1. Screenshot from blog.bokcenter.harvard.com
    Creating conversation in art museums has always been particularly interesting to me. Rika Burnham and Elliot Kai Kee's Teaching in the Art Museum: Interpretation as Experience has informed the bulk of my thinking on how people learn in art museums. Mostly, I came away from reading the book with the knowledge that different methods of imparting information to the visitor will result in a different experience. Discussions and conversation, led by gallery guides but sustained by the visitor, held directly in front of paintings, leads visitors to discover meaning for themselves. On the other hand, lectures and gallery talks provide visitors with perhaps useful, scholarly information.

    In a recent post on Eye Level, a blog by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, staff talk about their "Is This Art?" gallery experiences. Generally an hour long, these experiences start with a group of visitors looking at one piece of art. From there, people share their reflections, observations, feelings, and the conversation takes off.

    
    Screenshot from eyelevel.si.edu
    What I love most about this approach is the acknowledgement that every conversation needs an introduction. And that an experience with a piece of art also needs an introduction. I'd recommend taking a further look at how they structure their "Is This Art?" sessions, and see if it might work for you. I'd also love to hear if you've tried your own techniques to start conversation in your art museum!

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  2. As part of my recent visit to Iowa, I went to the Iowa City Farmer's Market and the Annual Iowa Arts Festival. I really liked both of these community events, and noticed a few things in particular that I found useful.

    (1) Participation in the farmer's market came from all ages and walks of life. One kid in particular really caught my attention, as she was selling custom-made artwork on the spot. While it's not the kind of thing a collector would be interested in, I was really happy to see this girl have the opportunity to make and market her creations.


    (2) There were artists on hand to demonstrate their craft and have conversations with market goers. As a visitor to the area, I found it helpful to talk with someone from the local art community. Without this experience, I would have had more of a superficial, visual experience, rather than a deeper, more connected one.


     

    (3) I noticed several difference kinds of 'pop-up' art installations that I would normally expect to find in a museum context. This included a giant chalkboard sculpture that asked people to share their perspective through the prompt:
    "Before I die _________________"




    Museums compete with many different movers in diverse industries: these sorts of farmer's market and art festivals, movie theaters, casinos, the internet, coffee shops, etc. And each museum sits uniquely in its own community and its own market. While nonprofits should be msision-driven, it's also important to remember that museums are businesses that attract visitors in search of learning and social experiences.

    The point here is to recognize competition. Is there a farmer's market in your community that is providing similar or better programming that yours? If so, what makes you unique, and how can you amplify that?

    For next time: More on creating conversation in art museums
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  3. Freya and me. I think I'm having more fun!
    I recently traveled to Iowa for a visit with my sister, brother in law, and their new baby girl, Freya. On a rainy Sunday during our time together, we visited the Antique Car Museum of Iowa (ACMI) and the Johnson County HistoricalSociety Museum (JCHSM), which are conveniently located in the same building (and conveniently located across the street from Backpocket Brewing).

    To be honest, I haven’t ever visited a museum with a baby – most of my work with the Smithsonian’s Spark!Lab is for children between the ages of 6-12 and their families. And, being that the two museums we visited looked a little sleepy, I had pretty low expectations. However, I walked away from my visit with new perspective, and would encourage thoughtful reflection on the following.

    Both ACMI and JCHSM were completely deserted when we got there. It could have been that it was a Sunday, or that they traditionally have low visitation in general. Either way, the museums were empty and we had complete run of the place. As Freya was only three weeks old, she was a little fussy and had to be tended. She also had to be in a stroller that took up a bit of room – if you didn’t know, there’s a lot of stuff that comes with taking care of a newborn! According to my sister, the quietness and emptiness of the museums made her feel a lot more comfortable, as it gave her privacy. It also made her feel wonderful in that she was never self-conscious when Freya cried or fussed, or if the stroller took up too much space, as there was no one around to bother. 

    A bissfully quiet moment

    It was also a cool opportunity for my sister and me to have fun. We took advantage of all the exhibit stuff that was supposed to be for kids. We explored the old printing press, clacked away on the broken typewriter, and took tickets at the theater booth. We also had a great conversation about the first electric car – I had no idea one was built in 1923.
    Having fun with the old printing press
    Perhaps your museum has some traditionally quiet hours where visitation is low. This might be an opportunity to reach out to new parents looking for a way to get out of the house and enjoy themselves and their new babies. It might be an opportunity to take a challenge and turn it into an asset, with programming and visitation opportunities geared towards these lovely new parents.  

