NEMA Wrap-up 1: Pop-Up Museums and Peer Learning

The week before Thanksgiving was a big, busy, thought-provoking whirlwind of interesting issues in the field of museums.  I had a great time at the New England Museum Association (NEMA) annual conference, and as you may know if you follow me on Twitter, I had plenty to say!  For the next few posts I will be pulling together some of the highlights from the sessions I attended, and I’ll wrap it up with a summary of the session that I actually presented.

Highlight 1: “Pop-Up Museum” pre-conference event

IMG_20141118_200409106_HDRFor those of you who haven’t run across the Pop Up Museum concept before, the brief explanation is that it is a short term event, in which participants (usually from a particular community based on location, profession, interest, etc) create the ‘museum’ by bringing objects to share related to a theme, writing a label, and then talking to other participants and interested viewers.  There’s great in-depth information on the concept available from Michelle DelCarlo’s Pop Up Museum blog and Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0. (and a toolkit at the first link in this section)

This event’s theme was ‘things you do and create outside of work,’ and featured painters, photographers, sculptors, collectors and enthusiasts, voiceover artists, gardeners and more.  I brought poetry (see my ‘author’s point of view’ post here), but in the middle of being a poet, I was still being a museum educator, and here are some of my museum-centric takeaways:

  • Theme matters.  The theme was one people were passionate about and they were eager to tell their stories.
  • The label writing session was fun and needed about 3 more minutes than it got.  Brevity on labels is hard, we all know this.  A little more time for editing would have helped!
  • The “Ask me about…” prompt for the labels was the best part, as it promoted conversation and allowed an icebreaker for starting conversation with strangers.  We can and should do more of this kind of thing when we have artist demos, residencies, and facilitators on the exhibit floor, because it empowers our audience to be the ones to start a conversation.  Signage, buttons, nametags, whatever works.
  • A little more time for the participants to circulate to interact with each other before letting in other guests would help–we all wanted to see each others’ works but felt the pull to be near our own as well.

If you’d like to find out more about the objects people brought, a number of us posted 45 second clips up on Brad Larson’s Story Kiosk, and he’s got a great wrap up of the event, with playlist.

Highlight 2: Peer Learning

I went to three sessions that focused on different aspects of adult learning: professional publishing, new research in adult learning in informal spaces, and reflective practice.  It is important to remember, of course, that no matter how long one has been working in museums or in education or in whatever one’s chosen field, there is always something new to learn.  That’s what makes life fun.  And it is equally important to support one’s staff as learners as well as teachers, so here are the highlights from the peer learning sessions:

  •  Involving people from all levels in the process of setting goals and developing evaluation methods increases buy-in and aids in the development of a shared language.
  • Variety is key: evaluation methods stagnate as easily as anything else, and you can’t learn more if you’re only ever measuring one or two points of ‘success’
  • Feedback and reflection and observation are tools not to prove that people are doing things wrong but to highlight ways to improve.
  • Keeping up your reading in the field is important not only for providing shortcuts to finding the methods and language that works for you, but to help you figure out what you want to be doing next.

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