Tag: visitor

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.

Why Fund Museum Professionals with Public Dollars?

For the past few years, half of the final exam in my Museum Practices graduate seminar in the Museum Studies Program at the University of Memphis consists of responding to the following:

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?

DStarkThis year, Deanna Stark a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology wrote a particularly compelling response that contained many excellent talking points and examples.

Why Should Governments Fund Museums?

by Deanna Stark

It is not the role of government to fund only those things that provide a return on investment; government must also fund things that provide quality of life. This basic tenet of the Keynesian approach was the prevailing thought prior to the emergence of neoliberal policies. Even in the current SRI budget model talks here on campus, President Rudd acknowledges that not every department makes money for the university. But those things—like the library—make us a university, and he has pledged to continue them. This is an excellent model from which to begin.

As a former teacher, I know with absolute certainty that cultural experiences outside the everyday routine are vitally important. They show children that there are so many possibilities in life beyond what they currently know. One of my favorite events was taking the children of Kingsbury Elementary School on a field trip to hear a symphony performance at the Cannon Center. To hear the discussion on the bus was both endearing and heartbreaking. “Where are we going?” “Are we in another state?” “Is that the ocean?” These kids, who live in Memphis, had never even been downtown to the Mississippi River.

When we walked into the Cannon Center, they were enthralled by the reflective metal sculpture outside, and had a wonderful time seeing themselves differently. Going inside was like visiting a castle; the audible ooh-ing and aah-ing was quite dear. But when it was time to get everyone to the restroom before the performance began, I understood that this was more than just a field trip. You see, the restrooms are really nice, and the children were concerned that they weren’t allowed to use them. They didn’t think they belonged there.

They reminded me of myself as a sophomore whose university choir was on tour in Western Europe. I couldn’t believe how busy Munich was or how beautiful the sound in Salzburg’s Dom Platz Cathedral was or how moving it was to actually visit the Anne Frank House. It made me truly aware of another whole world, and shaped my educational goals. Fifteen years later, I was in Germany doing research for my dissertation. Without that first experience, though, I doubt I would have really believed it was possible for me.

Later, as a mom to a brown son who was interested in dance but not in being bullied for it, I looked for ways to tend that flame. When the Alvin Ailey Dance Company came to town, I saw my chance. He saw handsome strong brown and black men dancing in a way he’d never seen before. His posture was magnificent for almost two weeks!

When my Dad got sick, he had to live in a nursing home. It was a terribly difficult time for me, but it was devastating for him. Luckily, he lived in a place with wonderful staff members who planned interesting activities for every single day of the year. The activity directors were a teacher’s dream; they presented a different theme each month, and planned all sorts of real and virtual activities. When it was France’s month, the residents got to take a virtual tour of the Louvre. (This, admittedly, wasn’t really my blue-collar Dad’s style; but the point is that it was a meaningful experience for many other people.)

Museums are unique among cultural experiences in that they teach us about human history. Immigrants who visit the Tenement Museum understand that they’re not alone. People who visit open-air museums like the Pink Palace Crafts Fair or even Colonial Williamsburg learn how things were made in the past—by hand. When visitors go to the National Civil Rights Museum or the United States Holocaust Museum, they understand a bit of what people endured.

Museums bring us great joy, allow us to wonder, and fuel our ambitions. I’ve seen children’s eyes light up when they figure out how something works at a children’s museum. (The Anchorage Museum has an amazing children’s section that spans two floors.) And if you’ve never been around an entire class of 6th graders at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, you have missed the delight of seeing a young girl realize that she could really truly be an astronaut like Dr. Mae Jemison. Does anyone ever go to the Field Museum and not have a Jethro-in-the-big-city moment upon seeing the T-Rex skeleton?

I’ve spent an hour staring at the intricacy of the border surrounding George Seurat’s Sunday in the Park with George in the Art Institute of Chicago, and I’ve marveled at the beauty and strength that Diego Rivera was able to paint in his large Mexico City murals. Seeing so many Van Gogh paintings in one place was a highlight of my last trip to Europe. (I know the Dutch Masters are more high brow, but Van Gogh’s paintings, especially some of the darker, starker works, appeal to me much more.) I’ve also been absolutely mesmerized by both Georgia O’Keeffe’s clean-lined cityscapes and her intricate floral paintings.

For me, the reason tax dollars should pay museum salaries is a simple one: museums enhance our quality of life. Whether they inspire us, cause us to reflect, make us laugh, or light the spark of lifelong learning, museums cannot be replaced. If museums are not good investments in a country’s population, I can’t imagine what would be.

Deanna Stark can be contacted at dmstark(at)memphis.edu

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?

Cultural Heritage Co-Creation from the Bottom Up

quipu

Student adding her string to the class quipu as their History Professor Leodan Abanto Alejo Valerio looks on.

I just read a volume of papers on creativity in museums, visitor experiences, and so forth. Despite the plethora of measurement outcomes for visitors touching pieces, engaging with staff, talking among themselves, voting for their favorites, and so forth, I found no mention of a visitor being asked “what are your needs and wants from this institution.” That is, the papers reflected what professionals determined as an appropriate set of goals and then a set of measures of how well the visitor experience achieved those goals.

