videos to complex mobile app games, websites, webinars, and electronic field trips” (The National Museum of American History 2015). This type of programming meets one of the goals in their mission statement, which is to “explore the infinite richness and complexity of American history” accomplished through “dynamic public outreach” (The National Museum of American History 2015).

Seeing this museum with its multiple historical exhibits in person is also quite easily accomplished. Barring an individual’s personal transportation and time constraints, this museum in incredibly accessible to the public because, admission is always free. This in itself is quite an awesome service considering the fact that for the majority of museums 40.7 percent of their revenue comes from earned income (National Endowment for the Arts 2012).

Yet another example is the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington whose STEM “Out-of-School-Time…sends teams of high school interns and Science Center educators into underserved communities to inspire students to pursue STEM learning.” This outreach program alone has reached over 150,000 students. After participating in the math portion of this outreach program 70 percent of students saw an increase in their test scores. Their outreach doesn’t begin and end here, in all “The Center’s outreach initiatives serve more than 200,000 individuals spanning over 39 counties and four states, making it one of the top outreach organizations in the Pacific Northwest” (JPMorgan Chase & Co. 2015). It is important to point out that much of the funding for The Pacific Science Center’s STEM Out-of-School-Time program has been provided, not by tax dollars but by a private company. “JPMorgan Chase Foundation has contributed $750,000 [to The Pacific Science Center] over the past 5 years” (JPMorgan Chase & Co. 2015).

I would argue then that public funding be increased because of the measurable and notable benefit that museums are able to provide to their communities. Does a more educated society not benefit us all? In fact, Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice who in 2006 was appointed the Director for the Institute of Museum and Library Services said, “Public funding helps museums deliver quality services that strengthen communities, families, individuals and the nation” (Manjarrez, C., C. Rosenstein, C. Colgan, and E. Pastore 2008:2). This one simple sentence sums up so much of what is important about museums and why they are of such importance in our lives. They provide opportunities for families, friends and colleagues to learn together and create shared memories. However, this benefit can be achieved individually as well. Ultimately, they ensure that our cultural heritage is preserved for posterity so that we may learn from the past. They inspire us as we look toward the future.

 

References Cited

 

JPMorgan Chase & Co.

2015 Pacific Science Center: Inspiring a lifelong interest in science, math and technology. http://www.jpmorganchase.com/corporate/Corporate-Responsibility/seattle-pacific-science, accessed March 20, 2015.

 

Manjarrez, C., C. Rosenstein, C. Colgan, and E. Pastore

2008 Exhibiting Public Value: Museum Public Finance in the United States (IMLS-2008-RES-02). Institute of Museum and Library Services. Washington, DC.

 

National Civil Rights Museum

2014 Visit. http://civilrightsmuseum.org/visit/, accessed March 17, 2015.

 

National Endowment for the Arts

2012 How the United States Funds the Arts. Washington, DC.

(http://arts.gov/sites/default/files/how-the-us-funds-the-arts.pdf)

 

National Endowment for the Arts

2013 Fact Sheet. http://www.nasaa-arts.org/Research/Grant-Making/NEAFactSheetSpring2013.pdf, accessed March 17, 2015.

 

The National Museum of American History

2015 American History. http://americanhistory.si.edu, accessed March 17, 2015.

 

Stokes-Casey, Jody

2014 Courage in the Civil Rights Movement. NCRM.

Accessible Programs in Archaeology and Museums

kstringer-coverThis past week I attended the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) annual meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I have come to expect the unexpected when I attend professional meetings.  Perhaps the greatest unexpected highlight of the AASLH conference was a session organized by my former student and now colleague, Katie Stringer titled “Welcoming All Visitors: Accessible Programs at History Museums and Sites.” Through her dissertation research, Katie has developed considerable expertise in this area.  She recently published Programming For People With Special Needs: A Guide For Museums and Historic Sites.  The volume focuses on seven key components needed to create effective museum experiences for individuals with special needs.  Based on her work in Tennessee, the book also draws on case studies as disparate as New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn’s Transit Museum.  The 110 page volume is a concise primer filled with go-to resources for any cultural heritage professional seeking a holistic introduction to the field of inclusivity.  Katie’s presentation in St. Paul focused on her research contained in her recent publication.