    For next time: More adventures in Iowa.
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  4. The MLK Library in Washington DC’s Chinatown just opened a brand-new, beautifully designed co-working space for entrepreneurs. It was unveiled last week, and applications to claim a spot are now open. The dedicated co-working space has room for 50 entrepreneurs, and resides within the new Digital Commons Space. This space has 3-D printers, espresso machines, and conferences rooms.
     
     
     
    There is a one-page application to apply, and other than already having your own startup company, the only requirement is that you have a DC library card. You can get this in person and takes about two minutes; you don’t need to be a DC resident to obtain a card.
     
     
     
     
    This project has been spearheaded by fellow Global Shaper Micha Weinblatt, CEO and Co-Founder at Betterific, and founder of the t-shirt company Crooked Monkey. At a meeting I arranged with one of my role models, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, The Honorable Susan Hildreth, Micha suggested it would be better if libraries offered free co-working spaces for budding entrepreneurs. As Micha says, "Bringing in new, young minds could activate the library in new ways and encourage the use of vast space that was once reserved exclusively for quiet reading."  
     
    Both museums and libraries have assets in space and knowledge, so this seems like a really perfect fit. Should your museum think about offering co-working space to budding entrepreneurs?
     
     
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  5. When I speak with people about The Pop-Up Museum concept, I'm often asked why I'm so concerned with conversation. Why the heck do I care so much about getting people to talk to and listen to one another?

    I guess it's not so much that I'm obsessed with introducing people and making connections, although I am convinced of the social value of that pursuit. I think it's more that I see how easy it is to amplify the natural human tendency to share stories.

    Storytelling was the theme of this year's American Alliance of Museums' (AAM) Annual Meeting in Baltimore. As an Emerging Museum Professional Fellow last year, I was pretty bowled over by the whole Annual Meeting. This year, it was really great to observe more deeply and engage on another level.

    I loved the structure they build in the registration area, which welcomed people to share their favorite museum experience in six words.

    This actually reminded me of an experience I had in Fall 2012, which I've been meaning to write about for quite some time. I had just moved to DC, and as it happened, my grandfather's military reunion was in Baltimore, so I travelled to join in and visit. As a World War II vetern, my gramps is part of a tight-knit community, including his own unit and their families. When I walked into the reunion room, I was floored to see a pop-up museum style table full of memories on display.


    Reunion attendees would talk over and talk about their friends who had passed, and shared stories about their previous reunions and their time together serving in the Pacific. I was particularly happy to share time with these men, and to hear stories of what my gramps was like when he was a young man.  

    Talking with gentlemen of the Seahorse Marines - quite characters!
    I guess what this shows to me is that inside of museums and outside of museums, people are human beings who desire connection through stories. Let's support and amplify this. Let's create experiences where people can pull from history, art, objects, and activities to allow them to express who their are and share their perspectives. In this way, we're helping create meaningful, memorable experiences that people will treasure.
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  6. Since moving to DC, I have become part of the World Economic Forum's Global Shaper community, which is a network of hubs developed and led by young people who are exceptional in their potential, their achievements, and their drive to make a contribution to their communities. As a Global Shaper, we are tasked with developing, implementing, and leading projects that improve the state of the world.
     
    I am honored and humbled to be included in this elite group of individuals, whose talents and contributions cross sectors: philanthropy, government, social entrepreneurship and more. I’ve already learned so much about collaboration across sectors and hope to be more deeply engaged with the community over the next year!
     
    Every year, the DC Global Shapers have a retreat, which is a chance for us to build community and set goals for the upcoming year, including brainstorming projects. I was super happy to be able to bring The Pop-Up Museum to our retreat this year, where it was used as an icebreaker.

     
    The theme we chose was “Handmade,” which, if you’ll recall, was the theme of the pilot test. I feel like this is a great theme to use for those situations where strangers are introduced to one another, as it allows people to showcase objects that are very meaningful. Handmade objects also almost always have really great stories attached, which makes the experience fun and memorable.


    Being that this is the first time I’ve held a pop-up in a while, it was great to see it working once more. People were able to share a bit about themselves, had time to be introspective, and generally got to know others. I am so happy I was able to share my project with my community, and I’m looking forward to more opportunities to do the same.