The papers reflect the trend that to prioritize the visitor experience is often simply making a decision to value the visitor on an equal or greater level than the object.  The museum staff then generate a set of proposals on how this engagement might occur. This approach seems the antithesis of John Cotton Dana’s 1917 mandate in The New Museum to “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.” Explicit in this mandate is engaging directly with the community to determine those needs.

I had a couple of interesting lessons recently on Dana’s point. I previously posted how an article published on the engagement between the Southwest Memphis community and the C.H. Nash Museum along with printed banners honoring military veterans were highly valued by the community members. In conjunction with faculty from the University of Memphis, this summer our Museum conducted another round of oral history interviews that will be archived at southwestmemphis.com.  The important point about these projects is that they resulted from the expressed needs of community members.

I emphasize here that I do not mean to take a holier-than-thou position on our community outreach.  I am consistently surprised at which projects resonate with the community.  But through experience, I am coming more and more to act on the direct community input at the very start of project development.  We then filter the community input through the mandates of our museum mission statement.

This process holds true in my recent collaborations in Hualcayán, Peru. On the PIARA Team, my primary responsibility this summer is beginning the process for the development of a cultural center or museum for the small village of 400, a 2-hour drive on an unpaved road from the next larger community. To that end, I have scoured the literature on small indigenous museums and cultural centers for models and have found very few. One of the better resources is Sustainable Cultural Tourism: Small Scale Solutions by Susan M. Guyette, a rather encyclopedic approach to the concept.

Last year I asked Rebecca Bria, the founder and co-director of PIARA, if the Hualcayán community really wanted a museum or were they really more interested in economic, educational, and health care development. She emphatically responded that through her five-year engagement with the community, they expressed that a museum, a physical structure to showcase their heritage was a primary need. Rebecca’s assessment came through quite clear in the discussion with the Hualcayán teachers I posted about last week. The teachers want a written record of Hualcayán generated.

Another example of meeting a community expressed need came last week in a classroom project with Hualcayán high school students carried out by Karissa Deiter and Hannah McAllister. They adapted the quipu exercise from Archaeologyland for this project. After introducing the importance of artifacts in telling the stories of the past, Karissa and Hannah used quipus as an example of how past societies recorded information. Each student then created their own quipu string that recorded their age, numbers of siblings, and so forth.  The project was originally designed so that each student would create their own quipu, yet the teacher and students decided that the individual strings would be tied to a unified class quipu. Minimally, the quipu will live on at the school and ideally will become in “artifact” in the community’s museum set to open on August 2nd. After the quipu demonstration, the history teacher decided that the next project was to develop a timeline of the entire Hualcayán community. To that end Karissa and other members of the PIARA team will lead the high school students on a tour of the archaeological site, the research lab, and more.

As I noted in last week’s post, from the very inception, the in-class presentations developed for this summer in Hualcayán were based on the previously expressed needs of the teachers and community.  The PIARA team put together projects that were then modified and further developed on the spot by the community members.  Ultimately, the product is tailored to the needs of the visitor/student/community member and not the museum.  This approach strikes me as a method that emphasizes a bottom-up method for co-creation.

What are your experiences with this type of co-creation process?

Co-Creation: The Messiness of Being Relevant

This past Saturday temperatures in Memphis were in the upper 90s to insure a pretty light turn out for our regular Volunteer Day activities at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa – especially since we advertised a focus for the month on outdoor landscaping and gardening.  In the end, we had a great day.

CarmelloRachel

Carmello Burks and Rachel Clark planting the Butterfly Garden.

First, Rachel Clark from my Applied Archaeology and Museums class this past semester had proposed that we install a butterfly garden in the area that in Chucalissa’s pre-NAGPRA days housed the display of human remains excavated from the site. Over the past few weeks Rachel and I discussed the sensitive logistics for the proposed installation.  The garden could not intrude below the ground surface in any way, given the very real possibility of remaining human burials in the vicinity.  We also discussed installing a panel on a nearby kiosk to explain why the human burials were no longer exhibited at Chucalissa.  A butterfly garden and informational display on the importance of NAGPRA and respecting the lives of those who built the 1000 year-old Native American earthwork complex seemed fitting and in line with the wishes of site development expressed by contemporary Native Americans of the Midsouth.

Second, on Saturday we also made arrangements for an Eagle Scout Project that will replace a dilapidated bridge along our nature trail.  Eagle Scout projects are always a negotiated process, matching our museums’ needs with the ability, interest, and motivation of the individual Scout in tandem with Eagle project criteria.  The bridge was in desperate need of replacement and the Scout chose the project from a half-dozen possibilities.

RG-and-Rev

Reverand George Royal and Mr. Robert Gurley working on the Urban Garden this past Saturday

Third, on Saturday members of the Westwood Neighborhood Association were out to tend the urban garden they planted for the third consecutive year.  The idea for the garden came from an offhand comment by a community member during a focus group on exhibit hall upgrades for our museum.  One community member, the recently deceased Mr. Ralph Thompson, noted that the prehistoric agriculture exhibit at Chucalissa reminded him of traditional foods grown in his youth.  He lamented the lack of a suitable public space for such a garden today.  We immediately noted that we had 40 acres of protected space to consider for an urban garden, and the project took off.  The garden is a source of pride for many community members.  The participants this past Saturday, Mr. Robert Gurley and Rev. George Royal told me about how good it is for the body and soul just to get out in the sun and do physical labor.  The urban garden produced a bountiful harvest in the past two years shared throughout the community.

