Media literacy, election years, and museums

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The Massachusetts museum advocates outside Senator Warren’s office, Museums Advocacy Day 2016

Last week was #MuseumsAdvocacy2016, hosted by the American Alliance of Museums down in DC. It was several days of training, talking about museum issues, sharing big ideas, meeting up with old friends and making new ones, and talking to legislators and their staffers about everything from STEM education to charitable giving tax deductions. It was about 250 people participating in the ardent practice of democracy, and it was awesome.

And this week was Super Tuesday. (More ardent practice of democracy, for good or ill. I got to the polls 5 minutes after they opened, because when I was little, my parents took me voting with them like it was an adventure. Still is, mostly because I understand the stakes better now.)

Most people say the ads and the terrible behavior of both candidates and supporters are the worst part of election years. While that’s often true, this year I also marked with sadness President Obama’s last State of the Union.  If you missed it, for whatever reason, I do encourage you to check it out, because it was one of his better examples of hopeful oratory. I’ve linked to the White House above because they’ve got a bunch of the quotes, infographics, and other extras that were included in the enhanced livestream, which make for good nuggets around which to build a discussion, should you happen to be teaching civics, graphic design, or media literacy this week. (Please teach some media literacy this week.)

Media literacy has been a long-held interest of mine: an essay I wrote about it was part of the web resources for PEM’s Eye Spy: Playing With Perception exhibit, and elements of those same visual/critical thinking skills ideas also worked themselves into the teacher guide I wrote for middle and high-school based on the same exhibit. In an election year like this one is shaping up to be, where paying attention to the kinds of language candidates use gives you a lot of information about who they are and what they’re trying to do with their platforms, it’s important for educators in both classrooms and museums to step up their game around teaching those critical skills. Otherwise, who’s to notice when one candidate gets an overwhelming amount of media attention for no critically apparent reason?

That’s why I was pleased to find out recently that the Newseum launched a new resource for educators and students centered around the history, roles, and responsibilities of the press, with lesson plans, curriculum links, and activities for both the classroom and trips to the museum itself. I didn’t make it to the Newseum on this most recent trip to DC, but I enjoyed it when I was there several years ago, and it’s on my list for another look next time. (I’ll have reviews of the places I did visit in the next post or two.)

Here are a few recent ‘museums in the news’ articles to get you started, in case you want something other than election coverage to read:



This Week’s Museum Reads: Empathy & Engagement

Museum Reads header imageI spent all weekend marinating in poetry at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, which was incredible and thought-provoking as always. As an interdisciplinary enthusiast, I was enthralled with the ways I saw people talking about poetry and science, poetry and art, poetry and environmentalism, poetry and current events, poetry and civil activism.  Coming back to my museum-persona, I was glad to see some of those same kinds of discussions are happening in this field as well, at AAM last week and continuing online and abroad.

Here are a few good reads from the last few days:

Trendswatch and Open Data You Can Use

The future is bright, and full of sugar.  Image courtesy of NASA's image galleries, see link below.

The future is bright, and full of sugar. Image courtesy of NASA’s image galleries, see link below.

Have you been looking through The Center for the Future of Museums’ Trendswatch 2015?  If not, you can find it (and some related articles) right here.  (If you’re not familiar with Trendswatch, the basic idea is that the CFM looks at what’s happening in society on a large scale and predicts how certain trends in technology, attitude, and habits could influence/affect museums and museum-goers.  It has broader implications for education, design, marketing, and service organizations too.)

One of the trends identified is the rising importance/influence/availability of ‘open data’ and the projects that are created using it.  This can mean anything from GovTrack’s database of US Congressional voting records to the Cooper Hewitt’s 3D scans of their mansion, available free for makers and creatives of all sorts to download and tinker with.

In the spirit of Brain Popcorn’s Ideabox, here are some open resources that you can use, and some creative prompts for yourself, your museum, or your classroom:

Inspiring Images

What can you do with museum-quality images?