     
     
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  7. I'm still loving the pop-up concert series High Note. Here's an interview with High Note's Aaron Abernathy, on the topic of the pop-up format and how his work intersects with museums. His second concert, Vol. II, is June 8th, with tickets on sale soon.

    What made you decided to pursue a pop-up format for your concert series?
    I brought the idea of wanting to do my own concert series to my friend Shannon Evans.  She took the idea and challenged me to do a pop up concert series. As we began to curate the event she became my partner in creating the High Note brand.  The pop up format was chosen because the name suggests that the event is more out of the box than what you would normally find. We wanted to create something that would allow people to come together and be entertained while interacting with each other.

    The pop-up museum concept focuses on getting people to have meaningful conversations. Do you see any overlap in that and the work you’re doing?
    Definitely. Conversation is sadly becoming a lost art. In every step of the process to create High Note, we thought about how we could encourage people to talk to one another. It was one of the main factors in deciding how many tickets to sell, how to set up the space, how much time to allot before and after the show for interaction and how to word the invitation. On the day of the event, it was great to see people hardly using their phones and instead having conversations with each other.

    When we spoke before, you talked about wanting to create an experience that was a two-way street: where you could touch your audience and they could touch you. Can you talk a little more about that?
    Typically you go to an event, you’re entertained, and then you leave.  You’re not given the opportunity to speak with the entertainer. It’s one sided to both parties if you ask me. As an entertainer I want to speak with everyone who has come to support me. I want to know if they enjoyed the experience. Were they entertained? Do they have any questions for me? High Note creates the access for me to speak to attendees and possibly overtime build a rapport with them on a deeper level than just entertainment.

    Do you have any thoughts on museums, in relation to the work you’re doing?
    I believe the work museums do are very similar to the work we're doing at High Note. When I visit museums like the Corcoran Gallery of Art, The National Portrait Gallery, or the The National Museum of the American Indian, the art displayed is forever changing but the quality of presentation and work is consistent. I frequent museums because of the experience and education I take away from visiting. We're stiving to do the same at High Note.
     
    For next time: The Pop-Up Museum and the Global Shaper community.
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  8. Screenshot from www.themuseumofthefuture.com
     
    I've been listed in a compilation of current inspiring women innovating museums and culture. Thanks to Jasper Visser of The Museum of the Future: Innovation and Partitipcation in Culture; I'm honored to be included amongst these talented, dedicated women.

    Please check out this evolving list of leaders in the field who are working on incredible projects. 
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  9. For the next few weeks, I'll be blogging at the National Alliance for Media Arts + Culture's blog salon ENGAGE: art + community in the digital age. Topics range from participation, engagement, and impact, and we are all invited to think critically about these terms. You can participate on Tumblr, Twitter, or by commenting on the posts in the blog salon.

    To start off, I've written a little bit about how I view engagement as a two-way street. Check back for more about how I view impact and participation in digital age cultural organizations.

    #artsENGAGE 
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  10. Should museums be lovingly used? Are they?

    On a recent trip to New York City, I wondered in Central Park, soaking up early spring sunshine. I came across the statue Alice in Wonderland, where children and families were literally swarming over it in joy. Some kids fell off after climbing too fast and had to be rescued by soothing parents. Others, young and old, used the sculpture as a photo op, an object to climb on, and in general - from my perspective - a place to make memories. According to the Central Park guide online, "Atypical of most sculptures, children are invited to climb, touch, and crawl all over Alice and her friends."
    Merry tourists loving Alice in Wonderland
    This experience was put in comparison to the experience children and families were having at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I stopped next. My travel compatriot wanted to see some impressionist paintings, so we joined another swarming body of people entering the museum. Perhaps typical of tourist season, people crammed into the museum in every possible way, jostling for space in front of paintings, hurrying from one to the next to the next in a frenzy of joyous sightseeing.
    Visitors rush from one painting to the next at Metropolitan Museum of Art
    I'm definitely not saying that museums should literally let people climb, touch, and crawl all over their spaces. Certainly not. But perhaps it's a good thing to embrace the way that people lovingly, hurriedly, use our museums in an effort to make memories and, in the end, love them. By doing so we may be inspired to create innovative, meaningful programming.
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