Three sisters

Freedom Prep Students creating hills for the Three Sisters Garden on Earth Day in April.

Fourth, I was itching to spend the day out in the heat and humidity.  I am one of those folks where the temperature and humidity never get too high.  I spent the morning weeding in our Three Sisters garden, planted in individual hills typical of Native American cultures in the late prehistoric period.  The plan for the garden was originally designed by Carrie Havrilla as a Green Internship project at the University of Memphis.  This year we planted the garden as an April Earth Day activity with community members and families taking responsibility for individual hills.  Fifteen students from Freedom Prep Academy, a local charter school, also participated in sculpting the hills and planting the corn, beans, and squash.

family three sisters

A young sister preparing the Three Sisters Garden on Earth Day

On Saturday afternoon I looked out on the open space of the prehistoric earthwork complex and thought about the three new gardens and bridge replacement.  None of the projects were part of our strategic plan except that we seek to be an institution that is relevant to community needs and provides co-creative experiences.  In all four of the projects the “public” whether Boy Scouts, students of all ages, or community members are creating projects of their choosing in a space that is publicly owned and administered.  All of the projects fall well within the scope of our institutional mission and the expressed interests of our community stakeholders.  I reflected how this co-creation process is messy, nonlinear, but highly relevant to expressed community interests.  The process also flows directly from one of my favorite quotes in the New Museum by John Cotton Dana, written nearly 100 years ago: “Learn what aid the community needs: fit the museum to those needs.”

 

 

Moving Past a 1992 Model for Community Engagement

Morton museum

Flowing from last week’s post, I thought a good bit about engagement and the questions posed by Jordan and Allison in their reading journals for my Applied Archaeology and Museums class.  They asked about what if the public does not respond to a museum’s attempts at engagement.  I had a bit of an “aha” moment in my response when listening to a MOOC lecture from The History and Future of (mostly) Higher Education given by Cathy Davidson who teaches at Duke University and co-directs the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge.  In a lecture titled Teaching Like it’s 1992 Dr. Davidson noted that on April 22, 1993, the Internet went pubic and became commercially available, yet teaching in higher education largely remains locked in a pre-Internet mode of operation.   The top down model where a student sits in a lecture room of 50 – 300 and listens and takes notes as a professor delivers Powerpoint lectures and administers scantron tests is simply an inefficient use of everyone’s time and money.  That same information is very likely available on-line through a MOOC or other resource.

More importantly, drawing on a constructivist theory, Davidson wrote:

I like to joke that in 1992 if I hurt my elbow, I would go to my doctor and find out why my elbow was hurting so much. Now I go to ihurtmyelbow.com, and find out what everybody else who’s hurt themselves says about the best way to treat it, what I might do, and if I’m going to go to my doctor, I now go armed with lots of information.  In fact, last year, the AMA did a study and found out that 75% of American doctors say that they now ask their patients what they’ve learned online before they begin their treatment.

This approach to engagement and knowledge is important to archaeology, museums, and community outreach.  For example, one week ago I visited the Morton Museum of Collierville for the first time.   My purpose was to discuss a student project to install a small exhibit on the prehistory of Collierville.  Housed in the 1873 building of the former Collierville Christian Church, the two-year old museum has a very impressive on-line collection available for viewing.  Visitors who walk through the doors of the Morton Museum for the first time may have a good feel for what they are going to see, and know quite a bit more about Collierville from visiting the website first.  When I spoke to Museum Director, Ashley Carver, she made clear the Museum’s decision to invest in a digital and on-site future.

There is a core issue that ties the Morton Museum back to Dr. Davidson’s Teaching Like It’s 1992 example.  The issue is not the technology but the paradigm of operation.  I liken this to a model of teaching engagement from Parker Palmer’s book The Courage To Teach.  He illustrates two models: a linear hierarchical model where the point of engagement is focused on the teacher and an interactive model where the engagement is focused on the great thing under consideration.

Now the curmudgeon might respond that what the Morton Museum is doing is nothing new.  Public libraries have been around in the U.S. since Benjamin Franklin donated his books to a facility in 1778.  The Morton Museum is doing nothing more than putting their collection online.  The curmudgeon’s observation is key.  I often quote, from Clay Shirky’s book Cognitive Surplus, where he (2010:98) writes:

Interpretations that focus on technology miss the point: technology enables those behaviors, but it doesn’t cause them . . . no one wants e-mail for itself, any more than anyone wants electricity for itself; rather, we want the things electricity enables.

Today, the Morton Museum of Collierville has not chosen to digitize a large portion of their collection simply because they can, rather, leaving preservation issues aside, they are betting that the folks of Collierville and beyond, already interested in the history of that town, have a desire to access their curated information through an online search.  The virtual visitor will also find out about the beautiful space of this cultural heritage venue occupies, along with the exhibits, programs, and resources they offer on-site.  In so doing, the Museum becomes more relevant to the public who pay the taxes to fund the institution.