Two other papers in the session focused on specific needs that were very relevant to our programming needs at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  Mattie Ettenheim, Museum Access Program Manager for City Access New York addressed program creation for individuals with autism.  Besides providing a solid introduction to the general needs for creating effective experiences for children on the autism spectrum, Mattie provided excellent online resources to get more detailed information on the subject.  Particularly helpful are resources available through the Museum Access Consortium, including a series of podcasts (right hand side of link).  Mattie also noted that Kids Included Together is an excellent resource on creating programs for children with special needs.

Callie Hawkins, Associate Director for Programs at President Lincoln’s Cottage, Washington D.C.  shared her work on creating innovative programs for individuals with impaired hearing, including ASL-based podcast tours of the facility.  She noted that resources for funding requests for such programs were given a high priority through organizations such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

I found all the presentations particularly relevant to our situation at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.  As a small museum, because of our low staff to visitor ratio, we are able to provide programming for children with special needs that larger museums simply are unprepared for.  For example, our Art For Voice camp last summer was particularly attractive for several children on the autism spectrum.  Our intent is to expand our special needs programming.  We are fortunate that two of our Graduate Assistant staff also have considerable experience in programming for children with special needs.

Program creation for individuals with special needs can be an ideal niche for the small museum or cultural heritage institution to explore.  Here are some thoughts:

  • For many types of special needs, the small museum is often more suitable than the larger institutions.  Persons with autism, reduced immune systems, special physical or cognitive needs are often better served in the less crowded and more tranquil small museum environment.
  • Funding for creating such programs may be prioritized through organizations such as IMLS or local support networks.
  • There are often formal and informal networks of parents, care-givers, and other service providers who can assist in the creation and implementation of special needs programs.

At Chucalissa, we find that our small setting that includes both indoor and outdoor exhibits, hands-on tactile opportunities, coupled with resources that we can draw from the University of Memphis, make us an excellent venue for persons with special needs.  This approach is not a matter of recreating or restructuring our mission to fit an economic market.  Rather, this approach allows us to consider our mission, our strengths and weaknesses, and  how we might best serve the public who fund the operation of our museum.  In this way, we more fully live into our mission mandate to provide the public with “exceptional educational, participatory and research opportunities”

How do you serve your special needs visitors?

What Means This Object?

For the final exam this past semester in my Museum Practices seminar for the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis students wrote essays responding to the questions from one of nine themes  in the paper The Future of Museums and Libraries: A Discussion Guide published in 2010 by The Institute of Museum and Library Services.  Although I enjoyed reading all the essays this year, one stood out in particular.  The essay below by Penny Dodds takes up the theme Shifts in Power and Authority.  From a perspective that draws on the material objects and relationships from her own life history, Ms. Dodds powerfully articulates the essential engagement between communities and their museums.  She has graciously allowed me to post her essay for this week’s blog as follows:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Penny Dodds

Penny Dodds

Museum Practices

December 13, 2012

Final Exam

My mother grew up the eldest of seven children.  She lived in a Polish ghetto neighborhood in Utica, NY – a bastard child, poor, raised by her adopted hobo father and her mother who left for weeks at a time.  Although my mother’s background is integral to this story, the story I want to tell has to do with me; and a stool.  I am the fourth of five children.  When I was born, my sister, the eldest, was fourteen.  I was the only child raised by my mother who received any type of chair.  It was mine, my mother told me, because she noticed that I had nowhere to sit that was my size.  My stool was five simple pieces of wood stained dark brown.  It had a little base for me with four holes where the pegged legs held it up.  No nails.  I cherished this stool growing up because it meant my mother cared for me in my daily life of constant neglect.  I felt special because she bought it just for me.

When I left home, I took the stool with me.  It continued to be part of my visual home life.  In my mid-thirties, pregnant and purging my belongings readying myself for my first child, I gave this stool away.  I had reinterpreted it to symbolize my mother’s clear inability to think of others.  She grew up with children.  She had three before me!  The stool became a token, rather than the proof that my mother’s love hovered over me daily.  I refused to think of myself as special from my siblings and deserving of her attentiveness.  I gave it away with my need to give away all my childhood pain so that I would be my own version of “mama” and not a reaction to her.