  • Digital collages, cropping, recoloring, pop-culture parodies, screen wallpapers, custom header for your personal blog
  • Print actual wallpaper, fabric, etc. using a service like Spoonflower or similar
  • Print images for mixed media collage, mod-podge and resin-based crafts like jewelry or glass jar luminaria
  • Costume, set, and character design inspiration for theater classes, writing prompts, and authors’ visual reference files
  • History reports, bulletin boards, and VTS classroom discussions with an overhead projector or poster-sized prints

Where can you find them?  (Some of these links also include 3D models and audio and video files, for bonus remixing options)

The Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler galleries have all their collections online, with images you can use in any non-commercial form, for free.

The Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries have all their collections online, with images you can use in any non-commercial form, for free. Click the image to go to Open F|S!

So Many Numbers…

I mentioned GovTracks earlier, but there are reams of numerical sorts of information out there too.

What can you do with lots of numerical/geographical/etc. data sets?

  • map customized information onto Google Earth or other visualization services (see Gapminder below) (great for conversations about population density, conservation efforts, etc.)
  • track language use on social media (where are certain words or new phrases popular, and what kind of people are using them?)
  • More maps: what do people in each state search most often on the internet?
  • Plan a student advocacy campaign for something your class decides is important.  Who are your legislators and what do they think is important?  Who do you have a chance of convincing based on their records?
Visualizing a timeline/map of electricity use per person, 1700's until the present day, using Gapminder

Visualizing a timeline/map of electricity use per person, 1700’s until the present day, using Gapminder

Where can you find data sets?  Please bear in mind that a lot of these sites aren’t going to have data that’s super interesting to a class of third graders, for instance.  For middle, high school, and college students, not to mention professionals, sure.  But if you have rec’s for kid-friendly data, I’d love to hear them!

This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if you have other great sources of open data, or suggestions for cool projects, please share them in the comments below!

What’s next?

Looking to make a set of data you or your organization has a part of the open data universe?  Check out Open Data Commons for a getting-started guide and important legal information.

As a logical extension of open data, some people are going all the way to ‘open objects,’ such as Jeremy Deller’s Do Touch project, in which objects from a historic collection are brought out to the public in malls, parks, etc, and made available for exploration.  This is a great idea, and it would be great if museums could do more of this! The Active Collections project is all about helping museums identify which objects are truly serving their missions: if they could also identify what could be used as ‘educational collection’ for this kind of purpose, think how inspiring that could be.

Open data is being used for community mapping, app building, advocacy, education, and more.  What are other possible mid- or end-points for this trend?

#ArtsMatter at the Create the Vote Gubernatorial Forum

On Tuesday, the non-partisan advocacy group, MassCreative hosted a forum in Worcester where all the gubernatorial candidates were invited to attend and talk to arts leaders and advocates about their platforms for supporting the arts in Massachusetts.  Most attended, though Republican Charlie Baker neither bothered to show up in person nor send a representative.  About 600 arts leaders, participants, and activists were in the audience, and they were both enthusiastic and determined to get some nitty-gritty answers to their questions about arts funding and state support.

MassCreative put together a summary of much of the tweeting that went on at the event here, and I also tweeted a number of the moments that caught my ear (find the whole set @mwinikates).  You can also find much of the same material from the evening covered in the candidates’ position surveys here.

Overall, I thought Don Berwick and Martha Coakley both had good and interesting points that got cheers and applause, and Steve Grossman clearly had support in the hall.  Falchuk was very focused on affordable housing and cost of living issues, and McCormick had a very business-minded approach to dealing with the arts, while Fisher seemed underprepared and tone-deaf to the concerns and realities of his audience.  Here are a few of the evening’s highlights:

(And here I am, catching up with Neil Gordon of the Discovery Museums, my old stomping ground,  and Dan Yaeger of NEMA.)

Plugging back in to the theme of the evening, in response to an audience question about how to get the legislature to get behind a gubernatorial arts initiative:

I agree, and I hope that MassCreative keeps up the good work in the time between now and the election (and after!).

Looking for more?  There’s another great round-up of the evening’s event over at Dig Boston.