As a small county/town institution, I don’t think the Morton Museum is unique but part of a growing trend.  I am quite intrigued that from small institutions like the Muscatine History and Industry Center in Muscatine Iowa to monster-sized places like the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis with their Open Field, cultural heritage institutions such as the Morton Museum are leading the way in engaging and being relevant to the communities that they serve.  These institutions seem the best shot at having cultural heritage venues also function as third places.

Museums like the Morton Museum in Collierville provide an excellent and direct response to the questions of engagement that Jordan and Allison posed.

Applying Archaeology with the Public

excaThis semester I am teaching Applied Archaeology and Museums at the University of Memphis.  This course addresses my primary research interests – the preservation and presentation of cultural heritage and its use as an empowerment tool for the public.  Since I last taught the course two years ago, the resources for this empowerment tool multiplied exponentially.  A good bit of the growth comes from digital technology put in the service of human needs.  (Note this understanding of technology, well articulated by folks such as Clay Shirky, is at odds with the neo-Luddite perspective.  See here for my rant on all that.)

Access to the products of digital technology is not always simple or readily available.  Jason Baird Jackson posted an interesting piece on the high costs for accessing academic publications in a growing open access world.  The post includes a link to The Scholar’s Copyright Addendum Engine that allows an author to retain specific distribution rights for their published work.  Sherpa is a searchable database that lists distribution rights by journal that authors retain for open access distribution.  Here I am less interested in discussing specific open-access issues, and more some of the current venues and perspectives in which cultural heritage information is presented to the public.

On the digital end:

A common point for these new opportunities is that even in my low-tech and financially strapped museum existence, all are practical possibilities where the primary limitation is not technology but labor to produce the products – a situation that can circle back to volunteerism and community service learning.

A second common point is that products of these technologies are accessible to a public with a wi-fi connection and basic internet surfing skills.

However, when considering the products that will live in real-time contexts created by students in my Applied Archaeology and Museums course this semester – after all, isn’t that what applied is all about? – I am concerned that the products be relevant to public interests and needs.  Consider:

  • I had a back-and-forth with a recent graduate of our applied anthropology program who lamented that she felt well-prepared to write lengthy academic reports but her employers really only wanted the punch line impact statements, something her academic training left her unprepared to produce.
  • I am working with a student who is developing an exhibit for a county museum based on a several thousand piece surface collection curated in our museum repository for the past 30 years.    The intern was excited by my preaching about the need for the exhibit to be relevant to the public, including avocational archaeologists who visit the museum.  To that end, we discussed how the exhibit could interpret prehistoric trade and exchange, site function, and time period of occupation – all based on typical artifacts collected from the land surface after spring plowing or a good rain.  However, as a well-trained anthropology undergraduate, the student was reasonably obsessed with making certain she typed her projectile points accurately.  Her training made it hard to accept that the primary public interest of similar shaped points, from the same time period, manufactured at the same location, likely used for the same function, was not the correct typological name ascribed by an archaeologist several thousand years after the tools production.  An exhibit that is not typology focused is not “dumbing down” to the public, but rather, functionally interpretive and different.  That is a lesson from our co-creation with avocational archaeologists.

Co-creation with the public is a critical part of making resources relevant – whether digital or real-time.  Co-creation has become a buzzword in museum contexts for the past number years, as popularized by Nina Simon in her Participatory Museum volume.   My colleague Elizabeth Bollwerk and I have organized a fifteen paper session Co-Creation, the Public and the Archaeological Record  for the Society for American Archaeology Annual Meetings this April in Austin, Texas.  The session abstract is:

Co-creation in public archaeology is a means to engage and empower citizens to become stakeholders of the archaeological record. In museum contexts Simon (2010:278) writes that the purpose of co-creative community projects is “to give voice and be responsive to the needs and interests of local community members; to provide a place for community engagement and dialogue; and to help participants develop skills that will support their own individual and community goals.” The papers in this session discuss a variety of recent archaeological projects that implement the co-creative model. The contributions demonstrate how co-creation moves beyond “hands-on” educational experiences or typical volunteer programs because participants are invited to play an active role in designing and constructing the final products to address their needs and interests. Co-creation aligns with current emphases on informal, life-long, and free-choice learning models that foster public engagement in the preservation of cultural heritage resources. The papers in this session also explore the benefits and challenges of using this method and provide examples of best practices for implementation. Finally, these papers speak to the impact of co-creation on the discipline and how the process increases the ability of archaeology to contribute to debates on contemporary issues.

We are pleased that Carol McDavid, a pioneer in this process, including her work at the Levi-Jordan Plantation (link to 1998 website) will serve as a discussant for the session.

How do you envision co-creation in archaeology?

History Kicks Ass – Reaching Out to the Public

Nadine

Nadine Korte – photo credit: Vivian Doan

I have been hooked on Nadine Korte’s History Kicks Ass! blog for quite a while.  She posts images of everything from the 1957 Valentine’s Day Western Union Telegraph from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to his wife Coretta Scott King to a 3000 year old Egyptian papyrus of an antelope and a lion playing a board game to a letter from JFK to his mother asking her to stop writing letters to Krushchev without his permission.  The posted images are accompanied by brief descriptions and links for context and source.  On quite a few occasions I have found myself going down the rabbit hole of the associated links.  One of the most engaging aspects of History Kicks Ass is the focus on the day-to-day life of the famous, infamous, and the unknown from prehistory to the present day.  The content of her blog is precisely what I find gets folks hooked on the need for presenting and preserving their own cultural heritage.  Nadine graciously responded to my interview questions about her blog.  Her vision for the role public history can play in our culture is exciting!  