But I ache now for that stool.  I am now in my early forties and I want to touch it.  I want my own girl to touch it.  Now, it means to me that I was loved despite her constant inability to take care of me.  It means I had a place to sit in our home that was my size and she made sure of it.  My stool represents her thinking of life from my perspective.  It’s somewhere.  The pain of its absence now could be perceived as nonsensical yet, as the work in museums of presenting objects with stories, this seemingly worthless item holds the dearest of life’s learning about being a child, an adult, a mother, and love, understanding and forgiveness.

I begin with this story to address the discussion theme on “Shifts in Power and Authority” and the impact they have on future museums.  This story illustrates 1) the psychological relationship individuals can have with objects and the shifts in interpreting that relationship that can happen with just one person; imagine a whole community; 2) the impact of thinking from someone else’s perspective in a position of power; 3) the flux of valuing and devaluing one’s own history in connection with objects; and, 4) subtly, the impact a third party would have had on my decision to give away my stool.  To me, museum staff represents the “third party” in our culture.  They can offer their expertise in how to cherish objects, tell stories from them, and empower people; especially, those who feel disconnected in our culture by making sure their objects are treasured, seen and, through them, their stories are told.

How will museums make materials and information available to their communities and provide context and content which is appropriate?  This will happen in a constant engagement with a museum’s community.  This process will include:  knowing which stories are important to the community through dialogue and observation; offering volunteer opportunities to engage on different levels of desired participation[1]; using digital technology to catalogue and interpret a museum’s collection for visitors; and, designing the museum space (physical and virtual) to engage a range of ages, social groupings[2] (i.e. families, school groups, individual visitors, etc.) and diverse backgrounds.  Museums will use their space to have exhibitions that unite collections under “big ideas” which “ha[ve] fundamental meaningfulness that is important to human nature.”[3]  More of the collections will be used because they will rotate exhibition space more often.[4]  As communities adjust to seeing their “authority” grow in choices of exhibitions and accessibility to materials, we cannot predict the multitude of innovative ways future museums will expand their abilities to share what they house in ways that keep content and context.

As the shift continues in museums to open its collections and choice of themed exhibitions to their communities, a museum will be judged by how well it shares its authority and is authentic in its quest to honor differing worldviews.  Excellence in museum work will include identifying the community as stakeholders in the museum and including them in the museum’s strategic plan[5]; viewing objects through overarching themes which help visitors examine and question who they are[6];  and “…integrat[ing] assessments of progress into the day-to-day activities of the organization as an integral part of the planning and development process.”[7]  This cycle of acknowledging the diverse public as stakeholders, creating meaningful presentations, and self-evaluation will perpetuate a sustainable museum in the future.  Trust in these presentations will not be lost but gained.  Finding value in all people’s histories will help us as a whole, politically, to understand one another and communicate better with each other to address common world-wide concerns; such as, the environment, food, opportunities for all to have basic needs met, etc.  Museums, as well-respected authorities[8] and places of life-long learning, have the unique position to keep the community in touch with one another through these actions.  They can help people to know themselves as individuals within our complex society and, hopefully, set a course for a future they choose – not settle for.

Digital social networking will impact museums and their services by expanding the discussion space outside of the actual physical building[9].  The community could have the opportunity to comment, challenge, and add their own perspectives through the museum’s website.  Museum administrators can advocate their work through blogs and find political and financial support for their work[10].  Visitors may be able to personalize what they learned and share this with others on websites they create.[11]  Visitors using social media can tag, leave comments, and add to collective memories within museum exhibitions[12] to be stored by the museum for the community’s reference later.  The more voices heard, the more voices can be included.  It does not mean that the authority of the museum is questioned or even taken away.  Not a bit.  Hearing what more people think is a way to know one’s audience – where they are at intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally– and this knowledge can be used to scaffold learning in exhibitions, create engaging themes which one may never have thought of, learn oral histories or memories that would not surface without this “openness” and ease of dialogue, and help identify misunderstandings that inhibit peace – socially and environmentally.