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and why you started the History Kicks Ass! Blog?

I trained in history at McGill University, but after my Masters was completed I was discouraged by the gap that seemed to exist between academic history and the general public so I started teaching.  In the province of Quebec, we have a unique system of colleges called CEGEPs that students attend tuition-free in-between high school and university for two years.  In return, students have one year shaved off each of their high school and university programs.  It’s a unique system meant to promote and prepare students for higher education.  I’ve been teaching at Champlain College St. Lambert near Montreal, Quebec, Canada for almost a decade now and absolutely love it!  It is a real eye-opener when you teach a mandatory general history course to a student who knows they’ll never go into history.  I think we, as historians, tend to get in this cycle of promoting history only to people that love history.  It’s been so much fun over the past decade to teach history to those who may not like it and to try to convince them history is worthwhile.  I started the blog because I am always bugging my friends by posting history-related stuff on Facebook, so this was kind of a way to give them a break and ‘get the history out’ by posting it in its own, proper venue!  I just think history is awesome, but I understand that many people consider it the most boring subject in the world, so I wanted to use the blog as a way to convince people that it’s not that bad.

Where does the name of your blog History Kicks Ass! come from?

I’ve always firmly believed that history is one of the best ways to learn about humans, human nature, and the human condition!  I’m not saying everyone should be historians but that learning history can help everyone understand more about the life they’ll end up living.  Unfortunately, history is taught to most of us in such a nationalistic way it makes us forget that history can help us learn more about ourselves as a planet.  The longer I study history, the more I realize its potential to teach empathy.  You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to study their history and it is almost impossible to do this without gaining a bit more understanding that humans, no matter the culture or time period, have something in common. The world needs a bit more compassion, empathy, and understanding – in my opinion – and studying history is a great solution.

Your posts cover everything from prehistoric jewelry to historic documents related to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  How do you decide what to post?  

To be honest, whatever interests me!  I love historical documents, images, and artefacts. Whenever I see something that interests me to the point where I would text it to someone is when I post about it!  The stuff I like the most is anything that reminds me that humans, no matter the time period or culture, have things in common.  For example, the photo I posted earlier this month of a baby in a walker at the turn of the century is one of my favorites, because my one-year old just learned to walk and it reminded me that the pride I’m feeling is what parents have experienced for thousands of years.

Do you have a favorite subject area?

Ancient Rome!  It’s what I teach and there are times when I think I live, eat, sleep, and breathe ancient history.  But one of the reasons I started this blog was to learn more about things I was not familiar with, so that is why you see so many posts about modern times.

Your posts reflect the wealth of materials that are now available online.  What are some of your favorite resources for these materials?

Anything that has good photos and comes from a trusted source.  I find that the majority of history on the internet is unsourced, unverified, and most of the time totally out of context.  Whenever I see a photo floating around Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc., I’m always wondering: Who took that photo?  What is that artifact made out of?  What year is that from?  And that stuff never accompanies the photo.  So I usually start my posts by looking through databases put together by academics, archivists, librarians, and governments.  My favorite – just because of its size and advanced image quality – is the Library of Congress.  Americans have invested so much money to put their history online and the results are really impressive!  By comparison, the Canadian government has very little digitized content available online.  We just commemorated the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and I was so disappointed by the lack of online presence for the celebrations.  I would love to be able to fix this!  My other favorite places to look for material are museum websites, my favorite being the British Museum, the Smithsonian, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Also, the McCord Museum here in Montreal has a great website that focuses on social history.

Some cultural heritage professionals continue to argue that given the amount of documentation and collections available online, folks are less inclined to visit museums, libraries, and archives.  How do you respond?  Do you visit museums?

I would say emphatically that there is no need to worry!  The people that take the time to go through museum websites are not the types of people who will be discouraged from going to museums.  Unfortunately, I think most museums assume that their website’s audience is the general public. Really the audience is the general public who are already interested in history.  Ask your friends how many times they have visited a museum website for something besides the opening hours and you will see what I mean. Asides from that, I cannot emphasize enough how I believe history belongs to people and should be a public good.  I understand that museums need and use the money they receive from ticket sales.  Yet that has to be balanced with the goal of museums: to educate the public about history, culture, and art. Museums can cost as much as $20 a ticket and for many this is not economically feasible. I am a well-educated professional and I still have trouble affording my tickets into museums and the trips to different cities in order to visit them.  For me, the online databases are a way for me to supplement the time, effort and money it takes to see all the museums on my bucket-list.

What post or type of post on History Kicks Ass! gets the biggest response?

Ancient Egypt always gets the most response, hands down!  As well as anything that is very relatable, for example hundred-year old photos that show situations that are still common today.  What discourages me are the types of posts that receive the least response; if I post about civil rights, discrimination, or inequality I hear crickets.  At first I was so upset because perhaps this meant people don’t think these things are important.  But then again, I think people just prefer positive posts.