Some impediments to sharing and providing access to materials lie within the museum itself.  If the wider community base is now considered “stakeholders”, traditional, key stakeholders may fear the changes that will occur.[13] They may have to let go of some programming to include newer programming.  Genoways and Ireland suggest that when the whole museum board and staff have worked on a strategic plan together to include the community as stakeholders, then referring back to the soundness of this plan should help overcome this fear.  Another impediment within museums is the challenge to shift from object-based museum work to culturally centered work with communities and their relations to the larger natural world.[14]  It requires an adaptation of thinking that people who have worked in museums for years may not be able to do initially.  The way to overcome this, I believe, would be to have a balance of newer museum staff that is able to think this way more easily; a strong commitment from the museum team to make this shift; and, baby steps through exhibition design and new programming which utilizes the collections, curators, etc. in new ways.  Successes in culturally centered work will encourage the continued evolution of museum practices[15].

A final impediment is museums’ tendencies to use outside consultants and outsource jobs.  This may impede the process of sharing the most significant information.   “A museum’s board, staff and supporters are potentially the real experts on the organization and what is needed – the challenge is to unlock their tacit knowledge and put it to use.”[16] The staff of a museum may not know how to implement getting more information on the web but they should know what they want on it.  When I had to design the educational webpage for the group exhibition in my Exhibitions class, I thought I would just e-mail my content to the web designer.  No.  I sat with him throughout the entire process to answer questions, clarify things I thought would be obvious, while he implemented, with ease, things I would need training on.  Finding the time, and realizing one must make the time, to work side by side with consultants and contractors to create the best possible communication devices for exhibitions and virtual museum spaces must be done.

“Deep in the soul of any organization that wishes to practice stewardship there must be a profound awareness that the gifts it receives are to be held in trust for the public good.”[17]  As museums shift to expand its acknowledged stakeholders, encourage them to communicate and engage with the museum on more and more levels, then the museum is actually becoming more of what it is meant to be as a steward of public goods.  The collections will grow to include more of what their diverse populations want.  The participating community will have the opportunity to feel increasingly like “experts” in their social history after personal reflection from exhibitions and conversations through social media and face-to-face interactions.

I believe there are many of us who are trying to grasp where we fit in and who we are in this multicultural society wherein the supremacy of the individual overshadows the connections we are capable of feeling in a more collective society.  Museums, by embracing their position within society as trusted, competent keepers and storytellers of cultural heritage, while honoring all of their community members in the mix of their archives and exhibitions, may find that their real power is not in what they know how to do but what they do with what they know.  Just like me and my little stool.  I didn’t know that I may look back and value it so greatly.  It’s just an object.  Museum staff know that nothing is just an object but material parts of our stories – some, extremely painful.  Knowing which ones to keep – even when the community is unaware of their potential meaning – and how to present the stories of our lives together with them, is the art of museum work.

Penny Dodds is a student in the Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program at the University of Memphis.  She can be reached at pdodds(a)memphis.edu


[1] Robert P. Connolly and Natalye B. Tate.  “Volunteers and Collections as Viewed from the Museum Mission Statement.”  Collections 7, no. 3 (2011): 327.

[2] John Reeve and Caroline Lang, et al., ed.  “Prioritizing Audience Groups” in The Responsive Museum:  Working with Audiences in the Twenty-first Century. (2006): 48.

[3] Beverly Serrell.  Exhibit Labels:  An Interpretive Approach.  (New York:  Alta Mira Press, 1996), 1.

[4] Yani Herreman.  “Display Exhibits and Exhibitions” in Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook. (Paris:  ICOM, 2004): 92.

in ICOM. (2004): 92.

[5]Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland.  “Strategic Planning” in Museum Administration:  An Introduction (Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2003):  81.

[6] Gerald McMaster, “Art History Through the Lens of the Present?”  Journal of Museum Education 34, no.3 (2009): 215.

[7] Lynn Dierking, “Being of Value:  Intentionally Fostering and Documenting Public Value.”  Journal of Museum Education 35, no. 1 (2010): 14.