What do you consider to be the biggest success of your blog to date?

I still cannot believe anyone reads it, to be honest, because I am so used to boring all of my friends and family with my ‘fun’ history facts!  If I made one person who does not really like history go “Hey, that’s interesting” then I am ecstatic.

What future directions to you intend to take the History Kicks Ass! blog?  Do you have any words of wisdom for others to enhance their blogging efforts?

I have no plans so far.  I’m just enjoying using the blog to learn more about what I love.  As for words of advice the only that I can offer to writers is to chose topics that you wish to learn about, not always ones that you know about.  This way, during those times when no one reads your post (and it will happen) at least you learned something from it.

Community Engagement and Open Authority

afv

For the past month the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa held Art for Voice camps.  The one-week sessions were age-graded and free of charge.  Each group contained a good mix of students representative of the different neighborhoods, racial and economic backgrounds of Memphis.  A concern in the original stage of the Camp planning was to stay within the Museum’s Mission Statement.  We did not want the Camp simply to be an activity to increase visitation. Instead, the Camp activities drew on the collections curated at the Museum as educational and creative resources. The Camp directly aligned with our mission as a participatory experience for area residents.

This past Saturday, Art for Voice Camp creator Penny Dodds and I had a conversation evaluating this “pilot” program and to consider the next steps.  Several important themes emerged in our conversation.

Opening Authority –  A critical part of the Camp activities involved our curated collections and existing programs.  Besides a drum circle and throwing darts with atlatls, campers viewed Museum exhibits from the Native American and African American traditional cultures of the area.  Based on these experiences, the campers decided the types of objects they wished to use as models to create their artworks.  The campers selected suitable objects from our Hands-on Archaeology lab and materials drawn by our Collections Manager from the Museum’s curated educational collections.

Although not web-based, these processes are in line with Lori Philips initial discussions of open authority in museums and her more recent article published in Curator.  The campers worked with cultural materials of their choosing.  With guidance from both a collections manager and artist, the campers ultimately made their own interpretive and creative decisions.  As I watched the Camp compilation video where the young artists explained the process, I was reminded of the “aha” moment I had some 20 years ago when validating a 5th grade girl’s interpretation of Poverty Point headless figurines.  That is, yes there is a difference between the no touching and static early 1960s introduction to museums of my youth and our 2013 campers throwing darts with atlatls and handling artifacts.  But more importantly, the 2013 campers were not just expected to come up with the correct answer or perform the correct action to be rewarded.  Rather, they engaged in a process where multiple truths and possibilities are considered, along the lines of Parker Palmer’s Interactive Model of the Great Thing.

Leadership Development in Museums – None of the principal players in the Art for Voice Camp were regular staff members of the C.H. Nash Museum.  Penny, the Camp’s initial creator, led the experience.  But by the last week of the Camp, the leadership expanded.  Two of the high school students who participated in either the first or second week of the Camp, participated in weeks three, four, and five by assisting with the younger aged sessions.  In fact, their transition from campers to leaders was critical to accommodate overflow campers originally placed on a waiting list.  As well, two parents of the campers provided their expertise to the sessions by leading drumming circles, sharing their knowledge of traditional medicinal plants growing along the nature trail that campers explored, and general mentoring.  The Museum’s summer intern, Lindsey Pender lent her video editing ability and photographic skills to the project.  When Penny and I discussed the next steps yesterday afternoon, we recognized that we started with one camp “leader” but ended the session with five identified “leaders” who are anxious to expand on the pilot program.

Of importance as well, the youth campers were given authority during the Camp to lead on decisions about free-time learning activities.  For example, during one week of the Camp, the participants composed a musical composition that they performed for their parents at the end of the day using the Museum’s plethora of percussion instruments.

Empowerment –  The Art for Voice camp brought a very public opportunity for empowerment to the fore at our Museum.  As an institution of the University of Memphis, we are quite mindful and intentional to empower our interns and graduate assistants.  In the past several years, we aggressively moved to empower volunteers incorporating an explicitly participatory museum model into our mission.  The Art for Voice Camp, by its very nature, required the proactive empowerment of the participants.  Given the parameters of the Camp, participants were required to process, think through, and create from within.

Third Place – All of the above feeds into the Third Place concept on which I posted before.   Unfortunately, much of the Third Place discussion in museums gets stalled in a rather dogmatic application of Oldenburg’s original concept.  As Natalye Tate concludes in a recent synthesis “. . . the Third Place as Oldenburg envisioned is not necessarily an appropriate programming tool for museums, does not contend that it should be ignored.  Understanding the elemental nature of the Third Place offers museum practitioners a toolkit to pull from and adapt to their various sets of resources, needs and environments.”

In our conversation on Saturday, Penny noted that she had been mindful throughout the process to solicit input from the Camp participants and their parents for ideas on using the Museum in the future as a space for more projects based in curated collections, exhibits, and the 40-acre natural environment.

If one moves beyond an obsession ala the Seinfeld episode The Pitch that a Third Place has to be about nothing, but that it can be about multiple somethings, at Chucalissa we find that many of the attributes that might be ascribed to a Third Place are now in place.  In addition to the general conviviality of our picnic grounds and hiking trails, our ability to creatively incorporate volunteers, art camps, host community meetings, Black History month events, training sessions for Literacy Midsouth, and a community garden – all contain elements of the Third Place and remains within the limits of our mission statement.  At the same time while expanding the opportunities for our more traditional interpretive functions, we bring more of our community voices to the same table in dialog.  This process is in direct alignment with the International Council of Museum’s definition of museum as:

a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.

How do you envision museum’s opening authority and co-creative processes?

Creating a Participatory Archaeological Experience in Maryland

Kim Popetz

Kimberley Popetz

This week’s post is an interview with Kimberley Popetz, the Director of Education at Maryland’s Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum.  Kim directs an innovative, intensive and engaging volunteer and public outreach program at her Park and Museum.  I found Kim’s interview responses very informative on multiple levels.  The breadth of Kim’s career path is informative for today’s cultural heritage professional. Kim’s work also exemplifies the interdisciplinary potential of archaeology and museum studies. The Jefferson Patterson program demonstrates the value of long-term development with a diversity of public engagement.  And if you want to experience the very essence of a Participatory Museum, read Kim’s answer to the last interview question below!

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your responsibilities at the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum?

My goal when graduating from school was to find a job that would let me teach about archaeology outside of a classroom. When looking for that job, a kind soul who interviewed me said that I had more education experience than any other candidate. But, while I had a Master’s degree in anthropology, I had no practical experience in archaeology so they couldn’t hire me. I set out to fix this discrepancy by landing CRM jobs while also working in museums part-time. After working in CRM for many years, I turned my attention fully to the museum world and succeeded in reaching my goal when I obtained my current position.

Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum (JPPM) is Maryland’s State Museum of Archaeology. As Director of Education I oversee the planning and implementation of our public and school programs including our Discovering Archaeology, Tidewater Lifeways and Kids’ Work programs; assist in exhibit development; develop and run long and short-term outreach programs in the local schools; develop and promote our traveling trunks program; assist with public events, speaker series and workshops; and create and run our docent program. Because we have a fairly small staff I also oversee visitor services and do development work to support my programs.

How are volunteers recruited and retained in your public archaeology programs?

Odd as it may seem from the outside, I don’t run the public archaeology program at the museum. The land for our facility was donated because of the large number of archaeological sites contained on it—we have approximately 70 known archaeological sites dating from 9,000 years ago through the early 20th century. Because of this we have someone on staff dedicated to running the public excavations as well of supervising any other sort of excavation on Park land. His name is Ed Chaney and here’s how he answered this question:

We use archaeology volunteers in two different ways, so there are two answers to this question.  For our formal, two-month long, annual Public Archaeology Program, we recruit volunteers in many ways.  We advertise on our website, in the newsletter of the Archeological Society of Maryland, in local newspapers, and in the outreach material produced for Maryland’s Archeology Month each April.  We generate flyers that are distributed at our Visitor Center and the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab, located on JPPM grounds), at special events, and at local libraries, etc.  We get positive word-of-mouth advertising – for example, on home-school websites.  As for retaining these volunteers (and really, we think of them more as participants in an educational program than as strictly volunteers), we mainly work at giving them a quality experience.  Because the program has been running since 1996, we have developed a core of certain groups – camps, classes, etc. – that return year after year, and this also holds true for some families and individuals. Every year we also have many new participants who join us for a single day to see what archaeology is all about.

During the rest of the year outside of the Public Archaeology Program, the MAC Lab uses a small number of volunteers. That number is kept low because we have a limited amount of work appropriate for volunteer assistance. We recruit these volunteers through announcements in the newsletter of the Archeological Society of Maryland, and through the efforts of the JPPM Volunteer Coordinator. As a general rule, we try to find off-season volunteers who have already done archaeology before, or who are college student working on a degree in an archaeology-related field. For those who don’t meet those criteria, we encourage them to participate in the summer Public Archaeology Program so they can figure out if they really are interested in archaeology, and so we can evaluate if they will be able to help us the rest of the year. To retain off-season volunteers who are doing a good job for us, we invite them to staff events (such as our luncheons and holiday parties) and to the annual JPPM Volunteer Awards dinner, and we try to work with them to find projects that are both interesting to them and beneficial to us.

river

Kimberley and docent seining at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland.

One of your public archaeology projects involved high school students using curated collections to create exhibits for public libraries and museums.  How did you recruit students for this project?

We’ve been working for over three years with a local high school teacher’s archaeology class. Jeff Cunningham’s classes have researched and created three cell phone audio tours for JPPM on topics ranging from the Native Americans that used to inhabit the land along the Patuxent River in Maryland to the War of 1812. Last year he came to me and asked if I would be willing to help him create the content for a class called Historical Investigations. The idea for the class was to pull together a group of students really interested in history who wanted to gain deep knowledge about one or two specific historical moments as opposed to the broad overview they receive in their regular history classes. The students had to be invited to take the class by Jeff or recommended to him by another teacher or guidance counselor.

How has your Museum’s outreach to the general public evolved over the past few years?