[8] Sharon MacDonald.  “Expanding Museum Studies: An Introduction” in A Companion to Museum Studies.  (Malden, MA:  Blackwell Publishing, 2006): 4.

[9] Ole Sejer Iversen and Rachel Charlotte Smith.  “Experiences from the Digital Natives Exhibition.” Heritage and Social Media:  Understanding Heritage in a Participating Culture (Routledge, 2012): 127.

[10] Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied.  Speak Up for Museums:  The AAM Guide to Advocacy.  (American Association of Museums, 2011): 49.

[11] Reeve, 47.

[12] Herminia Din and Phyllis Hecht. The Digital Museum:  A Think Guide.  (American Association of Museums, 2007): 63.

[13] Genoways and Ireland, 77.

[14] Douglas Worts, “Measuring Museum Meaning: A Critical Assessment Framework.”  Journal of Museum Education 31,1, (2006): 42.

[15] M. C. Flagler and C. Catlin-Legutko and S. Klinger, ed.  “Interpreting Difficult Issues” in Interpretation:  Education, Programs, and Exhibits, Small Museum Toolbox, Vol.5. (New York: AltaMira Press, 2012): 29.

[16] Robert R. Janes.  Museums in a Troubled World. (Routledge, 2009): 15.

[17] B. Granger, C. Catlin-Legutko and S. Klinger, ed.  “The Good, the Best, and the IRS:  Museum Financial Management Solutions and Recommendations” in Financial Resource Development and Management. Small Museum Toolbox, vol. 2 (New York:  AltaMira Press, 2003): 2.

Report from the American Association of State and Local History Conference

I had a great time last week attending the American Association of State and Local History Annual Meeting in Oklahoma City.  The conference program listed an extensive number of sessions that focused on Museums and Public Outreach.  As well, given that the meetings were held in the very heart of Indian Country, a separate “Tribal Track” set of offerings dealt specifically with topics related to Native American cultural heritage.  You can check the entire program here.

A few of my highlights from the conference include:

  • A recent trend considered by many of the presenters is the shift from school group to family museum visits.  With school program funding cuts, we are keenly aware of this shift at the C.H. Nash Museum.  Sarah Watkins, Curator at the USS Constitution Museum, introduced the Family Learning Forum a project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  The site is packed with resources.  Of particular interest are the Success Stories that detail over 50 different family programs in place at museums across North America.  The Family Learning Forum website is a fantastic place to experience a variety of museum programs in history, art, archaeology and more.  Also, the Denver Art Museums resource link is one example of an institution with an abundance of downloadable guides and ideas for the family visit.
  • Over the past few years, museums and cultural heritage centers have begun using  innovative Scavenger Hunts and Geocaching for instructing on a range of topics.  Museums are increasingly going beyond the rote “find the answer in the exhibit text” type of scavenger hunt by incorporating role play and gaming.  For example Watson Adventure, Urban Interactive, and the Scavenger Hunt Ideas blog were resources presented by Rebecca Crawford of the USS Constitution Museum to consider when developing such activities.
  • The final session on the final day of the conference Of the Student, By the Student, and For the Student was excellent.  Journey Through Hallowed Ground from Monticello to Gettysburg and the Colorado Youth Summit were two examples where youth take part in service learning projects to experience history, archaeology, the environment and preservation.
  • I found the most stimulating session at the conference to be The Essential Frameworks of Informal Learning, presented by Beverly Sheppard, editor along with Kim Fortney of An Alliance of Spirit: Museum and School Partnerships.  Sheppard noted that only 9% of life is spent in formal learning settings.  A take-off point for the discussion was the Learning Science in Informal Environments: People Places and Pursuits from which the Six Strands of Science Learning are taken.  Sheppard reported that one year after a museum experience, visitors related less to exhibit facts and more to the affective quality of exposure to the “big idea” of the presentation.   The Informal Science website is a resource for further exploration on these areas of inquiry.  A lively discussion on experiences with innovative approaches to informal learning followed Sheppard’s presentation.

Overall the AASLH sessions were the most stimulating professional meetings on museum matters I attended in quite a while!

Were you there?  What are your highlights from the meetings?

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