More and more we’ve come to recognize that we have to work much harder to involve the local community. We’ve been focusing on creating a wider variety of programs that appeal to a broader spectrum of the public. Our marketing coordinator has really stepped up her efforts to make sure the community is aware of our offerings both by taking advantage of the various social media out there but also by reaching out more to local groups and creating word of mouth advertising. We’ve made large strides in making our facility welcoming and open on a more regular basis than in the past, and we’ve begun collaborating regularly with other community players to create exhibits and presentations that go to the people, instead of asking them to come to us. Lastly, we work hard to listen to what the community needs and wants before creating programs so that we know that we’re filling a gap.

Having said all of this, I think the biggest way we’ve drawn in the wider community is actually through our project based school programs. We celebrate the student’s achievements with openings that showcase their hard work and bring relatives, friends and community members who were involved in the process to our site. Because we’re fairly isolated on a small peninsula, we often get comments at these events about how wonderful the facility and grounds are and how folks didn’t know we were here, but will definitely be back.

What do you consider your most successful recent efforts in public outreach or community engagement?

In a little less than a month, I hope that I’ll be able to say that the final project for the current high school class will be one of our most successful efforts.  In October, we presented the students with the opportunity to document and present objects that haven’t been touched since their excavation in 1980. At that time, a new Federal Reserve Bank was under construction in Baltimore, MD. Construction crews began uncovering multiple archaeological features and archaeologists were called in to salvage the information about a Baltimore neighborhood that had long since been destroyed. It was a wet cold February when the archaeologists were called in and they were given no more than two months to save what they could before the construction equipment went back to work. Over twenty features were uncovered and the documentation and artifacts associated with those features has sat untouched until now.

As the state repository for artifacts, we’ve had this collection sitting on our shelves for over a decade (our collection storage wasn’t built until the mid-90s and state collections were housed in multiple locations all over the state up to that point) but haven’t had the manpower to do any sort of research. Patricia Samford, the Director of the MAC Lab, chose one feature, a privy, for the students to examine. They have cataloged all of the artifacts, researched the neighborhood, looked at maps, visited the National Archives for more extensive assistance, mended artifacts and done minimum vessel counts among other things. They have each chosen an artifact or aspect of the site for further research and they will be the authors of the final report on the feature that will be archived along with the collection. They are currently designing an exhibit to share with the community what they’ve learned. The exhibit will be on display in our local public library for 10 weeks beginning in May. We’ll launch the exhibit with a party open to the community, to celebrate what they have accomplished.

How has the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum incorporated social media and a “virtual” presence in public outreach and education?

Two years ago we launched a section of our website devoted to kids in hopes of making archaeology more accessible to people who can’t make it to our physical site but wanted to learn more. We offered prizes to encourage people to offer feedback and make the pages better. We also have a Pinterest page where you can see things related to all different aspects of the facility. In a couple of weeks we’re planning to use the Pinterest page as part of a professional development workshop for teachers by asking them to submit new ideas for teaching elementary students about the War of 1812 that others can use in their classrooms. We use our Facebook page to promote programs and events at our site but also to pass along articles, blog posts and other information we think our followers would find interesting. We love to see the photos that visitors post after attending a program, event, or just visiting the grounds.  We also have a Facebook page.

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned over the years with the volunteer program?

I created our 10 week training course for our docents and have found them to be some of the most interesting and enthusiastic people. I have learned so much from them that it’s hard to distill it down to one or two ideas. I would say that museum staff should really take the time to listen to their volunteers. Every year we have a wrap up meeting at the end of our busy fall season. We provide a homemade dinner for all of the docents and then ask them to give us some tough love and let us know what worked and what didn’t work and how we can make the docent program work better for them. We also ask for their input on our programming and events and what they would like to see in the future. Their answers often surprise me and allow me to see what we do in a different light. We try to follow up on as much of their feedback as possible. Some of the ideas they suggest aren’t workable because of various time or physical constraints, but we have had some great successes following through on other ideas.

What do you consider to be the biggest obstacle in developing effective educational outreach?

Finding the staff time and funding to execute a program well. Compared to many small museums, I have a big staff—three full time educators plus myself. But we have a commensurately large program and have been pushing ourselves to offer and do more every year. Making time to find funding that could potentially bring on additional staff is the only way I can see right now to expand our offerings into new areas without cutting some of the programming we already do. We did this recently when we created a new traveling trunk called Through the Perilous Fight—Life during the War of 1812. The funding we received allowed us to hire a curriculum writer to develop the lessons that travel with the objects in the trunk and guided our decisions on what to include while saving us from devoting hours to curriculum development in-house. The trunks are now available for teachers throughout the state of Maryland to rent at a nominal cost, expanding our reach while not appreciably expanding the amount of staff time needed to maintain the program.

None of this is revolutionary in any way. But staying on top of the planning and grant cycles so that we can launch these types of outreach projects is a constant struggle for most educators.

Do you have any words of wisdom for archaeological and museum professionals to enhance their outreach work?

Do as much as you absolutely can to find out what your community wants and needs. If your programming is created because you think it’s a good idea it may or may not work. But if your programming is created to address a need in your community, especially one that has been voiced by community members, it will almost certainly succeed.

Kim can be contacted at kpopetz(at)mdp.state.md.us

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